Film festivals often give off this tinge of bourgeois. Yet, given the right opportunity to attend or even read about, you’ll see that programs such as the Sundance Film Festival – the largest independent film festival in the United States – tend to, more and more each year, premiere and curate around features and shorts that dare bring to focus the lives of the eccentric or weird, marginalized and disallowed. After all, art is a reflection of the times, no?
This year, the widely anticipated festival introduced and/or specially featured a number of films centered on Latino characters, locations and experiences. Some are also directed by members of Latino descent. And said films can be found in categories spanning American and international dramatic, documentary, and smaller groups like NEXT. Peep the rundown…
PLAZA DE LA SOLEDAD
Inviting us into a world we would otherwise never know, this richly textured portraiture jumps off the screen in vibrant, clarifying colors. Carmen, Lety, Raquel, and Esther?, each ranging in age from 50 to 80 years old,? ??work the streets of La Merced in Mexico City, where life revolves around a large town plaza. Age means nothing to these women, who still dance and seduce with the same energy they’ve held on to since youth. But with time comes a desire to seek out companionship and security, whether in the form of their fellow co-workers, older men, or their own deeply ?ingrained sense of self-reliance.
Photographer-turned-filmmaker Maya Goded refuses to shy away from the painful aspects of these women’s jobs—the abuse, fear, and discontent that come from years of selling intimacy?. She leads us into? their histories, families, superstitions, and hopes, while allowing the camera to hone in on the contours of their well-worn bodies—beautiful and real.? Plaza de la Soledad is a sumptuous ?visual celebration ?and ?a ?refreshingly honest ?exploration? of physical and emotional ?self-determination against difficult odds. See trailer, here.
WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE
In this tense and immersive tour de force, audiences are taken directly into the line of fire between powerful, opposing Peruvian leaders who will stop at nothing to keep their respective goals intact. On the one side is President Alan Garcia, who, eager to enter the world stage, begins aggressively extracting oil, minerals, and gas from untouched indigenous Amazonian land. He is quickly met with fierce opposition from indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, whose impassioned speeches against Garcia’s destructive actions prove a powerful rallying cry to throngs of his supporters. When Garcia continues to ignore their pleas, a tense war of words erupts into deadly violence.
Filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel capture all angles of a volatile political and environmental crisis with breathtaking access and bold, unflinching camera work. From the raucous halls of justice to deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, When Two Worlds Collide exposes a titanic clash between a president hungry for economic legitimacy and an outspoken environmentalist desperate to protect an ancient land from ruin.
Eubanks (Danny Glover), an old-school pig farmer from Georgia on the brink of losing his family farm, sets off on a road trip with Howard, his beloved and very large pig. As they make their way across the border to Mexico to find “Howie” a new home, Eubanks’ drinking and deteriorating health begin to take a toll, derailing their plans. His estranged daughter, Eunice (Maya Rudolph), is forced to join them on their adventure. Driven by strong convictions and stubbornness in his old ways, Eubanks attempts to make peace through his devotion to Howie and desire to mend his broken relationships.
Director Diego Luna tackles the old and new in an age of global markets, factory farming, and disposable relationships. Luna’s poetic postcard road film to Mexico, guided by a soundtrack evoking the South and old rock ‘n’ roll, is lyrically photographed following the gorgeously overgrown, winding roads of Central America. Luna trusts his audience, letting the story unfold in a bold, un-expository way, allowing tour-de-force performances by Glover, Rudolph, and, of course, Howie the pig.
A filmmaker introduces us to the subject of his documentary—the beautiful Jacqueline Dumont, a young Frenchwoman who claims to have uncovered a covert assassination conspiracy. While unsure of the eccentric Jacqueline’s veracity, the filmmaker nonetheless enlists a couple of interns and heads to the holistic retreat in Argentina where she’s hiding out, to explore her claims and film her story. Upon arrival, the filmmaker begins to doubt the worthwhileness of his venture, but finds reasons to hope that he might actually be capturing something big, something real, with his increasingly makeshift film.
