Dec 29, 2008

Indy 2008 Honors Key Figures

This year has gone like the wind and most of the films I watched were what is usually called "independent". Today there is a blur line to divide independent films from non-independent, probably because the big studios already took over the independent film world to what they consider a market with budgets under $10M. But we know most of the real indy films sometimes have budgets under $1M. Anyway, to me what it's truly independent is the soul of the project and the kind of control the creatives like writer and director have.

We could be discussing the essence of independent films forever, so let's highlight the best indy films I had the pleasure to live this past year. For most of them you may find articles or interviews in this same blog. Here I post the links to IMDb:

3 Américas
(2007, Cristina Kotz Cornejo)

Chop Shop
(2007, Ramin Bahrani)

(2007, Ariel Rotter)

(2007, Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz)

(2007, Harmony Korine)

(2007, José Padilha)

(2007, Lucía Puenzo)

In Memoriam

I can't overlook four key figures that passed away during the year. They are Sydney Pollack (director, producer, actor), Anthony Minghella (writer, director, producer), Harold Pinter (writer, director, actor), and Michael Crichton (writer, director, producer). All of them were in some way related to that soul of independent film I mentioned in the beginning, and all were highly respected not only by their audiences, but also but their colleagues. You will find below the links to The New York Times' obituaries. I was lucky enough to assist to a talk by Sydney Pollack at The New School in New York. Among other things he told a remarkable anecdote from the time he was shooting The Interpreter (2005) in the U.N. (first time ever the U.N. allowed to shoot there. Second time was Steven Soderbergh with his double feature Che Guevara during 2007). Pollack said that after a diplomatic dinner with many ambassadors and consuls, one of them took him aside. He was afraid to not follow dinner etiquette, and he was sure he would be reprimanded for that. But that enigmatic diplomat from a top European country asked him: "Can I give you my reel?"

Michael Crichton
(1942 - 2008)

(1954 - 2008)

(1930 - 2008)

Sydney Pollack
(1934 - 2008)

Nov 17, 2008

Beyond 3 Américas

The opening image of a pan of water about to boil foretells events in América’s life (played by Kristen González): she’s a troubled teenager in the middle of a crisis. Her CD player and headphones are her best companions. Even her friends can’t fully understand her. The difficult relationship with her aunt Carolina (Gy Mirano) and the aggressive personality of her uncle Joey (Gilberto Arribas) do nothing else than turn her into a hermetic girl impossible to talk with. She shoplifts for attention but isolates herself in her bedroom. Bored, she finds a spider near her bed. She follows it with her eyes, and nudges it to move faster. Then, suddenly, she squashes it.

América needs change, but she doesn’t foresee the radical change waiting for her steps from her door in the suburbs of Boston. There, América witnesses family violence that ends in fatality. América’s new destiny is Argentina, where her reclusive anti-American grandmother Lucía (Ana María Colombo) receives her without a single smile. Lucía doesn’t speak a word of English and lives in a rundown home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

3 Américas is Cristina Kotz Cornejo’s first feature film. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and based in Boston, Cristina also teaches Film Production at Emerson College. She wrote, produced, edited and directed this film which took its first steps at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and counted with the support of NALIP, IFP and the Moving Image Fund grants from LEF Foundation. América’s story developed from a Bostonian North American tale into an international one, making its way to Argentina. The film was ready for shooting after three years of writing and polishing. Besides three Americas, this independent, low-budget film has another three compelling elements that make it worth watching.

First of all, the script is very tight, reduced to its minimum set of lines. The words are meaningful and precise. This leads directly to the second fundamental element: the acting. Although only a few standout, everyone in the film is well-casted. Kristen González (América) achieves a convincing role in her debut. Ana María Colombo (who plays Lucía), with vast experience in Argentine theatre and television, delivers a masterclass. The last element in question is the very smart use of resources. It is tempting to show Buenos Aires in full glamour, depicting its iconic tango, its many restaurants and distinctive nightlife. But Kotz Cornejo managed the temptation, taking full advantage of the budget. She set the story in the town of Ramos Mejía outside of the main city center, captivating the essence of an Argentine life that not so many know about it.

Sergio (Nicolás Meradi), a multi-functional plumber-electrician and neighbor, keeps América grounded and helps her to adapt to a new culture with its idiosyncrasies and language. In this foreign environment, everything must be fixed rather than replaced, “cartonear” (cardboard collecting and selling) is an honest job, and little things can make a difference. The relationship between América and her grandmother Lucía goes from bad to worse until Lucía suffers a stroke –a turning point– leading to an adaptation and learning process for both grandmother and grandchild. Though the story takes some time to catch our interest during Boston scenes, it fully develops in Argentina, bringing together those 3 elements. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but when it succeeds as a formula, it reveals the core of independent film. I wonder if there is a second feature in the works. If not, maybe there’s still time to enroll in one of Kotz Cornejo’s Emerson classes.

(Written for Remezcla)

Oct 22, 2008

Interview: Mabel Valdiviezo

Mabel Valdiviezo was part of the emerging experimental artist movement in Peru during the mid '80s that was very active and questioned the establishment. She studied film in Peru and won a grant that allowed her to study in a film school run by Armando Robles Godoy, an iconoclast filmmaker. She also studied film in the University of Lima. However, she later realized that in order to make films there she just had to be daring and asking people for favors, so she ended up borrowing equipment from a film company, Grupo Chasky and attracting great young talent, thus making an experimental video called Transparency Accessible.

At that time she became interested in watching a lot of European films, especially the neorealist period in Italy, the French Avant-Garde with François Truffaut, most Federico Fellini's films and one of her favorite auteurs, the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Later on, she wrote and directed Soledad Is Gone Forever, a short film that was featured in the Cannes Film Festival, now going through the process of becoming a feature-length film. I met Mabel in the New York Latino Film Festival '07, where she won the Pitch Contest. Based in San Francisco, Mabel was so kind to answer my questions via the cyberspace.

Pablo Goldbarg: How did you come up with the idea of making a film about the Chilean dictatorship?

Mabel Valdiviezo: Soledad was born of my desire to understand and relieve the pain that many Chileans have gone through when dealing with the aftermath of the Pinochet era. I was married to a Chilean and have several Chilean friends, and today they are still trying to heal from their country’s dark past. Soledad Is Gone Forever brings their voices to the screen while at the same time it is a universal metaphor about a brave young woman searching for truth about herself, her family and her country to bring peace to her life.

P.G.: How close you feel stories about Latin American dictatorships from the point of view of a Peruvian?

M.V.: I remember vividly when I was five years old and saw military men with machineguns taking young people from their homes in my neighborhood. Like in Chile, this time was a dark time in Peru’s history and become even more tragic during Fujimori’s reign. I see the parallel between most Latin American countries sized by military power and the great need to heal and find peace among ourselves.

P.G.: How was your experience in the Cannes Film Festival?

M.V.: It was very positive in the sense that our short got a lot of coverage and buzz and we connected with a lot of budding filmmakers who are doing very interesting work around the globe. We also got a distribution offer but decided to wait because the deal was not as flexible as we thought it could be.

P.G.: Tell me please how is the process of turning Soledad Is Gone Forever into a feature-length film.

M.V.: Since we began this project I always had a feature-length film in mind. The short, however, was a great visual laboratory that enabled me to test scenes and storylines that would be fleshed out in the feature script. This has taken a life of its own, exploring a darker and complex Chile with characters based in true accounts that not only hold explosive secrets but also threaten Soledad Gonzalez's life and challenge her to forgive the unforgivable. With the script completed and the support we have been receiving so far, I know that we are getting closer to achieving what we set out to do: to share the universality of Soledad Is Gone Forever, crossing generations and cultures, ultimately raising awareness of the power of healing and forgiveness.

P.G.: What is the role of film festivals in the way you work? Does it work? Is it the only way independent filmmakers can be known?

M.V.: Soledad has been to Cannes Film Market-Short Corner, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, International Latino Film Festival San Francisco, Anthology Film Archives and several others. It has been rewarding to see our film screening at these festivals and see how the audience react to our story. Yet having a short in a festival is filled with many obstacles. First, a short usually gets lost in the big array of films and features get most attention. The festival’s publicists and the media are not so concerned about a short film. We got some attention from the media, however but I soon realized that we needed to look beyond them. We needed to build an audience for feature and the short needed to be our main tool to achieve this. That’s when I decided to immersed myself in DIY online distribution. My team and I competed to be part of the From Here To Awesome showcase, a discovery and distribution festival spearheaded by Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, The Last Broadcast), and Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monsters). We have fully embraced the DIY spirit which is expand our audience, find distribution, drive people to the sites where our short film is being sold, be seen worldwide and get support, including finding a producer for the feature.

