5 Latina-Directed Feature Films Breaking out in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 3.54.21 PMI am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue  (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech).   However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.

I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective).  Now that is something to celebrate.  It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries.  The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction.  Now I can’t say with total certainty these  2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????

LOS 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera
Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta
Social Media: @The33Pelicula

Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.

Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida).  Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY,  made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.

Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.

ENDGAME

Director: Carmen Marron
Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron
Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron
Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan
Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
Music: Brian Standefer
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries
Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen
Facebook

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIO PaperLogline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.

IMG_9959 copyAnother talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream).  I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver.  Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.

The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.

NO MÁS BEBÉS

Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino
Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow
U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal
Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo
Social Media: Facebook

 Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s

6. Maria Figueroa at courthouse

Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan.  Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A  long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.

Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19).  It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.

NOW EN ESPAÑOL

Director: Andrea Meller
Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller
Music: Camara Kambon
Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet
U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez
Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website

Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.

Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.NowEnEspanol_Still1

Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell,  the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows.   It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective.  You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m.  (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:

OVARIAN PSYCOS

Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast)
Cinematographer: Michael Raines
Music: Jimmy LaValle
Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade
Social Media: Facebook

04_Prod Still_Xela Mariachi PlazaLogline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.

jkmontage3Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary.  Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.

The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve.  Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside.  Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.

In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico.  Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.

Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year.   Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl chicanafromchicago@gmail.com!

FILM REVIEW: GIRL IN PROGRESS is sweet and just a tad spicy

From Latino studio, Pantelion Films, Girl in Progress stars Eva Mendes as Grace, an immature and impetuous single working mother who faces off with her equally impetuous but way more mature, scholarly teenaged daughter named Ansiedad.  Like a Freaky Friday where adult and child roles are reversed to comedic and lesson-learning effect, but without the body switch, Girl In Progress is an ebullient, if a bit twee, meta-fable set to capitalize on its May 11th, Mother’s Day weekend release.

nada de chemistry between these two
Introducing Cierra Ramirez from Houston!

When not scrapping for tips waiting tables at a busy Crab shack to pay the bills, Grace wastes her time hooking up with a bored and married doctor (Matthew Modine) much to the loud disappointment of Ansiedad. Ansiedad (a real Dominican name that means anxiety), a doll face who wears Clueless inspired outfits, does all the chores around the house and despises having to be the responsible one in the house while her mother goes out and flip flops on going to night school.  Grace is preoccupied with paying the bills, but also oblivious to her daughter’s needs. Determined to leave her mom behind and start her adult life, Anna, as she anglicizes her name, is inspired in lit class by Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette who phones it in) to fast forward her coming of age.  With the help of her best friend Tavita, Anna methodically plots out key pit stops on the way to adulthood taking a page from various coming of age classics like The Catcher In the Rye, and ever thorough, reviews a chrysalis diagram showing the process of cocoon into butterfly transformation. With self imposed urgency, Anna sets up and tackles her own passage of rites, including stealing money for a gothic bad girl makeover, making friends with the Mean Girls, dumping her loyal friend, up to scheduling the de-blossoming of her virginity with Mr. Popularity at an upcoming party to mark the final stage into womanhood.  Distracted by her job, her breakup with Mr. Doctor and the fact she’s short money for bills, Grace remains unaware of what her daughter’s antics are trying to tell her.

Girl In Progress is directed by Patricia Riggen, director of the 2007 Sundance breakout film, La Misma Luna.  Her short film Lindo y Querido which was in the Revolucion anthology strongly captures the first generation Mexican American experience for me.  Riggen imbues emotion and light quirky humor to the script written by Hiram Martinez, a Dominican New Yorker who made the 2005 micro-budget indie comedy, Four Dead Batteries. The dynamic of the reverse mother daughter roles reveals itself in very deliberate dialogue between Grace and Anna, both who struggle to act their age. Anchored in its PG-13 safe level of funny zingers and slight sexual undertones the film is nicely embedded in popcorn movie-land.  After all, nuclear families are not any better than single parent families and affairs with married men are no longer taboo.  The crux of the story lies in its empathetic rendering of the tenuous and complicated relationships of mothers and daughters.  Eva Mendes does what she does best and drips sensuality with her short hemmed waitress uniform and demonstrates more comic than dramatic chops.  Oddly enough, there is zero chemistry with Modine, which rejects any credibility to their affair. Nobody can blame a girl for having poor taste in men, but it does show Grace has some juvenile and irresponsible streaks to shed herself.

Played with relish by young newcomer Cierra Ramirez, Anna’s naive insistence that she can induce her transformation seems to belie her intellect, but at the same time reveals her internal desire to be the little girl to her mom. It’s part of the film’s concept that she follows the coming of age formula, a Meta conceit, the proceedings manage to keep an energetic pace.  Still, the over-familiarity of each prerequisite High School- nerd-goes-bad sequence begs for something fresh and authentic in this canon.

In thinking about the current Latino identity culture change that says “Hispanics are the Mainstream”, I feel like we are saying that the stories will remain the same (universal) but the characters might look, smell and sound Latino. In Girl In Progress for instance, we have the unique Spanish language Dominican names, Grace’s sideways cursing and swearing to the holy saints (swearing in Spanish is more expressive and fun than in English) and of course the music.  As Grace gets ready for her date, she dances to Sabor A Mi by Edie Gorme y los Panchos in her negligee looking super sultry.

Perhaps the only time the film portrays an unequivocal Latino identity is when Grace escapes from the suburban mainstream and accompanies her co-worker played by Eugenio Derbez in a secondary role that is more plot vehicle than anything, to his aunt’s cramped and colorful apartment fiesta.  There, Grace lets loose and dances to Mexican band singer Espinoza Paz.  The Latino experience is driven home by the reference to the vastly different and crude existence of his immigrant working lifestyle when he points to a couch he calls home.

I can’t help compare Girl in Progress with BABYGIRL, a film by Irish filmmaker Macdallaly Varela that just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Babygirl has the same dynamic except in this raw, Puerto Rican Bronx set world, the teen daughter competes with her mother for the attention of a smooth talking papi chulo.  The budding lust and romantic triangle combined with boriqua street vernacular give it much more of a base in reality and credibility.  Both films deal with young mamas who have more of a friendship than a traditional mother-daughter relationship.  Babygirl really goes there and unravels.  Girl In Progress neatly contrives its denouement.

The reason I bring it up is to make the point that the problem with practicing this hispanics are the mainstream trend.   I believe there’s more value in creating more distinctly personal Latino stories that are informed by the Latino experience instead of stories with characters that just happen to be Latinos.  This goes against the desire and moneymaking business of appealing to the widest scale possible. You can still taste the hint of spice in the mainstream of hispanic culture, but its so carefully measured to ensure that middle america can tolerate it.

All that aside, Girl In Progress is a tender, warm and pleasingly accessible Hollywood film that works on the surface and sufficiently carries out its cute tagline, “A Tale of Acting Up, Acting Out and Acting your Age.”

Watch trailer here