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.
Before 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.
Sorry 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!
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)
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.
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.
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
Director: Jeremy Ambers
Impossible 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”.
Director: Aaron I. Naar
Mateo 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.
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.
The 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).
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
Que 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)
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)
Andrew 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Directors: Joseph Alvarez, Eric Zelaya
Four teenagers on a mission to create the greatest student short film.
Directors: Alicia Tanguma, Brianna Garza
The boy loves to skate.
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
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