P.G.: What kind of support you feel you have as a Latina filmmaker in the U.S.?

M.V.: I feel that I need to create my own mark and niche making films that have magic and uplift the human experience. I can’t sit and wait for grants or recognition to come and knock at my door. My best support is to build my own audience with real people who can to see the stories I am sharing with them.

P.G.: What is the role of the Latinos today in U.S. media?

M.V.: The Latino image is controlled by the mainstream media and its sociopolitical bias. The new generation of media makers - including us, the filmmakers - should create empowering images of real Latinos that contest the status quo.

P.G.: Why do you think that if Latin American cinema is today one of the most recognized in the world, it is still so difficult for Latinos to have a project done?

M.V.: Latin America is a complex region with contrasting realities and a rich history of great literature. Filmmakers there want to tell their stories without giving too much thinking to the commercial potential of their films. Here, I feel that there is so much emphasis in the market potential and therefore the artistic integrity is compromised. There is also a great divide between Latinos in the U.S. because of our roots. I think we should all unite and become one and then we will raise a stronger voice.

P.G.: Would you like to make films in Peru?

M.V.: I absolutely want to make a feature in Peru. Today, as I am getting ready to go back to Peru I am revisiting my Peruvian self and I am finding many fascinating stories that are part of me growing up as a young woman and the Kafkanian/Almodovaresque world I knew then.


Soledad Is Gone Forever can be purchased at following sites:

For more information about upcoming screenings they can go to:

Picture above: Araceli Gonzalez plays Soledad, age 8.

Aug 9, 2008

VI Cine Fest Brasil

Inffinito Group Proudly Announces the 6th Edition of the Annual Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil to Be Held August 10 – 16 in New York City

Between August 10 and 16, Central Park, Tribeca Cinemas and the United Nations will host the 6th edition of the annual Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil, created and produced by Inffinito Group. During the course of one week, the festival will feature over 24 films, both short and feature length, documentary and fiction, including one World Premiere, three US Premieres and eight NY Premieres.

The festival will be launched this year with a special tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Bossa Nova, Brazil's world renowned musical invention, at Central Park SummerStage. This special opening night will feature a live concert with acclaimed singer Maria Rita, daughter of two icons of Brazilian music Elis Regina e Cesar Camargo Mariano, and the screening of the feature film Out of Tune (Os Desafinados) by Walter Lima Jr. which reveal the 50's,60's and 70's in Brazil through the story of a fictional Bossa Nova band.

The Bossa Nova celebration continues with a special screening at the United Nations Headquarters of Anna Jobim's The House of Tom, an endearing documentary on her late husband, the music legend Carlos Antonio Jobim. The director will be awarded with a special Crystal Lens Award at a cocktail reception hosted by Embratur, following the screening.

“The festival is going to surprise everyone with the depth and range of our screenings along with the exciting special events : the concert at SummerStage and the United Nations event. We believe in attracting businesses through culture, and our sponsor shares this view”, says Adriana Dutra, director of Inffinito Group. Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil has become an official event of the Brazilian Government as well of the New York cultural calendar. The event is also sponsored by Embratur, the country's Tourism Office.

Some of the highlights of the film program are the World Premiere of Youth a film by Domingos Oliveira and Philippe Barcinski's film Not by Chance by Executive Producer Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener). The selected films showcase the diversity of themes, narratives and landscapes that Brazil has to offer and they offer New York audiences a great opportunity to get a taste of the vibrant local film scene that has created such international hits as Central Station, City of God and the forthcoming sensation Elite Squad.

All of the film screenings of the official selection will take place August 11-16 at the Tribeca Cinemas. All features compete for the Crystal Lens Award for the Best Feature Film, a prize awarded by the audience. The Closing Ceremony will take place on Saturday, August 16 at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Additionally nightly after the screenings, the audience along with special guests, directors and actors, will be treated to the Petrobras Lounge, hosted by DJ Luluta, who will be spinning different rhythms every night. The Petrobas Lounge is also located at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Two new additions to the annual roster of Brazilian premieres are the special shorts project Revealing the Brazils and the sidebar DOCTV. Before each screening at the Tribeca Cinemas, there will be the projection of a short film from the Revealing the Brasils project. The project, in partnership with the Audiovisual Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture and sponsored by Petrobras, was born from the idea to show an unknown Brazil to the world. Its stories are told from the point of view of the common Brazilian inhabitant of small cities, who would normally never have the chance of seeing their talent on the big screens.

DOCTV is a unique program developed by the Audiovisual Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture, TV Cultura and the ABEPEC (Brazilian Association of Public, Education and Cultural Broadcasters) that promotes the partnership between Brazilian public TV and independent producers. Created in 2003, the program aims at promoting the regionalization of the production of documentaries, articulating a national circuit of TV broadcast through the Public Television Network and proposing a business model that makes regional markets viable for Brazilian documentary films. This sidebar showcases some of the most outstanding works that have participated in this program.

Additional information:
- Opening night screening + concert: Sunday, August 10 at Central Park SummerStage (Rumsey Playfield, enter at 72nd and Fifth Avenue). Free Admission.
- Film screenings: daily August 11 - 16, at the Tribeca Cinemas (54 Varick Street at Laight St.) Tickets: $10.
- Special Private Screening of The House of Tom + cocktail: Tuesday, August 12 at 6pm at the United Nations Building (UN) Library Auditorium (1st Avenue and 46th Street Entrance). By invitation only.
- Awards Ceremony: Saturday, August 16, 10pm at the Tribeca Cinemas.

For tickets and schedule:

Jun 14, 2008

Tribeca 2008: Interview with José Padilha

Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) is José Padilha’s first fiction feature-length after his critically acclaimed documentary Ónibus 174 (Bus 174, 2002). Acquired by The Weinstein Co. for distribution in the US, the film was a huge success and cultural phenomenon in Brazil, where it is said it was watched by more than 10 million people before its release in theaters – all in pirated DVDs. This is a powerful film with brilliant cinematography by Lula Carvalho (O Ceu de Seuly - Love for Sale, 2006, and son of cinematographer Walter Carvalho), an extremely sharp sound supervised by Alessandro Laroca (Cidade de Deus – City of God, 2002), great music by Pedro Bromfman and a tight but smooth editing job by Daniel Rezende (Oscar nominated for City of God, also editor for The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, one of the best picks for the past Tribeca Festival in 2007.)

What is ground breaking about Elite Squad is that it is told through a cop’s point of view. Corruption, hypocrisy and social justice take a role over the action in this in-your-face story of a very complex society where everything falls into a grey zone flooded with personal interests, socio-political networks and a lot of violence. Padilha wrote the script with Bráulio Mantovani (City of God) and Rodrigo Pimentel, a military cop himself for eleven years (five of these as a captain in an elite squad). The film is based in the book Elite da Tropa, by Pimentel, Luiz Eduardo Soares and André Batista. A few months ago, Elite Squad won one of the most important awards in the film world: the Golden Bear at Berlinale.

Extraordinarily performed by Wagner Moura (Captain Nascimento), Caio Junqueira (Neto) and André Ramiro (Matias), this is a film as direct as José Padilha’s answers during our interview. With a smile and a friendly, positive attitude, Padliha received me at the Tribeca Filmmaker’s Lounge and answered all the questions right to the point. He was getting ready for more interviews in a hectic agenda that includes being part of the Jury too. In any case, compared with shooting a film about police in the favelas, doing press is surely a kind of a well-deserved vacation for Padilha, as he shared with us.

Pablo Goldbarg: Did you have to make a compromise with drug-dealers, in order to work in their territories, much like NGOs do?

José Padilha: The only way you can film in a favela in Brazil is talking to the drug-dealers. There is no other way. They control the favela. Everything that goes on in this land that has drug-dealers in it, it has to go through the dealers. Every single favela has an association of people living there, so instead of going through the drug-dealers, we went through the associations, because we didn’t want to have to deal with the dealers. But we know that once we cut up a deal with the association, the association is cutting up a deal with the drug-dealers. At least that’s what we thought. But then, in the middle of the shoot the dealers hijacked a car with four crew members and all the guns we used. The crew members were released after an hour, but the guns were stolen and the police went up to the location, so we had to stop shooting for two weeks. We didn’t cut a deal directly with the drug-dealers; and it proved to be the wrong thing to do.

