#WTF is #Latino at SXSW Film Festival?

Perhaps the highest profile U.S. Latino film at SXSW this year is the dramatic feature about labor rights organizer Cesar Chavez.  Another film on Chavez, the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast, premiered at Sundance last month.  I’m thrilled to see two of the biggest U.S. Festivals supporting this story getting out there.   I’m also happy to see that the version directed by Diego Luna, starring Michael Peña as Cesar, is not the only US Latino offering at SXSW, the edgiest mainstream film festival in the U.S. of A.  I count 5 U.S. Latino writer/directors on this roster among many other artists and subjects.

chaveztweetBefore we dive in, my caveats:  First, this is at best, a prelim list.  I’m sure I will discover more US Latino talent once I get there and watch more films and meet the artists behind them.  

2.  My goal is to single out the U.S. Latino content creators, that is writer/directors because they are ridiculously under-represented.

3.  By U.S. Latino I mean people born or living in the U.S. who have roots from Mexico, Central & South America and the Caribbean.  

Back to this piece; I’m including actors, producers and cinematographers because they are critical to the making of the film, and subjects of documentaries as well as themes and perceptions of Latino culture because you don’t have to have Latino blood to “get it”.  That’s a sensibility you pickup because of where you live, or because of a best friend/neighbor, or a connection you feel when you experience a an artistic expression outside what your traditional ethnic culture dictates. 

sashaSorry for shutting out Spain and Brazil on this list.  They will be fine.  That said I’m looking forward to Open Windows by Spanish loco, Nacho Vigalondo where Elijah Wood is suppose to go on a date with Sasha Grey.  And there is the Brazilian film,  Wolf at the Door, feature length debut from Fernando Coimbra.

One Night in Old Mexico by Emilio Aragon bears mention. It is a Spanish (that means Spain people) production shot in Brownsville, Texas. Joaquin Cosio (Cochiloco!) is the only Mexican actor I notice in the credits.   Robert Duvall acts and produces in this old-timey South of the Border road trip. I will view with an open mind and hope that Tijuana brothel strippers and corrupt Narco cowboys are not just background to an Anglo, Father and (grand) Son story.  I do like the Julieta Venegas song for the film, “Aqui Sigo”.

Thanks to my SXSW peeps for their descriptions and help.  If I have anything to add, I do so in Italics.  If YOU have anything to add please feel free to COMMENT!

HEADLINERS

Chef-photo-Jon-FavreauChef
Director/Screenwriter: Jon Favreau
Chef is a rich and vibrant comedy – the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), who loses his chef job and cooks up a food truck business in hopes of reestablishing his artistic promise. At the same time, he tries to reconnect with his estranged family.
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey, Jr., Emjay Anthony (World Premiere)

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

malkovichCESAR CHAVEZ
Director: Diego Luna
Screenwriter: Keir Pearson, Timothy J. Sexton
Chavez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. 
Cast: Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (North American Premiere)

Finally, a U.S. Latino story gets the orchestral score, epic, Hollywood blockbuster-gloss treatment it deserves.  And tomorrow evening, Cesar Chavez is having its World Premiere as a fancy Berlinale Special Gala.  Film is being rolled out in the U.S. starting on Cesar Chavez day, March 29.  John Malkovich, one of the producers of the film, also stars as Bogdanovitch, the grape crop owner and son of immigrants who wages battle against Chavez’s efforts to mobilize.  The filmmakers made the role a very smartly drawn character with dimension and Malkovich plays it with unexpected complexity and compassion.  Meanwhile America and Rosario elevate the contributions of Chavez’s partners, Helen, his wife, and Dolores Huerta, his work ally, respectively,  from background to the fore with their mighty performances.  An inspiring account of the sacrifices and failures necessary for triumph and success.  

Two Step


Director/Screenwriter: Alex R. Johnson
Two Step is a fast-paced Texas thriller in which the lives of James, a directionless college dropout, and Webb, a career criminal with his back against the wall, violently collide.
Cast: Beth Broderick, James Landry Hébert, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas, Ashley Rae Spillers (World Premiere)

Austin-based Johnson, whose mom is from Ecuador,  is part of SXSW for the first time with his anticipated feature directorial debut, after directing several shorts, videos and producing documentaries.  Indiewirepreviously posted background on Two Step’s music (Andrew Kenny of All American Analog set did the score) and offbeat suspense elements along with clips of his work.  Check it. 

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 The Immortalists
Directors: Jason Sussberg, David Alvarado
Two eccentric scientists struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age.” As they battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their scientific journeys ultimately become personal. (World Premiere)

David was born in Dallas to a Mexican father, he went to grad school at Stanford and now lives in Brooklyn where he works on films exploring scientific breakthroughs and other fascinating biological radical-ness

Impossible Light
Director: Jeremy Ambers

impossibleImpossible Light reveals the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering reality. (World Premiere)

 Villareal grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso. Per this Times article, “He was the introverted son of a wealthy Mexican-American family, more interested in programming his Apple II than the provincial pursuits of football, rodeo and tequila”.

Mateo
Director: Aaron I. Naar
Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 4.08.28 PMMateo follows America’s most notorious white mariachi singer on his misadventures in Cuba.
(World Premiere)

Really interesting story, read the 2009 LA Times piece here and the Time Magazine piece here about this ginger haired white man who found his calling singing bolero music after getting out of Maximum Security Prison.

Print the Legendprintlegend

Directors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

The 3D Printing revolution has begun. Who will make it? (World Premiere)

Lopez (from Tijuana) and Tweel were associate producers on 2007’s King of Kong and worked together on 201o’s LA Film Fest Best Documentary, Make Believe.

