LatinoBuzz: WTF is Latino at the 2013 LA Film Festival?

LatinoBuzz: WTF is Latino at the 2013 LA Film Festival?

The summertime, downtown set, glitzy yet ‘cashz’ LA Film Festival,
presented by Film Independent has announced their film lineup today. 
The verdict on the Latino rep?  Compared to the last three festivals I’ve examined this year, Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca,
LA Film Festival comes through with arguably the most valuable
representation; there are three films representing American Latino in
the narrative competition and one in documentary competition.

The
lineup consists of a handful of new American indies mixed in with many
favorited international films from last year’s Toronto, Venice, London
and Berlin film festivals, and seven Sundance films screening out of
competition including Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, which won both
the Audience and Jury Awards in Park City.  Starring Boricua Melonie
Diaz as Oakland police murder victim Oscar Grant’s girlfriend, Fruitvale
will be given the gala treatment (like last year’s Sundance awarded,
Black film, Middle of Nowhere), alongside the direct-from-Cannes, Only
God Forgives, the reteaming of director Nicolas Winding Refyn and GQ
sensitive alpha hero Ryan Gosling (Drive).

But I’m not here to comb and recycle through the ‘high profile’ films
that come armed with buzz. As always I’m spotlighting U.S. films in
which the writer/director/cast are native born whose ethnic/cultural
roots originates from Mexico, Central or South America.  In addition,
films by filmmakers who may not be Latino, but whose narratives explore
and relate to the relevant bi-cultural experience/subjects.  And finally
I also like to mention the Latin films (international).

While I’m happy to acknowledge and give it up for LA, it’s still
painful for this blogger/programmer to know there are so many more fresh
American Latino films out there
ready to be discovered.  Game-changing films offering such fresh and
original perspectives, which have by and large been dismissed by most of
the major US Film Festivals.  With the futures of the two highest
profile Latino niche festivals in limbo, The Los Angeles Latino
International Film Festival and HBO’s NY International Latino Film
Festival, it’s especially crushing to know that these films might also
be robbed of their only community platform.  It’s cause for alarm and
high time to address this void.  But wait, lets save that for another
post. For now, lets get back to the Latino stories coming at you at this
year’s LA Film Festival.   For official synopsis and pics check the
Film Guide here.

NARRATIVE COMPETITION
– Notably 9 of the 12 are US, hopefully giving the scrappy indies a
better chance to compete and win the cash prize against the healthy
subsidized production value of foreign movies.  Five are first features
and only one female narrative director.

40 YEARS FROM YESTERDAY written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian

This
is the first feature from the writing/directing team who got a lot of
attention with their 2010 short Charlie and The Rabbit.  Ojeda-Beck
(whose parents are from Peru) and Machoian who is from the heavily
Mexican populated King City, met at Cal State, Monterey Bay where they
forged a tight artistic collaboration. Forty Years from Yesterday is
described as Machoian’s imagination of how his mother’s death would
unfold for his own family, capturing the loss his siblings would feel in
losing a parent and his father’s pain in facing the death of his
partner.

The duo have their way with documentary, fiction and experimental
form, instilling an aura of temporality in an anchored realism.  This
unique evocative alchemy is found in Machoian’s doc short, Movies Made
from Home #16, a 4 minute existential moment which screened at Sundance
this year. The cosmic life themes they tend to broach are treated in
such a down to earth and sensitive way, which is further made relatable
by the natural non-pro performances they employ.  Robert’s father, Bill
Graham has starred in a few of his films and in Forty Years from
Yesterday, both Robert’s parents and siblings play themselves. See this
endearing behind the scenes clip of the making of the film:

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT written by Joseph B. Vasquez and directed by Henry Barrial

Written by the late Joseph B. Vasquez (d 1995) whose 1991 movie,
Hanging with the Homeboys, was a groundbreaking urban comedy when it
came out, now very much a classic albeit sadly forgotten gem.  The only
one of Vasquez’s five movies that was distributed (by New Line), Hanging
with the Homeboys was shot in the South Bronx where he was born and
raised.  About four homeys, two Puerto Rican (one of them played by a
baby-faced Johnny Leguizamo) and two Black, the movie, available on dvd
from Amazon (or, I found it in 6 parts on Youtube) screened at the
Sundance Film Festival at its indie darling peak. Its good-natured humor
is derived from neighborhood beefs, trying to rap to ladies, and the
racial tensions of the day delivered with unapologetic commentary.  An
overall glimpse into a day in the barrio slice life, the film is clearly
an early influence for the Ice Cube Friday series.

