WTF is Latino at SXSW FILM?

3026402-inline-i-17-an-oral-history-of-sxsw-interactiveI’m getting all psyched up just thinking about this weekend when I’ll finally be seated at the Alamo Ritz on 6th street, ordering my refreshing Paloma cocktail, and sitting back to watch some wildness that SXSW Film selected. Yep, its the 2016 SXSW rodeo.

Of course I’m talking about the mega mega South by Southwest Interactive/Film/Music Festival and Conference kicking off this Thursday from March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.

So what’s the Latino presence?  Lets go wide for this one. For the past two years SXSW has tagged its Ibero and Latin American programming across film, interactive and music, under the umbrella SXAméricas. This year, Brazil and Spain have the biggest presence in the film program (3 features for Brazil, 5 films/filmakers from Spain).  For the first time in the festival’s history there is a film from Ecuador, UIO: Take Me for a Ride (although back in 2014 Austin based Ecuadorian-American filmmaker Alex R. Johnson had his film Two Step in the fest) which is notable for its rarity.  Major KEY alert, Uruguayan filmmaker  Fede Alvarez will be dropping his mysteriously under wraps untitled Ghosthouse Thriller.

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bad cop, bad cop

Personally I cannot wait to see WAR ON EVERYONE by the wicked Irish hooligan John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Cavalry, also his brother wrote/directed the savagely entertaining IN BRUGES).  War on Everyone which premiered in the fancy Berlinale last month is a black, pulpy buddy cop flick filmed in ‘Burque’ New Mexico. The film stars Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgard, Tessa Thompson and Miss Bala/Bond girl Stephanie Sigman.

 

 

I usually try to focus on only U.S. Latino writers/directors, but I’ll expand and be global for this edition as there is just too much cool filmmaking and stories coming from South America and Spain.  Also, this is by no means a definitive list of WTF is Latino but a pre-curtain look. More once I’m on the ground!

PET directed by Carles Torrens

One of five directors Vice says is going to save Spanish Cinema, Carles Torrens’ second feature film, Pet is premiering in the Midnight section. From Barcelona, Torrens graduated from Chapman University. A psychological thriller in which Dominic Monaghan plays a man who runs into an old high school classmate he use to have the hots for. His creepy attempts to romance is met with rejection. Naturally, he takes her prisoner at the dogpound he works at to teach her a lesson, only to find that she is not who she seems. Torrens’ first directing feature was Apartment 143 written by Rodrigo Cortes (Buried with Ryan Reynolds). Previously Torrens directed shorts like the twisted thriller Sequence, which has played over a hundred festivals. Pet teaser below.

12828500_1070131749697280_3048930164827168970_oOVARIAN PSYCOS directed by Joanna Sokolows and Kate Trumbull-LaValle

The OVA’S ARE COMING!  It’s so rad to see this documentary about the badass cycling brigade, Ovarian Psycos get its world premiere at South By. I have been talking about this one on here since its first Kickstarter, and last year’s Top Docs to Watch Out for list.  The filmmakers managed to successfully crowd-fund a second time on Kickstarter in order to fly and put up members of the collective from the Eastside  EL-Lay in Austin and represent at the world premiere.  Don’t be surprised to see the sisterhood ride through the street raising awareness for social issues that affect all women. In fact I’d follow them on Twitter so you can join in. Austin has a great rental bike program.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 7.54.00 PMUNTITLED GHOST HOUSE THRILLER written and directed by Fede Alvarez

With no confirmed title yet nor film stills out there, this second original film from Alvarez is about “a group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. They’re wrong.”  This is the guy who six years ago caught fire when his 5 minute short film Panic Attack made the rounds and ultimately got him the gig to helm the 2013 Evil Dead reboot which is bananas.  Only info that is clear on this one is that Jane Levy stars, its from Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi produces. It’s been referred to and on IMDB its listed as A Man in the Dark.  Fede has also been rumored to be director of Warner Bros’  Dark Universe. Fede has also directed episodes of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn TV series.

TRANSPECOS co-written and directed by Greg Kwedar

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“The border is a shifting line.”

A thriller set in the dry outposts of Texas in which border patrol men, two of who are played by Latinos, Clifton Gonzalez and Gabriel Luna, stumble onto evidence that may lead to a plot between the cartel and one of their own. I read the script a while ago and remember vividly visualizing the filmmakers’ cinematic western noir intent. Given the score is co-written by The Revenant composer, Bryce Dessner, and it the film shot by Jeffrey Waldron, a versatile commercial, documentary and indie film D.P, it will surely deliver on that front.  Kwedar, who previously produced the documentary Rising From Ashes, about Rwanda’s first ever cyling team, teamed up with Texan filmmaker, Clint Bentley to write his feature directorial debut. I’m eager to report back on this one.  Last border fiction tale I saw that flexed its thriller genre (unfortunately over story) was El Desierto from Mexican Jonas Cuaron which ultimately suffered from oversimplistic storytelling.

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From-Nowhere-Photo-1FROM NOWHERE co-written and directed by Matthew Newton

In Narrative Spotlight, From Nowhere is the film adaptation of the play, No One Asked Me written by Kate Ballen, whose 10 year experience as a counselor at a Bronx high school where she helped undocumented students navigate the college admission process became the basis and inspiration to tell this story.  Australian director/actor Newton directed No One Asked Me as part of Fringe NYC festival last fall.  Newton previously directed Three Blind Mice which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Julianne Nicholson ostensibly plays Kate as the teacher and the students are played by J. Mallory McCree (Quantico, We Need to Talk about Kevin), and newcomer Octavia Chavez-Richmond.

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INSATIABLE directed by Brett A. Schwartz

Homaro Cantu was a goddamned trail blazer.  Legend has it that he came to Chicago with $300 in his pocket and camped out at famed master chef Charlie Trotter’s until he gave him a job.  He shortly thereafter became his sous chef. In 2003 he opened up his avant garde restaurant Moto which became a prized Michelin star rated restaurant and blew up Chicago on the culinary map. He was a beloved figure in the chef community so the news of his death last spring at age 38 rocked everyone’s world.  My sister, Diana Davila who is a chef in Chicago idolized Cantu so much that she had her engagement dinner there.  Apparently filmmaker Brett A. Schwartz was granted a fair amount of access for the three years he followed him. The aptly titled film focuses on Cantu’s game-changing culinary practices, mad passion for the intersection of science, art and health, and deep imprint he left as a molecular gastronomy pioneer.

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SHORTS

THE SEND-OFF by Ivette Lucas and Patrick Bresnan

I previously wrote about Ivette’s film Mexican Fried Chicken. Her new documentary short with filmmaking partner Patrick Bresnan premiered at Sundance earlier this year.  The film is a fly on the wall look at a group of seniors from a Central Florida high school as they they prep and dress for the big prom affair which includes their local block party show where the royally dressed young couples pose for snaps.

PHIL’S CAMINO directed by Jessica Lewis and Annie Oneil

A first film, and a really moving half hour doc short about Phil who has stage four cancer and decides that to ‘heal’ himself he is going to trek the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

International films

EAT MY SHIT written and directed by Eduardo Casanova

You know you want to watch.  Here is the full 3 minute shit.