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

chapoThe Legend Of Shorty (UK)
Directors: Angus MacQueen, Guillermo Galdos
The Legend of Shorty is the story of a man and a myth. (World Premiere)

The sick but undeniably wild appeal of this ‘untouchable’ narco kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman puts this at the top of my Must-See list.  Not to mention the folks involved; Guillermo Galdos is a respected documentary reporter from Peru.  Submarine is co-repping the film for North America with Protagonist. Produced by Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugar Man, Man On Wire) and Andrew Mackenzie-Betty (Thriller In Manila).

VISIONS

Cumbres (Heights) (Mexico)

Director/Screenwriter: Gabriel Nuncio
Due a tragedy, two sisters abruptly escape from their hometown in Northern Mexico. Their journey creates a bittersweet relationship marked by pain, guilt and love.
Cast: Aglae Lingow, Ivanna Michel, Abdul Marcos, Sergio Quiñones, Ganzo Cepeda (U.S. Premiere)

Really happy about this film and impressed how Nuncio swooshes forward both the on-the-run stakes never leaving behind the actual sister relationship story behind. I’m looking forward to his next film, Los Herederos which Michel Franco (Despues de Lucia is producing).

The Dance of Reality (Chile / France)


Director/Screenwriter: Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Dance of Reality is a 2013 independent autobiographical film written, produced and directed by Alejandro Jodorowosky. 
Cast: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Cristobal Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Alejandro Jodorowsky (U.S. Premiere)

Almost a year after its premiere in Cannes, the film finally gets its stateside premiere.  It’s like surfing on the neural synapses of an artist fully in tune with his twilight years intertwining nostalgia and fantasy.

EPISODIC – new section

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
The Gecko Brothers are back. Based on the thrill-ride film, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a supernatural crime saga from Creator, Director and EP Robert Rodriguez premiering March 11 on El Rey Network.
Cast: D.J. Cotrona, Zane Holtz, Eiza González, Jesse Garcia, Lane Garrison, and Wilmer Valderrama, and Don Johnson (World Premiere) 

Halt and Catch Fire
Director: Juan Jose Campanella, Screenwriters: Christopher Cantwell
Halt and Catch Firecaptures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, during which an unlikely trio – a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy – take personal and professional risks in the race to build a computer that will change the world as they know it. 
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Rio Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss, David Wilson Barnes (World Premiere)

Argentine Campanella has directed several episodes of House, Law & Order, 30 Rock and my ol fave, Strangers With Candy. Before that he got international acclaim with his first film, 2009’s The Secret in Her Eyes.

24 BEATS PER SECOND

Lupita-1 KopieQue Caramba es la Vida (Germany)
Director: Doris Dorrie
In the macho world of Mariachi music, very few women can hold their own. Just like the songs they play, this film is a snapshot of life, death and the things in between – seen from a bird’s-eye perspective. (World Premiere)

Rubber Soul

Director/Screenwriter: Jon Lefkovitz
Rubber Soul reconstructs portions of two historical interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono based on available transcripts and audio, juxtaposing them in order to explore the dynamic nature of Lennon’s identity over time. Cast: Joseph Bearor, Denice Lee, Dillon Porter, Andrew Perez (World Premiere)

perezAndrew is first generation Colombian American.  His next feature which he wrote and acts in is being edited by Rubber Soul director, Jon Lefkovitz, takes place in Colombia, called Bastards & Diablos.  He spent six years in my Chi-city, performed at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater with a production of Sonia Flew with Sandra Delgado and Sandra Marquez. 

 

SXGLOBAL

desertThe Desert (Argentina)

Director: Christoph Behl


The failed story of a love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world.
Cast: Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, Lautaro Delgado (North American Premiere)

German filmmaker who works in Spanish language films.  The Desert has been validated at all the top international horror festivals, Sitges, London Fright Fest, Fantasy Festival among others.

MIDNIGHT

Exists
Director: Eduardo Sánchez, Screenwriter: Jamie Nash
Five friends on a camping weekend in the remote woods of East Texas struggle to survive against a legendary beast that is stronger, smarter, and more terrifying than they would have ever believed exists. Cast: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis (World Premiere)

Cuban born Sanchez shot to cult indie horror kingpin over Blair Witch Project.  His short in the V/H/S 2 short is so bomb.  I can’t wait to see this take on Bigfoot.

latephasesLate Phases
Director: Adrián García Bogliano Screenwriter: Eric Stolze
When deadly attacks from the forests beset a secluded retirement community, it is up to a grizzled veteran to figure what the residents are hiding. Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest (World Premiere)

Adrián was born in Madrid, grew up in Argentina and now lives and works in Mexico City.  This is his first film in English.  He has over 20 credits, about half feature length and half shorts, including most recently the ABCs of Death (B is for Bigfoot, incidentally), and Here Comes The Devil.  I first experienced his suspenseful horror com romp with his 2004 Rooms for Tourists.

Home
Director/Screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy
When a realtor is asked to sell a vacant home, she and her sister cross paths with its previous tenant: a teenage girl who sold her soul to the devil. Cast: Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Ava Acres (World Premiere)

Puerto Rican Naya Rivera (Glee) who recently was quoted in a Cosmo Latina interview it sucks that she has no one to speak Spanish to , and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace and Magic Magic) get top billing in this  midnight movie from The Pact director McCarthy

ANIMATED SHORTS

Yearbook

Director/Writer:  Bernardo Britto

A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up.

BB is Brasilero from Rio, animated film is produced by the Cuban American Borscht Collective based in Miami.  Won Best Animated Film at Sundance.  I’m so moved by this.  It is so damn profound.

