Next weekend, Film Festival favorite Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez is finally dropping at AMC theatres in select cities across the nation on Sept. 6th. So Fandango it over after your crazy Labor Day plans. Chi-town, head to AMC Cicero in Lawndale. In LA, it’s playing at Universal Citywalk, and in NYC the AMC Empire.
Rounding out the hot emerging cast which includes Joseph Julian Soriana (stud Hector Cruz in tv show Army Wives), Jeremy Ray Valdez (La Mission) Walter Perez (Friday Night Lights, Pop Star) and Will Rothhaar (Battle Los Angeles) is Douglas Spain (Star Maps, Resurrection Blvd) who is also a producer on the film AND none other than Original Gangster Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca). His line “One Day Does Not Define a Man” hits a resonant chord and plays as a resonant theme in the flick. I’ve mentioned the film several times on my blog (official description below) because its played a dozen festivals and has racked up hella Best Director, Audience and Jury Awards. While I’ve used the terms like Latino all-star cast, “street’ crime action thriller, and genre swagger – all an apt way to describe its edge, the biggest reason you should go watch it is that its just a bomb ass classic hood tale of friendship, betrayal and free will, through the eyes of four regular kids from San Antonio. Underneath the slick action, what hits home is the dramatic sense that its all on you to defy your fate (every day) and not be another statistic or stereotype (Latino gangbanger).
Oh and if that’s not enough to get you turned on, the sexy rising actor, Fernanda Romero plays the irresistible love interest. YOW!
LOG: Set in San Antonio, TX, where a drug syndicate has taken control of the region, “Mission Park” follows the lives of four best friends who choose very different paths. Torn apart over time by their ambitions, their choices ultimately bring them back together on different sides of the law. In this urban crime drama, two young F.B.I. agents, Bobby Ramirez (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian Medina (Will Rothhaar), go undercover to infiltrate and take down an illegal drug organization run by the untouchable drug lord Jason Martinez (Walter Perez) and his right-hand man Derek Hernandez (Joseph Julian Soria).
The 35th CineFestival drew to a close Saturday night with a jam packed screening of Filly Brown attended by its filmmakers Amir de Lara, Michael D. Olmos and actors’, Gina Rodriguez and Lou Diamond Philips. At the Q&A, a charming Lou Diamond serenaded the audience with an impromptu rendition of La Bamba, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the seminal chicano rock film, and Gina aka Filly rocked the mike herself, demonstrating she’s got the rap skills down cold. Afterwards, filmmakers, friends and staff walked across the street to la Casita,the festival’s lounge that is a cute house with a huge Ice House backyard with benches and fire pits, fully stocked free Indio beer, (a nice break from the usual fest sponsor Stella), delicious sausage in tortillas and a rockin girl DJ spinning classic vinyl.
All in all, it was a fun week of meeting young emerging filmmakers and getting to know the relatively nascent San Antonio film scene. It all started with Opening Night film, Mission Park, a film that was shot in San Antonio by native filmmaker Bryan Ramirez. The people came out in droves to see this home grown film – so much that there was demand for a second screening. It was a lovefest at the screening Q&A which was attended by the producers, Douglas Spain, Armando Montelongo (Flip this House real life real estate tycoon), and cast, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Will Rothhar, Julio Cesar Cedillo and David J. Phillips (also producer). Bryan Ramirez spoke about meeting Douglas Spain at CineFestival a few years ago and giving him the script back then which is how the Star Maps actor came on board as producer.
After the film I tagged along with the crew to Brooklynite, a fancy chic parlor mixologist bar – the type you’d find in hipster Venice or WeHo. There I met and talked with Jesse Salmeron, a filmmaker from the bay area whose first feature, Dreamer is world premiering at CineQuest. Jeremy Ray Valdez produces and star’s as the film’s lead, Joe Rodriguez, a well educated young man who is unable to get ahead in life because of the lingering fear that he might be deported. Demonstrating a strong visual approach within a timely, compassionate story, I just added Jesse to my hot Latino writer/directors to watch out for.
ALAMO CITY FILMMAKERS & THE FILM SCENE
Among the bourgeoning SA filmmakers are Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderama, Bryan Ortiz (all three collaborated on the asylum anthology film Sanitarium with Malcolm McDowell), short filmmaker and beloved highschool film teacher, Sam Lerma, Steve Acevedo who directed the short film El Cocodrilo, a powerful story starring Jacob Vargas as a reporter on the run from narcos, Ralph Lopez, producer of Wolf which premiered at SXSW last year, Ray Santisteban, award winning documentarian who won Best doc short for the six minute Have You Seen Marie, a slice of celebrated Chicana author Sandra Cisneros’s new book. And if there were to be a Godfather to this crew coming up it is San Antonio’s querido, artist/activist/actor, Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca) who moved back to to his hometown last year after spending 15 years in LA. I think he is the most generous, warm hearted and enthusiastic patron saint of the Guadalupe community.
