First the Machete Kills trailer (teaser) drops. It doesn’t come out for another few months -three days before Mexican Independence day to be exact, September 13. Which reminds me, I must re-watch Machete. As I recall, way underneath the action and sex titilliation, there was some subversive commentary on US/Mexico relations. This trailer right here is the one I found en Espanol.
Then, Indiewire reports that Robert Rodriguez and los Charrolastras (Diego & Gael) are teaming up with Fantastic Fest and Tim League for a fantastico mercado. A co-production market for “Latin films”. I’m really digging this menage a tres collaboration. They each bring cred, scope and connects to provide a viable channel and avenue for the growing number of American Latino filmmakers working in genre today. I see the raw talent out there through festival submissions all the time. Hopefully the Americans don’t get dissed next to the international (Ibero-American fare). There’s no doubt genre films, whether horror, supernatural, crime, action, comedy (read: anything but coming of ager dramas) are accessible, audience driven and more importantly COMMERCIAL which is what Canana wants as it expands its distribution tentacles.
It really does feel like RR is eager to give back and nurture the ‘underserved’ Latino community. Makes me almost forgive him for saying he wouldn’t want to limit himself by identifying as Mexican American at last year’s NALIP. That comment aside, I gotta hand it to him, he’s been a big influence in shaping our modern American cultural zeitgeist towards mainstream acceptance of Latinos. Whereas once having the last name, Rodriguez in pop culture, it was discriminated and dismissed (see Sixto Rodriguez’s story in Searching for Sugarman) now its seen as BADASS and SO COOL to be Latino. Even Charlie Sheen, who has seen his cool mojo factor slip in middle age, recognizes, as evident by his decision to use his birth name, Carlos Estevez in Machete Kills.
Sundance Institute has just announced the 12 projects selected to participate in the five day winter cycle of the screenwriters lab, an immersive workshop where esteemed creative advisors challenge the filmmakers’ veracity in achieving their vision, and in many cases make them go through the proverbial ringer. Although this batch of filmmakers do not get a chance to enjoy the warm hiking weather of the Sundance resort in June, these folks have an extra perk as they are invited to swing by the film festival a few days afterwards, the perfect reinvigorating finish to the intense story workshop.
One of the projects selected is ZEUS from Mexican multi-media artist and ‘provacateur’ Miguel Calderon. Perhaps his most ubiquitous work outside the insular art circuit is the 1998 exhibit titled, “Aggressively Mediocre/Mentally Challenged/Fantasy Island”. Pieces from this collection were made cult classic by Wes Anderson’s inclusion in his Royal Tenenbaums film. Read more about Calderon in this article. He also created a fictitious grueling futbol match out of 100 hours of real footage between Brazil and Mexico – in which Mexico kicks Brazil’s ass. Calderon then broadcast in some bars in Brazil. This imaginary win is all the more prankster given the two country’s fierce rivalry (Brazil usually kicks Mexico’s ass). This was shown in 2004’s Sao Paolo’s Bienale. Sounds like my kind of artist. I’m looking forward to tracking this up and coming audiovisual talent. Zeus marks his first foray into feature films. The logline copied from the press release: “Sporadically employed and still living with his mother, Joel finds his only joy in falconry in the flatlands outside Mexico City, until an encounter with a down-to-earth secretary forces him to face reality.” Calderon was recommended by Fernando Eimbcke who developed his script for Lake Tahoe at the 2006 Screenwriters Lab. Although there is no submission fee required for international projects wanting to submit their screenplays for consideration, unless you fall into the region of focus (Central America, North Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe) it is required to send a letter of inquiry or be referred by Sundance family. Among other Mexican projects that have gone through the labs in the past few years and I am eager to see come to fruition soon is HELI by Amat Escalante whose SANGRE and LOS BASTARDOS played Cannes Film Festival and I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE by Ernesto Contreras who made BLUE EYELIDS which garnered a Special Jury Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category.
