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!

Docs due to break through: Top 5 American Latino Docs to watch out for in 2013

Last week I offered up my top 5 fiction films to look out for in 2013, and as promised, here is my non-fiction list of films coming down the pipeline, bound to make an impression and impact this year.  Two are profiles of influential iconic American activists whose work and spirit have left indelible marks on their generation. Hopefully  their reintroduction through the docs will serve to celebrate and carry on their positive influence as Latinos for many next generations.  The other films deal with redefining our perception of American identity, gender and human rights while wielding cinematic ingenuity and power.  As these films prove, docs can be just as striking in their characterization and cinematic form as their fiction counterparts, in addition to their intrinsic educational value.  Take note, all of these are seeking opportunities to engage with their audiences so again click on the links to follow and show your interest in their work so we can bring awareness and demand their exhibition.

MARTHAS_Daniella_2009     1.LAS MARTHAS by Cristina Ibarra, produced by Erin Ploss-Campoamor

In Laredo Texas, there exists a debutante ball held by the exclusive Society of Martha Washington that takes place every year celebrating George Washington’s birthday.  A 114 year-old tradition, the lavish affair presents members’ daughters- all of aristocratic pedigree and lineage dating back to the foundation of Texas, who dress up in grand, colonial gowns representing characters from the American Revolution.  Las Marthas follows a couple of high achieving, bi-literate and conscious young Mexican Americans going through the lengthy preparations as they enter this rite of passage that ends with a parade that draws huge crowds.  What’s especially remarkable about the whole patriotic event is that we are talking about a city that is 94% Latino.  Laredo became part of Texas in 1848, when everything north of the Rio Grande became the United States.  Many families who stayed, benefited off the oil boom and settled into an upper class aristocracy.  Many generations later these are still the most prominent Laredo citizens and proud bearers of this historic tradition.

I’m so proud of this Chicana sister for revealing this world.  She has intuitively seized on and explored this unique legacy, which clearly demonstrates the vibrant bi-culture of Texas and shows how aptly the founding father narrative belongs to Mexican Americans.   She is also working on a fiction feature titled Love and Monster Trucks about an 18-year-old Chicana artist named Impala Mata who can’t wait to escape her 4×4 truck-obsessed, Texas bordertown family.  Sounds so cool.  Need to track that one too.

Filmmakers website here

cesareats2.  CESAR’S LAST FAST by Richard Ray Perez, produced by Molly O’Brien

Back in the Spring on Chavez’s anniversary I wrote about this documentary in progress here on the site.  Cut to today and I’m happy to share it is just about ripe and ready for its premiere.  Wisely and effectively entering the vast legacy by angling on Chavez’s 1988 Fast for Life, the film focuses on conveying the private sacrifice and spiritual conviction behind Chavez’s struggle for the humane treatment of American farm workers.  With each and every day adding up that he refused to eat in protest of the rampant use and ill effects of growers spraying pesticides on farm workers, Chavez seriously risked his health and life and in turn inspired a nation.  It boasts never-before-seen footage in which artists and activists came to see him, endeared in solidarity by his fortitude, including the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy family, interviews with his son Paul Chavez, Chicano filmmaker Luis Valdez, activist veteran, Dolores Huerta and Martin Sheen, along with showing the press hoopla this man was able to attract back then. It’s taken years for the family to trust someone with his story so it’s telling that Rick has managed to gain their support.

Film contact  <CesarsLastFast@earthlink.net>

Website, Facebook

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created by Ernesto Yerena. Click on the image to see his work.

3.  RUBEN SALAZAR:  MAN IN THE MIDDLE by Phillip Rodriguez, produced by City Projects

On August 29 1970, just as the Chicano Moratorium March, a protest denouncing the extremely high number of Chicano soldier casualties in Vietnam (front of the line browns), was winding down, a tear gas canister was suddenly thrown by LA County police into the old Silver Platter Cafe on Whittier Blvd, killing the pioneering civil rights journalist Ruben Salazar.  Set to broadcast on PBS in the Fall, this documentary is the first thorough investigation into the life and mysterious death of Salazar who was raised in El Paso and went on to become a brilliant reporter covering Vietnam, the Olympics and the Chicano movement for the LA Times and KMEX TV 34 television, making him the first Mexican American to cover news for mainstream outlets.  In that critical and turbulent moment in the Chicano rights movement, Salazar gave voice, rationale and dignity to Chicanos’ fight to demand equality.  An inquest was later regarding his untimely death made but murder charges were never brought.  Instead Los Angeles County paid $700,000 to the Salazar family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Just last month, after two years of requests, Philip Rodriguez finally won the battle to uncover case details when MALDEF sued Sheriff Lee Baca for withholding unredacted records regarding the 42 year old case.  This new unearthed footage, photos and documents will appear in the film along with interviews with Salazar’s family, friends, colleagues as well as the deputy who threw the fatal tear gas missile, Tom Wilson.  So the story goes, there had been allegedly a tip that an armed man entered the bar (hence blindly throwing tear gas while folks were in there?).   For the first time we might get answers and insight surrounding the mysterious and suspicious circumstances of this leading Latino voice.  As quoted on KPCC, Phillip Rodriguez says, “I think this is one of the most important stories that has remained on the margins and that has been characterized as a regional or an ethnic story and it’s a fantastic American story”.

wildness14.  THE WILDNESS by Wu Tsang produced by Kathy Rivkin

Although this premiered at a few noteworthy film festivals in 2012, including Austin’s SXSW, Outfest in Los Angeles and MOMA in NYC last December, I’m thrilled to know there is still a long life ahead towards sharing this beautiful experience with the public so it definitely deserves to be on the Watch Out For list.  A dazzling requiem to the 7th & Alvarado corner bar joint, Silver Platter, specifically the transformation and haven as a Latin/LGBT/immigrant community spurred on by the introduction of performance parties known as Wildness, produced by a fiercely talented collective including Wu Tsang, the director of the film.  The intersection of stories and people borne out of that multi cultural, trans and cross-generational magic potion is fascinating and poignant to behold in this cinematic and audiovisual piece.  The cinematography captures the wonderful and tragic beauty, and by personifying the bar as a majestic hostess welcoming all wayward transients, the film pulses with heart.  Currently looking for distribution opportunities (repped by Cinetic).  Check out the trailer below and go to the Facebook for more info.

5.  WHO IS DAYANI CRYSTAL? by Marc Silver, produced by Canana and Pulse

I previously highlighted this unique docu-drama about the discovery of a migrant found dead in the border desert and the unfolding mystery of his identity with the parallel of a retracing of his journey, as part of my WTF is Latino at Sundance post.  The film will open the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this Thursday and I will be onsite to cover the audience’s reaction (Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for my sporadic SFF coverage).  Not only is it a feat of ingenuity in the way the narrative is structured, it’s an extremely urgent topic deserving a larger audience to provoke more humanity and thought into the pressing immigration reform debate.  I guarantee this one will travel to many festivals in 2012 and get theatrical distribution, aided in no small part by its compassionate and driven producer and narrator, Gael Garcia Bernal.  Last year, Searching for Sugarman screened in the same Day One screening slot, was subsequently snapped up by Sony Pictures and as of last week officially nominated for an Academy Award.  Hmmmm.   Get updates by following their twitter @DayaniCristal

Film Contact:  < lucas@pulsefilms.co.uk>