The 23 year old filmmaker’s bio: Cinema is what I truly believe. Cinema is the cause and solution for every trouble I have. Cinema to me is like morphine to Bela Lugosi, like Richard Burton to Liz Taylor, like red lights to Dario Argento, like big boobs to Russ Meyer, like Lynch and the dwarfs.

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VICTOR XX written and directed by Ian Garrido Lopez.

Trailer above for the 20 something min short from Spain which was incubated and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.   The film’s synopsis: “Victor likes to experiment with his gender. He doesn’t know if he feels like a boy or a girl.”  The actor who plays Victor, Alba Martinez is magnetic. Bravo to Ian, a 27 year old transgender filmmaker from the south east Mediteranean coast of Spain for directing the performance and bringing this story to the fore.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.18.32 PMSEMANA SANTA written and directed by Alejandra Marquez

I previously wrote about this first feature in my last Mexican film roundup post. Making its U.S. premiere after playing Toronto up north and Los Cabos down South, the film is a keenly felt and compelling story set in a run down Acapulco during Easter holiday.  You might recognize Tenoch Huerta from Dias de Gracia, Gueros, Mozart & The Jungle.

56babbf32109cUIO: TAKE ME FOR A RIDE co-written and directed by Micaela Rueda

LGBT film from Ecuador, a co-production with Mexico and Colombia. Michaela has spent the last five years working on her first fiction feature debut, working from a script by Juan José Valle.  You can see the trailer on the film sales agent site M-Appeal

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.30.55 PMKILL ME PLEASE written and directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

First premiering at the Venice Film Festival this impressive next level teen angst tale is a first feature from Brazil/Argentina. Set in a newly developed city in Rio de Janeiro the story’s backdrop is a wave of murders which calls 15  year old Bia’s attention. The filmmaker says, “Bia is someone who wants to kill herself yet wants to carry on living, experiencing everything to the edge – she wants to be killed but also wants to kill, wake up the next day, and do it all over again.”  Sounds dope.

DEAD SLOW AHEAD co-written and directed by Mauro Herce

The hums, deep waves and barge ship motor noises makes for a really hypnotizing minimal film from Spain. Check out the trailer here. Born in Barcelona in 1976, Mauro Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling in top film school Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños.

JULES AND DOLORES cowritten and directed by Caito Ortiz

Selected in the Visions section, the more ‘audacious’ filmmaking section, this 1983 set Brazilian caper about stealing the world cup trophy looks like pure boogie down fun.  You can see trailer here.  Caito Ortiz is on the director roster of slick advertising and entertainment company Prodigo Films.

THE SPACE IN BETWEEN – Marina Abramovic and Brazil

Directed by the Sao Paulo cinematography artist, Marco Del Fiol.  All you need to know is that this is Marina’s trip and we are along for the ‘hardcore and spiritual’ ride.

 

SXSW 2013 Raves, Reviews and Rants (Recap Pt. 2)

Read Pt.1 of my recap here!

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2fer winners of Jury and Audience – narrative competition film, Short Term 12 at Closing Night from left, LaKeith Stanfield, Brie Larson, Destin Cretton

PARTIES & SHENANIGANS
Any festival in which I don’t lose my phone, coat, hoop earring etc. is a success.  I have to say I was relatively well behaved this SXSW edition. Spreading out my drinking and cavorting throughout the day in between screenings at the Intercontinental Hotel’s Stephen F’s Happy Hour rather than staying downtown late nights.  I missed out on the Converse party which was the most debauchery I partook in last year .  My biggest party night was probably the Closing Film party.  I blame it on the mezcal I had earlier that day.  I made my way over to the RVIP Lounge, a tricked out RV with karaoke and free booze, always the illest and loudest after after spot when it makes the rounds at SXSW, Sundance and LA Film Festival.  I was having a blast until I thought I lost my laptop bag and freaked out.  Somehow my ass got into a taxi and made it home safe and sound. Again, thanks to the Party Gods er in this case Kestrin and the rest of the RVIP folks.

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Party on wheels! If there was one night I got tipsy, it was on this bad boy. Luckily they take care of you. Photo by Lauren Lemon

The Branson doc party at Malverde was a great Modern Mexican restaurant and bar which I discovered made delicious Palomas, my drink of choice.  From there a girlfriend and I took the preferred and popular SXSW mode of transportation to the next party, hopping into a pedicab, in this case motored by a real hunk (her word not mine). I fell in love with the Ranchero music he had on blast as we headed to the East side to Cheer Up Charlie’s which was hosting a bunch of parties including Short Term 12 and the launch of Elevision, an online visionary short film distribution platform, which founder Malcolm Pullinger reminded me was still in Beta beta beta.  The Sundance reception on Sunday at Clive’s Bar, a good ol whisky joint was happening and far better than last year’s rendezvous. I mostly hung out with Loves Her Gun posse including rising Mexican actor, Francisco Barreiro who Indiewire highlighted as hot talent to watch.  I also caught up with Charlie Reff, the newest Programmer at Sundance, who is keeping the slate hip and fresh.  We talked about the recent Sundance announcement of the Next Weekend film festival program in LA this summer.  This is an invite only selection of films, something the press release did not clarify which caused a flood of people to get excited about submitting for a Summer Sundance.  The scoop is the program will consist of four of the Next films which screened in this year’s 2013 Festival, a couple from other festivals (like maybe SXSW) and two other world premieres for a total of 8 features.  Along with the annual Shorts Lab, the weekend (Aug 8-11) will be a significant and exciting extension of the annual Park City festival.  Save the date!

LATINOS DON’T GO TO SXSW FILM
Flipping on the amorphous Latino lens; First, I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed about the handful of exciting new Latino writer/director films I thought were suitably edgy and commercial for SXSW that were passed on.  Why such resistance?  Once a festival has established itself a can’t miss cache and brand trust, the programming has even more freedom to build on their tastemaker rep and bigger responsibility to films that need the exposure.  It’s a lot of pressure for LA Film Festival as the next one on the calendar year to offer a high profile festival platform for these films (look out for my WTF Tribeca piece) – especially since Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival has left a gaping hole.  I believe the films would have been embraced here because I feel the Latino impact and culture all around.  I get the sense it is deeply underlined in the way of life, rather than traditional heritage, as evident by the food, drink and style of Austin.

ht_spring_breakers_nt_130208_vblogThat’s why I want to use the term Latino as a starting place on this blog.  It’s expansive.  I won’t mind the re-appropriation of Latino culture as long as there is parity with writers, directors, producers, and execs who actually walk that bicultural narrative to get their shot at putting out the story.  I certainly appreciate the influence of Latinos onscreen as much as behind the camera – in that sense SXSW totally represented.   I whole heartedly understand the mainstream popularity Latinos have when they aren’t sidelined for the Latino label, like the young Selena Gomez who stars as the cross necklace wearing, bikini clad, good girl gone bad, Faith in Spring Breakers.  She embodies one of the more memorable roles of Harmony Korine’s film, and one that reflects Latino Catholics’ tempestuous relationship with God, sin and guilt. Its important to recognize and respect the mass scale impact she has on young Latinos. She is an American star who looks like us and has the same last name.   I highlighted her in my WTF is Latino at SXSW – (btw I missed Gimme the Power, an awesome tribute doc to the Mexican punk band Molotov, for all you frijolero lovers out there).

