WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and its a special one for me because it marks my 10th year with the not for profit.  I started working for the institute in 2007 and ever since, every year from from August to November, I screen submissions as a Programming Associate, primarily Latin American and Latino films.  More than ever, I feel priviledged to watch such a volume and diverse array of perspectives.
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As for my personal mission on this blog,  I choose to talk about Latino representation in a laser focused way:  highlighting the writers and directors who are out there telling the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell it, and emphasizing the U.S. context.  As much as I love to talk about international films, the real void in the U.S. media and therefore urgent need to support, are stories created by first, second, third, multicultural generation Americans.

Overview:  Boricuas dominating. Puerto Rico most definitely repping.  Also, we got a healthy presence in Digital and Virtual Reality which makes sense beause it (WE) are the future.   Without further ado, a rundown of WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In the U.S. Documentary Competition

DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt

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Executive produced by none other than Carlos Santana and supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s Documentary Fund, this long overdue celebration of Dolores Huerta’s achievements over the course of her 60something years in civil rights is reverent, timely and galvanizing. Peter Bratt is an alumni of the festival.  He wrote and directed the San Francisco set, gay coming of age La Mission which played in the 2009 festival. Armed with a rich archive of footage, banging soundtrack and one-on-ones with Dolores herself, the film chronicles one woman’s boldness in tackling the obstacles she faced on the sociopolitical battlefield along with the personal challenges of being an absentee mother.  It encourages all women to seize claim to their often overlooked contributions to society.

Also in the U.S. Documentary Competition

DINA directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-1-08-25-pmNew to the festival, Puerto Rican Antonio Santini’s first documentary feature co-directed with Dan Sickles, MALA MALA about the trans sex worker community in Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.  Like the intimate access of that film, Dina also has a striking sense of intimacy, unpresumptiousness and ultimately delivers an unexpected and very honest connection to someone as authentically unique as Dina.
In the high profile out of competition Premieres section

BEATRIZ AT DINNER directed by Miguel Arteta

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31343311256_1f1f040a94_zThe Sundance Film Festival showed Arteta’s very first film, Star Maps back in 1997. Ever since he’s made a career of crafting indelible characters across film and television.  He reteams with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, GoodGirl) on this deliciously wicked tale of a fateful dinner encounter between a humble holistic healer and a mega brazen successful business developer.  The two opposing forces are embodied by the superb Salma Hayek and immense John Lithgow.  Thought provoking, unpredictable and utterly engrossing, the dark comedy is produced by Killer Films. Watch an exclusive clip here.

In the bold Next section

LEMON written and directed by Janicza Bravo

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Co-written with her star and partner in crime, Brett Gelman, Janicza’s striking  feature length debut boasts an insanely big and comedically gifted cast including Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr.  Along with a background in design, Bravo has a knack for capturing characters lost in flight with a tragic humor and heart. An alumni of the festival, Gregory Go Boom with Michael Cera and last year’s Woman in Deep with Alison Pill, Bravo is a busy woman.  Last May she debuted a Virtual Reality experience at Tribeca Film Festival, called A Hard World for Small Things about a day in the life of South Central, and also directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning show, Atlanta.

In the Shorts Competition

KAIJU BUNRAKU directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva

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Marking their 12th project (features and shorts) at the festival in 7 years, multimedia mischievous artists, Jillian and Lucas bring a japanese inspired marionette short this year which like all of their work is eye-grabbing, provocative and is about more than meets the eye.  The Miami full time Borsht Corp is a nonprofit which supports Miami filmmakers, they recently supported 28 filmmakers with cold hard cash all of which are poised to premiere at their festival which has been listed on Moviemakers 25 Coolest Festivals in the world.  For more info on this February’s event click here.

GOOD CRAZY written and directed by Rosa Salazar

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Making her directorial debut, actor Rosa Salazar stars in this short shot around the hipster rising area in LA named Frogtown. The logline: A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. Heart.  Excited to see more of her writing and directing.

