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by Indiewire
June 8, 2000 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: Latino International; Tito, "Hip Hop" and Industry Unity; Awards "Our Song" and "El Chaco

FESTIVALS: Latino International; Tito, "Hip Hop" and Industry Unity; Awards "Our Song" and "El Chacotero Sentimental"

by Jorge Aguirre



(indieWIRE/6.08.2000) --It opened on the night that Tito Puente died.


And when the HBO trailer which preceded every screening cut to a shot of Tito playing, audiences erupted with cheers and applause.


With an enthusiastic mix of showcase and networking, the 1st Annual New York International Latino Film Festival kicked off with the New York premiere of Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's film, "King of the Jungle" (John Leguizamo, Rosie Perez) and closed with the New York premiere of Karyn Kusama's energetic "Girlfight" (Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli). In between, a program of over 70 features and shorts played to packed houses from Wednesday May 31 to Sunday, June 4.


Among the several features which had their New York Premiere at the festival was Danny Hoch's invigorating "Jails, Hospitals and Hip Hop," a film adaptation of Hoch's one-man show in which he performs nine characters: from a junkie prisoner with AIDS to a prison guard forced to see a therapist about his "anger issues." Also included is a Cuban rapper (filmed on the streets of Havana -- and entirely in Spanish and broken English). Hoch (not Latino) delivered such perfect colloquial Cuban Spanish as to shame many of us whose parents always warned us, "Someday you're going to wish you'd practiced your Spanish more."


In very uncharacteristically New York fashion, audiences waited patiently outside the theater as the film was delayed nearly an hour. Despite the rain and the constant din of a jackhammer next to the line, the mood remained, as throughout the festival, very upbeat. Audiences gave the festival, in its first year, much slack when it came to programming, organizational, and technical glitches.


Maria Escobedo's "Rum and Coke," also enjoyed a receptive welcoming at the festival. The film is about a Latina who "gets her groove back," by dumping her dull Anglo boyfriend for romance with a Cuban firefighter.


First time feature director, Lorena David, premiered her film, "Eastside," at the festival. Her film tells the story of a bad boy/good boy Chicano trying to save a youth center in East L.A. The film's handsome star, Mario Lopez, makes Ricky Martin look homely.


The Colombian film, "La Vendadora de Rosas" (The Rose Seller) was among the internationally featured films that struck audiences with its intensity and stark drama. Directed by Victor Gaviria, the film uses a cast of non-actors, street kids and drug addicts, who play. . . street kids and drug addicts. One story has it that when Gaviria first began shooting the film, the original main actress, a street kid, died and Gaviria was forced to reshoot using a new lead.


An exceptionally bizarre, and very funny, international short was the Brazilian "Amassa Que Elas Gostam," (It's Dough that Girls Like). Directed by Fernando Coster, in the film, a woman attempts to seduce a porn star. The catch is that the porn star is a claymation actor. Flesh meets clay.


In addition to the films, there were panels. I tried to attend Women on the Verge, a panel sponsored by New York Women in Film and Television that focused on empowering Latinas in the entertainment industry. It was completely sold out. I even tried sneaking in through a back entrance, and was summarily ousted. I took this as a fantastic sign that the panel, like the festival, was filling a void for Latinos(as) eager to address issues pertinent to them.


The panel, Digital Millennium, moderated by indieWIRE's own Eugene Hernandez addressed the "digital hype" with some practical, some pragmatic, and some philosophic insights. Broadbridge Media introduced the HYPER-DISC, a CD technology that seems to promise intellectual property protection with mass Internet distribution. (see for more info). Also addressed was the economic difficulty in getting Latino communities connected to the web. And Ricardo Dominguez of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre challenged the audience to embrace their potential for using the web as a marketing and political-action tool. "The internet is such a small community, " said Dominguez, "If you sneeze, everyone wants to know: How long did you sneeze for? What did the sneeze look like? What did the sneeze feel like?"


On Saturday, NALIP (The National Association of Latino Independent Producers) hosted a "meet and greet" at the Roger Smith Hotel. John Valdez of NALIP, made a great case for unity among Latino filmmakers: "There's no reason why we shouldn't be working, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be making lots of money," he said stressing the need for a network of Latino producers poised to hire fellow Latinos. The reception also provided an opportunity for NALIP to announce its National Conference this July in Miami (check for more info).


As for awards, my personal award for "Most Original Short Film" goes to the very funny, "Las Papas del Papa," (The Potatoes of the Pope), a short by Alex Rivera. The film examines the Pope's visit to Mexico and the Pepsi and potato chip tie-ins which accompanied it (true story), along with a boy who thinks if he buys enough bags of potato chips he'll go to heaven (fiction, I think).


The official awards ceremony was held Sunday night at Club New York. The Best International Feature went to the Chilean film, "El Chacotero Sentimental" (The Sentimental Teaser). "El Chacotero," tells three stories of love and longing -- a student and his neighbor, a talk show host and his confessional audience, and a girl with a family secret. Best National Feature went to Jim McKay's "Our Song," set against Crown Heights, Brooklyn with three teenage girls facing an uncertain adulthood. Laurie Collyer's engaging documentary, "Nuyorican Dream," won The Best National Vanguard Award. Her film unfolds around the struggles of a Latino family trying to obtain the American Dream. The Best International Vanguard Award was given to the Brazilian film, "Cine Mambembe, O Cine Descobre O Brasil" (Cine Mambembe, Cinema Discovers Brazil) about young filmmakers who travel to remote parts of Brazil screening films, while The Image Group Editorial Honorable Mention Award went to the short "Details" by Eric Daniel, which follows a woman who makes a final checklist before killing herself.


[Jorge Aguirre is a New York based filmmaker and a producer of the shorts film festival, Phat Shorts (PS2000).]

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