So where my SA sisters at??? Well there are a lot more females working within the documentary medium. Filmmakers like Laura Varela whose films rescue forgotten American Latino heroes, Deborah S. Esquinazi, the director of The Recantation, a work in progress documentary about four Latina lesbians wrongfully accused of molestation, and Lindsey Villareal, whose short doc about a Mariachi family in East LA, Canto de Familia,was super moving in an enjoyable and Mexican pride way. She is currently attending USC’s MFA Film Production program. Another female documentarian I was impressed with is Angela Walley who with her husband Mark made this extraordinary doc profile short, Vincent Valdez, Excerpts for John. Watch the full short here.
Drew Mayer-Oakes, Director of the San Antonio Film Commission told me about the matching grant available to local filmmakers which launched just last year. Blessed by Julian Castro, the $25,000 grant will support local filmmakers who have at least $25,000 in funding commitments in place for a feature-length motion picture. Family movie Champion by Kevin Nations and Robin Nations, is the first to have been awarded the grant last year out of 8 applications. The program is funded and managed by the City of San Antonio Department for Culture & Creative Development (DCCD). The program is a collaboration with the San Antonio Film Commission, a division of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. This is but just one of the programs and resources Drew is putting together to ignite the local filmmaking scene
THE NEXT GENERATION
The festival is instrumental in providing access, inspiration and platforms for aspiring filmmakers. I had been looking forward to Monday’s Youth Film showcase, a program of local highschool shorts, and it did not disappoint. Taking home two awards, Best Narrative and Emerging Filmmaker was Nicolas Rodriguez from Harlandale High, the director of the wacky and original comedy called The Exterminator. Upon accepting his award, he mentioned he looked up to filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro. I was also impressed with videographer/artist Daniela Riojas, who was working as the Festival’s official photographer and is a radical artist and performer who screened her music video Pop Physique in the shorts program. Check out her work here. I also got to meet Efrain-Abran Gutierrez, son of the pioneering filmmaker who made the very first Chicano film right here in San Antonio, Efrain Gutierrez (Please Don’t Bury Me Alive). Efrain Junior founded his own production company, Landmine Entertainment where he does everything from discovering and shooting underground hip hop music artists to currently developing a couple documentaries on forgotten Chicano activists.
I haven’t talked about The Crumbles on this blog yet so I want to give it a shout now as its become one of my favorites pieces of fresh and microbudget fimmaking; The Echo Park set slacker film completely captures the multi-culti indie hipster artist hood in an affecting way by focusing on the young persistent indie rock movement and spirit, come hell or high water. I loved the Latina rocker lead played by El Teatro Campesino performer Katie Hipoland the music (soundtrack by Grammy winner Quetzal). The director Akira Boch raised 10k on Kickstarter to take it out on the road himself and he’s out there doing it now. Check here for a list of the film’s DIY screening engagements.
THE SUNDANCE SUPPORT
Wednesday kicked off the first ever CineFestival Latino Writers Project lab, a collaboration with Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program. The four writers selected to participate met with filmmaker and creative advisors, Nancy Savoca (who made one of my all time favorite h.s. movies True Love), David Riker (The Girl) Cruz Angeles whas was the co-creator of the Latino Screenwriters Lab (Don’t Let me Drown), Mauricio Zacharias (co-writer of Keep the Lights On) and Hannah Weyer (Life Support, and novelist of upcoming book, On the Come Up). I wish I had had a chance to really talk with the screenwriters but they were too busy and immersed with their mentors. I did hear that they found the workshop and advisors incredibly valuable, and their only wish was that they had more time with them. It sounds like most of the advisors offered to stay in touch with them and make themselves available throughout their creative process ahead. Out of the four writers only Miguel Alvarez is from around these parts. Miguel is a well known filmmaker and trusty collaborator here in Austin whose fantastic project, La Perdida plays like an Eternal Sunshine meets Seven Monkeys set in Mexico City.
On Saturday morning the enlightening Sundance panel, Essential Elements: Making your Vision a Reality, was moderated by Ilyse McKimmie, an incredibly generous and erudite creative guru. The conversations and questions ranged from, at what point does a writer share their working draft, to what is the next step after final draft, and a large discussion about how critical it is to find the right creative producer.