In the newly minted, Short Form Episodic

GENTIFIED written and directed by Marvin Lemus

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Marvin Lemus who made a short film with Project Involve called Vamonos which I loved (you can watch it on PBS online) will be premiering 3 episodes of this series that takes place in Boyle Heights.  Each episode features a resident trying to pursue their living/art. Lemus hits a chord/funny bone here as most of the tension and strife is intergenerational; old school mexican generation clashing with millenials.  The series is backed by Mr. Charles King and his company Macro.  Lemus is in good company.  Macro also produced Denzel Washington’s Fences, and at the festival Dee Ree’s WW2 period Mudbound.
In the animation spotlight

VICTOR Y ISOLINA by William Caballero

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-11-43-57-amIts only three years ago that William popped up on the radar with his animated series Gran’pa Knows Best, a really funny and sweet series in which he used 3-D printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather over real voicemails that his grandfather from would leave for him. Initially an independent short, it was quickly snapped up with HBO.  Victor y Isolina introduces his grandma to the mix, who is the perfect foil to his unapologetic grandpa.  Produced by Elaine Del Valle who produced her own webseries, Reasons y I’m Single.  Check out his website for more info.

In the New Frontier (the future) section

NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM

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screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-9-47-55-amI don’t know much about this one but the description sounds super fascinating; a beauty salon of the future’. Fingers crossed I get an opportunity to experience it while I’m here.   Also I’m dying to meet one of the artist/engineers, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge who founded Hypen-Lab, an international team of women of color working at the intersection of tech, art, science and narrative.

IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche

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I been crushing hard on Rose Troche for as far back as I can remember.  Go Fish changed my life.  No joke.  She was a producer on Concussion, and has since come back to the festival in the New Frontier program with a series called Perspectives, which puts you in the shoes of a person caught in a situation a result which shatters any idea of black and white and makes you swim in the gray.  Per the description:  IF NOT LOVE challenges the viewer to contemplate another difficult subject—a mass shooting at a nightclub, but this time with the question posited: is another outcome possible?

OUT OF EXILE: DANIEL’S STORY by Nonny de la Peña

I mean, she’s been called the Godmother of Virtual Reality.  Nonny de la Peña also returns to New Frontier with this piece that recreates Daniel Ashley Pierce’s coming out video that went viral.  If you don’t know the heartbreaking and inspirational story read here This experience puts your body into the middle of the action around audio that Daniel recording during that encounter.

For deeper coverage on Latino and Latin American talent at the festival check out REMEZCLA.  For a closer look at all documentaries at the festival head over to What (not) to Doc.   Livestream the festival’s panels and watch select shorts from home. And follow my BTS on Twitter @IndieFindsLA and insta ChicanafromChicago.

WTF is Latino at the 74th Golden Globes?

Quick answer: Not much.  But it’s too easy, not to mention unproductive, to bemoan and criticize awards shows for their lack of recognition when it comes to Latino writers/directors.  Unfortunately there isn’t much of an eligible pool for these big awards shows to consider (why that is -for another post).  Also, for those new to my blog; I define Latino strictly in the American generation/context, not international, and I focus on creators (writers and directors).  Now lets celebrate who we do got because it’s pretty cool that of these few American Latino writers/directors in the Golden Globes mix, they happen to be all WOMEN!

Although it is the showrunner/producers who accept the Best TV categories, the writers and directors of the nominated shows obviously are part of what makes the show stand out. To that end, lets give props to the ladies that contributed to the critical success of these nominated series:

jnl2In the Best TV Drama series category, there is Jessie Nickson Lopez, staff writer on Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS.  The young Columbia University grad was raised between Canada and the U.S. and has Venezuelan roots.    After a brief stint at ICM followed by being staffed on A&E’s short lived The Returned, she worked as assistant to Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad EP/writer) on STARZ ballet drama, Flesh and Bone which was nominated for a Golden Globe last year in the Best Television Limited Series category.  Stranger Things debuted this summer to much acclaim and hype with eight episodes.  She wrote episode 6: The Monster.   The show will be back for season 2.

In the Best TV Comedy series category, Mexican-American Linda Mendoza has directed 4 episodes over the course of the 3 year old series BLACKISH from ABC.  Mendoza has been directing hit television show episodes on the regular ever since The Chris Rock show on which she directed 13 episodes during 97-98 season.  Except for her 2003 feature Chasing Papi for Pantelion, she has stayed entrenched in the television business.