P.G.: How did you convince the police institutions they were fairly portrayed in the script? How did you get their blessings or permits?

J.P.: The police institutions were fairly portrayed, but I never gave them the scripts, if I had, there wouldn’t be a movie. We only got the permit to shoot after several months through the Governor, because we threatened him to go to the press, and that would be a scandal, because Brazil has free speech. So, the Governor made the police give us the permit to shoot. After the film was finished, copies were stolen, and the police saw the movie before it opened, and they sued us, they tried to prevent the film from opening if we didn’t edit the torture scenes and killings in the favelas. So, the police hate us because the film portrayed them fairly (laughs.)

P.G.: What did you get the most after this film: friends or enemies?

J.P.: I got a lot of friends, even in the police. People who collaborated with the movie are interested in showing how things are, and they want to make the statement that things need to change. Those are my friends. My enemies... I don’t know where the hell they are. I don’t talk to them, I don’t call them up. From my perspective, I didn’t make any enemies. Maybe from the perspective of somebody else, I’m an enemy. I don’t even think about this.

P.G.: Is it possible to deal with the violence in the favelas without violating human rights?

J.P.: Yes, of course it is. The movie I’ve made has a protagonist who believes that violence can be controlled by violence. He believes that you can sort of violently force somebody not to be violent. It’s a kind of what America decided to do with Iraq: let’s go in and violently make the Iraqi government not to be violent. And you see what you get, right? The movie is basically a statement against that proposition, the idea that violence can be controlled by violence. This proposition not only destroys the lives of many innocent people but it also destroys the lives of those who believe in it. So, the protagonist who believes in that is suffering from post-traumatic stress and panic syndromes, he wants to leave the unit he has always lived for, his wife and kids don’t want to be with him... and we don’t make this up; this is true. This is what we found in all the research: most cops that abide by those violent behaviors end up fucked up. I mean, they end up with serious psychological problems. So, there is a way to deal with violence, and that’s by taking education to the favelas, trying to give people a chance to have jobs. That’s the right way to do it. That’s the only way to do it.

P.G.: Beyond the amazing portray of Nascimento, the transformation of Neto and Matias is a key element in the film. Can you talk about the work you did with the actors? Did you use any acting coaching like Sergio Machado did with Maria Fatima Toledo in Cidade Baixa - Lower City?

J.P.: I had like 120 actors in my movie. Many, many characters. It’s impossible for a director to handle this alone. What I did was separating the actors in groups: regular police men, elite squads, students, etc. For the actors who played regular or corrupted cops, I brought cops to train with them. Elite squad actors were trained with real elite squads. Supervising them was Fatima Toledo, an acting coach who worked also in City of God and Cidade Baixa, and myself. We would go with the different groups and rehearse with the actors and the real people to make the film feel realistic; that was the goal. Furthermore, I didn’t give the screenplay to the actors, I mean I took the dialogue out. So, they had the script but they didn’t know the lines. They had to learn to improvise, and we did this for three months, then we shot the movie. It’s a cool way to do it.

P.G.: Do you think action and entertaining films are the only way to get a good distribution of Latin American films in the U.S.?

J.P.: No, I don’t. I don’t see my movie as an action movie. I worked on it and I thought about it as a social critique of Brazilian society, but we had action in there. We have scenes that had energy in it, and it’s a way to get an audience. How good it is to make a very intellectual, sophisticated, slow paced detached movie about society that nobody goes to see? It doesn’t do any good. I believe there is a way to do serious social critique, and at the same time make movies that will have an audience. This is what we tried to do with Elite Squad, and this is what I think Latin American filmmakers at good at it. Actually, we have a tradition of doing engaging movies. Not only Latin American but also other foreign filmmakers are good at it, like [Greek] Costa-Gavras in Missing (1982). I think South American filmmakers should make movies primarily for their own audiences, because if their audiences go to the theaters, the movie will pick up distribution outside.

P.G.: Do you feel some kind of responsibility as a filmmaker and a mass communicator about social issues? What’s the difference between using documentary and fiction to pursue your goals?

J.P.: Even my fictional work, which is Elite Squad, has a documentary flavor. It’s meant to portray a reality as it is. You can ask anybody in Brazil and they will tell you that reality is very similar in the movie. We did a lot of research, interviews with cops, psychiatrists, to get reality into the script. So, as far as representing reality, you can do it with documentaries, but you can also do it with fictional movies. When they work out, they reach a larger audience than documentaries. A movie like City of God is strongly based in reality. It’s a fictional movie but it also reveals to you how the drug-dealing business started off, as well as a documentary does. But they can do the same thing, basically, which is bring up debate on social issues if they aim to portray reality. I don’t make a distinction there, but I do realize that fiction movies get to a broader audience.

P.G.: Is there any hope in Latin America to finish corruption beyond the use of extreme violence?

J.P.: I’m now working on my third movie, which I’m going to call Corruptology. It states the logic of politicians and politics in Latin America. Why politicians are so corrupt, and how the corruption at highest levels spreads out to the whole society and ends up generating the kind of violence you see in my previous two movies and others. I’m writing it with a sociologist in Brazil. I think there is a way to solve this, but it’s not an easy way, and it’s going take a while. I think South America is in a slow process towards a stronger democratic society, a fairer society. We don’t have it yet, but we’ll get there... we’ll get there.

P.G.: You were part of an intense training camp, your crew was kidnapped, your props stolen… yet you made a great film. What’s next? Do you think you could handle a romantic comedy?

J.P.: [laughs] Can I handle it? Well, I don’t know. I don’t think like this. I just do the story that I wan to do. If at some point I’m running at a romantic story that I do believe it’s important, I’m gonna try to do it. Then we’ll find out whether I can do it or not (laughs.) I wouldn’t refrain myself of trying to do it, nor a science fiction movie, or a comedy, or a movie for kids. I’ll do the movie that I have in my heart. This is what I want to say next through this language of filmmaking, and whatever it’s I’ll go for it. Maybe it’s a romantic comedy, or a cartoon! I like cartoons, I see a lot of them with my kid, so maybe one day I’m going to do a cartoon...

P.G.: I’ll definitely watch it...

(Written for Remezcla)

May 30, 2008

Tribeca 2008: Fantasy, Reality & Viceversa

What comes first: pain or pleasure? Happiness or sadness? Does it hurt to love and be loved, or because we’re already in pain we need to find love? Will these dualities ever be able to exist separately? Do they happen at the same time? All these questions are presented in a very smart way in Amor, Dolor y Viceversa (Love, Pain & Vice Versa), the new film of Mexican director Alfonso Pieda Ulloa, written by Alex Marino, based on a story by Blás Valdez. They take a step further turning this existential duality into a matrix for the spectator: what if, not knowing if pain or love comes first, we also don’t know if it’s reality or fantasy?

Night after night, Chelo (Bárbara Mori, La Mujer de mi Hermano) dreams about an attractive and mysterious man with an accent. These dreams slowly consumed her life, to the point that after a year, she becomes so obsessed she doesn’t want to meet any other guys. Her friend Gaby (Irene Azuela, El Búfalo de la Noche) tries to tell Chelo to forget about the perfect man of her dreams and come back to reality but one day, Chelo shows up, crying, at a police precinct to give a description of a man who, supposedly, attacked and raped her. Was she really attacked? Is she making it all up? Is she in love with her attacker? Is it the man of her dreams or an ex-boyfriend?

Dr. Ricardo Márquez (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Plata Quemada) has been suffering the same nightmares for a year: a very attractive woman seduces him only to kill him. Even his fiancée (Marina de Tavira, La Zona) is annoyed and jealous by this recurrent woman of his nightmares, but Ricardo swears that he doesn’t know this woman. What happens next, I cannot give away. Their stories cross, the double-searching becomes a paradox, and dreams merge into reality – and viceversa. This dark psychological thriller is wonderfully depicted by cinematographer Damián García (Más Que a Nada en el Mundo), and the escalating, tension and he/she versions of the story accurately supported by editor Jorge Macaya (Fermat’s Room, also showing at Tribeca Festival 2008.) They have created a isolated, atemporal urban setting for these characters, detaching the story from any local references. This could be Mexico or it could be Bilbao or Detroit. I even overheard someone commenting “It doesn’t look Mexican!” due to the film’s Hollywoodesque quality in the lighting, texture and mood. But people shouldn’t be surprised about good Mexican cinema anymore, this is 2008. Mori’s performance is strong and convincing, subdued for a telenovela actress although sometimes a little too monotone. Sbaraglia’s performance? Well, he can’t fail. At his 37 years of age, he has been in almost the same amount of movies, and in some of them with highly emotional and difficult roles (Intacto, En La Ciudad Sin Límites.)