In other Spanish-language programming recently announced as part of the four additional feature films screening at Sundance, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva will now have not one but two films screen at the festival. In addition to Crystal Fairy screening in World Cinema Competition, Magic Magic will screen in Midnight section. Michael Cera stars in both of Silva’s films but he speaks Spanish in only Magic Magic. Perhaps it was the second one they shot together this past year judging by the confident Cera deftly picking up the distinct Chilean vernacular melody. But its Juno Temple who plays the insomniac Alicia at the center of Magic Magic, an tensely unhinging film. This is her third film in the 2013 Festival. Temple is also in the films, Afternoon Delight and Lovelace. Also making an appearance in the film who we haven’t seen in a while is Catalina Sandino Moreno who was last at Sundance with Maria Full of Grace in 2004. Sebastian Silva’s hottie brother, Agustin Silva and gorgeous Emily Browning round out this good looking young cast. Sebastian joins the uber-exclusive Sundance 2fer club- a director with two films selected at the same edition of the Festival. British documentarian Lucy Walker had two films play in the festival, both in competition back in 2010 , COUNTDOWN TO ZERO and WASTELAND, and before that I’m not sure but I think that Alex Gibney has also had two documentaries at the same Festival. TBD
Robert Rodriguez’s now-infamous $7,000 guinea pig budget and 16mm shot first feature, El Mariachi is screening as part of The Sundance Collection at UCLA, twenty years after it screened at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Collection at UCLA is an important preservation program of Sundance Institute managed by Senior Programmer John Nein that actively offers and encourages all festival alumni the opportunity to store their films properly. Rodriguez’s down and dirty video action flick put the San Antonio native on the map and became the precursor to Desperado, the glossier, sexier Banderas/Hayek version which came about after Rodriguez was offered a considerably higher budget to flex and show off his intuitive action flair. If you have not seen El Mariachi, I highly recommend it. Watch it right now on Crackle for free.
Before I peace out on this post, I want to take a moment to address a couple comments on my Indiewire repost, “WTF is Latino at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival”. In it I break down the Latino elements of the Festival program – I lump together American Latino oriented films with films from Chile. Someone commented on my including Chile in a Latino post. “South American films are not Latino films…” first-name only Michael wrote. First of all I want to thank him for saying as much. I would have loved to hear his source and explanation. This is the point of my blog; trying to re-appropriate our representation and design new and accurate terminology of and for ourselves. The blanket category Latino is a very diluted term and one I’ve heard with Hispanic interchangeably. What IS the difference between Latin and South America? I want to focus my blog on primarily films from a bi-cultural, bi-literate American Latino community, which for me means US inhabitants who come from, or have ancestry from Mexico, Central, South America, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Does Latino accurately represent this group? Do you as the audience understand the reference I mean when I use Latino? Admittedly, these are two different things.
Last Friday while lunching on poached salmon and tomato bisque on the 21st banquet floor of the Universal City Sheraton, Robert Rodriguez enthusiastically shared a few anecdotes from his early career, remarking on the 20th anniversary of EL Mariachi, and expounding nuggets of wisdom like, Think Big, Be Positive and Take a NMIDIM mentality, a cute acronym for Never Mind I’ll Do It Myself, a really named production company of his. Referring to a notebook on his lap, his conversation sounded a bit scripted, with distinct pauses that cued applause from the packed dining hall. The floor-to-ceiling windows were all steamed up with only a few visible gray clouds which obstructed the usual gorgeous Hollywood Hills vista, giving our one-on-one setting with RR feel as if we had come to visit him at the top of Mount Olympus. I crashed a sponsor table in the front for a better view of the tiny stage that Rodriguez shared with a moderator who replaced the scheduled Luis Castro of HBO and who in the second half seemed to lose direction of the conversation which Rodriguez naturally hijacked. There was good energy in the room but looking around I saw more NALIP organizers, panelists, and sponsors than upcoming artists – which kind of defeats the purpose since the address is geared to green, next-generation of writers/directors/producers/actors.