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bravoWINNER ********Also in the Best TV Comedy series, Panamanian Janizca Bravo directed an episode of another new show that came in hot this year, ATLANTA. Her episode was Junteenth.  Bravo has a great eye and very soulfully brings a dark comedy to her work. She has directed a number of short films as well as a virtual reality project about police brutality that was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival.  She is about to premiere her feature debut, Lemon at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, so you’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the next few weeks.

As mentioned, award shows can only be as representative as the eligible pool so to be fair, what features and television shows were eligible and were snubbed THIS YEAR? I regret to say I lack hard data and to be honest I’m not as well versed in the television landscape as I am in the indie film world  (new years resolution!).  A few I do know who we’re technically elegible bear mentioning; Danielle Sanchez-Witzel who is the showrunner on The Carmichael Show on NBC didnt get any GG love. Empire which was nominated last year has a writing room that includes Carlito Rodriguez who is also co-producer. He previously wrote on the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Orange is the New Black which boasts a killer Latina cast who didn’t get recognized- includes Marco Ramirez as writer.  The Get Down includes Jacqueline Rivera as staff writer who also directed an episode. While Gina Rodriguez gets her third nomination (and sole Latina acting nominee) for her acting on Jane the Virgin the show didn’t get any love this year (It was last nominated in 2015 the year of its debut).  The show consistently engages Latina scribes, Emmylou Diaz and Valentina Garza, and director Zetna Fuentes.  In previous years Hulu’s hit show East Los High received a number of daytime Emmy Awards but the Globes never recognized the show which was created by Carlos Portugal and included a robust number of Latino writers.  NBC’s Shades of Blue wasn’t nominated which includes writer Benjamin Lobato who also wrote on USA’s Queen of the South another show that premiered this year.  Peter Murrieta wrote on TV Land’s Lopez show.  Just recently premiered, so not part of this year’s submissions, Netflix’s One Day at a Time counts Murrieta as a writer and notably  Gloria Calderon as showrunner (next year?)

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-6-21-12-pmLast year we had Ricky Gervais prophetically introduce Eva Longoria and America Ferrara as folks our future president wants to deport.  Conceptually (painfully) funny to prove a point/Brit rub it in move, except both are American citizens. The ladies proceeded to do a bit on people mistaking them for other famous Latinas. Among this year’s presenters, Zoe Saldana who plays Ben Afflecks love interest in his period gang drama Live by Night is the only American Latina on deck. The Dominican American is known to speak flawless Español.  Her body of work is fascinating in that she’s managed to play Black, Latina and now simply blockbuster actor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar). Saldana has a production company Cinestar which she runs with her sisters and has a first-look deal with South Shore Television and Pantelion Films, the U.S. joint ventures of Grupo Televisa and Lionsgate. Hopefully they manage to bring up and work with some talented Latino creators.

In the Best Original Song category, musical star Lin Manuel-Miranda was nominated for his work on How Far I’ll Go with Mark Mancini and Opetaia Foa’i.

 

 

COMING SOON: 10 EXCITING INDIE FILMS BY AMERICAN LATINOS

No better time than Oscar week to post my annual list of new films made by Latinos. I hope reading about these cool flicks inspires you to seek and consume the stories you value outside the super exclusive corporate media. Before we get to the list, my 3.63 pesos on the #HollywoodSoWhite convo.

I appreciated Dennis Romero’s recent LA Weekly article called “Hollywood’s Diversity Emergency is not Black” in which he gives big ups to the Black community for doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in making the diversity conversation trend. Romero essentially calls on the Asian and Latino community to take part in the dialogue because we stand the most to gain in moving the dial considering the wider gap that exists between Asian and Latinos’ population and their respective media representation compared to African Americans’ numbers.

Using the framework of proportion, USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity reveals that across the 309 episodes and 109 films they covered, 15% were directed by women (50% population), and 13% were directed by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (38% non-white).

It makes sense that the percentage of on screen underrepresented characters increases (17.5%) when an underrepresented director is at the helm of a scripted episode or film.
I’m not sure what to make then of a recent phenomenon I have seen within the Latino community; an overwhelming desire/shift to tell stories UNRELATED to their Latino identity. Don’t get it twisted,  I respect the artist’s prerogative and agree that just because you are from a certain ethnicity, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tell that ‘ethnic film’. But if the rationale is that in order to tell a universal story you can’t be ethnic specific, I totally take issue with that, and would argue on the contrary, we just haven’t done it enough to prove it’s not true.  Along these puzzling but no less real lines, I was startled to read in the report, “As (female) power increases, female presence decreases. In film, television, and streaming executive ranks, 46.7% of Senior Vice President-level executives are female.”  What’s up ladies?