In this his first feature film, Pineda Ulloa jumps back and forth twisting the storyline and forking paths in a puzzle that is re-constructed from two different points of view. Sometimes he abuses the flashbacks, repetition of dreams, and a few obvious images to make some noise – how many times did you seen in movies a desperate man, fully dressed, crying under the shower? In spite of that, the double-way prey-predator game works great, and the evident scenes are balanced with some imaginative ones. This film is the only Latin American film among the twelve selected for the World Narrative Feature Competition, where The Aquarium (Egypt), Quiet Chaos (Italy) and Lost-Indulgence (China) are favorites, though Pineda Ulloa and Marino’s clever and original story has good chances too, and we hope Mexico takes home one of the most important Tribeca awards again, like last year did Enrique Begne with Dos Abrazos winning Best New Narrative Filmmaker award.

Do Chelo and Ricardo finally meet? Oh, they definitely do. But, is it real...?

(Written for Remezcla)

May 19, 2008

Tribeca 2008: Cliché's Room

Let’s just face it: it’s practically impossible to be an innovative storyteller in film. It’s an art that usually re-uses, re-orders, and pays tributes. The magic and originality of cinema lies in the way filmmakers put all the elements together. It’s hard to detach our minds from thousands of images already recorded by our subconscious. The problem arises when the evident becomes too obvious or when re-use turns into overuse: then it just becomes “cliché” (and yes, sorry for using such a “cliché” word.)

Lluís Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña are the writers and directors of their first feature film La Habitación de Fermat (Fermat’s Room), a new Spanish suspense film about four mathematicians who don’t know each other, and are invited by a mysterious host to solve a “great enigma.” Tempted for the challenge, they travel to an unknown house in the hills. The room where they meet ends up being a death machine that shrinks each time they can’t solve a riddle. Sooner or later they will die unless they discover why they are there and who wants to kill them. The film has enclosed itself in the big challenge of making a film mainly in one room. Cinematographer Miguel Angel Amoedo and editor Jorge Macaya (Love, Pain & Viceversa, also showing at Tribeca) helped the writers/directors duo make a good job keeping a steady rhythm and aesthetic quality, but the movie falls early into a series of clichés that give you a claustrophobic sensation of hopelessness.

With performances that are accurate but not convincing enough, the four mathematicians are played by Lluís Homar (La Mala Eduación), Alejo Sauras, and Spanish TV stars Elena Ballesteros and Santi Millán. Some dialogues are not in the level of high IQ scientists, and it’s even disturbing to see these four supposedly genii sweating, excited and worried about puzzles and equations that reminds you of elementary or high school. That doesn’t mean that these are easy problems to solve, but it’s a strange situation. Even Fermat himself, the great Federico Luppi (an Argentine legend that acted in almost 100 movies, most recent one Pan’s Labyrinth) has no space to fully develop his role.

How many times can the characters jump scared from their spots when the intercom announces a new riddle? How much more tense can they get every time the walls move and shrink? How necessary is it to repeat and reveal a tense moment through the device of a zoom or a high-pitched violin? Why do they need to explain everything with flashbacks and leave nothing to the audience’s imagination? Excess is the main sin of this movie: with stereotyped expressions and character development, and even the use of extra saturated color and evident suspense music score to announce….more suspense. All of this can easily turn off an audience, though one of the things this film actually does really well is embedding the riddles into the tight storyline. Proof of this is the number of awards it has won in two fantasy film festivals: Málaga Fantastic (Spain) and Fantasporto (Portugal.)

The beginning credits show a miniature room being furnished by a human hand. It’s probably a way of advancing part of the plot: the walls will shrink. Or it’s perhaps that the film itself has already shrunk at the beginning. The most original element in this film is... the official website! (You don’t have to be a scientist to find it). Fermat’s Room didn’t go well in Spain: it was released in November 2007 with positive reviews, but despite counting with a few star-actors, it did less than a million dollar in the box office. Nevertheless, it has been sold to more than 20 countries, and it faces now a new challenge: IFC Entertainment has acquired the rights to do an American remake. Probably then we can solve the puzzle: can the story be saved? Is there any room for some fresh air, or nobody can make it better than their own creators? What happens at the end is pointless: it has already been (excessively) explained in this review, and the key lies in the title. I’m a sinner too.

(Written for Remezcla)

May 8, 2008

Tribeca 2008: Paraíso Redux

A lot of Latin American countries are considered “paradise:” gorgeous beaches, exquisite cuisines, kind people, cheap clothes, sporting events that become passionate social phenomena, historical architecture, and landscapes that are devotion of National Geographic photographers. Nevertheless, every year millions of Latin Americans believe the paradise is to the north, often embarking in humiliating and risky experiences, far away from their families, friends, language and customs.

Paraiso Travel is Colombian director Simon Brand’s second feature film after Unknown (2006) which starred James Caviezel. Written by Jorge Franco and Juan Manuel Rendón, and based on “Paraiso Travel”, a novel by Franco, it tells the story of manipulative and ambitious Reina (Angélica Blandón) and lovesick Marlon (Aldemar Correa), two teenagers from Medellín who travel illegally to New York looking for a better life. Reina wants to get out of Medellín and her conservative father, and Marlon, the movie’s “hero”…well, he comes from a good and loving family but he just wants to sleep with Reina and so follows her lead. So it is a bit preposterous that these two students steal their way to get $3,000 to buy a “non-guaranteed” ticket to freedom through Paraiso Travel Agency. Their naïve intents are soon crushed as they make the dangerous journey to Guatemala, Mexico and finally through the US border and New York, but soon after the first day, Marlon gets lost. No money, no friends, no family, no Reina... no English.

“New York is a monster to tame”, tells Giovanny (Pedro Capó, one of the best performers in the film) to Marlon while contemplating the Manhattan skyline on a break from work at Mi Tierra Colombiana restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens. Marlon is rescued by fellow Colombian immigrants and he meets generous and affable Latinos such as Giovanny, Milagros (superstar Ana de La Reguera in a disappointing role), a Mexican aspiring salsa singer who makes a living selling CDs outside the restaurant and Roger (John Leguizamo,) his sadomasochist (literally) but kind (and of course being Leguizamo, funny) landlord. Everyone takes Marlon’s hand to make him feel at home and forget about his quest to find Reina. “In this country you have to wait in line for everything…even to be happy” musters Giovanny, who serves as the Voice of Reason throughout the film.

Immigration to the U.S., beyond its legal/illegal condition is one of the hottest and most complex issues in the current political campaigns. It’s also a very important issue to address in a more serious way in Latin American countries, where citizens live immersed in false promises, corruption and poverty. But no matter how huge is the topic of massive Latin American migration to the U.S., lets not forget about the basic premise of the film: it’s a love story. No matter how many friends Marlon makes or Milagros’ seductive hip swivels, he is miserable because in the middle of Queens, he can’t find his Reina. Simon Brand tried to be as faithful as possible to Franco’s novel, and in some way it turns the whole migration discussion into an entertaining soap opera adapted to the big screen: it’s humorous, romantic, dramatic, sexy and has lots of topless shots. Paraiso Travel is a high-quality production (it cost almost $5 million), and drew one of the biggest box offices in Colombia’s history (no doubt it can have the same effect in many Latin American countries.) Thousands, if not millions of spectators will feel identified when a crying Marlon calls his mother asking for her daily blessing. Or will know what it feels like when he discovers commodities that don’t exist in our yet developing countries (like a handicapped-ready bathroom that works), and all the suffering and home-away-from home situations immigrants must face in a new country.

That said, even if the Latin American immigration in this country is a necessary and important topic on screen, don’t expect exceptional acting. Even Leguizamo, who also produced the film and is one of the best Latino actors in the U.S. along with Benicio del Toro, leaves us wishing his character were more developed. And yes, you must deal with some classic novelas stereotypes, including too much of plot explanation and an over-the-top ending. "I wanted to make a film that makes Latin Americans think twice about traveling to the U.S. illegally," Simon Brand told me during a meet and greet with the press at the Tribeca Film Festival, "but one that also makes Americans think twice about how these people are treated once they get here." Simon’s intentions go right to the point: his honest adaptation definitely brings new questions to a very relevant issue.