There were a number of interesting new filmmakers I had the pleasure of meeting like immigration lawyer and documentarian Sarah MacPherson whose Stable Life, a glimpse inside the undocumented immigrants who work and live in horse race tracks won the Documentary Prize. It was also nice to hang with filmmakers I’ve met before like David Riker. There was a good turnout for his film and a very affected audience afterwards at the Q&A. The Girl is being released by Brainstorm Media and The Film Collective, a new consulting company headed by Ruth Vitale, former head of Paramount Classics. This exciting and new partnership previously theatrically released Todd Solondz last film, the Ted Hope produced, Dark Horse. For a list of theater venues and times to see The Girl (LA/NY/Chicago/Phoenix/San Antonio and San Diego check here.
Like I reported here last year, CineFestival is such a rich and nuclear community festival that reflects the unique spectrum of its inhabitants and neighbors. There is a high level of chicano consciousness alive and well that is inspiring this young generation to tell their stories. San Antonio is becoming a really happening artist haven and this edition of CineFestival made important steps towards developing and tapping into this artistic filmic pulse. I hope to continue collaborating with this festival in the future and I want to thank the formidable organization, Patty Ortiz, Executive Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jim Mendiola, Festival Director, Yvonne Montoya, Program Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and Orlando Bolanos, Education Director. Gracias por todo y hasta luego!
With no less than four reputable Latino Film Festivals and three mainstream festivals coming up this spring in the states, my dance card is filling up quick, and I’m excited to survey inside and outside the so-called niche of Latino film programming.
First up, CineFestival (where yours truly is proud to be a Programmer). Put on by San Antonio’s vibrant Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, it is notably the longest running Chicano and indigenous film festival (35 years). Taking place from February 23 – Mar. 2, the festival’s Opening night film is Mission Park a suspenseful street crime drama about a group of childhood friends whose different paths pit them against each other, directed by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Douglas Spain. The closing night film is Filly Brown, still going strong since its Sundance premiere last year but now seeking a new distributor due to Indomina, which picked it up last year, closing up shop. Both screenings will be accompanied by the filmmakers and cast. In between there will be a whole week of shorts and docs including the lyrical and fierce LGBT performance club doc Wildness by Wu Tsang which hasn’t been seen much outside of Outfest and last year’s SXSW, Carlos Avila’s Tales of Masked Men, a look inside Lucha Libre, and my favorite local Texas highschool shorts showcase. See the recently announced lineup here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates and look out for a couple exciting additional program announcements next week.
Right behind CineFestival in date and age is the Miami International Film Festival, celebrating its 30th anniversary this Mar. 1 – 10. Produced and presented by Miami Dade College, it is the biggest and strongest film festival for Latino programming in the nation. The word Latino is not included in their name, yet almost half of its programming is Latino (by my count 51/117 features). I love that.
Just a few of the gems from Central and South America the festival will be screening include 7 Boxes by Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schémbori (Paraguay), Polvo by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Guatemala). In the impressive Opera Prima competition there is Edificio Royal by Ivan Wild (Columbia/Venezuela), Molasses by Carlos Diaz Lechuga (Panama) and No Autumn, No Spring by Ivan Mora (Ecuador).
By far, Miami leads the pack in programming such a diverse and fresh Latino presence. Miami is la bomba!
San Diego Latino Film Festival which is celebrating its 20th anniversary takes place Mar. 8 -18, pretty much overlapping with the monstrous South by Southwest Film Mar 8-17. I profiled SXSW Latino element here. The feature film lineup for San Diego has also recently been announced. Check this to see the list of classic and tribute narrative feature screenings (Almodovar, Rodriguez and Innaritu) along with recurring American Latino film fest favorites, Aqui y Alla, The Girl, Filly Brown, Mission Park, along with two films that clearly look and sound like “Hispanic marketed films”, Tio Papi and Tony Tango.
In April we got my hometown representing, The Chicago Latino Film Festival (April 11-25) which has historically been more of a showcase-y festival screening a number of films from South America. Although they have not announced, I’ll take it as a hint that Delusions of Grandeur is playing there as they uploaded the Chicago Latino Film Festival poster on their Facebook page. I hope so because I really dig this quirky, set in San Francisco film written and directed by Iris Alamaraz and Gustavo Ramos about a frenzied young grunge Chicana’s journey to be independent. The film made its world premiere at the NY International Latino Film Festival last summer.
Back to Austin from April 16-21, the 16th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, a really excellent year round programmed non-profit which screens at the ubiquitous Alamo Drafthouse, is thankfully there to pick up the slack in supporting the Latin roots and diversity in Texas country as well as the unique bi-culture shown in their highlighted program, Hecho en Tejas section.