RR’s steady stream of anecdotes deliberately kept coming full circle to hyping up his new Comcast network set to unveil in 2013, a place he says will welcome those stories and voices that Hollywood is not serving. Unfortunately this cut into time for the audience to ask questions. Only one person got the chance to ask a question, which made for a memorable moment. A true Tejano vato, Carlos Calbillo from Houston basically asked him what’s up with not identifying as Mexican-American or Chicano. Rodriguez responded swiftly and rather tactfully. You can see the video I took of this exchange here. The full transcript at bottom of post, but the main soundbyte is:
…”Now if I don’t specifically say I’m Chicano….I didn’t ever intentionally do that. But if you ask me now, ‘Would I say I’m Chicano?,’ You know I would probably say….I wouldn’t make myself that specific”.
UNIVERSAL BUT SUBVERSIVE
Rodriguez says that when he got to Hollywood to make Desperado he wasn’t trying to make a Latin film but a film that was entertaining just like when he saw John Woo’s, The Killer and he thought, “Damn I want to be Chinese”. With Desperado he liked the idea of people watching it, who would say, “Wow I want to be Mexican”.
About El Rey, he mentioned that he had considered creating TV shows before, but was turned off by having to compete with everyone in town for an NBC slot. Instead he thought if I have my own network I can put on any show I want (Think Big). He was quite open about what his pitch was to Comcast. Male oriented –‘”So the guys think if I’m home, I’ll be taken care of. If you’re a girl and a badass, you’ll like it too – if you are anyone who likes cool programming you’ll like it. Its for an English language, 2nd, 3rd generation, highest growing population, and they don’t have anywhere else to go. Its going to be addicting and intoxicating.” Rodriguez further ingratiated himself with the room by saying, “ Advertisers are desperate. They keep banging their heads on the wall asking how do we get to their wallet (pointing to his hip pocket), but nobody talks about this (pointing to his heart). So I was coming at it in a different way”.
Rodriguez emphasized the good things that came out of his early failures and setbacks, encouraging people to avoid thinking negatively. When he approached the owner of an Austin restaurant he frequents about having a show on his Hispanic cable channel, set around family and cooking, the owner hesitated and said, “But I don’t speak Spanish that well and I’m embarrassed about it.” When Rodriguez told him it would be in English, he responded, ‘You mean Pocho? ‘ (laughter). Rodriguez pointed out the negative connotation of the word and that’s what El Rey says, “You’re okay exactly the way you are. “
He went on to say that we have the key to content and ideas people haven’t seen before and guess what, that’s an advantage, that no one has heard your voices. If his network fails to succeed, he encourages us to sift through the ashes of his failure to pick it up and move it forward.
OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM
Rodriguez says he’s never worked with a major studio because it infringes on his freedom. He’s gotten close a couple times, like when he was attached to John Carter which fell through the second and final time he left the DGA. Prior to the Sin City debacle where he resigned from the DGA in order to give creator Frank Miller co-director credit, he had left the DGA in order to work on his segment of the Tarantino produced, New Years Eve anthology, Four Rooms (which in turn directly inspired him to create Spy Kids). Although this means he cannot collect residuals and will never be nominated for an Oscar, he no longer has to follow the rules. He made an interesting quip on the word Independent in the acronym of NALIP saying ‘You probably think you HAVE to be independent because you have no choice, I bet you actually want to be in the system’. The audience laughed as if in agreement. He encouraged people to change from feeling they have to be independent to wanting to be independent. “Sometimes you have to do it yourself because you have a vision that noone else shares. Do it first and then they’ll share.”
All in all, Rodriguez had valuable advice to share. Themes like Finding Success in your Failures and Staying Positive made for an inspirational address. Yet I’m personally skeptical when it comes to him talking about his network becoming a platform to serve under-represented voices and stories that are made by and for the US Latino community with their distinct point of view. What does he mean exactly? Well, here’s a Variety article where RR talks about the underserved hispanic male audience (!).