(Written for Remezcla)

May 1, 2008

Tribeca 2008: Net of Dreams

Who hasn’t felt lonely at some point? Who hasn’t spent endless nights staring out a window? Who hasn’t felt that strange pain in your chest when you spot a group of people screaming, laughing, and having fun while walking alone on the street? Loneliness is one of the most common themes in film, yet nobody has ever portrayed it with the awkwardness, or the poetic and crude sensitivity of Harmony Korine. When he was twenty-two years old, he shocked the cinema world with the screenplay for Kids (1995), a documentary-style story about drug-addled promiscuous youth in New York City. Thirteen years later, he comes back with a maturity unusual for a filmmaker who is not even forty with Mister Lonely, his most important and complex piece to date.

Written in collaboration with his brother Avi, Mister Lonely tells the story of Michael Jackson (Diego Luna), a young Mexican immigrant who roams the streets of Paris impersonating--and living his everyday life as--Michael Jackson. He is delicate, shy, and wears a surgical mask in public spaces. Michael confesses his strong and heartbreaking desire to be someone else to a tape recorder, expressing his disappointment with his personality and looks. While performing in a nursing home, tenderly making the elderly sing and hope to live forever, he meets Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), who convinces him to move to a community of impersonators lead by her husband Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), as they are getting ready to perform the best show ever. They live in an isolated commune in the hills, and a better place couldn’t exist for this wacky group of impersonators--everyone is accepted by the others devoid of judgment or prejudice, and things run according to their own rules.

In the meantime, a parallel story unfolds in what seems to be a disconnected plot, though beneath the surface they share a common soul. Thousands of miles away, in some Latin American village, a foreign priest (Werner Herzog, the great German filmmaker) works with nuns in a mission to distribute food to the poorest communities. Like the impersonators, all of them are true believers, the purest dreamers: defined by desire, devotion, obsession. From the first scene, the film submerges us in a type of slow-motion dream. Harmony Korine confesses that the story originated as isolated images that later started taking on shape. This is sometimes intricately translated to the screen, but it is exactly what makes the film so interesting: everyone can take the different symbolisms and align them in different directions.

The impersonators share a very particular characteristic: they are all awful performers – yet they believe. Charlie Chaplin behaves more like Hitler than the comic, Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange) curses and screams exaggeratedly, and every other character in the film is taken to another reality through their own impersonations and others’ souls. Their everyday duality is constantly exposed in public and private: in costume yet naked, embarrassed yet happy. The main performances of Luna, Morton, Lavant and Herzog are wonderful and rich, exploding their limits thanks to careful direction by Korine, as well as in subtle improvisations. The cinematography by Marcel Zyskind (9 Songs, A Mighty Heart) is stunning, and it’s no surprise to find the name of editor Valdís Oskarsdóttir (responsible for the masterful work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in this film’s credits.

Dreams come true crossing the frontiers where Michael, Marilyn and the priest travel to other countries to accomplish their goals and live freer--nuns can fly too. In this thorny world, the pursuit of happiness is probably a never-ending search. The answer, if it exists, is deeply within us. “Sometimes the purest dreamers are the ones that get hurt the most,” says Harmony Korine. In a way, lonely dreamers are not alone. Michael rides a small bike with a cuddly monkey toy attached to it, trying to skate with him. Is Michael happy? We can’t see behind the mask. But something is clear: hope is the last thing we lose, and dreams are the first thing we create.

(Written for Remezcla)

Mister Lonely
[MISTE] Spotlight
Feature Narrative, 2007, 113 min
Directed by: Harmony Korine

Thu, May 01, 10:00PM AMC Village VII Theater 2 (Map)

Apr 29, 2008

XXY: Interview with Lucía Puenzo

First conceived by her husband Sergio Bizzio as a short story titled Cinismo, Lucía Puenzo’s first feature film tells the dramatic story of Alex, a hermaphrodite facing the challenges of her medical condition and the prejudices of a small Argentinean town, all in the midst of the crisis of being a 15-year old teenager. So far, XXY has won fifteen international prizes including Cannes, Athens, Bangkok, Cartagena, Edinburgh and the Goya.

Thirty-one year old Puenzo, daughter of famed Argentinean filmmaker Luis Puenzo, has published several novels such as El Niño Pez (Beatriz Viterbo, Tusquets, 2004), 9 minutos (Beatriz Viterbo, Tusquets, 2005) and La Maldición de Jacinta Pichimahuida (Interzona, 2007). Lately, she collaborated with her father writing the screenplays for his film La Puta y la Ballena (2004) and Rodrigo Fürth’s A Través de tus Ojos (2006).

I had the opportunity to meet Lucía through the MoMA Press Office, which first debuted the film in New York at its annual New Directors/New Films, presented by Lincoln Center Film Society, and through Film Movement, one of the few U.S. distributors devoted to independent Latin American films like Mexico’s El Violín or the Peruvian Madeinusa. Lucía had just arrived from Buenos Aires that morning, and straight from JFK to the Film Movement headquarters in Manhattan to do press, with no time to sleep or eat. Nevertheless, she was spotless, excited about her film in spite of having finished a previous interview, and extremely kind.

Pablo Goldbarg: Beyond the genetic codes, the film title appears on screen as an XXX, and then the last X has a mutilated leg. What does the title represent for you?

Lucía Puenzo: Well, one of the ideas was exactly what you just said. Having those three “X”, and having one of them being mutilated had a lot to do with the idea and name that is given to these surgeries: normalization. The ideology behind the surgeries lies in that word; if we are all “X” some have to be mutilated. And, of course, the idea of women and men. There was an internal conflict to decide if I had to use that title or not because the title doesn’t respond exactly to the diagnosis of Alex (Inés Efrón), and it was part of my own conflicts: Having an extreme medical realism or making a fiction out of the subject, even with a lot of investigation and many months of research. The script was so dense, filled with medical information that it had almost become a documentary. At some point, I decided to make a respectful fiction and because it was respectful, I was able to use a title that wasn’t exactly the diagnosis.

P.G.: Alex is so special, like the turtles we see in the beginning. It’s not only because of her sexuality, but also because she is a homeopath, a vegetarian and she even has a pet lizard. I wonder if Alex is the maximum expression of being different.

L.P.: We worked that idea a lot with the actress Inés Efrón when we started thinking of this little Alex growing up in a place that wasn’t her own city. She had been put there when she was very small, in a place that she didn’t know. She was very lonely growing up in this place, so she made her own world, her own toys from things she found in the beach. In a way, I thought this character had to be very peculiar, not because of her physical condition but because she was a very lonely child. I spoke with a lot of parents and doctors about growing up with this secret. Many parents, whether the children had been operated or not, tell them to be careful about speaking about this with others, and this makes a lonely child. That loneliness creates a very fearful character, or a very strong character such as Alex.

P.G.: Kraken (Alex’s dad, played by Ricardo Darín) talks about the day Alex was born. He remember saying: “She’s perfect”. What is perfection in a society like Argentina or many other modern ones?

L.P.: What I like about a father saying that is that anybody can find anything perfect. It’s a very strong word, like a maximum. Perfection can be found anywhere, what a father sees, what a lover sees, if it’s perfect, that’s all it counts. I was playing with such a strong word on purpose, almost to question what is perfection, because in this society everything seems to be divided in a binary. When a third part comes into the question, conflict arises and the problem now is what do we do with three? So, the meaning of the word is related to that: I can see perfection in another place.

P.G.: How can Alex survive in a macho Latin American society? I wonder if she should she move to Europe instead of Uruguay, or if she would have more fun with people that hide behind the “macho” icon?

L.P.: Actually, when I started writing the film I was quite surprised with how open- minded Argentina is about these issues today, even more than in some European countries. There have been a lot of step forwards, even legally. Not only we have now gay civil unions and adoptions between gay are also legal, but also today the inter-sex organizations are for any person no matter what sex they choose, and you can even change your name under the new sex. That was a big surprise, and also how the film has been received. I also had my prejudice in a macho society like Argentina. I met some inter-sex activists after the film, and not before, which was good for me, and they agreed. It would have been more political, and it wouldn’t have been good for the sake of the story. Actually, something I realized when the film was done is that this big fight about inter-sexuality begins when the film ends: they decide they will defend this body as it is, and the fight begins there.

P.G.: It is still very difficult to find a fair representation of gays in mainstream media like television or films. Did this bring you even more obstacles, or did this unusual and untreated theme present you with a window of opportunity?

