WTF is Latino at Sundance 2015? – A closer look

We are only a week away from the avalanche of discovery that will unfurl at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so let me give you a heads up on everything Latino.

First, a slew of qualifications, caveats and disclaimers; I like to differentiate between U.S. born artists of Latino heritage and international artists. Second, keep in mind “Latino sounding last names” does not indicate who is Latino behind a film (and a Latino sounding last name does not necessarily indicate that person identifies as Latino and or tells Latino stories). I mention this to emphasize Latino identity is often subjective and always complex.  Lastly, these are not reviews or spoilers but a quick reference for those interested in tracking emerging Latino talent and topics.

Left Tony Revolri is of Guatemalan descent
Left Tony Revolori is of Guatemalan descent

Perhaps more ubiquitous to spot are the Latinos in front of the camera; J-Lo plays Lila opposite queen bee Viola Davis in Lila and Eve. John Leguizamo has a role in The Experimenter, the late Elizabeth Peña has a wicked cameo in Grandma opposite Lily Tomlin. Tony Revolori (Grand Budapest Hotel) plays the Latino kid in Dope. Scott Mescudi is Christopher Abbot’s friend in James White.

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Robert “Beef” Lorie

Exciting acting debuts to watch out for include Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean Baker’s pulsing Tangerine and Robert Lorrie in The Strongest Man by Kenny Riches, both in the indie gem Next section.

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Cartel land

There are eight films that have Latino subjects. Two films in U.S. Documentary Competition are about the U.S./Mexico border, which makes me very happy (not the anguishing realities portrayed in the films but the fact that Sundance recognizes the urgency of the conversation and supports these filmmakers novel perspectives in tackling the complexities of the ongoing drugwar.

U.S. WRITERS/DIRECTORS

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the U.S. Dramatic Competition with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This successful television writer has been quoted  about his bordertown childhood; “Laredo is in my DNA, as much as Nuevo Laredo (Mexican state across the border) is in my DNA”.

Kyle Alvarez who has Cuban roots, is at the festival with his third feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Daniel Garcia who recently was named “Filmmaker to Watch” at the Independent Spirit Awards co-directed the enigmatic film, H. in Next. He is from Texas and has family from Mexico.  Check out the trailer:

10891650_10153504452223761_1003665519324158567_nIn the shorts program we got Reinaldo Green with the powerful Stop, Ryan Gillis with animated short film Palm Rot and Ronnie Rivera and Bernardo Britto are the co-directors of The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

If we are including writers/directors born and raised in another country but based in the U.S. let’s add:

Rodrigo Garcia – The Colombian born Mexican long time LA resident is back in Premieres with Last Days in the Desert shot by Mexican Oscar winner DP Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity).

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Kristen Wiig and Sebastian Silva

Sebastian Silva from Chile based in NY returns with Nasty Baby featuring another juicy dramatic performance from Kristen Wiig following last year’s Skeleton Twins.

And two international filmmakers who are making their English language debuts:

Claudia Llosa from Peru wrote and directed Aloft starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy which premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

J.M Cravioto makes his English language and fiction narrative debut with horror midnight movie, Reversal.

It’s worth noting not one of these films feature Latino actors with the exception of Silva who stars in his film, and Reinaldo Green’s Stop. And I will take a step further to comment those films do not have a storyline that reflects a Latino experience (I know, we can debate what qualifies as a Latino experience).

PRODUCERS AND MORE

Mimi Valdes – the former editor of Latina and Vibe Magazine and now creative director of Pharell Williams’ multi-media company is a co-producer on Dope with Nina Yang and Forest Whitaker (Fruitvale).

Felipe Marino of Occupant Entertainment produced creature feature, The Hallow. Named “Producer to Watch’ by Variety, the U.S. born of Colombia descent producer previously brought The Wackness to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The Borscht Corp powerhouse are behind shorts Papa Machete shot in Haiti and the previously mentioned, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

Nicolas Lopez (Aftershock) co-wrote Eli Roth’s Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves showing in Midnight.

Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment.

SUBJECT/THEMES

Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman. Senior Programmer David Courier’s description is on point; “Brilliant, dangerous, and provocative, Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and the borderline where life trumps law.” Here’s an interview with the filmmaker that includes clips of the movie:

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Western

Western by Alex and Turner Ross. If you saw their previous film, Tchoupitoulas you are familiar with their beautiful, observational and visceral style.  Motivated by finding the real iconic cowboys of the dusty old frontier, these two consider this part of their American trilogy.

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The Angulo Brothers of The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle – Its best if you know nothing going in and I will wager that this one will be one of the most talked about films at the festival. I will only mention the pack are the children of a Peruvian man.

The Strongest Man –The lead character’s thoughts and voiceover is uttered in Spanish throughout the film.

Royal Road by Jenni Olson talks about the Mexican land before it became the United States.

Fresh Dressed by Sacha Jenkins– documents the shift from when cats started settling beefs on the dance floor and on the mike instead of violence. Fashion and hip hop style created by urban (read: blacks and Latinos)

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Venus Extravaganza in Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston –celebrating its 15th anniversary a special Collection screening of the film will take place on January 26 at 3pm at the Egyptian. Love love love this film. The House of Extravaganza was one of the first Latino/a Harlem balls. RIP Angie and Venus.

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Making it in America

Making it in America by Joris Debeij is a short film about a Salvadoran immigrant in Los Angeles.

And now for straight up INTERNATIONAL FILMS:

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Paulina Davila in LiveForever

From Mexico/Colombia in New Frontier is Live Forever or QUE VIVA LA MUSICA! by Sundance alum Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones), a sexy, music driven film starring a magnetic new Colombian actress Paulina Davila

Short film, Spring from Mexico which played at the Morelia Film Festival by Tania Claudia Castillo.

Wild Tales from Argentina/Spain by Damián Szifrón

The Second Mother by well-known Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert

The Games Maker by Juan Pablo Buscarini in the Sundance Kids section is from Argentina.

And a MUST-EXPERIENCE at the New Frontier is virtual reality film Assent by Oscar Raby a Chilean who lives in Australia. Description: In 1973 my father witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners captured by the military regime in Chile, the same Army that he was part of. Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened.

And lastly, presenting short films in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are alumni Marialy Rivas, the hip director from Chile of Young and Wild, and actor/filmmaker Diego Luna.

To check out the entire lineup of films, screening times and descriptions go here.  To meet the directors, check out Sundance YouTube Meet The Filmmakers series here.  And lastly follow all the haps as it haps @sundancefestnow

2013 Sundance Addendum – More Latino voices representing

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From Calderon’s Aggressively Mediocre/Mentally Challenged/Fantasy Island work

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.

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From the Royal Tenenbaums

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.

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Filmmaker Sebastian Silva – Chilean based in NYC

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

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Juno Temple – 2013 Sundance Film Festival ‘It Girl”

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.

Mas later,

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