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Part of me gets it though, both artist and gatekeeper is faced with the obligation, pressure and responsibility to succeed in a business of mediated platforms.  Unfortunately that usually means don’t stick your neck out, less risk.  But what if we made it our goal to seize and create as many chances to allow ourselves to FAIL, at least as much as the rest get to, because that is how we get to the next level.

Okay enough rant!  Here is my curated list of brand spanking new feature length fiction films written and directed by filmmakers in the US of A who have Mexican/Caribbean/Central/South American roots. Many of these films are in post-production but might be making their world premiere at a film festival or VOD later this year.  As you can tell, some filmmakers clearly chose to tell a story from a specific Latino character/experience, while others drew from their culture in a more abstract, no less personal route.  One thing is for sure though, each of these artists have been hustling their craft for years outside the studio system which is why you can see a distinct genre and aesthetic in their work.  Make sure to check out the links to their previous work.  It is one thing to say there we be underrepresented and quite another thing to be overlooked.

BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth

From Caviar Content, a multi media company that financed last year’s Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, comes this intense romance drama made by Mexico/Colombia raised AFI grad Rafael Palacio Illingworth.  The film features two incredibly talented actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Ben Feldman (Ginsberg in Mad Men!) as a couple navigating a tempestuous “post-honeymoon phase” while trying to hang on to the chemistry that first made them gravitate towards each other. Rafael starred in his own first film MACHO ( see here,) which like The Force, also tracked a relationship through the initial meet-cute high.  Macho landed with IFC after premiering at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2010. The film just announced its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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antibirthANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez

Danny is two for two, his first and second films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Raised in Virginia in a Cuban Catholic family, Danny cut his visual teeth while collaborating with avant garde music group, Animal Collective for years.  His first film, Oddsac is in many ways a sensory album for the band. It screened in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section in 2010. Taking his skills for phantasmagoric imagery and folding hyperreal narrative and social commentary Perez shot the wasteland USA set Antibirth which stars none other than the coolest indie queens, Natasha Lyonne and Chle Sevigny.  The film got rave reviews, having premiered in the much talked about Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A film that’s been called “a debauched progeny of Cronenberg’s classic, The Brood, it has without a doubt the wildest, most bat-shit crazy ending I have ever seen. Must-watch. Stay tuned to hear where it lands more fests and distribution.

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HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by  Monica Peña

Following her first feature, the experimental street docu-fiction film, Ectotherms, which drew comparisons to Harmony Korine’s work, Monica Peña is back with her second feature, Hearts of Palm. The fable like film follows a romance en route to decay between two sentient beings. Peña brings to life her distinct vision with her previous collaborators Brad Lovett aka Dim Past who stars and is behind the sonic pulse of the film, and Jorge Rubiera, cinematographer who beams an otherworldly yet unmistakable Miami vibe. The Cuban American filmmaker is a Sundance Institute/Knight Fellow.   Watch Ectotherms here.  Hearts of Palm is world premiering at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.

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Lupe21LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Since the debut of his 2012 highly acclaimed and visual border documentary, Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes has been developing a number of projects, including this evocative tale called Lupe Under the Sun. Originally planned to be a documentary set in Merced, his hometown, Northern California, Reyes let the story evolve into a hybrid  film about an old Mexican man who has spent his entire life working in the California fields.  When he attempts to get back in touch with the family and life he left behind, he finds out that his absence did not stop them from moving on.  Shot by Justin Chin, his D.P. on Purgatorio, the film casts a neorealist, tinge of black humor aided by the real world surroundings of the agricultural desert suburb.  Lupe Under the Sun was selected to participate in IFP Narrative Lab last year and is expected to finish the film in 2016.

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MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo

The prolific independent LA born and raised Chicano filmmaker, Kenny Castillo is currently finishing his 7th feature.  Known for his popular short form series, The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin which he is currently developing into animation, Castillo has since successfully specialized in urban films led by multi dimensional characters. Marigold the Matador focuses on a single mother from the perspective of an 11 year old girl who deals with her feelings of loneliness and isolation by imagining herself as a Matador in the world of the Day of the Dead. Most of the story  was shot unscripted and the result is a very authentic and emotionally engaging film.  He is currently raising funds to finish the film. The true blue indie filmmaker entrepreneur he is, you can head over to his website and buy a cool Cholo Chaplin shirt, check out his complete body of work, and donate to his film.