L.P.: What happened with XXY is that gay communities also adopted the film. They recognized themselves in many ways. The other main character, Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky) is a young virgin discovering his homosexuality but he is so terrified by his father that he can’t even talk about it. When he connects with desire and what he wants after desiring Alex and not caring what she is, he is stronger. That character made a great connection with gay communities, also unexpectedly, because it wasn’t something I looked for. The polemic that arises in the film is then what is the real subject of the film. One day an inter-sexual friend told me, and I agree, that the most interesting part in the film is not the freedom of choice or inter-sexuality in itself, but the place that desire has in the story. The film is really about desire, and if you connect with desire you are saved. Any person that connects with what brings them pleasure and makes them alive will be fine.

P.G.: Desire plays a constant fight with image, and we usually try to balance what we really want and what people will think about it. Why is it so difficult to choose desire instead of image?

L.P.: In a way, that is embodied by the family that comes from Buenos Aires. They are a very adapted family, father and mother are very beautiful, and they seem to be the normal ones, and actually they are the real dysfunctional family en la intimidad. The other family, the “freaks” with no place in the world, they really care about each other. Many times people are afraid of not belonging. You need to be very brave to not care about what society rules. It’s easy to say it, but when you meet people that every day of their lives they are fighting to belong, that’s courageous. They do it every single day, and you should take your hat off.

P.G.: Literature and cinema have been borrowing elements from each other for many years, but they are still different worlds in so many ways. Being a novelist, what advantages or disadvantages did you face when you had to adapt Cinismo to the screen?

L.P.: Everything, everywhere, all of them! (laughs). It was very hard. Sergio Bizzio is my husband, so that was a new difficulty. But the good thing is that he told me the very first day: “You have to absolutely betray my story and make it yours. If you make an adaptation that is faithful to me it won’t be good.” I was very comfortable in the area of literature because I always wrote novels and even screenplays for others, but then when I started to imagine that the story would be directed by me it was very hard. I knew about words but not about film directing. It was a lot of learning, like walking on eggs (laughs). The big surprise was that once you have the script and think about how to shoot it, you must then run a team. That’s a big challenge and a key difference between literature and cinema: solitude vs. teamwork. A big percentage of a director’s work is to have a happy and passionate crew. That was a huge learning experience.

P.G.: In another interview you mentioned the influence of John Cassavetes. His last biography is a recent and amazing book by Marshall Fine called “Accidental Genius”. I wonder if you, being you a novelist first, if you’re also a filmmaker by accident?

L.P.: Maybe! (laughs) Many times, when my husband and I are writing novels we say that we can be everything: the actor, the director, the editor. You can create a Hollywood super production on paper and nobody will tell you to make something smaller. You have a lot of freedom and you’re able to be on your own and do whatever you want. Especially in art cinema that you don’t have a big budget, you’re always fighting and it creates anxiety. You want to tell a story but you know you have difficulties in every way. I think I became a filmmaker because I couldn’t help it. (laughs). One day I was with my husband and I asked him if he would give me his story to write a script, and I started writing without thinking I would direct it; probably a friend would do it. But then the support from Cine Fondation, the Residence at Cannes Film Festival made the whole thing to take another turn. After that some co-producers came in, and it became a more serious film. I had planned to shoot it with a few friends in Uruguay with a camera I had at home. So, yes, it was kind of by accident. Then I liked it and now I’m gonna make another one. (laughs)

P.G.: Can you please tell me about your experience in the Residence at Cannes, and why do you think those European film funds support so many Latin American films?

L.P.: Cinéfondation changed a lot of thinks. For the last twelve years I’ve been working as a writer for other people, so in my everyday life writing my stories was at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. During the rest of the day I had to write for living, so many times it was tiring to write my own stuff. The Residence at Cannes was the first time in my life that I could write for myself during the whole day, and explore something that I wanted to do for me – I wrote a novel and XXY. It’s strange but when you are earning your money to live, you don’t have the time for yourself – let’s say I need five months for my project. Then after the support from Cinéfondation, other major co-producers like Fond Sud came to the project and XXY was turned around. It wouldn’t have been the same film without that support. The same happens with the support of other film funds like the Huber Bals from Rotterdam Film Festival: they change the destiny of a film. We asked the people at Cinéfondation when we started to meet them and being close to them “please tell us a real reason why you’re doing this” (laughs). It’s not only about giving; they should be taking something back... They are looking for directors that are interested in them too: they create faithfulness. Cannes took my film to one of the sections, then I won a prize, and I will never forget everything that happened with the film there. If I must choose where I want to submit my new film, it will be Cannes. I will be forever grateful.

P.G.: Argentineans will always remember Norma Aleandro saying “...and the winner is” in 1986 [when Luis Puenzo’s La Historia Oficial won an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture – first and only time in Argentinean cinema history]. You were two steps away from repeating your father’s story as the official Argentinean selection for the Oscars this past year. How do you feel representing your country in so many other film festivals in the world?

L.P.: It was amazing what happened in all the international film festivals. The first time that I watched XXY with an audience was in Cannes. I was there with Inés Efrón – her first time out of Argentina, and we were like in Mars (laughs). We didn’t understand what was going on. In a lot of festivals it was interesting to see the different reactions from audiences, i.e. in Bangkok or Japan. In the case of the Oscar, I have to confess I was happy nothing happened (laughs). The best thing that could happen to me as a first time director, who wants to keep on shooting the second, and the third film peacefully, living in Argentina was this: making the first one and being ready to shoot the second one (laughs), nothing else. I remember Volker Schlöndorff, who is for me a hero, saying about his first film The Tin Drum (1979), that it was his best dream and worst nightmare, because he won so many prizes. He continued making films, but people used to ask him “when you will make another Tin Drum?” Sometimes too much is bad.

P.G.: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to find new directors like you.

(Written for Remezcla)

Cinema Village 
22 E 12th St
(212) 924-3363

Opens on Friday, May 2
Showtimes: 1pm, 3:05pm, 5:10pm, 7:15pm, 9:20pm

Apr 15, 2008

HFFNY 2008: Interview with Carole Rosenberg and Diana Vargas

The ninth annual edition of the Havana Film Festival New York (HFFNY), which runs this year from April 10th to the 18th , will show a selection of both classics and emerging Latin American films at Quad Cinema. As always, the HFFNY presents a unique opportunity to see Cuban films that make its premiere in the US before – and could probably not even show if it wasn’t for this festival. At the core of HHFNY’s mission, around 15 filmmakers each year from all Latin America to be present in panels, Q&A’s and other events. This year, the festival will honor Cuban director Juan Carlos Tabío, Cuban actor Luis Alberto Garcia and American documentary filmmaker Estela Bravo.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with two key people that make the HFFNY happen: Founder and Executive Director Carole Rosenberg and Programming Director Diana Vargas. Carole, an art collector and longtime supporter of Cuban culture and affairs, is also the President of American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (AFLFC), an organization that fosters exchange between Cuban and American artists and educators. Diana Vargas, originally from Colombia and a filmmaker herself, is a tireless advocate of Latino cinema and Latino culture in New York. Besides spearheading HFFNY, Diana is also involved in Cinema Tropical, Queens Theatre in the Park, and Nueva York, a CUNY TV program in Spanish.

Over a tasty breakfast in Carole’s Upper Manhattan home that made me forget about the rainy and cold New York weather, Carole and Diana spoke to me about this festival, unique not only in its groundbreaking content but also for its inherent political tinge.

Pablo Goldbarg: How did the idea of starting a New York version of the prestigious Havana Film Festival come about?

Carole Rosenberg: In 1999, the Cuban director of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema – which is also known as the Habana Film Festival and takes place every December - came to New York for the first time. I took him to the Anthology Film Archives for a new filmmakers’ screenings, and the idea to have a Cuban film festival in New York was dreamt up. Why Havana? As part of my cultural exchange activities with the Cuban and American artists and at the Festival de la Habana, the idea of creating a Cuban film festival in New York and inviting Cuban directors seemed enough of a reason. After the first HFFNY, which was only a Cuban film festival, we thought it made more sense to present Cuban films in the context with Latin American films as does the festival in Havana. This program is the biggest program of the AFLFC.

Diana Vargas: People tend to think here that Latin American cinema started with Amores Perros or Y tu Mamá También, but there is a long history of Latin American cinema – in fact it’s more than a hundred years old. We thought we should show the audience the trajectory of how Latin American cinema, that’s how we started to combine the classics with new releases.