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.38.37 PMWawd Ahp

Directors: Steve Girard, Josh Chertoff
A man raps in the mirror, cuts his head off, and has sex with it. There is also a cartoon.

No seriously, that is the description and even that is not preparation for the deranged awesome-ness that is Wawd Ahp.  The cinematographer Alfredo Alcantara grew up in Mexico City.  Check out his work.

Violent Florence (Australia)
Director: Jaime Snyder
Florence rescues a stray cat from a gang of teenagers. After taking the feline to an isolated building, her true intentions emerge.

Cinematographer Benjamin Hidalgo De La Barrera is from Mexico City, another D.F. DP

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS – The future is here!

Cliché
Directors: Joseph Alvarez, Eric Zelaya
Four teenagers on a mission to create the greatest student short film.

Just Skate
Directors: Alicia Tanguma, Brianna Garza
The boy loves to skate.

purplePurple
Directors: Ryker Allen, Isabella Cabello
A Super-8 esque shot, coming of age music video for the song “Purple” performed by San Antonio based band Islands and Tigers.

Check out the San Antonio multi-media artist Ryker’s impressive work on his website

Seawolf
Directors: Caila Pickett, Max Montoya
Seawolf follows a young girl as she travels to different worlds through magical boxes.

Now that I’ve had a chance to scour through the lineup, I can tell that Latino or not, there’s a whole mixed bag of unadulterated, head-blowing, pants-offing, mind-tripping sing and dancing in store to discover.   Get yourself out there for the film, stay for music if you dare.  SXSW

Más American

I am so psyched to unveil a conversation and collection of films I’ve curated on the innovative crowdfunding and streaming cross-platform, Seed & Spark.   I can’t think of a more conducive and savvy approach to changing the conversation about Latino films, than by actually presenting those films that speak to that fluid and hybrid identity DIRECTLY TO THE AUDIENCE.  I’m also going out on a limb here and coining a new term, Mas American.  Let’s see if it catches on.   Read my post below (which I originally wrote for Seed & Spark’s Bright Ideas blog)  and check out the rad films in the program by clicking on the links.  Mas Later!

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If you hear someone utter, “Kids These Days,” it’s usually in a disapproving tone towards the younger generations’ fresh attitude or their breaking with tradition (or their tendency to speed while driving).  When I think about Kids These Days, though, it is in sheer awe.  I am so impressed by their confidence and transcultural expression with which they carve out their bold self-individuality.  I don’t remember ever being that loud and proud in my teens.  I, like most, just wanted to fit in.  But the Millennial generation has spoken: Assimilation is out; Non-conformity is in.

The_Never_Daunted-2Adjusted As a first generation Mexican-American I’m naturally drawn to bi-cultural narratives because they relate to my own culture dash – American clash.  Speaking Spanish at home, making tortillas with abuelita, and my parents’ late night dance and Tequila parties, blasting Sonora Santanera or the passionate cries of Vicente Fernandez, all formed a very specific childhood.  There is something really powerful about seeing a reflection of your roots in a contemporary context in the biggest form of entertainment, the movies.  You may have read the numbers; There are 55 million+ Latinos in the country, making us the fastest growing and youngest demographic.  Brands clumsily chase after this market and miserably try to coin terms to define us like New Generation Latino, Young Latino Americans, Hispanic Millennials.  The term Latino attempts to encompass far too many diverse ethnic and social cultures that it is a useless denomination.  A limited view failing to recognize the fluidity of our social zeitgeist in the 21st century.

GABI poster_18It is critical to adopt with the changing times and engage the new generations of our immigrant nation.  It’s time to reframe our notions and classifications on race and identity.  Más American is my humble attempt of doing away with outdated and ill-defined terminology like Hispanic or Latino.  It is meant to convey the real, inclusive and radical reflection of society’s eclectic fabric found in fiercely independent filmmaker voices.  More aptly, it speaks to the transcultural identity and non-conformist spirit of today’s characters and narratives.  It’s not necessarily confined to speak about people of “color.”  It is about all kinds of shifting identities, from conventional, traditional and sociocultural norms to a more progressive evolution.  It is about gender – equality, reversal of roles, gender variant.  Filmmakers are out there telling these unique perspectives through independent film.  These stories are out there.  I can attest to that with some authority because of the volume of screening I do for film festivals year round.  Films from underrepresented communities usually have an outsider/insider perspective, which in turn provokes highly original and compelling narratives by its very nature.  This emerging class of individualism is what embodies American spirit.

Más American also speaks to the influence Latinos have on non-Latinos.  You don’t have to have the blood in order to appreciate or acquire a sensibility of the Latino experience.  Many non-Latino filmmakers have made extraordinary films capturing the US Latino experience.  It’s only natural considering the countless generations who originate from before the Hidalgo treaty was signed.  We are your neighbors, friends, colleagues, lovers, wives, husbands, in-laws, in each of the 50 states.  Indeed, a long time ago my mom and I learned to stop talking trash when out in public about non-Latinos in proximity realizing that many people understand some Spanish.

f86291356d57663f4bd3b24608bdb159_largeAnd so it is with much pleasure, and gratitude towards the filmmakers, the Más American Conversation on Seed&Spark is rolling out.  These films purely conceive of characters and a world more reflective and authentic of our reality.  Perhaps the freshness comes from a subconscious in which they derive and embody a defiant individuality, outside of any identity politics.  Más American hopefully is a starting point for a more forward and richer conversation towards genuine, original and underrepresented narratives.  I hope to add more titles to the mix in this Conversation, championing filmmakers who get America’s evolving sense of cultural self-identity and who are on the pulse of the rapidly shifting zeitgeist.