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.36.55 PMOver at Interactive, there were panels like the eerie wolf hunting sounding Latinos y Silver Mobile Bullet, and blatant corporate brand chasing Why Hispanics Love Toyota.  These panels were by and for marketing and media entrepreneurs looking to get that stack of paper from Latinos’ trillion dollar purchasing power market.   Boring old pies, graphs, stockpiles of data research were shared, all to figure out consumer habits, manipulate cultural customs and find ways to exploit and capitalize in reaching the elusive Latino market – reminded me of a laboratory with white coats searching for the formula.  Corporations are practically salivating at this young-skewing, smart phone mobile going, disposable income population (disposable if only because the income is not going towards accessible medical/insurance etc).  My immediate reaction is to question the sample data and how they are identifying Latino?  The census reports 53 million and Pew data further breaks down foreign and native born’s online presence.  What about the rising population of Latinos who are checking other on that outdated race and ethnicity form? It’s all convoluted to say the least.  The data might get all sophisticated and from a million different entry points, but the biggest flaw in the foundation is the label.  That said some of the more savvy marketing media are slowly coming around to acknowledging “Hispanics” are not a monolithic block.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.51.02 PMToyota did exactly that with their mega successful 2010 ad campaign, Somos Muchos Latinos, Somos Muchos Toyotas, a now much lauded case study in which they took advantage of our loud and proud ties to our ancestors’ roots i.e, “We are Many Mexicans, We are Many Toyotas”.  They made the template and attracted Latino consumers to go online and order personalized decals according to their family’s origin. Going back to film  – I think  the missing ingredient in all of this research into figuring out who we are is supporting independent Latino films because they represent the authentic American mestizo culture.

I dropped by “The” Latino event at SXSW, The Social Revolución party, a Latino social media awards party.  The best part of it was the complimentary anejo mezcal.  The food was a joke and I wouldnt even mention it if the expectations had not been set high from the invites. Nopalitos (cactus) tostadas, chips and stuffed mushrooms – come on. I found out the real comida was in the VIP room.  Yes, there was a VIP room  – against everything that SXSW stands for.  I’m not trying to commit brown on brown hate, and really I don’t care that I wasn’t voted best Latina blogger 😉 But I have noticed in going to more of these strictly Latino affairs the tendency to over-celebrate everything and anything, takes precedent over  a strategic how to discussion of ways to develop our voices and agenda. I expected this kind of exchange here given its tagline.

I’m happy to have talked shop with some of my most esteemed professional amigas like Cristina Garza, the head of acquisitions of Canana and newly launched international sales company, Mundial.  Partnering up with IM Global, they will pick up 8-10 Latin American commercial movies.  Key word= commercial.  All anybody thinks of when it comes to Latin American films are the gorgeously shot art house slow burn dramas  – and there is an extraordinary canon of them, but there is a wave of emerging filmmakers who are making artful, resonant and more accessible films.  Mundial will represent Paraiso, the next film by Mariana Chenillo who became the first female to win Best Director at the Ariel Awards for her opera prima Five Days Without Nora.   I also caught up with Tonantzin Esparza who headed up acquisitions at her father’s company Maya Entertaiment for years before she moved to New York.  She is currently finishing  up her Masters at NYU and planning to get back into the game, in the film packaging agenting world so recruiters take note and holler at my girl.

ritz n bootsDEEP THOUGHTS
Going in I was going to write up a daily Festival dispatch but this kind of an immersive marathon makes it extremely difficult to stay sane, sober and fresh.  The advantage of looking back over the week, catching up with emails and looking at the biz cards I collected is making thematic connections.  Film is not an isolated medium, so much is a fluid, biochemical reaction and reflection of the world around us.

The only criticism I would give the fine folks of SXSW Film was a reverberating observation I made at the screenings.   I know as moderators we are suppose to stay within the time allotted for Q&As.  I do my best to defer to the theater managers so their team has time to turn over and make sure the next movie starts in time.   But I also know that I’ll risk their wrath if the audience is so enthralled with hearing the filmmaker confess his creative process, we are going to run a few minutes late for the next show.  I liked the programmers keeping the intros short and sweet to get the movie started right away.  If they said anything at all it was to remind us of the high volume of submissions they received so therefore this film was special for its inclusion.  I found the emphasizing on this unnecessary.  For comparison this year SXSW received 2,096 features – of that 1,482 US, and Sundance counted 4,044 features, of that 2,070 US.  When it wasn’t a core programmer introducing and moderating, the festival invited alumni filmmakers to do the honors which didn’t always work.  There is nothing better than someone on the programming team who has a connection to the film and filmmaker.  Obviously it is impossible for the small group of programmers to do all the presentations.  What about the screeners?  Chances are they would die for the chance to feel like a bigger part of the festivals.

That said, in the grand scheme of things this is minor stuff but I wouldn’t be real if I had nothing but good things to say about a festival which is a living and breathing organism that can always be optimized.

Thanks for the memories South by Southwest.    To cap it all off, I’d like to quote from the hedonistic, blazing, neon flash, glorified American wet dream by Harmony Korine who brought another kind of D2F (not Direct 2 Fan) to SXSW with the US premiere of Spring Breakers.

“We came down here to find ourselves….. Spring Break for eva bitches!”

Spring break 4-EVA.

SXSW 2013 – Raves, Reviews and Rants (Recap Pt. 1)

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THE SCENE AND PEEPS
Starting with their signature pre-screening violent yet comical threats to the audience to shut the hell up and power down during the movies, the hilarious, non-sequitur trailer bumpers (to celebrate 20 years, a slew of previous years’ bumpers were shown), the invaluable taco graphic map resource (thanks Taco Journalism!) to the climactic progression of the downtown block party vibe as Interactive and Film gets tossed aside to make way for the festival’s explosive origin: Music, SXSW inhabits a radical American cultural vortex among international festivals. Needless to say, I had a blast this year, even if I didn’t stick around to get destroyed by the Music.

 

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Loves Her Gun Q&A
Director, Geoff Marslett and his actors Trieste Kelly Dunn and Francisco Barreiro

What I love here is the real and casual film junkie vibe (without the Telluride Film Festival pretense). It’s easier to have meaningful conversations with filmmakers over free libations in a crowded happening party.  I’m so happy I got that chance to do just that with David Wilson about his excellent Branson doc, We Always Lie to Strangers, and Lauren Modery and Geoff Marslett about their Brooklyn-Austin odyssey, Loves Her Gun.  Both films took home jury honors at the end of the week; Special Jury Prize for Directing to AJ Schnack and David Wilson, and the Lone Star Award, named after Louis Black, Austin’s stalwart king of the Arts – editor of Austin Chronicle and SXSW co-founder. It was awesome to catch up with the multi-media artist/advocate/revolutionary  Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public) who was there on the jury, doing her awesome doc interview show, BYOD and promoting A Total Disruption, a wildly innovative and online community to guide young startups and inventors. Does this woman sleep?