And last but certainly not least we got the big apple, Tribeca Film Festival taking place April 17-28. They usually announce in early March. Babygirl and The Girl both screening at this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival premiered here last year. Babygirl is a film by an Irish filmmaker, Macdara Varelly who tells quite the racy story of a mother and daughter after same guy. The street cred is infused by the two leads who play the Nuyoricans in the Bronx. The single mother is played by Rosa Arredondo and precariously sexually blossoming teen played by unknown Yainis Ynoa who surprises in her very first acting role. I don’t think it received half the attention it deserved. Meanwhile, The Girl, directed by David Riiker (co-writer of Sleep Dealer) stars Abbie Cornish in a ‘subverse’ tale as an American woman who crosses the border going south to pursue her dreams.
I plan to cover as much as I can with an eye towards monitoring the tendencies and differences of the Latino Film Festival circuit versus mainstream. Being familiar with most of the brand spanking new American Latino films out there looking for a home and audiences to connect with, I will be tracking closely throughout the year which festivals are committed to carving out a space for discovering American Latino filmmakers and stories. All my recon will be shared here on my blog, so ojos people!
Presented by Mexico City’s Secretary of Tourism and Casa de Chicago, the inaugural edition of The Mexican Film Festival of The Americas in Chicago opens Thursday, September 20th and goes until Friday, September 28. Screenings will take place at the historic and handsomely re-fitted Art Deco Logan Theater inside a 180 seater. The novel and ambitious festival’s mission is “dedicated to supporting and cultivating every aspect of Mexican Cinema, including emerging and cutting edge Mexican films with the emphasis on discovering new filmmakers from Mexico and abroad.”
I couldn’t think of a better film to open this kind of festival than the nostalgic documentary La Perdida by Viviana Garcia Besne, a personal and revealing odyssey through Mexican Cinema’s cherished Golden Age of Cinema. A programming slate of highly distinct genre and caliber, the 30 something film lineup includes Mexican Ariel Film winner, Dias de Gracia by Everardo Gout and Chicana coming of age Mosquita y Mari by Aurora Guerrero. Positioning themselves as a festival of discovery the Festival will unveil the world premiere of Mission Park by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Douglas Spain, an accomplished debut and cautionary tale about four childhood friends whose different paths cause them to cross and confront their loyalty. The Festival will close with a very special headliner event honoring Academy Award actor nominee Demián Bichir, who is taking a time out from his crazy busy schedule to christen the baby festival.
Sure to be THE social event of the week, go rub elbows with big-wigs and talk politics with one of Mexico’s brightest political family dynasty members, the erudite and three time presidential candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano at the International premiere of El Ingeniero by Alejandro Lubezki. An incredible behind the scenes of the 2000 Mexican presidential campaign leading up to the last (and short-lived) time the PRI got booted out of office, the intimate access exposes the grueling campaign circus and mechanics, and ultimately shows Cárdenas as an authentic, flawed and salt-of the-earth character. Read my review from Guadalajara here.
So how did a festival score such high profile talent, gems and world premieres??? Festival Director’s Jesse Charbonier’s reputation, experience and contacts. Charbonier served as Operations Manager and then Programming Director of the renowned Chicago International Film Festival for years, where he strengthed the Latino programming and bestowed a special award upon Bichir who broke out with three films in 1999 including Sexo Pudor y Lagrimas which the festival will screen (love). Jesse has also served as distribution consultant and producer to several films, in addition to establishing his singing career. It was his desire to reach the large Mexican population of Chicago and present a more progressive, edgy cinema that triggered the start of this collaboration between sister cities, Chicago and Mexico City. He curated the strong lineup from traveling and covering the Guadalajara Film Festival FICG27 and HBO’s NY Latino Film festival, as well as through recommendations from several colleagues. His approach; “Every night is Opening Night.” Each film has their own slot that will run without any competition. Along with his distinctive taste in programming, this type of concscientious care, operation know-how, and connection to the Chicago audience, ensures the Festival has its best foot forward.
Thanks to not one but two airline sponsors (no small feat for a festival to arrange), All filmmakers who were available will be present for their screenings and Q&As and in some cases for the preceding reception. Regular films are a reasonable $8 and the special event films are $15 which include a pre-screening reception with complimentary cocktails (tequila sponsor, EC Charro) and food! Well worth a film, filmmaker convo and light dinner.
Que envidia chicos, as a Chicana From Chicago living in LA I wish I were in my hometown to celebrate this momentous occassion. You have been given a gift my Chi-town peeps. Go hang out with these talented filmmakers, see their films and report back. Help spread the word. Check out the schedule, you can buy tickets on Brown Paper Tickets and like the festival on Face.