In THE CRUMBLES, written and directed by Akira Boch, the acting talent naturally inhabit LA’s Echo Park hipster artist scene in such a sincere and rocking way.  The lead happens to be a Latina and her co-lead happens to be Asian.  Their color is so not the center of the tragicomic slice-of-life.  Yet it does make them who they are: badass rock n roll girlfriends who resist quitting on their dream of hitting it big with their band.

In THE NEVER DAUNTED, writer/director Edgar Muñiz explores the toll and cross a man must bear who can’t conceive, in such a profound, heartbreaking and uniquely creative way.  The film explores a modern masculinity more open to vulnerability, clashing with the Western stoic cowboy machismo image imposed on men from boyhood.

GABI – director Zoé Salicrup Junco’s impressive NYU thesis film – centers around its titular business-smart, sexy and confident 30-something woman living an independent and successful life, whose main conflict is the reminder that, in her hometown, her success represents a failure within the context of the marriage, kids and housewife model.

In all of these stories, new definitions of traditional norms are celebrated and scripts are being flipped.  I’m thrilled that with Seed&Spark the public at large can discover these rebellious voices.

I want to thank the filmmakers for sharing their inspiring non-conformist narratives on Seed&Spark and for, whether they know it or not, breaking type.

IN THEATRES – MISSION PARK

Next weekend, Film Festival favorite Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez is finally dropping at AMC theatres in select cities across the nation on Sept. 6th.  So Fandango it over after your crazy Labor Day plans. Chi-town, head to AMC Cicero in Lawndale. In LA, it’s playing at Universal Citywalk, and in NYC the AMC Empire.

Rounding out the hot emerging cast which includes Joseph Julian Soriana (stud Hector Cruz in tv show Army Wives), Jeremy Ray Valdez (La Mission) Walter Perez (Friday Night Lights, Pop Star) and Will Rothhaar (Battle Los Angeles) is Douglas Spain (Star Maps, Resurrection Blvd) who is also a producer on the film AND none other than Original Gangster Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca).  His line “One Day Does Not Define a Man” hits a resonant chord and plays as a resonant theme in the flick.  I’ve mentioned the film several times on my blog (official description below) because its played a dozen festivals and has racked up hella Best Director, Audience and Jury Awards.  While I’ve used the terms like Latino all-star cast, “street’ crime action thriller, and genre swagger – all an apt way to describe its edge, the biggest reason you should go watch it is that its just a bomb ass classic hood tale of friendship, betrayal and free will, through the eyes of four regular kids from San Antonio.  Underneath the slick action, what hits home is the dramatic sense that its all on you to defy your fate (every day) and not be another statistic or stereotype (Latino gangbanger).

Oh and if that’s not enough to get you turned on, the sexy rising actor, Fernanda Romero plays the irresistible love interest.  YOW!fernanda

LOG: Set in San Antonio, TX, where a drug syndicate has taken control of the region, “Mission Park” follows the lives of four best friends who choose very different paths. Torn apart over time by their ambitions, their choices ultimately bring them back together on different sides of the law. In this urban crime drama, two young F.B.I. agents, Bobby Ramirez (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian Medina (Will Rothhaar), go undercover to infiltrate and take down an illegal drug organization run by the untouchable drug lord Jason Martinez (Walter Perez) and his right-hand man Derek Hernandez (Joseph Julian Soria).

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COMING OUT…..UNDOCUMENTED

COMING OUT…..UNDOCUMENTED

Dang, I really snoozed on this one (and fell behind on a number of other stories while working The Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival!).  With only ONE DAY LEFT to their crowdfunding campaign, I want to give a shout out to the documentary project in the works, NO LE DIGAS A NADIE by Mikaela Schwer (Call Me Kuchu).  The title means Don’t Tell Anyone in English, and in this case the ‘secret’ is the def poet and dreamer, Angy’s undocumented status.  The filmmakers are 65% funded as of now on Seed & Spark, the really cool platform that works like a wedding registry so you can decide where you want your money to go to (lighting, catering, transpo) and really feel like part of the team.  Check out the trailer.  These personal stories are crucial for filling in the ‘Dreamer” blank profile/status. The Oscar winning short documentary, Inocente is one of hundreds of compelling young ambitious American stories caught in this political ideological (asinine) battle of questioning who belongs in the United States of America.  

Reel Rasquache – the only REAL LATINO festival on the block

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Delusions of Grandeur after party

Latino Film Festivals have always lumped together international films and American films under the same Latino category.  As if the Latin prefix used to classify the totally different identities of South & Central America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain was not already broad enough.  The few indie US narratives selected inside these programs look scrappy compared to the Spanish-language, art-house films which boast a higher production value due to their country’s government film subsidies.  It’s like  forcibly pressing two pieces of a puzzle together, when they clearly don’t fit.  These two kind of films do not lend themselves to the same audience.  Which is why I’ve always sensed the US Latino film in this platform is treated like an adopted stray.  Up until now, I had not heard of any sustaining film festival devoted entirely to American Latino (I’d love to be corrected.  If you know of any, give me a shout!). Enter the Reel Rasquache Art and Film Festival in East LA.  Leave it to the activist Chicano studies curriculum track at Cal State to oppose such a disparity of their representation and say, oh Hell no, by way of their actions.  They galvanized the community and wrestled a space for a showcase, led by the efforts of Dr. Richard T. Rodriguez and Dr. John Ramirez, who in 2004 christened the festival with the name Rasquache, derived from the Native American Nahuat people.