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.56.37 PMOf the cool new people I met and connected with was Emily Best, the enthusiastic no nonsense founder of crowdsourcing/building/distribution platform Seed & Spark. Taking it one step further in capitalizing the public’s desire to be part of the filmmaking process, Emily has found a way for potential funders to take away ‘stories’ from their contributions.  Like a wedding registry, you can donate for certain items.  We both agreed the concept of ‘windows’ should be killed, or at least restructured (referring to the confined first theatrical, then dvd then online life of a film).  Indeed, for all the social media buzz and rave reviews that will whet the public’s appetite and craving to see the films that premiered at SXSW last week, the public won’t be able to see them for at least another six months.  You can argue this essentially squashes that high awareness apex and momentum in its tracks.  Why wouldn’t a filmmaker slap their film online after a great festival premiere?  Because as the archaic model stands, it means no more exhibition or traditional print publicity opportunities – no more festivals, theatrical distribution, forget about that pipeline dream of Oscar qualifying run.  I certainly don’t have the background or numbers to make the grand argument of which scenario would bring the filmmaker more money in the end – but I would venture to say that monetizing immediate online access of your film post- a high profile festival like SXSW is certainly a viable way to sustain your filmmaking.  Vision = brand.

The stimulation overload at South By is perhaps akin to stumbling wasted into the Circus Circus casino in Vegas, but instead of sucking your mojo dry, here it seeps and fuses into your brain igniting new tech and film (and life) ideas.  I certainly came away with lots of new opportunities and ideas I’m excited to put into action.   This kind of festival is well worth the full 10 days-if you can handle it.  I did 8 days and had to take one of them off.  I had hoped to do more Interactive stuff but I have to admit Interactive intimidates me.  I step onto the trade show floor and half expect to walk into a Teleporting Beta simulation gone wrong.  But as evidence I tried, my very first happy hour I went to after getting my badge was Startup Village at the Hilton.  There I ran into Todd Berger who was giddy at having his SXSW virginity popped.  He co-stars in the Narrative Spotlight SXSW selection Good Night with Alex Karpovsky and Jonny Mars, directed by Sean H. A. Gallagher.  Berger is also representing 99 Tigers, a creative commercial outfit.  But most importantly, he is peddling his delightful relationship comedy/ Apocalypse Sunday brunch film, It’s a Disaster, currently available on iTunes.  Starring America Ferrara, David Cross, Julia Stiles, it’s to die for.  Recommend.

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Milo by Jacob Vaughan starring Ken Marino who is plagued by a demon in his colon was the best movie to close out my festival Thurs night. So outrageous, hilarious and quite heartwarming.

 MOTION PICTURE RECAP – SXSW IS THE NEW HOT DOCS

(Click on hyperlinked films for my thoughts/reviews). It was a pretty damn good program so it is hard to single out a top five.  Out of the 20 new movies I saw at the Festival, the ones that stood out the most for me were rockabilly music label documentary, Los Wild Ones directed by Elise Solomon, We Always Lie to Strangers, Loves Her Gun, the Harry Dean Stanton documentary, Partly Fiction and Short Term 12 set in a mental juvy home about troubled adolescents and the troubled adults that care for them.  Destin Daniel Cretton’s second feature ended up winning both Jury and Audience Awards.  I’m not including anything from Sundance or the handful of films I saw in consideration for Sundance which premiered at SXSW.  And I’m not done covering SXSW either.  Thanks to Festival Scope, I’ll get a chance to see more of the films I missed. For 70 euros/year (I think thats about 100 bucks) you can sign up  – if you are some kind of film professional – and watch a selection of movies from most of the big international film festivals.  It’s an invaluable resource for film programmers.

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Dennis Creamer, Ty Martin and Robert the “Mouth” pic the three souls of Before You Know It – pic courtesy of FB page

I had not previously thought of SXSW as a strong doc kind of space, outside the typical music docs of course which are plentiful.  However I found myself being pulled into more documentary screenings and looking at my list, I loved more of the docs than fiction features. For instance, PJ Raval’s sensitive doc, Before you Know It, which follows three main elderly gay characters who you can’t help become utterly endeared to, moved me to tears and joy in witnessing their unconquerable spirit.  The Act of Killing, a film about Indonesian paramilitary killers reenacting their crimes as Hollywood films which I’ve wanted to see since its Toronto International Film Festival debut. It was as disturbing as the hype that precedes it.  Los Wild Ones, We Always Lie to Strangers and Partly Fiction I already mentioned  – all speak to how the Festival has applied their edgy, offbeat artist sensibility to the makeup of the doc program.  I couldn’t help notice however that two fantastic upcoming docs did NOT make their world premieres here.  They  are the highly anticipated performance protest punk band profile of Devo, Are We Not Men, and the cinephile’s wet dream of the almost glorious consummation of the heralded 1965 sci-fi novel, Dune and cult auteur Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky (Santa Sangre is my all time favorite movie EVER).  Take a look at the trailer and background on Jodorowsky’s Dune here on Geeks of Doom.   I gave this heads up tip to Martijn te Pas, the IDFA programmer I met in the panelist green room.   IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam is THE most colossal and important festival for documentaries.  This kind of info is currency and credibility in my network.   Another sign that SXSW’s doc star is rising was the fact that my lovely friend and longtime programmer at Morelia Film Festival,  Mara Fortes was there scouting docs for Ambulante, the traveling documentary film festival in Mexico founded by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mara’s twin sister Elena Fortes is the Executive Director). We went to a few screenings together and she gave me the latest Ambulante Program catalog –  the first one in which I’m officially credited as Programming Correspondent (yay!).  A couple films I am sad to have missed because I heard great things from trusted sources were Baltimore biking gang doc, 12 0’Clock Boys, and The Punk Singer  – about Bikini Kill and Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna.   For much more insightful and broader coverage of the festival’s documentaries go to my  dear colleague Basil Tsiokos’s website, What not to Doc.

PANELS AND CONVOS
One of my panel highlights was actually a panel I was asked to participate in. Joe Beyer, Director, Digital Initiatives at Sundance asked me to  join him in speaking to the class of Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Entertainment Industry Management, a very intrepid two year intensive class and field program geared towards aspiring producers and engineers in the film industry.  Part of their curriculum includes ‘field trips’ to Sundance, SXSW and even Cannes.   It was so exhilerating to see such ambitious and smart young men and women.  I was particularly pleased to see a balanced group of women and men of color in the room (what the hell happens later in the workforce!!?).   I encouraged folks to carve themselves out a specialty, giving as an example my own work as Latino film expert.  Both Joe and I evoked our old boss Geoff Gilmore’s philosophy of articulating the POSITIVE merits of a film.  Anyone can talk shit about a movie’s logline, characters and production value.  Maybe they think its cooler to do so.  It’s definitely a unique trait I’ve learned at Sundance; to always identify and celebrate the positive aspects of a filmmaker’s vision.  Everywhere else seems to start with the negative first.