Ever since he started shooting movies, beginning with the engaging, b/w, sibling rivalry, $400 short film, Bedhead, you can say Rodriguez has written from his heart and what he knows best – and that’s big family dynamics (he has nine brothers and sisters, and has five kids of his own) and awesome action/adventure. If you ask me, that is as universal of a genre classification you can get. What distinguishes Rodriguez’s work is those brushes of Tejano culture, which as I learned firsthand with my recent trip to San Antonio, is a very distinct socio/political culture within the US Latino spectrum and one beyond the 1st generation of bi-lingual folks like myself. Rodriguez’s impact in the indie 90s film scene is huge and two-fold; On top of showing major studios he can capture a market they can’t by making an entertaining movie for as little as $10,000, the fact that his last name is Rodriguez and his protagonists were heroes who spoke English with an accent, made a difference to the growing population of US Latinos. After all, Rodriguez’s first trilogy began with romanticizing and glorifying the mariachi, an icon terribly dear and close to Latinos. Wrap it in gritty action packaging and it works for that lucrative 18-35 male demographic.
Rodriguez says he’s consciously been subversive about the identity angle. Which is an interesting observation I made and makes me wonder if he’d have the luxury of being able to work outside the system if his genre was not the potentially commercial mine of the family and male driven audience? Would he be as successful if his films were say showed the true life contemporary struggles of underrepresented and multi-dimenstional gay Latinos and empowered females? The point is he knows his audience. His work up to now has represented US Latinos in a corporal sense. I agree that identifying with the physical image onscreen can be an empowering experience but there’s a difference between taking a hero archetype and painting him/her Latino, and making a Hero out of an everyday Latino in middle america.
Whether simply because he’s a successful Latino in a position of power makes Robert Rodriguez obligated to represent the diversity of the US Latino fragmented mass is debatable. And anyway why would he want to suddenly step outside his tried and true money making action fare? Lets be real, Comcast licensed him a network because they are after the audience of Rodriguez’s franchises, El Mariachi, Spy Kids and Machete. So while I would love to see him hold the door wide open and program content that demonstrates the rich dimensionality of Latinas and the Latino LGBT community – that’s not going to happen here. However, if he’s still got that subversive renegade in him, he just might ‘flip the script’ and support unique content on his channel made by the next generation of storytellers who are authentically rendering their unheard, real life based experiences into multi-media. I love intoxicating fantasy and pop entertainment as much as the next person….but thats just one dimension of our lives.
I say we take the hooligan to task and pitch El Rey our most kickass and personal passion projects for a slot on the network. Contact his partners, John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa at Factory Made Ventures at info@FactoryMade.com.
Lets see just how open and interested they are to tapping our talent and showing our point of view.
RR in response to why it doesn’t seem he identifies as Chicano:
“ That’s a valid question, that I’ve never identified myself as Mexican American, but, if you look at my bio, that’s the first thing it says, Mexican-American. I’m very proud of that. (cue clapping). You bring up something very important about identity, because you want to belong and identify with something. This leads to El Rey, you don’t have a place where you can say that’s me, or someone’s success that you can attach to and you feel some of that success is yours, and if that’s a person who isn’t acknowledging that, that’s a terrible thing, I’m sorry you felt that. But I’ve always pointed out, that what I am, what I do with my work speaks for itself. I’ve tried to do it in a very subversive way because that’s been the key. Even after the success of Desperado and From Dusk till Dawn I wanted to do Spy Kids and again, you write what you know, you write in our image, its based on my family. My uncle Gregorio worked as special agent so Antonio’s character’s name is Gregorio. The kids are named after my brothers and sisters. Its all about my family. But the studio says, “Why are you making them Mexican American? Why don’t you just make them American?” That’s why its so important to have a Latin filmmaker to make this argument; “Well because its based on my family”, and its not going to be like only Latin kids are going to watch it, …and then I had the best argument possible, I said, “ Lets put it this way you don’t have to be British to watch James bond. (applause)
You identify with it more if its universal and not that specific. So of everyone watching it, if you’re Latin, you just changed their idea of what’s possible, you’re changing the child’s idea of what they can accomplish because they see my name at the end, “Rodriguez” directed it, two kids with Latin names as spies. It’s very empowering. You want as many people to see it as possible. (Applause)