Front
The one of a kind Award trophies sculpted by Yolanda Gonzalez. click to go to her website

Sadly, I was not able to attend the entire jam-packed weekend festival that took place May 17-19, but I did manage to make it to the closing night and awards ceremony on Sunday.  I arrived to see Counterpunch, a film dramatizing the real life story of an undiagnosed, bi-polar boxer – the latest film by Kenneth Castillo who was bestowed with a Trailblazer Award.  Other Awardees of the evening; the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Carmen Zapata who was not able to attend but were assured by her friends accepting on her behalf she was fine and dandy in her 80 years young age. The Pioneer Award was bestowed on a colorful and lively Pepe Serna.

In the crowded, over-awarded Hollywood landscape, I’ve usually found awards, arbitrary or unwarranted, and just an excuse for a gala event driven by money and press.   And within the ‘Hispanic Hollywood’ circle, the awards tend to be given to the same artists over and over, celebrated BECAUSE they have (already) been recognized by the mainstream.  I’m not saying the breaking of barriers is not a triumph worth celebrating, but the days of Rita Moreno and Ricardo Montalban is long past (40 years).  In this day and age, we are bigger and stronger in numbers and we should be using our ‘purchasing power’, to demand our content and taking back our history.  It’s much more constructive to empower those who the mainstream forgets, dismisses and generally fails to acknowledge.  Those, who despite the lack of mainstream recognition, persistently continue to craft their art and who do not shy away from identifying as Chicano, Puerto Rican, whatever their bi-cultural origin may be. Although I’m embarrassed to admit, I share as proof to my argument:  Until Sunday night, I was not familiar with Kenneth Castillo – a genuinely independent working director who is about to shoot his seventh feature this summer. And worse yet if someone were to have mentioned to me Pepe Serna or Carmen Zapata –I would not have been able to place the two veteran American actors –  both of whom have forged incredible careers that span over six decades within both mainstream and indie theater and film.  Thanks to Reel Rasquache’s recognition of their talent I am now turned on to their work.   It allows me to connect the dots of the history of American Latino entertainers, who have been and continue to be so harshly forgotten and suppressed from mainstream history and therefore our collective psyche.

It was my first time at the new location of Casa 0101, the cultural center founded by writer Josefina Lopez. A comfortable 99 capacity seat theater is located at the end of a a long hall on which walls hangs an arresting series of artwork.  On Sunday it was the paintings of Juan Solis whose palette provided the signature theme of the festival this year. Kiki Melendez, a saucy comedienne and 96.3 Latino radio personality emceed the festivities.  Kiki straight up asked what I had wanted to ask but was too embarrassed to;  Just what the hell does Rasquache mean? (“Is it like scratching your ass?” she uncouthly asked).  The academic maestro Dr. John took the podium to illuminate us on how the word references the festival – it’s made of whatever scraps you can pool together to make the most out of the least.

Castillo
Kenneth Castillo, the Trailblazer

In his acceptance speech, Kenneth Castillo commented on the urban crime drama genre of his filmography (including such titles like Chronicles of a Drive by).  His earnest thoughts challenged me to re-think my resistance to American Latino writer/directors pouring out the same cholo gang hood films.  Clearly, there is a population heavily influenced by the gang crime genre (I’m no exception, I’m the biggest Goodfellas fan). It makes sense that the  young filmmakers who are fans of the genre, evoke it in their work.  If they are conscious about flipping the script and attacking the stereotype by developing deeper dimensions to the characters, then that IS a game changer.  Because what I’ve heard frequently is that these filmmakers KNOW these people.  They grew up around them. Kenneth reminds me, they are real people.  That the stories and characters continue to be stuck in the barrio is evidence of the  lower socioeconomic class that still plagues black and brown communities.

Pepe Serna
Maestro, Don, El Senor: Pepe Serna

I kept noticing an older man with rascal eyes wearing a loud green jacket and white pants in another row.  Turns out this was The Pepe Serna.  Serna has over 100 movie and television credits including Scarface, American Me, Caddyshack.  For years he has been performing his one-man show, Ruco Chuco, Cholo, Pachuco in which he punctuates Mother Goose a la barrio rhymes like, “In order to beat the gringo. At bingo. You gotta learn the lingo.”    Like a wise and sprightly elder (he’s a Cancer survivor) his vaudeville comedy sense of show and his Texas hospitality twanged voice utterly endeared me to him.  He charmed the audience some more when he treated us to an impromptu performance right then and there.  With exaggerated cholo swagger he first transforms into a young gangbanger who thinks he’s all that, only to then transform and be schooled by the Cholo’s older self, now called Ruco who espouses words of wisdom about the path he’s going down.  Serna also paints; his wild kaleidoscope Mona Risa series will be showing in Untitled Projects gallery on Beverly Blvd June 15th .  His next role is in the upcoming high comedy, A-GuroPhobia co-written and starring the gifted and pretty comic multi-hypenate, Jade Puga ( Kristen Wig watch out!).  It looks like an enjoyably, hilarious campy riot given the trailer they showed at the festival.

Rasquache
artwork by Juan Solis

Continuing its winning streak of racking up Best Film Awards, Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez won, once again proving its connection with filmgoers.  It will next screen at the Las Vegas Film Festival.  A theatrical release September 6 is scheduled (self-financed by producer, Flip This House star and Real Estate magnate Armando Montelongo), and Lionsgate will put it out on VOD.  Producer Douglas Spain was on hand to accept the award and later we both marveled at the gorgeous copy of the Juan Solis print on the Best Film certificate.  He confided it was one most beautiful awards ever to be bestowed to the film.