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Studio vs Indie Producers Panel with Lisa Muskat (Prince Avalanche, All the Real Girls George Washington), and Adele (pronounced A-dey-la) Romanski (Milo, Black Rock, Freebie)

I  went to Studio + Independent Producing panel in which Lisa Muskat, Adele Romanski and Scott Mosier exchanged horrible and hilarious situations faced while working with and outside the studio system.  50% of being a producer is about the relationships, Adele said.  Mosier, who has produced most if not all of Kevin Smith’s movies pointed out that with studios, you are well aware you have a product, it is coming out, there is a release date, print and advertising but all of that comes at a creative price which influences your creative work.  He remembered being shocked that a studio executive told him it’s not just about making movies with your friends (um, yes it is).  They all chimed in about the ridiculousness of test screenings which seem as if they are purposely there to get slammed.  On the other hand, Adele argued she’s felt that when screening in front of friends her concern is that they might hold back on criticism.  I also went to Not So Short Story: panel with Calvin Lee Reeder (Rambler), Hannah Fidell (A Teacher) and initially I did not recognize the guy whose last name was Henry but when he talked about his film as “the gay bathroom gang rape comedy”, I immediately knew that must be Kyle Henry director of the short film trilogy Fourplay. All three had great nuggets of wisdom when it comes to expanding your short into a feature and about playing the Festival circuit.

For my own mentor sessions on Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting with Christina B who with a group of her peers founded and writes for this awesome How to Break into the Film business blog called Indies Unchained.  She’s volunteered at Sundance and now SXSW and is getting out there as a filmmaker and working towards a career as film festival programmer. I also met a passionate documentary directing duo, Ahbra Perry and Taylor Higgins who have been working on their film Power of Pearl for the last three years.  They had thoughtful questions, I was definitely intrigued by the macro and micro exploration of the world’s only living gem.  I felt they were on the right track by taking the time out to watch other docs and taking advantage of the networking and mentor sessions the festival offers.  Unfortunately not every meeting or networking introduction sparks a great connect.   As a matter of fact, I do have an idea for a panel (or bumper) next year. It’d be geared towards the ‘professionals, filmmakers and panelists who will inevitably get cornered by a bright (crazy) eyed enthusiastic newbie ____ who wants to know if you would ___their ____ or if it has a shot of ___.   Oh, by the way, the ___ in question has absolutely no rhyme or reason, and next to no potential.  How do you not come off like a jerk?  Start with the positive kids.   We like weird.  But it’s gotta be calibrated effectively.

Pt. 2, parties, shenanigans and deep thoughts

Spring Film Festival fever – Muchos Festivales!

With no less than four reputable Latino Film Festivals and three mainstream festivals coming up this spring in the states, my dance card is filling up quick, and I’m excited to survey inside and outside the so-called niche of Latino film programming.

35cinefestivalFirst up, CineFestival (where yours truly is proud to be a Programmer).  Put on by San Antonio’s vibrant Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, it is notably the longest running Chicano and indigenous film festival (35 years).  Taking place from February 23 – Mar. 2, the festival’s Opening night film is Mission Park a suspenseful street crime drama about a group of childhood friends whose different paths pit them against each other, directed by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Douglas Spain. The closing night film is Filly Brown, still going strong since its Sundance premiere last year but now seeking a new distributor due to Indomina, which picked it up last year, closing up shop.   Both screenings will be accompanied by the filmmakers and cast.  In between there will be a whole week of shorts and docs including the lyrical and fierce LGBT performance club doc Wildness by Wu Tsang which hasn’t been seen much outside of Outfest and last year’s SXSW, Carlos Avila’s Tales of Masked Men, a look inside Lucha Libre, and my favorite local Texas highschool shorts showcase.  See the recently announced lineup here.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates and look out for a couple exciting additional program announcements next week.

MIFF-30Right behind CineFestival in date and age is the Miami International Film Festival, celebrating its 30th anniversary this Mar. 1 – 10.  Produced and presented by Miami Dade College, it is the biggest and strongest film festival for Latino programming in the nation.  The word Latino is not included in their name, yet almost half of its programming is Latino (by my count 51/117 features). I love that.

Just a few of the gems from Central and South America the festival will be screening include 7 Boxes by Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schémbori (Paraguay), Polvo by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Guatemala).  In the impressive Opera Prima competition there is Edificio Royal by Ivan Wild (Columbia/Venezuela), Molasses by Carlos Diaz Lechuga (Panama) and No Autumn, No Spring by Ivan Mora (Ecuador).

Among the brand new US Latino features world premiering; Eenie Meenie Miney Moe by Jokes Yanes, Calloused Hands by Jesse Quinones, Sanitarium, a horror tri-vignette by Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama and Bryan Ortiz, and The Boy who Smells like Fish, a first feature by Analeine Cal y Mayor.

By far, Miami leads the pack in programming such a diverse and fresh Latino presence. Miami is la bomba!

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San Diego Latino Film Festival which is celebrating its 20th anniversary takes place Mar. 8 -18, pretty much overlapping with the monstrous South by Southwest Film Mar 8-17.  I profiled SXSW Latino element here.  The feature film lineup for San Diego has also recently been announced.  Check this to see the list of classic and tribute narrative feature screenings (Almodovar, Rodriguez and Innaritu) along with recurring American Latino film fest favorites, Aqui y Alla, The Girl, Filly Brown, Mission Park, along with two films that clearly look and sound like “Hispanic marketed films”,  Tio Papi and Tony Tango.

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In April we got my hometown representing, The Chicago Latino Film Festival (April 11-25) which has historically been more of a showcase-y festival screening a number of films from South America. Although they have not announced, I’ll take it as a hint that Delusions of Grandeur is playing there as they uploaded the Chicago Latino Film Festival poster on their Facebook page.  I hope so because I really dig this quirky, set in San Francisco film written and directed by Iris Alamaraz and Gustavo Ramos about a frenzied young grunge Chicana’s journey to be independent.  The film made its world premiere at the NY International Latino Film Festival last summer.

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Back to Austin from April 16-21, the 16th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, a really excellent year round programmed non-profit which screens at the ubiquitous Alamo Drafthouse, is thankfully there to pick up the slack in supporting the Latin roots and diversity in Texas country as well as the unique bi-culture shown in their highlighted program, Hecho en Tejas section.

And last but certainly not least we got the big apple, Tribeca Film Festival taking place April 17-28.  They usually announce in early March.  Babygirl and The Girl both screening at this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival premiered here last year.  Babygirl is a film by an Irish filmmaker, Macdara Varelly who tells quite the racy story of a mother and daughter after same guy.  The street cred is infused by the two leads who play the Nuyoricans in the Bronx. The single mother is played by Rosa Arredondo and precariously sexually blossoming teen played by unknown Yainis Ynoa who surprises in her very first acting role.  I don’t think it received half the attention it deserved.  Meanwhile, The Girl, directed by David Riiker (co-writer of Sleep Dealer) stars Abbie Cornish in a ‘subverse’ tale as an American woman who crosses the border going south to pursue her dreams.

I plan to cover as much as I can with an eye towards monitoring the tendencies and differences of the Latino Film Festival circuit versus mainstream.  Being familiar with most of the brand spanking new American Latino films out there looking for a home and audiences to connect with, I will be tracking closely throughout the year which festivals are committed to carving out a space for discovering American Latino filmmakers and stories.  All my recon will be shared here on my blog, so ojos people!

WTF is Latino at SXSW 2013?