The
House that Jack Built similarly has that raw and authentic Nuyorican
energy but pushed into a rollercoaster of a dysfunctional family drama
with warmth, affection and intensity.  The director, born from Cuban
parents and raised in Washington Heights, Henry Barrial, is also an
alumni of Sundance (Somebody 2001).  The film stars E.J. Bonilla as the
hot-blooded self-imposed king of his family who buys an apartment
building to keep his family close, only to start dictating everybody’s
life since he’s letting them live rent free.   Bonilla is a fiercely
charismatic up and coming actor who was last at the festival with the
film Mamitas in 2011 and was also in Don’t Let Me Drown (Sundance 2010).
 An uproarious and high-edged Harlem set chamber piece, the heavy
conflict of gravity that besets Jack is from being pulled in opposite
directions by his street values on one side and deeply rooted family
values on the other.  See the trailer on their Kickstarter page.

MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA written and directed by Aaron Douglas Johnston

This was reportedly one of the most talked about American films in
the experimental leaning Rotterdam Film Festival this year.  The
filmmaker who was born and raised in Iowa, Aaron Douglas Johnston, has
an impressive academic pedigree having attended world prestigious
universities, Oxford and Yale.  His first feature, the small town, gay
life set, Bumblefuck, USA screened at Outfest 2011.  In My Sister’s
Quinceanera, he uses the local Mexican-American Iowa residents as his
non-pro actors with whom he collaborated with on the story.  It’s a
gentle and earnest portrayal of a young man named Silas who is convinced
he has to leave town to become independent and start his life but must
first see his sister’s Quinceanera take place.

WORKERS written and directed by Jose Luis Valle 
(Mexico/Germany)  – A quietly simmering artful drama about a retiring
factory worker and housemaid in Tijuana circumstantially reunited and
trying to compensate for their spent lives.  An accomplished and
arresting feature debut, the film premiered at the Berlin Film
Festival’s Panorama section and won Best Mexican Film at the Guadalajara
film Festival.  A full investment into the contemplative tone and
rhythm yields an appreciation for the film’s visceral and dry humor
undertones.  Born in El Salvador, Jose Luis Valle previously made a
documentary short called Milagro del Papa.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:  7 out 10 are US, 4 first features, six female directors (incl. 2 co-directors)

TAPIA directed by Eddie Alcazar

The 5 time world boxing champion and emotionally damaged blue-eyed
Chicano from the 505, Johnny Lee Tapia, survived a series of near deaths
before his turbulent life ended at the young age of 45 last year. The
sheer volume of tragedy and coping afflictions Johnny endured in his
Vida Loca, as he openly shares in his autobiography, includes the
scarring experience of seeing his mother’s kidnapping and violent murder
at the tender age of eight.  Tapia funneled his heartbreaking life to
fuel a successful professional boxing career.  Tapia’s confrontation to
such tumult is so impressive, it’s no wonder that former EA video game
designer Eddie Alcazar decided to both dramatize and document his
harrowing real life story.  Originally announced as a biopic,
subsequently the documentary was born of it, in which Eddie captures
final interviews and archival footage with the haunted boxer. 
Remarkably, watching the clip below, a slight zeal and spirit, however
low key and worn, emanates from the towering rumble of his battered
lifetime – unquestionably his refusal to be knocked out.  This is
actually the first feature out of the gate for filmmaker Eddie Alcazar
whose radical sci-fi film 0000 has been curiously tracked as in
production for a couple years now.  The ambitious looking trailer only
piqued mad interest when it was released last year.

PURGATORIO directed by Rodrigo Reyes (Mexico) – An elegiac and
cinematically shot poem filled with emotional narration and
iconography, this border film is told by way of a tapestry of stories
that culminates into a strong cry for human compassion. Imagining the
border as if purgatory, where migrants must suffer in order to get
through to the other side, the dangerous plight in crossing the
US/Mexico border is viewed outside political context but rather a
metaphysical prism.  This is the fourth film from Reyes, a talented
young documentarian from Mexico.

INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASE

EUROPA REPORT
directed by Sebastian Cordero and written by Philip Gelatt – From award
winning Ecuador born filmmaker Sebastian Cordero (Rabia, Cronicas,
Pescador) Europa Report marks his first film in English. Somewhat
shrouded in mystery, the story is written by Philip Gelatt, an adult
comic book author, and is set aboard the first manned mission to
Jupiter’s moon Europa. The genre bending sounding sci-fi thriller was
recently picked up by Magnolia’s Magnet division and will go straight to
VOD on June 27 after its LA Film Festival premiere. Cordero, who is a
UCLA grad, has a well-controlled gritty realism to his aesthetic, which
might inhabit and distinguish this deep space thriller among the genre’s
canon.

CRYSTAL FAIRY written and directed by Sebastian Silva (Chile)
– From the crafty young Chilean filmmaker whose first first film, The
Maid put him on the international map, this is one of two films he
screened at Sundance this year.  A road trip of self-discovery featuring
the charming free spirited Gaby Hoffman pitted against a smarmy
American tourist Michael Cera in the long and vast Chilean coast side,
the film explores their unusual and fluid character dynamic and opposing
auras.

THE WOMEN AND THE PASSENGER directed by Valentina Mac-Pherson,
Patricia Correra (Chile) – A 45 minute version of this screened at the
prestigious documentary film festival in Amsterdam IDFA.  An unobtrusive
camera follows four maids as they clean the rooms of one of those
clandestine by-the-hour motels.  Amid the moans behind doors and bed
aftermaths of torrid love affairs, the women reveal their own
perspectives about life, love and sex in some kind of visual love letter
to the special place.   I don’t believe the title is translated to
interpret its full meaning, its more like, “The Transients’ women”.

SHORTS

I WAS BORN IN MEXICO BUT…. written and directed by Corey OHama
– 12min (US) – Per the IMDB description, “using found footage to tell
the story of an undocumented young woman who grew up thinking she was
American, only to find out as a teenager that she didn’t have papers
because she was brought to the U.S. as a young child. “  Sounds like the
thousands of Dreamers plights whose stories are being suppressed.

MISTERIO written and directed by Chema Garcia Ibarra (Spain)
12min – So even though this is from Spain (not the Americas),  I mention
it if because I’m a huge fan of Chema’s shorts, Protoparticles  and The
Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5.   I have no doubt this will share
that similar strange, whimsical vibe.

 AL LADO DE NORMA written and directed by Camila Luna,
Gabriela Maturana 14min (Chile) – 49 year-old Jorge is a silent, tired
man, whose life seems to revolve around Norma, his elderly mother who
has Alzheimer’s. But Antonio, who rents a small room in their home, will
provide him with the chance to examine himself and question his
monotonous life, which might just make for a radical change.

PAPEL PICADO – written and directed by Javier Barboza – From a
2007 Cal Arts Alumnus, and independent animation teacher and filmmaker,
this looks wild!  Check out his vimeo works here.

SAINT JOHN, THE LONGEST NIGHT, written and directed by Claudia
Huaiquimilla (Chile) 18 min – The filmmaker is of the indigenous
Mapuche tribe of Southern Chile.  Set amid the happy Saints celebration
of June 24, a young boy must wrestle with the reappearance of his
violent father.

TOO MUCH WATER (DEMASIADA AGUA) written and directed by
Nicolas Botana, Gonzalo Torrens (Uruguay)  14 min – A young woman fills
her backyard pool every night and finds it empty in the morning. Strange
neighbors and even stranger circumstances stir her paranoia.

Lastly, I have to mention dance beat rapper Kid Cudi’s feature film acting debut in GOODBYE WORLD
directed by Denis Hennelly (Rock the Bells doc about Wu Tang Clan) and
written by Sarah Adina Smith.   Essentially, the film is about a group
of friends hanging out when some kind of apocalypse hits.  Hijinks
ensue. (There’s a trend here after It’s A Disaster and the upcoming
“look-we’re-so-cool-celebs partying of This is The End).  Although it’s a
small role, it is the first of a number of films Kid Cudi is in that
are coming through the pipelines.  Born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi in
Cleveland Ohio, he is a beautiful brown blend of African American on his
mother’s side and Native/Mexican mix on his father’s side.

The LA Film Festival kicks off with Pedro Almodovar’s, I’m So Excited on June 13 and runs until the 23.  Tickets and info here.

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