Afterwards I got a chance to hang with the filmmaker of Delusions of Grandeur, my new homegirl Iris Almaraz and I did a sort of follow up to the interview I did with her a couple weeks ago.  Check it here.  Not only is she working the latest draft of her next film, La Puta, but she is already swirling around a concept for the next one which although unplanned might form a a novel trilogy about the contemporary female odyssey going through womanhood, motherhood, and a post motherhood sexual discovery.

At Reel Rasquache I discovered such a refreshing confidence and tuned-in conscious of identity, unfettered by what the mainstream is NOT doing for them.  Instead,  the spiritually resilient and tireless efforts are focused on making art for ourselves. I noticed in Dr. John’s Closing remarks he included the term ‘self-identifying Latinos’ when talking about who Rasquache is geared towards.   It was in stark contrast to what I usually run into; a desperate want to assimilate into the mainstream, or the commendable, yet generic and trite aim of telling ‘universal’ stories that transcend ethnicity, or the irksome thought that we should not ‘limit’ ourselves by identifying as Mexican American or Chicano (thanks Robert Rodriguez).  But don’t we all perform and write what we know?   In that sense sharing it with the people who will relate to it the most feels the most unifying and mutually satisfying.  We crave an audience to share our art with, that’s what keeps us going. Who better to show it to than someone who gets it.

Within the kingdom of Americans who have  a widely mixed variance of Latino descent, there exists a fierce genus called La Raza.  Unapologetic, raw, fiercely conscious of their people’s history, embracing of multi-cultural solidarity, they ain’t waiting around for opportunities but seizing them for themselves.  I admire this incredible sense of identity and believe that is what is worth celebrating and awarding. This confidence is the missing key to taking charge and writing our own narratives.  Not to mention, confidence is just más sexy.

Your NY Latino International Film Festival schedule

I’m sad to miss out on all the sexy, steamy fun that will be popping at the 13th New York International Latino Film Festival this week, starting with tonight’s official Opening Night screening of Filly Brown starring Miss Thang Gina Rodriguez.    However I’ve been invited to be on the shorts jury for the Monterrey Film Festival so I leave for Mexico mañana (look forward to my dispatch from el otro lado).  To all my NY Dominicanos, Cubanos, Boriquas and Chicanitas les mando mushos besos.  But not to worry, I wouldn’t leave you hanging without a quickie.   Let me give you the scoop on how to proceed amid NYILFF’s multi-culti flavorful spread of this year’s freshest new films.  I don’t include typical loglines as much as words that pop into my head to describe the visceral experience.  Click on the titles for synopsis and ticket info.

And now, here is my  top five CAN-NOT-MISS list at this year’s New York International Latino Film Festival.  Your welcome.

1.  The Girl is in Trouble, w/d –  Julius Onah (World Premiere)  A pulsating at times frenetic, breathless city adventure a la french new wave thriller  with a thugged out Valderrama who actually displays chops with an angelic and barbaric side to his swaggering performance.  This film is an explosive burst of energy, even when the pace takes a breather its story speed keeps trucking and keeps it cinematic by utilizing all the canons of visual play into a story that you get swept up in.  I couldn’t find a trailer online so just trust.  It’s fresh.

2. Love, Concord, w/d – Gustavo Guardado (World Premiere).  I profiled this charming high school rom com earlier this Spring so I’m especially excited that this baby is being delivered to the NYILFF audiences.   It succeeds where so many other films of this genre fail and that is portraying the MOMENT back in high school, and unbelievably its so goddamn charming and cute without the heavy and sweet empty calories.

3.  Los Chidos, w/d Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  The most  wildest, fierce and singular voice out there right now.  I love talking about this highly provocative and polarizing movie and all its unbridled uncouthness that underlines such themes like the male psyche/ego, exploitation, religion, stereotypes all under the guise of a TJ trip gone wrong.  This savage satire from my boy Omar has terrified some people since its premiere at SXSW.  I can’t wait to screen it in LA at the Downtown Independent.

4.  Waiting for the Beatles -Diego Graue, Raymundo Marmolejo.  I’m sorry to say bu the trailer below does not do the documentary justice.  Its even a much more  jubilant and uncanny tribute to hundreds of Beatle cover bands and Beatlemania in Mexico.  This one’s for bringing the whole fan.  Ever since it premiered at my favorite fest, The Morelia Film Festival last October I’ve had a special place in my heart for it.  I love the intro,  “In 1969 Mexico waited for the Beatles to come.  Nearly 30 years later they are still waiting”.

5. Elliot Loves, w/d – Gary Terracino  Yes, I know this bad boy has been getting around.  But its been getting down in the festival circuit for a reason y’all.  This simultaneous childhood and adult coming of ager of the eponymous incorrigible, hopeless in love but tough as nails Dominican in NY is utterly romantic and down and dirty real.  Never in my life have I seen gay cholos portrayed so candidly, raw and honest.  Never.  Breaking archetypes and flipping the script.

Other tips.  Something says Sold Out?  Try Stand-by line, I bet you get in.  None of these features grab you? You can never go wrong with a shorts program.  Lastly, if you got a steady job, invest in a festival badge and support the Festival.  $200 gets you access to any movie and the lounge and its the cheapest inclusive pass I’ve seen on the Festival block.