Described as the largest gathering of Latinos working in media in the U.S., the 13th annual National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Conference presented by Time Warner, most actively by way of HBO Latino and NBC Universal, and The National Latino Media Council, took place this weekend at the model tourist convention hub, Universal City Sheraton. NALIP finds itself in a bit of a transition following Kathryn Galan’s departure as Executive Director who spent almost eleven years at the organization shaping it into what it is today. The search is still on for a replacement but guiding the transition as Interim Director is the affable Beni Matias who started with NALIP from its inception. A couple of the board members are new, including Rosa Alonso, founder of My Latino Voice who will lend her digital marketing expertise to the organization. These high level leadership changes can potentially bring about a revitalized and evolving mission to NALIP’s growing legacy. Covering the conference for Latin Heat Online Magazine, I greatly enjoyed the ability to observe and take part with an inquisitive gonzo-like spirit. Indeed I’d be remiss if I did not approach the significant Latino organization with an on-the-ground, critical eye, especially now while it is in a very ‘review mode’ on how to continue to stay relevant. Its crucial to recognize its monumental formation and landmark achievements. Equally as crucial is to identify how to pragmatically further the conversation it began thirteen years ago about US Latino representation in front and behind the camera. Most important is to distill the relevant but sometimes incongruent messaging – for instance, the Robert Rodriguez keynote illustrated a polar opposite way of thinking to that of Ron Meyer’s keynote (Do we want to Break Out or Break In to the mainstream?), which makes for an intriguing forum of deeper discussion.
What to expect from Chicana from Chicago’s multi-part NALIP coverage? A couple of case-studies/interviews with Rashaad Ernesto Green who epitomizes the DIY mentality which made his feature debut, Gun Hill Road a unique success story, the filmmaker Michael D. Olmos and his star, Gina Rodriguez of Filly Brown who embody the US Latino pop culture flavor.
I’d like to recognize the influential Gatekeepers at non-profit, artistic development institutions responsible for introducing the most fresh, diverse and underrepresented voices to audiences, like Shari Frilot, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Tamir Muhammad, Director of Feature Programming at Tribeca Film Institute and Richard Ray Perez who is the newest and welcome U.S. Latino staff addition at Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program. I’m also most excited to give you a heads up on fresh new film and multi-media projects in the works, and I’ll make sure to dish on the fancy Awards Gala.
I found the theme of NALIP 2012’s, “Diverse Voices, Universal Content” sounding futuristic and empowering, yet initially too broadly defined and perfunctory. I strongly feel that the more focus we can bring to next year’s themes, the better we’ll be able to advance conversation. That said, I’ve identified a few key points that were strong merits of this year’s NALIP, and an excellent way to frame and contextualize what was really being said:
Training our content producers and artists, to not only compete but to raise the bar and expectations in every industry.
Advocate and encourage our friends of color and diversity in all professions, in particular policy-making fields, towards becoming ‘Decision Makers”
The need to vocally and financially support ‘our own content’, as peers but especially obligate those in a position of power who represent us and utilize our fan-dom (Robert Rodriguez with his new El Rey network)
Networking and sharing with peers, and takeaway the hard lessons learned by our elders, those who first paved in-roads into mainstreams, like Rita Moreno and Jerry Velasco, recipients of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Developing our individual and personal voices with which we distinguish our mestizo identity while simultaneously relating the universal the power of storytelling
Overall, I found NALIP an absolutely positive and celebratory environment. . I’m happy to share my thoughts but I would love and need to hear from YOU. I invite you to engage and kindly ask you to share your comments and observations from this year’s NALIP, and in general the landscape of US Latino representation in media as you’ve experienced it.
Chicana from Chicago is on the scene at NALIP 2012 thanks to Latin Heat. Armed with a press badge, two borrowed flipcams and camera, I’ll be uploading video and writing coverage from the panels, guests and parties this weekend to find out what la nueva onda of US latino voices are saying about our place in the mainstream. As a teaser, here’s a short spot from Robert Rodriguez about his new network. I apologize for the link. Apparently I don’t have the video setting to embed (its $50, thanks wordpress).