Back by popular demand here is my second in the “WTF is Latino at xyz Festival series”.  This time I’m taking a peek of what kind of Latino we got at the weirdest film junkie happening in Austin, the sweaty, youthful and hip South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival.

Last year, provocatively hitting that American Latino crack was Los Chidos by Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  It could have easily been thrown to the ravenous midnight wolves of the festival but instead Festival Director, Janet Pierson recognized the socio-cultural critique underneath the Neanderthal nasty, and boldly offered it up on the main storefront display of its Narrative Competition.  There was also an entire shorts program presented by those Miami based hooligans, Borscht Corp.  They return with their new short, #Postmodem, AND add this to your SXSW schedule, Cuban-American multi-media artist Jillian Mayer will be on a panel called Vagina Puppets and Fair Use.

kevin hernandez
Kevin Hernandez

So what does this first look reveal? There are lots of beautiful brown faces appearing in front of the camera, in particular emerging actors doing their ‘crossover’ thing like Francisco Barreiro and Genesis Rodriguez, popular Tigerbeat cover star Selena Gomez in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, young blood Kevin Hernandez in Short Term 12 (The Sitter, Get the Gringo) the feature based on the acclaimed short by Destin Daniel Cretton, and then there’s handsome Marcus DeAnda who delivers a moving performance in the small town gay drama, that just premiered at Sundance, Pit Stop by Yen Tan.

While onscreen talent is substantial, the films written and or directed by American Latinos in this crop is considerably less than so. By my preliminary account, we got three; Carlos Puga (Burma), Victor Teran (Snap) and Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spiders).  I’d love to be corrected.

(Descriptions pulled from festival, italic footnotes by me).

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

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Marlene Perez of The Rhythm Shakers, photo by Daniel Funaki.

Los Wild Ones
Director: Elise Salomon
Wild Records is an indie label reminiscent of the early days of Sun Records. The label is based in LA and run by Reb Kennedy aka Mr. Wild Records and is comprised of young Latin musicians who write and perform 50s Rock n Roll.

With rockabilly and Mexican rock bands like Rhythm Shakers, AlexVargas, and Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes signed to the old school label (they don’t do advertising and they are actually going back to vinyl instead of CD production) this is the perfect music doc representing American Latino culture to premiere at SXSW and in which audiences will discover a trove of hybrid Latino influenced music treasures.

NARRATIVE COMPETITION

Burma
Director/Screenwriter: Carlos Puga
On the eve of an annual sibling reunion, a troubled young writer is sent reeling with the arrival of an unexpected guest. 
  Cast : Christopher Abbott, Gaby Hoffmann, Chris McCann, Dan Bittner, Emily Fleischer

Festivals love it when their shorties come back to premiere their features. Chilean born Puga played his documentary short film, Satan Since 2003 at SXSW 2011 and returns with his first narrative feature in which Christopher Abbott shows off some serious dramatic acting chops (HBO’s Girls, Hello I Must Be Going). 

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

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Behind the scenes photo of Francisco Barreiro, photo by Patrick Rusk

Loves Her Gun
Director/Screenwriter: Geoff Marslett, Screenwriter: Lauren Modery
This romantic tragedy follows a young woman’s transition from flight to fight after she is the victim of street violence, but will the weapons that make her feel safe again create problems worse than the ones she is escaping? 
  Cast : Trieste Kelly Dunn, Francisco Barreiro, Ashley Rae Spillers, Melissa Hideko Bisagni, John Merriman

Francisco Barreiro is a rising Mexican star whose recent acting credits include horror films, Here Comes the Devil and Somos Lo Que Hay (We are What we Are).  This marks his first English-speaking role.  Go Paco!

Hours
Director/Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer
Set mostly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hours is the story of a man who battles looters, the elements and exhaustion for two days in a hospital while his newborn daughter clings to life inside a ventilator powered only by a manual crank.  Cast : Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez 

In Casa de Mi Padre, Genesis played the envious role of Sonia, the female lead who gets manhandled by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s characters and falls in love with big oaf Will Ferrell.  Competing for laughs she held her own opposite the comedic giant and proved she was more than a dime a dozen token Latina bombshell. Before being plucked for that role she was mostly seen in telenovelas so it’s nice to see her find more diverse work like this drama and the upcoming comedy with Jason Bateman, Identity Thief.

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still from SXSW

Go For Sisters
Director/Screenwriter: John Sayles
Bernice and Fontayne grew up so tight they could ‘go for sisters’. After twenty years apart, they are reunited when Bernice is assigned to be Fontayne’s parole officer- just when she needs help on the wrong side of the law.
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross

This was not on my radar at all, but what a cool surprise to learn of a new film by ‘bootstrap’ John Sayles (among his body of work, Lone Star and Casa de los Babys offer distinct povs of Latino culture). Eddie Olmos, the original Chicano movie gets top billing.

VISIONS

Elena (Brazil)
Director: Petra Costa
Elena moves to NY with the dream of becoming a movie actress. She leaves behind Petra, her 7-year-old sister. Years later, her sister Petra goes to NY to look for Elena.

This personal and impressionist docudrama by Petra, a NY based filmmaker and actress is a 2012 grantee of Tribeca Film Institute’s Latin America Media Arts Fund.  Apparently her country’s Filmmaker Godfathers, Fernando Mereilles and Walter Salles greatly praised the film when it premiered last fall in Brazil and prestigious doc fest in Amsterdam, IDFA.

Snap
Directors: Youssef Delara, Victor Teran, Screenwriter: Victor Teran
A stylish psychological thriller set against the underground dubstep DJ scene that takes the audience on a dark and terrifying journey into the depths of the psychopathic mind as it threatens to explode into horrific violence.
Cast : Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Scott Bakula, Jason Priestley

From the team behind Filly Brown, co-directors and producers Delara (Iranian/Spanish) and Teran (Chicago born son of Nicaraguan parents), comes a brand spanking new film that takes us inside the mind of a DJ in a story that is as sick and heavy as the thumping and synth sounds of its Dubstep score.  Gina Rodriguez, the eponymous Filly Brown lead who ignited audiences with her breakout performance has a small role.

SXGLOBAL

Diario a Tres Voces / Three Voices (Mexico)
Director: Otilia Portillo Padua
We are always told that love lasts forever like in children’s fairy tales, but the reality is that people change and relationships expire.

I’m very happy to see this beautiful and lyrical documentary, which had its world premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival, included in the program.  It is by far one of the most moving glimpses into the female psyche I’ve seen.  – A simply elegant and intimate glimpse of three women in three different stages in their life and how they perceive and appreciate the romance they’ve met, loved and lost.

https://vimeo.com/58650971

Dog Flesh / Carne de Perro (Chile)

Director/Screenwriter: Fernando Guzzoni
The life of Alejandro, a solitary, fragile and unpredictable man, who is crushed by the hostility of his mysterious past.
Cast : Alejandro Goic, Amparo Noguera, María Gracia Omegna, Alfredo Castro, Sergio Hernández, Cristián Carvajal,

Add Fernando Guzzoni to the growing list of young talented filmmakers from Chile with this chilling feature directing debut. A haunting and psychological post-Pinochet drama – (a reminder of the vast imprint left on the country still reeling and seeking reconciliation in the aftermath of its cruel dictatorship regime), it was awarded Best Film in the venerable San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors Competition and recently screened at Rotterdam.