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FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres

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I know, not FUGUE, but no film still avail yet
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Artist known as Torres

I only recently discovered the work of this enigmatic filmmaker who’s been lurking along the coolest fringes of art genre.  Among his previous films, 2014’s moody verite, Shadow Zombie won a prize for best “documentary-sh” film at the renowned Chicago Underground Film Festival. Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Deckker screened at last year’s  New Orleans Film Festival and Outfest.  Back in 2011 Jorge was the cinematographer on Jonathan Caouette’s Cannes documentary, Walk Away Renee.   Yes , he also directs music videos, including this neat Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves track.  The Puerto Rican born filmmaker has also produced and shot a number of random videos you can find on his Tumblr.  Upcoming films include a documentary about the Slacker esque Athens, Georgia music scene called A Peculiar Noise, premiering at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, and Fugue, which follows a woman (Sophie Traub) who wanders around an island lost and out of place.  Having binged on his work recently I can safely say that he casts spells of mad intrigue and strange  dream-state feels.  Definitely an indie auteur you should know.

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greenghostposter_twitchTHE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos 

Michael Olmos goes family superhero action film in The Green Ghost, his 4th feature film.  It is not surprising that Olmos is collaborating with Marco Zaror; back in 2006 Marko made noise in the Chilean street action thriller, Kiltro which premiered at LALIFF, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival headed by Michael’s father, Eddie Olmos.  Michael’s underrated first film, Splinter in 2006 was shot on the streets of LA and displayed his stylish and gritty directing chops. Olmos went on to co-direct and produce the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition film  Filly Brown which catapulted Gina Rodriguez pre-Jane the Virgin.  Zaror has many fans around the world having carved out for himself a string of martial arts action flicks, many of which have played Fantastic Fest where incidentally he and Michael sneaked some footage of the Green Ghost last year.  The film is about a man having to overcome his insecurities to transform into a superhero and defeat the dangerous bruja Lechusa who plans to bring back the wrath of Moctezuma.   Currently in post.

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DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando

Daniel’s first feature What it Was made the Latino/LGBT film festival run.  The story about an actor coming to terms with a recent family loss and her marriage breakup returns to her home in Brooklyn where she runs into an old college girlfriend. The film has raw verite scenes interlaced with poetic close up cinematic imagery.  He has not one but two films premiering at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival next month.  He directed a film called When I’m With You, and wrote and directed an erotic swoon and slow dance film, Daddy’s Boy which indulges in its queer cinema throwback and music interludes as it follows four young men behind the closed doors of a burlesque studio, shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions.  Daniel has said that he likes films that wander throughout space.   He’s been quoted as saying, “A lot of my favorite films don’t feature characters like this, and I feel I have a responsibility as an artist of color to tell everyday stories from a perspective rarely seen.”

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DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez

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Dolph, demon hunter

From the director of Big Ass Spider which played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, comes this supernatural action thriller, starring none other than 80s movies action icon, Dolph Lundgren.  Mike Mendez, born to Salvadorean and Mexican family parents, born and raised in LA has been busy.  After Big Ass Spider he did Lavalantula about giant lava spewing tarantulas. Last year he put together an anthology of scary shorts, Tales of Halloween directed by various filmmakers including Lucky McKee (2002’s May is one of my long time cult faves).  Mendez doesn’t show any signs of slowing his roll which is a good thing for his loyal fans.  His love for genre is evident in his filmmaking, and his action/horror genre is mixed with a  pure sense of humor.

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 FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo

A real bi-cultural American who spent his formative years in between Lima, Peru and Lawrence, Kansas, Alonso Mayo first moved to LA to attend AFI where he made his thesis short film, Wednesday Afternoon.  In 2013, Gravitas Ventures picked up his first feature, The Story of Luke starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer.  His sophomore effort, Frozen Peas is a funny and honest film about a husband and father to three kids finds himself in the throes of a masculinity panic attack when pressured by his wife to consider vasectomy.