Driven by Wyatt Cenac’s drily witty performance as the unnamed filmmaker, Jacqueline (Argentine) is a hilarious, low-key misadventure, that also insightfully explores a director’s ambiguous relationship to his craft and continually turns its political thriller underpinnings on their head. First-time feature director Bernardo Britto (a Jury Prize winner for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival short Yearbook) makes fresh use of the mockumentary format to create a film playful in both form and content that reflects the uncertainties and hopefulness inherent in every artistic endeavor.
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT
Embrace of the Serpent won an award at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight. This marks director Ciro Guerra’s first film at the Sundance Film Festival.
In 1909, Karamakate, a reclusive shaman in the Amazon, is sought out by sick German scientist Theodor Koch-Grünberg, seeking a cure for his condition. Resentful yet curious of the white man’s knowledge of his lost tribe, Karamakate agrees to lead him to the rare, sacred yakruna plant that can heal him. The men navigate the serpentine river and uncover secrets of the jungle surrounded by the impending savagery of colonialism. Forty years later, a similar scene unfolds when an American, basing his expedition on Koch-Grünberg’s published diary, encounters Karamakate and unknowingly asks him to fulfill this unfinished mission.
Remarkably merging past and present, Embrace of the Serpent enlightens us through the dialogue generated between two tribes divided by their great cultural distance. With spellbinding black-and-white cinematography, and hovering camera used to heighten the lure and vibrations of the Amazon, filmmaker Ciro Guerra has ventured deep to create a masterpiece of cosmic dimensions that invokes the memory of Earth’s forgotten civilizations. See trailer, here.
Veteran director Paddy Breathnach’s Viva first transported audiences to the vibrant world of Havana’s drag scene at the Telluride Film Festival. We are thrilled to welcome Breathnach back to the Sundance Film Festival.
Jesus has spent most of his young adult life styling wigs at a drag club in Havana, longing for a purpose other than the pennies he scrapes together in the shadows of his surroundings. When Jesus is offered the chance to perform amongst the other queens, the cruel winds of fate bring his estranged, abusive father back into his life after 15 years. What unfolds is a bittersweet story of pain, regret, and reconciliation. As the two men’s lives violently collide, they are forced to grapple with their conflicting views.
Laced with the raw passion and drama of drag, director Paddy Breathnach and writer Mark O’Halloran bring Viva to life with exquisite tenderness. Actors Jorge Perugoría and Héctor Medina fill this wrenching love story with a raw humanity that runs beyond the confines of the screen. With a resounding case for compassion, Viva illuminates the oft-devastating path of family, neglect, and resolution. See trailer, here.
MI AMIGA DEL PARQUE
While her filmmaker husband works in Chile, harried young mother Liz struggles to take care of her infant son. Feeling out of place amongst the tight-knit group of other parents at the park, doubted by her husband, and judged by her newly hired nanny, Liz is drawn to factory worker Rosa, a plain-talking single mother she meets at the swings one day. Despite Liz’s liberation upon finding a bold new confidante, the friends’ increasingly apparent class differences, along with swirling rumors about Rosa’s motives and muddy family situation, feed Liz’s suspicions that her new pal might be a sinister influence on her already fragile life.
An honest appraisal of the public and private faces of motherhood, Mi Amiga del Parque casts the insecurities and exaltations of female friendship in equally sharp relief. In the role of Liz, Julieta Zylberberg fully embodies the anxieties and discomfort of a woman unraveling at the upheaval of her entire identity, while Ana Katz (who is also the film’s writer/director) plays the shrewd, fiery Rosa with a fierce sensitivity that earns both empathy and suspense. See trailer, here.
With the ability to travel in time, a girl finds love and comfort by connecting with her past self. Eventually faced with rejection, she struggles with her identity, and as time folds onto itself only one of them can remain.
Fuckkkyouuu is by director, writer and producer Eddie Alcazar, who was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” He best know for the HBO documentary Tapia, about boxing legend Johnny Tapia, and is directing a feature on the same subject called Johnny. The short is also scored by multi-genre music producer, electronic musician and rapper, Flying Lotus. See trailer, here.
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