Shades of Brown – Black, Latino and US Latino Cinema panels at LA Film Fest

I took in a few panels over the weekend down here at LA Film Fest that I really appreciated for sparking some provocative dialogue I am eager to continue throughout the Festival. I found it especially interesting how different the US Latino and Black film communities are responding to their storytelling plight in talking about their respective representation in media. Meanwhile the lively Latino panel, which was perhaps the broadest in scope, was eloquent and skillfully led by LA Times’ Reed Johnson who brought a high level of articulation in his profesh moderating.  As panel junkies know, a good moderator is key to an engaging panel and essential to keep it on point.  Here are my takeaways on the three panels:

Elvis Mitchell, Shari Frilot, Ava DuVernay, Roya Rastegar and Bradford Young

Moderated by Film Independent’s LACMA film curator and go-to festival moderator, Elvis Mitchell, I was particularly impressed at the messaging clarity and solidarity of the black film community’s efforts and goals for equal representation.  The panelists were very tuned-in with monitoring their talent behind and in front of the camera, and in this case stressing the importance of  festival curators, which was identified as one of three instrumental factors to enable their films getting out there.

Shari Frilot, Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival:  There was much (due) love and props given to Frilot for her ardent and tireless championing of films of color at Sundance.  She pointed out how after Lee Daniel’s breakout hit, Precious which premiered at 2009 Sundance and went on to win a couple Academy Awards, the next couple years it was the black films that were the first to be sold off the mountain including the dazzling lesbian coming of age film, Pariah.  She questioned why this achievement was not picked up or lauded in the mainstream media.  Its indeed curious and perhaps a telling point on the cultural gatekeeper front – (shortage of black critics and journalists?)  Having witnessed Shari’s highly charged and articulate arguing for gloriously imperfect, fresh and raw films I respect how she truly changes the way the film programming conversation takes place by discussing films’ drive, potential and power. I aspire to “bring it” like she does in my own programming career.  Acknowledging the personal efforts she puts in to make the festival seem accessible to filmmakers of color who may not bother putting Sundance on their radar, the idea of doing a black college tour came up.

Ava DuVernay, filmmaker (Middle of Nowhere) and founder of AFFRM:  DuVernay’s emotion for the topic at hand along with her experience from her publicist days and current roles as filmmaker and distributor made her a stirring contributor to the conversation.   Ava thanked LA Film Festival Director Stephanie Allain for programming Middle of Nowhere as a gala screening which elevates her film with a high profile slot within the festival.  A packed house at Wednesday’s gala screening will be quite significant to the black filmmaking community given the massive 800 seat theater and checking the LA Film Fest website it’s at Rush which will make for an exciting milestone!  The winner of the Best Director Award at Sundance Film Festival shared her personal observations like being stunned to see empty seats at the black film screenings at Sundance which is unheard of in the notoriously hard-to-get tickets Festival.  She mentioned that while she is frequently featured on Shadow and Act, the African Diaspora blog on the Indiewire network, she has never been on Indiewire’s main page.  DuVernay expressed her desire to see more films that move and operate beyond ‘black bodies’.

There was mention of films touted as successful black films when they happen to be by non-black filmmakers.  I can’t help but think the room was thinking about Gimme the Loot written and directed by Adam Leon and Beasts of the Southern Wild written and directed by Benh Zeitlin.  Both films have been praised and celebrated for their poignant storytelling and vivid portrayal of their black protagonists’ lifestyles – and the filmmakers happen to be white Jewish New Yorkers.  And both films were quickly picked up for distribution at their respective festival premieres. I have to admit that if we are talking about presenting positive representation in films my belief is that individually, these two films offer a lot as far as image conversion for eschewing mis-representation by avoiding stereotypes about black folks.  There’s nobody smoking crack or perpetuating violent crime in Gimme the Loot, and in Beasts the poetic punch of self-sufficient little Hushpuppy in the die-hard persevering displaced fictional community  that alludes to the forgotten 9th Ward post-Katrina, shows a triumph of spirit against the government and society’s response efforts following the devastating natural catastrophe in the dominantly affected marginalized population.

Bradford Young, cinematographer (Middle of Nowhere, Pariah, Restless City): A Howard University alumus, the in-demand cinematographer more gently echoed Ava’s sentiment about the limited accessibility and representation of black filmmakers but I feel he gave a bit more benefit of the doubt to black films by non-black filmmakers by his eloquent word of choice to weigh the debate; “Intention”.  The way he talks about his own cinematic approach is greatly influenced by the intention of the story and point of view.  A NY Times article recently featured the cinematographer and made note of his full frame and close up shots in Middle of Nowhere.  Indeed the luscious and texture he brings to shooting skincolor sticks out in my mind having seen it at Sundance.  Bradford is one cool cat with lots of soul.  All panelists agreed and were especially thankful for his eyes.

Roya Rastegar, Ph.D, Festival Programmer:  Inventive cinematography, curation by more females and people of color and innovative distribution were three ways Rastegar outlined to help minority filmmakers distinguish their work and get seen by the public.    I would love to get my hands on her dissertation, History of Concsiousness (here’s a taste) in which she investigates the role of festivals in shaping marginalized culture.  Armed with such interesting facts on the history of film festivals, (did you know Stalin created the first film festival?) Rastegar added a lot of context to the origins and current state of film festivals.  She also shared the behind the scenes conversations of film programmers when talking about films of color and the rueful tendency to dismiss these films because they aren’t so called ‘good enough’.   She made no hesitation in pointing out that Tribeca Film Festival did not have one single black film in competition this year.

US Latino Cinema: Welcome to the Bi-Literate Future –  Presented by San Antonio Film Commission and AFCI (Association of Film Commissions International)

Luis Reyes, Moi, Doug Spain, Gabriela Tagliavini, Ralph Lopez

I had the privilege of participating on this panel which was prefaced by a Univision spot highlighting their new campaign efforts of reaching a bi-lingual audience.  In it, an old woman recalls being prevented from speaking her language as a child in school and then we cut to today’s young US Latino man who flips from Spanish to English talking about his liking alternative band, The Strokes as much as Spanish-language pop rock band, Juanes.