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First Features Alert

To round up the list here are three special mentions of directorial debuts to watch coming soon; Bruising for Besos written and directed by Adelina Anthony, the queer chicana poet who wrote the story for one of my favorite short films, You’re Dead To Me.  A critically acclaimed and beloved solo artist performer, she stars herself in Brusing as Yoli, a smooth talker whose game is put to the test in pursuit of romance. Varsity Punks written and directed by Anthony Solorzano is a high school comedy following a tight knit rambunctious cross country team shot in El Monte starring Efren Ramirez as the coach.   H.O.M.E by Daniel Maldonado which is premiering a the Queens World Film Festival stars Jeremy Ray Valdez as a young man with Aspergers. See trailer for H.O.M.E. below.

What Women (Film Festival Programmers) Want

I went to support my esteemed Programmer friends participating in the Master Class that Women in Film put on last night called “What Film Festivals Want.” Representing the top festivals in Los Angeles was Kim Yutani, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Roya Rastegar, Director of Programming at LA Film Fest, Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming at Outfest.  Executive Director of WIF Kirsten Schaffer, formerly director of Outfest, was perfect to moderate the panel, keeping it new filmmaker friendly and full of insight.  Since I have the pleasure of knowing and/or working alongside all the ladies on the panel, I knew it wasn’t going to be another diluted, unproductive, bland conversation on Film Festival Tips. There were about 50 people there ($20 admission for non-WIF members), and it was by and large women filmmakers, across all colors and ages, from my friend, young dancer/actress Carmen Corral who just wrote and directed her first short film, to an audience member who shared she has just finished her first film at 67 years young.  The difference in practices and opinions heard is proof that each festival and each film festival Programmer has their own brand of curatorial focus, taste and sensibility.  As Kirsten summed it up, its worthwhile to listen to each of their takes, but do not forget that ultimately you have to follow your own instinct. Real Film Programmers Briefly each festival’s mandate: AFI Fest takes place in November so they screen LA premieres of the most acclaimed as well as under the radar international gems of the year. A big chunk is curated from other festivals, however they do have a Breakthrough section which they cull mostly from submissions. Also it offers its program for FREE!  Outfest seeks to obviously show films from the LGBTQ community.  However, Lucy noted more and more the programming has matured to one where LGBTQ is not the drive of the storyline but rather a perspective through which to explore different genres.  LA Film Fest has gone through a programming shift this year and it is more closely aligning itself with parent nonprofit Film Independent’s mission to “support artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision”. This year the festival has an unprecedented 39 world premieres and nearly half of the program is made by women and people of color. Sundance Film Festival – what can we say about the original rebel.  U.S. Competition, Next, New Frontier and Midnight is the discovery zone heard around the world for breaking innovative stories and talented storytellers.  Sundance’s submissions increases each year.  It received more than 12,000 submissions for the 2015 festival. Around 8,000 of them are shorts – of which they show 60-70.  Yep, that’s less than 1%

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Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest since 2009 before that as Programmer. Worked in independent film distribution and producing. Art History and Cinema Major.

On the topic of WHY IS MY FILM (S) NOT ACCEPTED. I can see why deciphering the festival code; “It is not a right fit” can be frustrating for filmmakers to hear.  It is a catch-all of saying a possibility of things.  First thing to remember however is that just because you don’t get into a festival it does not mean your film does not have artistic merit or deserve a platform.  You are talking about 3-4 people at one festival who watched it but did not respond ENOUGH to champion or select it in the festival (My own personal note as Programmer; you have to kill your darlings and pick your battles in the room).  A lot of times the reason your film may not get in is simply mathematical.  There are not enough slots at a festival to select all the films the Programmers like.  Sundance can theoretically program another entire (just as solid) festival program after locking their lineup.  Maybe your film does not get in because that particular festival does not offer the section, or cater to that particular focus/niche your film covers.  And yet another reason might be your film may be one of several films that tackles very similar issues or has a very similar storyline to other films Programmers see that year.

