I’m on the list – the Brown Hollywood and Indie list

My boots are packed and ready to get to San Antonio tomorrow for CineFestival, the longest running independent Latino Film Festival in the US.  I’m looking forward to hanging out with friends, old and new, who represent the rich emerging Latino independent film world, but I’m particularly eager to discover and connect with local filmmakers.  But first, tonight I’m going to put on my heels and get fancy, for I’ll be covering a ‘Hollywood Hispanic” gala.  I’m going to the  National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Awards.  The NHMC is a non-profit media advocacy organization which seeks to recognize outstanding contributions to the positive portrayal of Latinos in media.   Among this year’s honorees are Michael Pena, Mario Lopez and John Leguizamo. You can expect me to cover both events on the ground.  What I won’t be personally covering is the big glitzy mainstream Indie and Academy Awards.   Let’s take a quick look at WTF is Latino in that land, shall we?

Film Independent’s Spirit Awards

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Adam Leon, winner of Someone to Watch Award for Gimmie the Loot!, flanked by co-chairs, Jeremy Renner and Salma Hayek at the Film Independent Nominee brunch

Mexicana Salma Hayek is an honorary co-chair of this year’s Spirit Awards.  A ceremonial title that pretty much just confirms her presence at the show.

If we were to subscribe to NBC Latino’s overly positive scratching at the barrel of Best ‘Hispanic movies of 2012″,  I would second the highlight John Ortiz, Bradley Cooper’s best friend in the nominated Best Film, Silver Linings Playbook.  Sure he’s a solid supporting character with a sub-storyline and I applaud his acting talent.  In that case, let’s mention Gael Garcia Bernal in Best Director nominated Julia Loktev’s film, Loneliest Planet,or  Aubrey Plaza (yes she’s boricua baby – here is proof watch this clip FF 40 sec in) who is in Safety Not Guaranteed directed and produced by Colin Trevorrow, up for Best First Feature, and there is Wendell Pierce who is nominated for Best Actor in Four written and directed by Joshua Sanchez. But come on, lets be real, and more importantly, relevant to the awards.  I count three:

John Cassavetes Award – Mosquita y Mari, written and directed by Aurora Guerrero

I’ve written a bunch of love letters on my blog about this film which I hold close to my heart.  Check out the interview I did exactly one year ago with my sister, Aurora here.

Best Supporting Actor – Michael Pena – for End of Watch

hot hot hot.

Best Screenplay – Keep the Lights On
Mauricio Zacharias – is the Brazilian born co-writer of Keep the Lights On, an extraordinarily written and acted film about a tumultous relationship between two New York City men.  I always like to strip a gay or latino movie of its gay or latino element and ask myself if the barebones of the story would be as poignant without it and the answer here is definitively yes.  However it’s also a celebration to finally have access to those specific narratives and previously unseen powerful images.  The romantic sex and love scenes between the two men carry such weight and substance.(I think I’m channeling Franco with his Interior Leather Bar ‘thesis’ film)

The 85th Academy Awards

Just down the street from me, Hollywood Boulevard has been blocked off since last week to make way for the monumental Academy Awards.  Huffington Post did a good job at covering the Latino in the nominations.   Check out the full post and related “Latinos Snubbed” slideshows here.  Basically they highlighted:

Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi (Chilean)

Costume Design – Paco Delgado, Les Miserables (Spanish)

Sound Design – Jose Antonio García, Argo  (Mexican)

And I will add Searching for Sugarman by Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn to this list.  I am so grateful to these filmmakers for rescuing this story and incredible folk singer songwriter artist from obscurity.  It might seem hard to believe but back then, unlike now, before Robert Rodriguez made it cool, the last name Rodriguez was discriminated against in the 60s and 70s.  The Detroit native, first generation Mexican American literally had his amazing voice suppressed and blocked by labels who could not imagine that his amazing voice would transcend boundaries.  I mean  – his lyrics were also pretty powerful.   I couldn’t be happier about the success of this film which has given us the chance to not only discover but to celebrate Sixto Rodriguez’s late but true contribution to our lives.  Fingers crossed it wins Best Documentary.

And with that – I’m reposting a video I took of Sixto Rodriguez at last year’s LA Film Festival.

LA Film Fest – Mexican American singer songwriter Rodriguez – the spotlight finally catches up on an extraordinary voice and icon

Sixto Rodriguez with Ben Gibbard (Deathcab for Cutie)

In a historical performance last night at the LA Film Festival’s Grammy night, Voices for Change (see my video clip at the end of post), a jet-black haired, black hat clad older man in a bright green suit was helped onstage and delivered a breathtaking, albeit short set.  I stared in awe at his huge fingers powerfully and dexterously strumming the guitar and deeply connected to his significant lyrics, mesmerized by his voice (think a raw version of James Taylor). His weary and slight 69 year old body is no doubt the result of his back breaking working-class roots, construction labor his trade for decades save for a short moment in the late 60s and early 70s when he worked on his music only to have his commercial debut flop and step back into obscurity. This is Mexican-American singer/songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez who is being rediscovered, or rather finally being discovered in the United States, thanks in part to the upcoming documentary Searching for Sugarman.  Here’s the trailer:

The film by Stockholm based Malik Bendjelloul opened the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.  The film shows us the lore that followed his so called disappearance which reached mythological legend (that he committed suicide among other theories).  This whole time he was living a hardscrabble life in Detroit.  (So if you dont want anyone to find you, go to Detroit).  Watching the film I was so inspired by Rodriguez’s quiet zen and humble aura.  The accepting manner with which he played the unfair cards life dealt him is as unbelievable as the fact that while he was toiling away he became a star on another continent. English his second language, the Detroit singer’s 1970 record, Cold Fact became a huge hit in South Africa where he is bigger than Jimi Hendrix. His lyrics are classic, anthemic and socially and politically prescient than ever, from “Establishment Blues” (The mayor hides the crime rate, council woman hesitates, public gets irate but forget the vote date) to “Sugarman” which when he performed, he prefaced by saying the lyrics (“colors to my dreams, silver ships”, and the literal “coke and sweet Mary Jane”reference is not based on drug experiences (yeah right). Instead he told the audience to “Stay smart, don’t start” and “Hugs, not drugs”. I highly encourage you to read his poems that form his body of work on the Sugarman website here. New original songs are included in the film which will be released in LA and NY July 27.    A very touching and incredible story about a first generation Mexican-American whose voice was suppressed for many years at a time when the last name Rodriguez was perhaps too ethnic for the mainstream I thank Malik for making the film and hope it reaches audiences beyond the east and west coast.  Hopefully his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show will help.  Here’s a short highlight clip of the evening.