P.G.: What are your criteria when choosing the films? How much do you depend on the repertoire of the Havana Film Festival in Cuba?

C.R.: Our aim is to premiere the latest award-winning films by the most recognized filmmakers in Latin America, as well as new directions by emerging filmmakers and great classics.

D.V.: We want to show a wide spectrum on the films being produced in Cuba – by ICAIC (Cuban Cinema Institute), the young filmmakers and co-productions with Spain, France and other countries. But because of the restrictions on how to get the films here, sometimes it gets very difficult. One of the things Carole has done with the Ludwig Foundation is also to provide ways in which filmmakers can subtitle their copies, something that many times keeps those films from being released in the U.S. Sometimes the films screened in “Festival de Nuevo Cine” (Habana Film Festival) come to the US first because distributors here keep an eye on those releases, especially on the hot filmmakers like [Argentineans] Carlos Sorín, Pablo Trapero and the ones in Brazil. Now, there is a new phenomenon: Latin American films are hits in their local box offices – which didn’t use to happen, for example, in Bolivia or Guatemala. Those are films we want to share with our audience, because have a special value: they show a country and its culture.

P.G.: Why do you think that Cuban films are not that well-known around the world, even with such a ground-breaking film school and tradition?

D.V.: The Cuban cinema was very important opening a path for Latin American cinema in the sense of a political concept – not only about politics, but the use of cinema as a cultural tool, for any country. Julio García Espinosa, a leading Cuban filmmaker, said that a country without cinema it’s a country without history and without memory. There is another part: the industry. Cuban cinema (and the rest of Latin America) is a little behind in terms of knowing how to deal with the product. In Europe, especially in Spain and France, Cuban cinema is well-known. In fact, some Cuban actors have made a career there, like Mirta Ibarra, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García… But this cinema hasn’t been able to create a star system. They are famous actors in their countries, but there is no industry to create a buzz around them so that people maybe go see a movie just because of the celebrities. But the market is changing and theatrical releases are not so important anymore, with DVDs and TV.

C.R.: I do think Cuban cinema is getting recognition all over the world, winning prizes at film festivals. It’s just here in this country, because of the relationship and inability to bring the films here. That’s one of the reasons we try to bring as many of the Cuban films, classics and new releases.

P.G.: Why do you think that in the past 20 years Latin American cinema has captivated world wide audiences more than ever?

D.V.: Before, Latin American cinema was very political and socially-oriented, with Tomás Gutierrez Alea [Cuba], Miguel Litín [Chile], Fernando “Pino” Solanas [Argentina]. Those kinds of filmmakers had a commitment with society, they wanted to change those social issues like poverty or inequity through cinema. But then, the new filmmakers were influenced by MTV, the internet and a world where everything goes faster. They are producing stories that are more related to the world in general, and not only to their countries. They are stories that can touch anybody in the world.

P.G.: Why is it so difficult to distribute Latin American films in the U.S.?

D.V.: Right now, we are in a transition because the new technologies. The classical system of “theater release first” is unclear now, and the distributors don’t know what to do. To distribute a film right now takes a lot of that cash and they are not willing to do it. It is changing and getting better: you can find DVDs and TV stations dedicated to Latino cinema, and people refer now to Latin American cinema in a different and more interested way. Another problem is the clearance. In Latin America you probably use a Beatles’ song, and then your film comes to the U.S. and it turns out you have to pay for that song what you spent for the entire crew of the film, so it’s a learning process.

C.R.: It’s more probable probably you’ll find a Latin American film in art houses. It’s not a great distribution like in 25 Multiplex screens, except once in a while for an unusual film, maybe by a very well known director.

D.V.: When the European Union was formed they decided that art is culture and can’t be treated as a product. So you need special laws to avoid people treating a film like any other product. Those things don’t exist here. To be screened in an art house would be fine if they were more, like in Europe, or if you get subsidize at least you could use money for promotions and compete a little more with bigger films. The theater owners don’t want to lose money.

P.G.: The New Children / New York Youth Program is one of the best initiatives in any U.S. film festival. When did you start it, and what is the plan to follow up with the young filmmakers?

D.V.: Our program has filmmakers ages 13 to 23 years old. We are trying to show that cinema and art in general can change your life. A few kids from Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY) are presenting their second films. At last year’s screenings, when they saw they were able to answer questions from the audience and people were so enthusiastic, they worked for the whole year to produce the second part, so it’s going to be very nice. I hope these kinds of initiatives are repeated in other festivals.

C.R.: A few years ago, we were working with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and a Cuban project through the AFLFC. We were featuring Puerto Rican cinema and they asked us if we would be willing to give the awards to the seventeen kids that won the Learning Leaders prize. To see those children dressed up, coming to get their awards – and they actually got their awards that can treasure forever, it was a very heartwarming experience for me, to sign those awards, to be there and see them get them... The New Children New York Youth program just seemed natural, because it will make a difference in the future of these children’s lives.

P.G.: What will happen in the next edition of the Havana Film Festival in Cuba this coming December ’08 in this new era after Fidel? How will it affect the HFFNY?

D.V.: The festival itself (in Cuba) always brings films that are controversial, so I don’t think about a change in that sense. But one thing that affects the film right now is that filmmakers from the U.S. can’t go there. Beyond that is like any other festival in the world, with its own criteria. People tend to criticize but I’ve been to other Latin American film festivals, and what they do there with the little resources they have is amazing. Now that I know how to suffer a film festival from the organizational point of view, I can say their work is incredible.

C.R.: It’s a very important international cultural event, and in this new era there will continue to support it because of the magnitude and the quality. In terms of affecting the HFFNY, there will be a change only if the cultural exchange is opened up allow Cuban and American artists to freely travel between the two countries to promote the exchange of cultural and artistic ideas. Not only the Americans can’t go there, but also we can’t get visas for the Cuban filmmakers to come and participate in our festival because the American government is not issuing those visas. When we were able to get these visas it was incredible to attend a panel and have this discussion between the filmmakers and the audience. I can remember one panel we did “Meet the filmmakers”, where many of these important filmmakers hadn’t met each other in person before. And it was interesting to see their reactions discussing their problems with distribution or various issues in the industry. When a group of people get together it makes the problem a little bit easier to resolve. That’s what I think some of our panels directed toward the industry and the filmmakers have accomplished.

P.G.: What is that special ingredient you need in your festival so when its over, you can say "mission accomplished"?

D.V.: Carole is an educator by heart, so she is always pushing us to have the educational component. We’re increasing the free events each year. It’s beautiful to see people asking questions, raising hands so the director can explain directly a particular scene. Even for me, and I’ve seen the movie before, when a director answers those questions, the movie changes in perspective. The program at the Metropolitan Museum is amazing because we have been bringing films and animations for kids. In the beginning we had 70 people and now it’s closer to 300. It makes you feel proud.

C.R.: In January, people were already making reservations for the Met program. For me, the cultural exchange between the Latin American countries and the U.S. is important. To feature emerging talents in the U.S. film industry is important. We are always very proud when we see that a film we showed gets picked up. We are also very happy when we hear from the public that they’re seeing films that they would have never had an opportunity to see. That’s how we feel the mission is accomplished.

P.G.: How do you envision Latin American cinema in the next twenty years?

D.V.: In those countries where they had no cinema, they have filmmakers now and also schools – one of the keys to have more films coming. Those films are getting recognition by their own people. One of the problems before was that they were acclaimed in international festivals, but they weren’t successful in their own countries. So, what is the point in making a film if your own people don’t go to the theater? Rodrigo Bellot’s Quién Mató a la Llamita Blanca is a Bolivian film is now a huge success in Bolivia, with two indigenous actors in the line of Bonnie & Clyde. It’s the first time in Bolivian history that around ten thousand people approached the theaters. People are expecting their own films, which is very important. In Latin American we are learning also how to present the movie from the marketing point of view.

C.R.: Latin American countries are focusing more on supporting the art and culture, in a way that they can present themselves to the rest of the world. As long as the countries help new filmmakers develop by putting money into film schools, they will start to be seen more and more around the world.

P.G.: Please define the Latin American cinema in three words.

D.V.: Witty, repentant and risky.

C.R.: Innovative, cutting-edge and sexy. Now you have the Latin and the American points of view (laughs).