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Roya Rastegar,  Associate Director of  Programming at LA Film Fest. Published writer, produced and wrote film, Wildness. Previously at Tribeca and Sundance. PhD in the History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz. Studied mathematics and economics at Wellesley College

WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE MY CHANCES? Sounds like common sense but follow submission instructions is number one tip (seriously not following instructions is a number one Programmer pet peeve).  Not all festivals are the same.  Some want press kits with film submissions.  Some of the panelists encouraged the audience to write cover letters while others admitted they never read them. (Personal note: If you have something relevant about your background that you think informs your vision then by all means write up a paragraph).  Roya made the point that if you had a crowdfunding campaign, or have a cast member who has over 2 million subscribers on Youtube that usually indicates you already are building an audience that is invested in your film, it doesn’t hurt for the festival to know given their concern is selling tickets to sustain the usually nonprofit’s activity. It is definitely vital to communicate these things once you have been selected so that the festival can disseminate the distinct and soundbyte aspects of your film to ‘pitch it’ (first film shot in Cuba since 1959, first indie film shot in Little Armenia).

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Kim Yutani, Programmer at Sundance Film Festival since 2006, first on shorts and then features. Former Artistic Director and previous Programmer for Outfest. Worked on Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. Cat person.

CRITERIA:  Screeners are asked to submit a detailed synopsis of the films they watch and  rate technical proficiency, character and story development.  But inspired (and ripped off) by Sundance’s evaluation forms, most festivals want to frame it around ORIGINALITY OF VOICE/EMOTIONAL IMPACT. Roya mentioned that she tends to be  more forgiving of production value if she recognizes there is a strong, rarely heard voice driving the story.  Lucy mentioned she enjoyed abiding by this guiding principle during LA Film Festival’s programming process.  Knowing that films made by women/people of color tend to be the least funded and least commercial having this awareness is key, and underlines the bottom line criteria of a Programmer or anyone for that matter, wanting to find that film that can MOVE people above all.

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Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest Director of Programming. Producer credits include Jack of the Red Hearts and Cake. Worked as Development Executive and producer for Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Lifetime, Sony Pictures Television. Previously Assistant editor for Harlequin Mills books. English Lit and Film Major.

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR MY FILM?  You can do your homework and check out the archives of the films that a festival has played to see if there is some alignment, said Jacqueline.  But take it with a grain of salt.  As mentioned by Roya there is a tendency of folks to carbon copy what they think is a festival film, and making a film driven by the desire to get into a festival tends to backfire.  Look into international festivals, smaller niche festivals.  Lucy, who is also a filmmaker, recalled being rejected by all the major festivals until they submitted randomly to new Arkansas festival, Bentonville where they ended up taking best prize.  (Note: Sign up to Withoutabox. You’ll have to do some digging but you can do a search by region, niche, specialty to find the most suitable festival.) GETTING THE MOST OF YOUR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE. Squeeze your Programmers for advice. If you are wondering whether you should contract a publicist or a sales agent ask us for recommendations, encouraged Kim.  They have the relationships and know the sensibilities of all the established and emerging industry.  In many ways this is Programmers’ second job after locking.  Adopting film teams leading up to the festival who they can shepherd up the mountain.

DO YOU REALLY WATCH EACH FILM?  Why do people LOVE to ask if a Programmer ‘really’ watches a film from beginning to end??  That is our job!  First of all we get paid to do it.  Second, as Kim mentioned, the worst thing for a Programmer is to have ‘missed’ a film.  Make no mistake, if a film does really well at a festival or comes out somewhere else, and you don’t recall seeing it, you go back to your database to make sure it was fully considered by someone on your team (and see who the hell may have passed on it).  Senior Programmers do their due diligence and review screeners’ coverage, ratings, and exports lists whether it be by region or filmmaker background. Especially nearing the end of progamming lock, they sweat over making sure they saw everything they should, and some actually dig deep into the lower ratings like films that got a 1 out of 5, just in case the screener was turned off by the premise. That strong negative reaction could very well mean a film is polemic and possibly brilliant because of it.

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New Executive Director for Women in Film. Spent 14 years as Deputy Director and head of Programming at Outfest. Previously Co-Executive Director of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Managed a law office that specialized in American Indian and Family law. BA Liberal Arts, cultural studies and communications

WHAT IF I DON’T GET IN?  If you know your film has an audience, who cares if your film doesn’t get into festivals.   Get a network of filmmaker and programmer friends.  Get feedback. Festivals can’t supply feedback as a rule because of the volume but if you have a Programmer friend or trusted industry acquaintance ask them for input.  The dangers of asking friends and families for feedback on your film is that it usually won’t be critical.  As Lucy pointed out and I think everyone was in agreement;  We (read: good Programmers) understand that filmmakers set out to make a good movie. The ultimate criteria is asking ourselves “What was the filmmaker trying to achieve and how close did she/he get to it in the execution?”