SPECIAL EVENTS

FlacoJimenezSanAntonioThis Ain’t No Mouse Music!
Directors: Chris Simon, Maureen Gosling
Roots music icon Chris Strachwitz (Arhoolie Records) takes us on a hip-shaking stomp from Texas to New Orleans, Cajun country to Appalachia, searching for the musical soul of America.

Features five time Grammy winner, King of the Accordion, Flaco Jiménez, a Tejano musician from San Antonio.

HEADLINERS

Evil Dead
Director/Screenwriter: Fede Alvarez, Screenwriter: Rodo Sayagues
Five friends, holed up in a remote cabin, discover a Book of the Dead that unwittingly summons up dormant demons which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left to fight for survival.
Cast : Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

Alvarez - still from Collider
Alvarez – still from Collider

Uruguayan born filmmaker caught Hollywood’s attention in 2009 immediately after uploading his disquieting and innovative sci-fi short film, Panic Attack. Suddenly Hollywood was on the line and Fede soon met with Sam Raimi.  Four years later and the eagerly anticipated Evil Dead remake and Fede’s directing debut will world premiere at SXSW where it is slotted as one of the main Headliners (reason#132 to love SXSW) In this awesome interview with the geeks at Collider, Fede remarks on the whole recent ratings arbitration with the film, “You know you Americans are crazy, right? The whole ratings system is like “cuckoo!”, he says, referring to the puzzling prescription dose of sex and horror the MPAA deems fit for U.S. mass consumption (mutilation ok, boob no way).  Sony releases Evil Dead in April.

MIDNIGHTERS

Big Ass Spider!
Director: Mike Mendez, Screenwriter: Gregory Gieras
When a giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampages across the city of Los Angeles, it is up to one clever exterminator and his security guard sidekick to kill the creature before the city is destroyed. Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau

A devoted horror buff and filmmaker (Killers, Gravedancers, Convent) Mike grew up in Pasadena and would work at his parent’s Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant on Hollywood Blvd when he wasn’t making movies with friends.  Check out his wicked website. 

SHORTS

Si Nos Dejan
Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall
If they let us, we will love each other all our lives.

Homegirl may not be Latina but she knows her classic Mexican ballads from which the title is based (Luis Miguel and Rocio Durcal are among the many great singers who have covered this song). Spanish is THE ultimate romance language and it’s perfectly infused into Celia’s beautifully shot and offbeat cosmic love short.

The Village (Brazil)
Director: Liliana Sulzbach
The daily life of the dwellers of a microtown in the the south of Brazil which is about to vanish.

Boy Friends
Director: Hugo Vargas-Zesati
A man disturbed by a dream awakens to realize his unconscious has called his self-awareness into question. When confronting himself, misfortune brings the temporal world into perspective.

This is insanely hilarious and now that I read this logline, ingenious.  Young Texas filmmaker.

Dance Till You Drop
Directors: Eric M. Levy, Juan Cardarelli
She thought the house was safe, but under the right circumstances, anything can be dangerous. Even a dance montage.

Juan Cardarelli is originally from Argentina. Together with Levy they are Render Guys, a motion graphic house (Toy’s House, Gasland).  Their first feature film Congratulations! played last year’s Austin Film Festival

#PostModem
Directors: Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva

#PostModem is a comedic satirical sci-fi pop-musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists. It’s the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with the technological singularity, told in a series of cinematic tweets.

The party starts March 8-17.  Follow them on Twitter @SXSW and check out the mega diverse action/info/passes to attend here

Exclusivo! Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s Los Chidos trailer

This savage satire written, directed and produced by Omar Rodriguez Lopez topped my list of most excellent American Latino films that popped up in 2012. Los Chidos cracked people’s faces when it premiered in competition at SXSW last year, as you can tell by the savvy mainstream and hard core cult film critic quotes in the trailer.  Having seen the film thrice, I can appreciate this sneaky and clever approach in contextualizing the film’s mad provocation. Thanks to Adam Thomson (editor/producer) for giving me a first look.  Enjoy.  More screening play dates to be announced soon and a unique distro plan is likely.  Follow @ORLProductions if you are not already trying to keep up with Omar’s progressive and nonstop music and film creating endeavors.

The Sweet Success of SXSW

It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the train after a grueling 29 hour Amtrak from LA and arrived in Austin for my very first SXSW.  In reality it’s been over a week ago and I feel like Geoff Marslett in that How Not Be Lame @ SXSW bumper trailer, where he transforms over the course of the Festival from entitled hollywood suit outsider pretentious douche into an entitled keep-it-wierd converted local douche.  My attempt of recapping the ruckus that has led up to my current dazed and confused state has proven a bit tricky.  Luckily the remnants of fliers, postcards, and business cards in my swagbag, plus scrolling through the week’s sloppy texts,  tweets and photos have helped jog my muggy memory of what was an Epic first South By.

mi pelicula favorita!

The Films – Hard and edgy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.

All in, I averaged about 3 films a day.  I feel bad for not having seen more, but the nonstop lounges, panels, parties and street grub posed serious detours on my way to see films. The first movie I saw here was the divisive satire comedy, Los Chidos, by Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  Having seen a rough cut before, I knew exactly what Janet Pierson, Festival Director who introduced the film, meant when she said with a smirk  “ I can’t wait to get your reactions to this”.   Los Chidos is by far one of my favorite films so far in 2012.  I’m thrilled that SXSW had the balls to put it in competition. The progressive music prodigy and son of a psychiatrist, Rodriguez Lopez has a fierce voice and much to say.  At the Q&A he was asked why he chose to portray Mexicans like the mysogynist, homophobic sloths.  I wish everyone who saw the film had the opportunity to hear his A because he really provides rich context to the swirling grotesque images that shock your senses, all of which are well thought out subversive analogies about the male psyche.

I also loved Bob Byington’s third feature, Somebody Up There Likes Me in the Narrative Spotlight section.  Anyone who knows Bob knows he’s an odd egg and a cynical yet charming singularity infuses his romantic comedies.   The film inhabits this non sequitur, pseudo reality yet for all the quirky fancy, the actual moments and feelings of bitterness, regret, heart, and self-deprecating humor couldn’t be more genuine and relatable.  I like filmmakers who defy film conventions for story effect.  Much like Omar plays with Los Chidos with the obvious dubbing dialogue effect as a throwback tribute to shlocky Mexican 70s movies, here Bob forgoes the phoniness of putting on makeup to show his characters age throughout the thirty years span of the movie.  Everyone pretty much looks the same at the end.   Because really who likes to see themselves age.