What it was about:  Our Latino population in the US is now more than ever embracing a bi-lingual, or more importantly, a bi-literate culture.  Will films reflect the changing demographic of the US as a bi-literate (a Spanish and English language culture) be commercially successful and be able to find an audience?  And perhaps more importantly, will the studio system be able to adapt to the successful strategies many in the independent world are using to create commercially viable content?

Douglas Spain (Star Maps, Walkout, Band of Brothers) is used to wearing multiple hats and so acted as both panelist and moderator.  Spain offered up his experience as an actor/producer/director as a gay latino filmmaker who has successfully worked in independent film and studio and television mediums.  His quest for staying true to himself with the roles and films he is making rang resonant to all.

Ralph Lopez, San Antonio filmmaker: The producer of Wolf which premiered at this year’s SXSW talked about his  aim is to create and tell stories that transcend color.  Like his provocative film about the complexities faced by the victim of a bishop’s inappropriate behavior, his collaborations with director black filmmaker Ya Ke Smith comes first and foremost from a place of telling moving stories.

Gabriela Tagliavini, filmmaker (Ladies Night, Without Men, The Mule: Having had big success with Spanish language film Ladies Night in 2006, Gabriela switched languages and directed Eva Longoria in the English language film, Without Men which sold to many international territories given Longoria’s international brand name.  With her upcoming film, The Mule she is looking to take advantage of the crime action genre and star Sharon Stone to offer real commentary on immigration and the dangerous toll of the US Mexico border.

Luis Reyes, historian and author of  the comprehensive book, Hispanics in Hollywood: The old school gent on our panel made some slightly more conventional suggestions on how to make a successful bi-literate film like “know your audience” and attaching a well known actor to your film so you can market it.

I added my two cents and in retrospect I think my thoughts coincided with Rastegar’s in the proactive vein of here’s what we can-do positive approach of encouraging budding filmmakers to utilize genre (horror and gay US Latino films stand out from the stack and are sought after by festival programs).  I also asked my fellow panelists if they found the US Latino filmmaking community as fragmented as I see it.  Unlike Black or LGBT film organizations I feel the US Latino community has much more work in becoming inclusive within our distinct bi-lingual backgrounds in order to successfully empower and advocate for our films. Organizations like NALIP and LALIFF were mentioned in answer.  But in my opinion and with all respect, I find NALIP a bit cliquesh and lacking a younger pulse and generation of organizers, and LALIFF is too inconsistent to make fundamental cultural change.  Although we touched on the question of the challenges our community faces working in Spanish versus English I’m not sure we fully stayed on point in attempting to answer the ambitious subject and interesting talking points raised.  But the audience seemed more the type of wanting basic advice on how to break into filmmaking so most questions and conversations was directed to the filmmakers on the panels and in that regard it was a successful exchange.

Café Latino presented by HBO and supported by University of Guadalajara Foundation

credit: Juan Tallo

Made evident by the participating film clips that were shown before the panel there is much genre and story diversity in the Latino films at LA Film Fest this year.  I’m especially happy the Festival recognizes the growing influence of the Mexican documentary by having selected Reportero by Bernardo Ruiz, Canicula by Jose Alvarez and Drought by Everardo Gonzalez.  The panel was ostensibly about the Festival’s Latin American filmmakers and how they explore their roles as storytellers in an increasingly global world.  With such a high number of panelists and so many interesting topics broached however, it left one wanting more time to engage with the personable talents onstage.

Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead (credit: Juan Tallo)

Reed Johnson encouraged the panelists to chime in at will which Alejandro Brugues, director of Cuban Zombie film, Juan of the Dead took full advantage of to defend big hollywood films like The Avengers, which Gonzalez  initially brought up if only to point out the David and Goliath challenge filmmakers in Mexico face having to compete for screens against these big money backed blockbusters.  Brugues set himself apart from the group by defending his love for the blockbuster which inspired him to direct films. Unlike his peers’ ‘artful’ films he considers his film strictly for public entertainment (he joked that his film is actually a documentary).  Yet at the same time he admits he took advantage of the Zombie genre a la Romero to infuse it with his personal observations of contemporary Cuban society – which he would not have been able to shoot in Cuba otherwise.

Reed Johnson, Everardo Gonzalez, Dominga Sotomayor, Arturo Pons, Alejandro Brugues, Jose Alvarez, Bernardo Ruiz
(credit: Juan Tallo)

Meanwhile Arturo Pons who was born in Mexico but has lived and worked in Spain for the past ten years described his conception for his surreal satire, The Compass is Carried by the Dead Man not necessarily about immigration but a visual canvas with which to paint the total disorientation that confronts Mexico. Ruiz talked about seeing himself as a ‘translator’ or vessel to tell stories.  Alvarez talked about how he does not think of his audience as he makes his films however he does aspire to showcase Mexico Profundo in showing the vast and vibrant indigenous artistry and folklore and deliberately resisting the the media’s monopolized perpetuation of the drug violence and corruption.  Lastly, Dominga Sotomayor, the 27 year old director of Thursday till Sunday whose next film Tarde Para Morir was selected to the first ever Sundance Mahindra Screenwriters Lab, added that like Mexico, in Chile there is a growing number of filmmakers but no real venues to find their audience.

LA Film Festival is going on through Sunday and a bunch of added screenings have been slotted.  Check out film guide and buy tickets here.