Last words from the panelists: Lucy:  Keep making films Jacqueline:  Be bolder and louder. Kim:  Support other female filmmakers Sundance opens submissions in July.  In August, Sundance’s Next Fest will unspool a few film and music experiences at the Ace Hotel. Outfest will be announcing their program soon and will take place July 9-19.  Coming up soon is LA Film Festival, June 10-18.    AFI is currently accepting submissions until July 24 for its November festival.  Women in Film is accepting submissions until June 16 for their Finishing Films Fund.  Shorts and feature length films that are 90% complete are eligible.  Grants range from $1,000 – $25,000.

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

Meet Tin Dirdamal – Director of Death in Arizona

opening2014Last weekend I was in Mexico City for the official launch of the 2014 Ambulante documentary tour.  The roving film festival has an insanely impressive 35 venues through out most of the burroughs in El Districto Federal.   It wanders around in Mexico City one more week until the 13th when the tour hits the road to its next stop in Guerrero.   The tour will conclude May 4 in the magical land of Oaxaca and by then it will have traveled to 12 different states throughout Mexico presenting its diverse, international lineup of the latest documentary cinema.

Ambulante has 12 different programming sections including the popular music section, Sonidero, Dictator’s cut, devoted to human rights & freedom of speech,  and Injerto, the art & cinema experimental section.  Ambulante’s viscus however is Pulsos, where you’ll find the most recent, most original voices of the robust Mexican non fiction narrative.  It is here that the world premiere of Death in Arizona, a futuristic documentary, as described by the director, Tin Dirdamal is being presented.

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Still6 copyI first met Tin at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival with his opera prima, DeNadie which won the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  He is by far one of the most curious, unpretentious, inspired minds I’ve ever met.  We took a jaunt up to Coyoacan plaza, an ancient mecca of artisan vendors and merchants, for coffee at my favorite El Jarocho, tamales, and found a relatively quiet garden to have a conversation.

DeathArizona1The story is quite personal, about a love lost and a self found, to say it broadly.  Without giving away too much, the love in the film is also the producer and co-director Christina Haglund.  I asked Tin about his creative process, his favorite Jodorowsky film, his experience at Sundance, and his philosophy on filmmaking and well, life.  Check out our conversation and then the trailer to his film.   He is truly a one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking, and perhaps the most brilliantly unassuming human being I’m happy to know.  Now you meet him.

Here is a trailer of the film – that for me resonates as a journey culminating towards a flickering light and illumination at the end of a tunnel of heartbreaking solitude.  The intimate, moody, futuristic and transcendent film, Death in Arizona.

#HotSec Friday – LAREDO, TEXAS a short film by Topaz Adizes

Announcing a new weekly feature:  Every Friday I’ll upload an eye-opening short film capturing the modern and authentic bi-literate American experience made by a talented multi-cultural American Filmmaker to Know.

To inaugurate the series I’m pleased to post the short film Laredo, Texas by Topaz Adizes, which screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.  With such short sighted, stat-driven, divisive and one sided media-induced rhetoric swirling around immigration reform and undocumented labor presently, this film offers a compassionate, layered and intimate glimpse, humanizing the issue and demonstrating its psychological depth.  At just about 11 minutes, the story quickly simmers and cuts into the heart of the compelling conflict between two points of view, which we get to see play out in a way that feels credible, because the circumstances that have led these two completely seemingly different people in such close proximity is a common instance of how life revolves.  Substantial, economical and veracious, it’s hard to tell this is a ‘scripted narrative’ and not a straight up documentary – a unique quality Topaz crafts in his films which tend to delve into the interconnection of national and cultural identity and how it confronts perception and ideology, all within a framework of transnationalism and globalism. His work has screened at numerous international festivals, and his Americana Project, shot around the world explores what it means to be American and is available for educational purposes.  He is currently working on a couple new feature films.  I highly recommend you get to know his meaningful, sociological and humanistic docudrama storytelling.  Check out his work on his website.