The multi-hypenate w/d/p beauty Adele Romansky

Leave me Like You Found Me, Ms. Adele Romanski’s directing debut really affected me and is also one of my faves. A perceptive, earnestly written and well acted film about when to call a relationship quits and how the nostalgia of a lost love washes over the ugliness of how it actually went down.  David Nordstrom (Sawdust City) and Megan Boone give some awesome naturalistic performances.  (How many times have you asked or been asked in a relationship, Why do you love me?).  I thanked Adele for making the film, and she said many others have, because its one of those films where one gets to entertain the illusion of trying to get back together with the ex and what that might look like.  Also worth mentioning and not just for diversity sake is Wolf, a first feature by Ya’Ke Smith.  An all black cast film about a teen who protects the preacher with whom he had an illicit relationship.  It’s a nuanced storyline that was just shy of gripping because the script and acting were a tad uneven.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Eyes by Adam Sherman which Strand picked up for a summer release.  I tend to be culturally sensitive to the myriad of American films about rich white people’s problems (who cares) but once in a while the filmmaker successfully makes its rich white character relative and poignant, and I would be guilty of dismissing it just because (The Comedy for instance, which I also found tragic brilliant and premiered at Sundance and also played here).   That girl from Californication, Madeline Zima and Lukas Haas who plays a Hollywood millionaire have a year long drunken relationship where she refuses to have sex with him.  They smoke, do drugs, drink and fight like decadent zealots.   She accuses him of not having real problems, when ultimately we find run he is way more dysfunctional than she. Thanks to the Tugg Buzz screenings, where the festival adds a screening of films with the most buzz, I caught King Kelly by Andrew Neel about a self-centered internet sex star brat who does not live a second of her life not filming her navel and drama on her iPhone.  Titillating social commentary about our fucked up millenial generation.

The Panels – All you can panel buffet

Nearly as giant as DFW airport, the Austin Convention center and hub of SXSW Film/Interactive/Music

The number of panels, speakers, and sessions is overwhelming and diverse.  And most of them come with cute brand title names.  No doubt its due to their panel picker process in which you can vote on what panels you want to see.  Yours truly participated in a Mentor session about reaching international audiences.  It’s a speed dating style format where registrants sign up and get 15 minutes with you.   I took it a bit personal and was disappointed that there was not a line of people waiting to see me (ego anyone?)but I heard from other much more established industry players that overall this was the case perhaps because of the competing multitude of events.   In a crazy twist of events and much to my surprise one of the four registrants that met me was a cousin I never met!   She had recognized my name and surprised the heck out of me when she said “Hi, I’m Myrna.  I’m your cousin”.  We had an impromptu reunion and started to piece together our estranged family – most of whom I found out are in Texas or Oklahoma.  I caught a little bit of the Have Latin American Media become Social, where the main takeaway is that there is not much overall internet penetration in Mexico and even less in Central America.  The big broadcasters like Azteca and Univision are dominating with interactive sports and telenovelas forums. But that said, there’s lots of room growth.  I sat through “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love VOD, moderated by Orly Ravid and included, Nolan Gallagher/Gravitas,  Eamon Bowles/Magnolia, Dylan Marchetti/Variance films and Matt Harlok who shared his successful case study of his documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story.  Read the PDF presentation here. The last few pages offer some good takeaways by the experts.  What I mostly absorbed was that every film needs a ‘specialist’ or a savvy business producer filmmaker to exploit the  wild west and not yet tested opportunities out there as its all on a very case to case basis. Second is “Know your windows”. My last panel of the fest was Indiewire’s Eric Kohn asking some very straight to the point questions to Caveh Zahedi, filmmaker of SXSW doc, The Sheik And I, which has some controversy surrounding the filmmaker’s take on Islamic Society and what constitutes as a mockumentary.  I think – as I did not see it but I wonder if its as duplicitously brilliant like a Mads Brugger film (Red Chapel, The Ambassador).  I also caught the final Indiewire panel  in which Dana Harris and Eric talked with a gruffy voiced Festival Director, Janet Pierson and Senior Programmer/Operations Manager Jared Neece about this year’s festival.  Its hard to recap an event that is still going but I applaud their programming, spirit, and most of all knowing their audiences.

The Music – where it all began and where it all goes to hell

There was a noticeable shift of crowds – larger and rowdier when the Music portion of

Biggest Music Discovery for me! Must check out Filastine

SXSW began on Tuesday.  Suddenly it was green badges galore.  6th street blew up with armies of transient musicians, marketing hulu hoop ploys, and impromptu drum circles. I happened across one of the Music pocket guides which lists each venue and the 2000+ bands and got excited at the prospects.  Plus there had to have been at least another another hundred of performers in the unofficial and so called “anti-sxsw” vein.  If it was difficult to adhere to a screening schedule, it was nearly impossible to try to keep a music schedule. After Wednesday, it was very go with the flow, but I got to see a lot more movies since most film folks had left.   Wednesday night I had the pleasure of experiencing Filastine, an international world-like dubstep hard to categorize explosion of sound whose maestro is Greg Filastine an Oklahoma native now living in Barcelona who drums everything including a shopping cart.  And right next door at the Speakeasy were the fine firecracker ladies, Lila Downs and Cucu Diamantes who had a documentary, called Amor Cronico in the festival.  I also danced my ass off to electro cumbia mixer DJ Mr. Pauer.

The Parties – Messin’ with Texas

Pro-skater Kenny Anderson. Hot. and taken.

I missed the first couple days of parties since I felt the need to see the Midnight flicks but I got up to speed pretty quickly on Monday night with the Gayby/Wholphin party at Cheer Up Charlies.  A great Texas joint where I was happy to see all my LA and NY friends.  The Film Awards ceremony on Tuesday was thankfully brief and I found a seat next to my homey Trevor Anderson, short filmmaker of High Level Bridge and The Man That Got Away and Sundance pal, David Courier. I also met Louis Black the founder of this here shindig, an old G who was praising Janet Pierson’s helming.  Before the actual party at Stage opened, I grabbed a slice and hung out with the Los Chidos posse.  By Thursday, I turned into a film zombie fueled by Doritos and Tito’s vodka. I would get downtown by 1030am just in time to go to the lounge for some breakfast tacos to-go and start my day off with an 11am screening.   My new Russian friend Selena from St. Petersburg and I became fest buddies this way; we’d go see a movie then go back then to the lounge for drinks.  Repeat.  After four films on Friday I skipped the downtown melee and went over to the East side, to this rustic but mod spot called Hillside Pharmacy, then later to a rowdy place called Yellow Jacket also on the East side where there was no badge in sight.  I seriously thought I was done for by Saturday.  That is, until I heard there was a Converse Thrasher party at Scoot Inn where there’d be hot skaters. We rolled up and met up with pro-skaters and derelicts, plus got to see Kreayshawn do her Gucci Gucci, and trip-hop, The Cool Kids from my hometown Chicago perform.    I have never seen so many dirty skaters and hot girls in one place.  500 Pabst Blue Ribbons later we went to The Grackle where we heard a pretty cool all girl punk Japanese band, ZZZs and where thanks to the East Side Kings food truck had the best damn pork ribs I’ve ever had in my life.  Afterwards a pedi-cab to the car sealed my last night of brouhaha.

Like the 120,000+ SXSW participants that stormed Austin this week, I’m slowly stepping back into ho-drum reality.  Now that I got my first SXSW taste I am hooked!  Big besos and thanks to Claudette Godfrey, Fest Coordinator and Programmer who is the reason I took on this gonzo-esque journey.

Jury winners here

Audience winners here

How I feel right now here