Finding and Championing Our Own voices
By Christine Davila
In the movie Filly Brown, the titular rapper doesn’t come into her own and become Filly Brown until she writes her own words to narrate her reality. In a pivotal and emotional scene, she confronts her mother (Jenni Rivera) behind bars with some hard, bittersweet truth and heartfelt rhymes about what has transpired between them. The trials and tribulations that came before were necessary to transform and fuel this culminating moment. In a way, a new crop of Latino filmmakers is going through a similar odyssey. It seems like we are seeing them embrace their unique voices and take creative risks without deference to what homogenized commercial mainstream dictates.
The manner in which we identify with, and are inspired by, our mixed culture is personal and varies greatly, making for countless contemporary storytelling possibilities. Crashing up on the waves of Miami, the films in the Hispanicize Film Program recently showcased filmmakers boldly turning to varied genres and carving out their own visual aesthetic.
Whether their stories address or defy traditional Latino cultural themes and convey our bicultural experience, or if they feel unbound and free to tell classic, commercial cinema anchored in their own reflection, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to support this newfound boldness.
Strong female characters is a fixture of the indie films Filly Brown, Blaze You Out, Gabi and Clara Como El Agua, and in the short film category five of the eight are directed by women.
Every festival usually has an “IT” actor, a performer whose films demonstrate the artistic and meaningful films they are selecting to make. In the case of Hispanicize 2013 our “IT” man is Jeremy Ray Valdez who stars in the features Mission Park, Blaze You Out and Dreamer (Which he also produced).
In talking about the diversity of stories from diverse multicultural filmmakers it becomes apparent that the emerging Latino filmmaker is at a critical crossroads. This is just the beginning. Let’s not forget filmmaking is a collaborative art. It’s our obligation to fully realize these films by being and nurturing their audience. These films are but a small taste of what is being developed by new filmmaker voices. Contrary to what most Hollywood studio suits with blockbuster money believe, there are a vast spectrum of American Latino filmmakers and big movie stars.What is missing however is the audience. In the era of digital platforms, the audience has more power than ever to validate and demand more of the work it like.
The 2012 Sundance Film Festival served as a successful launch pad for Filly Brown, written and directed by Michael Olmos and Youssef De Lara. What’s fresh about this classic street rapper making it and fighting for integrity is that this hustle has typically been represented and dominated by males on film (and in real life). In a novel take, the filmmakers conceived of a female lead character, which was then fully ignited by Gina Rodriguez’s dynamic performance. Beloved and established actors Lou Diamond Philips, Edward James Olmos and the late Jenni Rivera round out the high profile cast. The film was one of 70 films picked up for distribution following its Sundance premiere.
After a precarious year in which the film showed at a dozen film festivals and the original distributor went bankrupt, Pantelion stepped in to pick Filly Brown and opened on April 19 on 200 screens. That number is still less than other Pantelion releases. For comparison, the Eva Mendez starrer, Girl in Progress was on 322 screens, the Will Ferrell comedy Casa de Mi Padre on 475 screens. It’s worth recognizing where these numbers stack up among other theater releases. Hollywood blockbusters are released on anywhere from 3000-4000 screens. Recent indie specialty releases like Beasts of the Southern Wild, at its peak amid its Oscar nomination buzz, was on 300 screens, Spring Breakers went from 4 screens opening weekend to 1,000 plus screens because of the record breaking per theater average. One of the lessons here is to connect and drive the public to see the film opening weekend if we want to see the traditional distribution model budget.
Recap of screened at the 2013 Hispanicize Event:
Another electrifying female lead character is Lupe in Blaze You Out, played by the vulnerable yet ferocious Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas, Taco Shop). Unlike the thugs and wayward people that attempt to keep Filly Brown down, Lupe must rival an elemental and ancient evil in this magic realism tale. A modern and not-seen-before mythological darkness and manifestation of evil is captured in this thriller in which Lupe confronts the secret underworld to save her sister. Elizabeth Peña, who is deliciously wicked, and Raoul Trujillo duel in the inherently mystical and native rooted New Mexico, set alongside some ominous mestizo iconography. Brushed with a striking and otherworldly cinematic canvass, the film paints this modern dance with Santa Muerte. An inventive take on the drug ‘sickness’ that rampages these marginalized communities and the secrets that keep them chained, Blaze You Out is the type of film that expands the metaphor. Fierce and unapologetic, the film also stars Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahantas in The New World), Mark Adair Rios and Melissa Cordero, all who possess magnetic talent.
On another spectrum, with poetic realism, Dreamer, written and directed by young filmmaker Jesse Salmeron, is perhaps the most urgent mirror of the times we are living in with thousands of undocumented youth’s hopes hinging on the proposed Dream Act. Eschewing obvious political commentary Salmeron compassionately individualizes a character that embodies young American-raised upwardly mobile members of society. The film’s stylistic aesthetic evokes the painful reality and conveys the existentially horrible feeling of being invisible and disregarded in this country. Above all, the transcending story is ultimately about the bonds and family we create, and the place we know in our heart as home. Blood and roots do not always make for family and home. Both the perspective and envisioning of Dreamer makes for a distinguished and salient film.
Aftershock, is the horror comedy produced and starring Eli Roth, directed by Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez. The film also features a cameo by Selena Gomez. The film was written by López, Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, from a story by Roth and López. The film, while fictional, was based on true events from the 2010 8.8 earthquake in Chile.
A Note from Christine Davila:
I have the privilege of screening hundreds of Spanish language and US Latino films throughout the year as a freelance film programmer for festivals like Sundance, Morelia, San Antonio’s Cinefestival, Los Angeles Film Festival and now Hispanicize 2013. I aim to monitor, track and critique the scene of American Latino, and Latin American cinema. I’m extremely eager to make noise, build dialogue and connect our wildly artistic yet under represented community as well as provide tips on how to get access and reach the public at large. Follow me on @IndieFindsLA.