If the San Antonio Cinefestival isn’t on your radar yet, watchale because the oldest chicano showcase in the U.S. is a gem in the rough and is recharging as the gold mine boutique, historical, and uniquely diverse festival it is. I’m not the only one who thinks so – the intrepid producer and indie film ambassador Ted Hope gave the keynote address at the San Antonio Film Commission hosted summit that kicked off the 34th edition of CineFestival last weekend. I had the honor of being involved as a juror this year and visited San Antonio for the first time, to discover a rich and deeply rooted community just a few miles west of the Alamo. I found an interesting mix of not only Mexican, but other latino and US latino generations, encompassing old school military vets, and today’s punk youth, intertwined with white Texas big city and small town folks. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, the non-profit multi-disciplinary organization that puts on CineFestival, runs a number of programs throughout the year including the popular Tejano Conjunto. Filmmaker, pundit, and esteemed local statesman, Jim Mendiola, co-curated this year’s edition along with Manuel Solis. Yvonne Montoya, the multi, multi-tasker Program Manager, the gracious Drew Mayor-Oakes director of the San Antonio Film Commission, and Patty Ortiz the director of the GCAC were just a few of the dedicated organizers who gave me a warm Texas welcome. This year Cinefestival scored Sundance, Cannes and even Oscar nominated films in their lineup like Mosquita y Mari, Chico & Rita, El Velador. The Festival even screened a work in progress screening of the highly anticipated Chicano noir tale, Water & Power by Richard Montoya of Culture Clash fama. Other highlights included the fun Texas grindhouse film, The Return of Johnny V by Aaron Lee Lopez, American Mustache, which is a live performance and riff of seminal chicano film, American Me, and the local shorts program which showcased the distinct flavor of San Antonio.
Check the box: Hispanic, Latino, or other
Filmmakers Across_Borders, was the first of its kind summit that the San Antonio Film Commission hosted to discuss cross cultural creative collaboration in independent cinema. Led by genial film commission director and filmmaker Drew Mayer-Oakes, the panelists included, along with Ted Hope, Director of Programming at The Monterrey Film Festival, Luis Garcia, music and film producer, Brandon Olmos, renowned Mexican tv/ film actor, Plutarco Hazas, and producer Don Franken. Some bright local talents and strong voices from the community engaged with them, like Ralph Lopez whose first feature, Wolf is premiering at SXSW, and Pablo Veliz (La Tragedia de Macario – Sundance FF 2006). Sitting in on the panels it’s evident that these young filmmakers connect to their latino background on different levels and how it informs their work. For some it’s a big part of their process, for others not so much. One thing was clear, their goals were to tell authentic, universal and relatable character driven stories.
Let your hair down
After a fun bar hopping first night, I saw Girl in a Coma, San Antonio’s home grown all girl punk band who played a rockin 10th anniversary concert outside at the Guadalupe plaza as part of the official opening on Saturday, with their producer, the still-fierce Joan Jett in tow. On Sunday, Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca), a muy querido native, presented Las Tesoros de San Antonio, a documentary about four impressive mariachi singers who sang with the greats of the 40s and 50s and who now in their 70s continue to sing their hearts out. The extraordinary firebrand Doña’s were present and it just made my heart glow. The screening was a clip of the feature documentary in the works, currently looking for finishing funds. More info and trailer here.
San Antonio is for real up and coming. It’s mayor, Julian Castro is being pegged as the next great Hispanic hope, the city is the 7th largest in the nation, and there exists a vibrant artistic core amid the sprawled out city.
Although Texas brand name, Robert Rodriguez is from San Antonio and he frequents his hometown often, I found it hard to believe he’s not been involved with the festival in over a decade. The festival up until recently, had seen a lot of turnover and been short-staffed. But if this festival was any indication, its clear that with Patty Ortiz, who took the reins of GCAC in 2009 and is a savvy and ambitious visionary, along with Yvonne Montoya, are leading a revitalized charge and mission for the festival to stay relevant and build on its legacy, while keeping its socio-political conscious roots and heritage. Cinefestival will continue to nurture and celebrate its local talent, and will be doing a round up of the spectacular alumni of the past 34 years. Combined with its down home and intimate nature, it’s a very attractive platform for companies, filmmakers and organizations looking to connect and tap into the diverse and vibrant American mestizo culture. I’m excited about it and am already looking forward to next year. Gracias Cinefestival!