(Written for Remezcla)

More information:
Havana Film Festival New York

Mar 29, 2008


Privacy is one of the most precious things we have. Freedom from intrusion, disturbance and the view of others; privacy is a right. What happens when privacy ceases to be individual and becomes collective? The growth of violence and insecurity has created a phenomenon in many big South American cities: the “barrios privados,” gated communities outside main cities, fortresses with private guards watching, making the privileged who live inside the walls to think they’re “safe.”

La Zona is Rodrigo Plá’s directorial debut, and was adapted by him and Laura Santullo, author of the original short story. It’s a first feature that did very well in the international festival circuit, winning awards at Toronto and Venice. The film has brought together a few well known actors like Blanca Guerra (Lucía), Spaniards Daniel Giménez Cacho (Daniel), Maribel Verdú (Mariana) and new promising talents like Alan Chávez as Miguel. Alejandro (Daniel Tovar) appears in the first scene driving inside “la zona” being followed by the security cameras, in an image that anticipates part of the story: these affluent people seem to have everything except happiness. They are caught by their own freedom under the surveillance of an eye – the view of others – so ever-present that it has become an intruder.

After a power failure makes a private neighborhood in Mexico City vulnerable, resulting in a fatal robbery, residents are left in a state of shock. Before the incident becomes public, they decide to conceal it and take justice into their own hands. Officer Iván (Enrique Arreola) also tries to solve the case on his own but must fight against the police department’s corruption.

The story builds up suspense from beginning to end, and makes the audience identify unusually with the poor “bad guys,” contrasting them with the group of rich people who lie to the police and don’t care about anything but their internal eco-system. This aspect of the plot is handled in a very smart way: it doesn’t matter if those thieves get into the private property and kill; we only want social justice. Is it fair? Is it about good vs. bad or is it an urgent call for discussion about inequity? Plá and Santullo add an interesting element: while Daniel leads the persecution of the supposed killer, Miguel, one of the thieves who escaped the deadly night of the robbery is discovered by Daniel’s son, Alejandro, in his own basement. Here the film has a golden opportunity to rise above the genre as a sensitive reflection on friendship beyond classes, but instead, gives in to the suspense structure, becoming a victim on two levels. On the one hand, the relationship between Alejandro and Miguel can’t be fully developed. On the other hand, to keep constant the “cat and mice” chase, the film falls into cliché and overboard situations that could excite some audiences but really disappoint others.

Immorality everywhere, dissatisfaction among the poor and emptiness among the rich,, boredom and isolation, all create a zone surrounded by a big wall that not only produces a new unofficial geographic border, but also leads to an inevitable transformation: if it wasn’t possible to get in, it won’t be possible to get out. The private turns into public, and everybody becomes trapped: the residents, the thieves, the police, the public and even the film too. Depending on which level you want to play, you may find the exit or not.

(Written for NYRemezcla.com)

La Zona

Series: New Directors/New Films 
[April 4 @ MoMA, April 6 @ Walter Reade - Lincoln Center]
Director: Rodrigo Plá
Writer: Rodrigo Plá & Laura Santullo
Release: 2007
Runtime: 97

Mar 14, 2008


Estoy biendeamores. Feliz, enamorado y sonriente. Que tragedia...

Creo que ningún ser humano puede evitar incluso en su mayor felicidad esa sensación interna de que algo anda mal. Será el miedo a perderlo, la incomodidad de creer que nos hemos equivocado, o la culpa de sentirse tan bien cuando hay tantos dramas en el mundo. Takeshi Kitano, uno de los grandes cineastas asiáticos de culto en las últimas décadas, dijo en una entrevista que siempre en los buenos momentos algo malo suele pasar, entonces es mejor adoptar la teoría de no ser feliz para evitar los malos momentos. Y en esa fascinante paradoja se acomoda exactamente la comedia como género. Hace sonreír la discusión absurda, arranca una carcajada el tipo que tiene impedimentos para hablar claramente, causa gracia el gordo que le cuesta correr, y nos hace también reír la señora bien vestida que al ir apurada tropieza y cae en un pozo lleno de barro. Si nos sentimos identificados no estamos sólos, y si nos reímos desde nuestro cómodo lugar porque a nosotros eso no nos pasa, ahí vuelve la culpa. Porque en el fondo nos da pena. Porque en el fondo la comedia y el drama están tan interlazados que no los podemos separar.

Maldeamores (2007) se escribe todojunto, a ritmo velóz y preciso. Cada uno de sus personajes pierde, incluso los que más parecen estar ganando, y viceversa. Ismael (Luis Guzmán) logra llevarse algo en medio del drama familiar, su esposa Lourdes (Teresa Hernández) parece ser la más sufrida de la historia aunque de alguna forma verá la luz, e Ismaelito (Fernando Tarrazo) digiere la sorpresa de ver cómo se destroza su familia, pero toca el cielo con las manos gracias a su primer amor. Macho (Norman Santiago) desencadena los problemas con parsimonia caribeña y se atiene a las consecuencias, y la Tati (Ednali Figueroa) es víbora y cordero. Miguel (Luis Gonzaga) y Marta (Dolores Pedro) viven un amor imposible color sangre junto a los pasajeros de la "guagua" que se ilusionan con sabor a novela. Y el maravilloso trío de Pellín (Miguel Angel Alvarez), Cirilo (Chavito Marrero) y Flora (Silvia Brito) le agregan a la historia la parte más divertida y conmovedora. Todos ellos tienen casi el mismo peso e importancia, aunque Flora (Silvia Brito, ganadora del premio a mejor actriz en el Festival Internacional de Cartagena 2008) se roba la pantalla por una cabeza, no sólo porque a sus setenta y cinco años aparece en pantalla dando clase de actuación, sino porque también se las arregla naturalmente para ser la más jóven de todas.

Carlitos Ruíz Ruíz, co-director junto a la editora Mariem Pérez Riera, y co-escritor junto a Jorge Gonzales, es el mayor responsable de esta historia que logra satisfacer el gran desafío de hacer comedia en serio, y de una forma inteligente. Sus personajes caminan contínuamente sobre el drama con un grado de inconsciencia y naturalidad que permite esta dualidad, nos hace cómplices y alivia nuestras carcajadas. Yo tengo la siguiente teoría: los artistas que hacen comedias suelen ser personas infelices en su vida personal, y los que hacen dramas y tragedias son los cómicos del grupo en las reuniones sociales. Será por la necesidad de adquirir un poco de "eso" que no tenemos. Sí, ya lo sé. La teoría puede fallar. Pero no en este caso. Porque Carlitos hace reír no sólo en el cameo que hace en su propia película, sino también personalmente. Pero siempre serio. Maldeamores nos hace reír -y mucho-, pero también nos emociona y nos hace pensar. La muerte de la abuela le dice hola al beso con lengua infantil. Golda Meir solía decir "Los que no saben llorar con todo su corazón tampoco saben reír". Será porque ambos desahogos son regeneradores. O porque en el fondo, la comedia y el drama están tan interlazados que no los podemos separar.

Esta película boricua de pura cepa cuenta con la bendición de su productor ejecutivo Benicio Del Toro (sí, aquél mismo que nos sacudió de la silla en 21 Gramos, renació mexicano en Traffic y se ganó nuestro máximo respeto a su versatilidad en Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), y no es un dato menor, ya que una de las cosas que caracteriza la carrera de Del Toro es su selección de proyectos de calidad. Maldeamores se pasó el último año paseando por el mundo en festivales del prestigio de Tribeca y Cartagena, y anduvo también por Huelva, Cairo, Italia y otros lugares luciendo su orgullo nacional. Su productor Luillo Ruíz lo dijo bien claro en el avant-première de Nueva York apenas le dieron el micrófono: "Estoy orgulloso de ser de Puerto Rico." La Comisión de Cine de su país le dió un gran apoyo y subvención, y también la eligió como selección oficial para los Oscars. Esta película es una muestra más de que el cine latinoamericano tiene pasta y le sobra calidad, y representa una fe enorme para el cine de la isla del encanto, que en vez de "llamarte pa' tras" te lleva "pa' lante", y como aquel jibarito de Rafael Hernández, también puede alegrarse, llorar y cantar.

Quien diga que nunca tuvo maldeamores miente. Y quien niegue que en lo profundo del dolor yace la esperanza también. Que alegría...

Maldeamores (lovesickness)

Puerto Rico, 2007, 85 Minutos
Distribuida por Maya Releasing

Dirigida por: Carlitos Ruíz Ruíz y Mariem Pérez Riera
Escrita por: Carlitos Ruíz Ruíz y Jorge Gonzales

Desde el 14 de Marzo en los cines AMC, Multiplex y mayores salas