Friday, March 15, 2013
Guest blogger Rebecca Romani says the last days of the San Diego Latino Film Festival had some hits and misses.
As it moves into its final days, the San Diego Latino Film Festival is going strong until Sunday, March 17, at its various venues, including the Media Art Center on El Cajon Boulevard, just north of 30th street.
If you are planning to attend the festival for the weekend, here are some suggestions on hits and misses.
If you see just one documentary (although you really should see more!), make it “Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico),” and get there early for a good seat. The house was packed the first time around and with good reason.”Hecho” is a rollicking, outrageous and mesmerizing film that is fun and touching at the same time. A bracing antidote to endless “narco” reports, “Hecho” takes a smart look at what exactly is “Mexicanidad” when it comes to Mexican cultural products- and the answer is as diverse as Mexico itself. From rockers to traditional indigenous singers, from profane pantomimes to pious prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Hecho” is a feast for the eyes, ears and emotions. The documentary features some of Mexico’s most iconic artists such as Lila Downs, Sergio Arau (a frequent guest at the SDLFF), Chevela Vargas and Los Tucanes de Tijuana. The editing is seamless as the documentary glides from one performance or one theme to another, setting a pace that is invigorating and infectious. You can catch some of the best Mexico has to offer on Sunday, March 17 at 4:30 pm.
If you are looking for another documentary, don’t miss “Harvest of Empire,” based on the book of the same name by Juan Gonzalez which is sure to play to a full house. “Harvest,” lays out the direct connection between US policy and intervention in Latin America and today’s immigration issues. It’s a hard hitting documentary that tells the secret stories of immigration and makes clear the sacrifices many Latin immigrants make in their search for a better life. However, here in San Diego, “Harvest” is somewhat preaching to the choir, given the region’s proximity to Mexico and population. On the other hand, “Harvest” is sure to be a major contribution to the national debate on immigration. Be prepared for a dense, detailed presentation of the issues. “Harvest” showed only once, on Saturday, but be prepared for it to be screened again later this year.
If you missed the shorts programs earlier on in the festival, then you missed some good work. However, you still have time to stop by for Cortos Internacionales (Saturday) and Cortos Latinos (Sunday) programs. In the Internacionales program, “De Outros Canavais” from Brazil is a brilliant story of how two children learn about love via Carnival. “Destras del Espejo,” a rare short from Peru, is a gritty, tight look at what can go wrong when an enterprising hotel clerk is caught making an extra buck off of seamy sex tapes of unsuspecting guests. In the “Latinos” shorts, the ones to definitely not miss are “Cans at Dawn,” from the US and “.Sub” from Spain. Both share the theme of immigrants trying to survive. In “Cans,” eight year old Ernesto tries to make ends meet through dumpster diving, while in “.Sub,” an African immigrant struggles to survive in Spain, despite the language barrier.
“Violetta Went to Heaven,” the story of famed Chilean “Nueva Cancion” singer Violetta Parra is worth seeing for the music- Parra wrote the well-known, “Gracias a la vida.” The first two thirds is a dynamic bio-pic, with incredible music and a wrenching personal story. The last one third leaves a bit to be desired. As Parra starts to deteriorate and finally commits suicide, the film seems to follow her descent into depression and possibly madness with its own deterioration. Towards the end, it just seems to droop into disorganization.
What you probably shouldn’t see is “Perez,” from Chile. “Perez” is a short film idea sadly betrayed by a director with over-sized ambitions. Nicely shot and cast, it’s the story of Perez, a slightly immature 40-something year old, trying to make a connection with Roma, the 22 year old daughter he has rarely seen. Perez invites Roma on a short vacation, but when Roma encounters her father’s much younger girlfriend, her relentless, cynical brattiness makes you want to tie her up and gag her. The film takes almost 90 minutes to make its main points that could have been made in a short: namely, Roma has abandonment issues, Perez is afraid of growing up and the younger girlfriend might have daddy issues.
A much better selection from Chile might be “Aqui Estoy, Aqui No,” which has some magnificently creepy posters associated with the film. “Aqui Estoy” is “Vertigo” with a sly twist. An overweight journalist, Ramiro is sent to look for a Chilean rock legend, but becomes, instead, the storyteller of other people’s lives and events. Does Ramiro find his Rocker? You can find out at the Media Arts Center.
It took director Kenya Marquez nearly 10 years to acquire the necessary funding for “Fecha de Caducidad” (Expiration Date), but this, her first feature comes highly recommended by the San Diego Film Critics Society. A smart, dark comedy, “Fecha" is a timely look at disaffected youth in Guadalajara, an unnerving disappearance and a strange journey as Ramona searches for her slightly lazy, beloved son, Osvaldo. Like “Rashomon,” the layers peel back to reveal a story that grows ever more mysterious as Ramona’s search progresses.
Every film festival has its guilty pleasures and there is one such film screening again on Sunday. “Tony Tango” is a charming gem of a film that’s just plain fun. Made for under one million dollars, “Tony Tango” follows Tony, a pudgy Latin dance instructor whose students have seen younger days. When his family studio is about to be acquired by a rival dance instructor, Tony’s only hope is to win the high stakes Miami Latin Dance Competition. Can he win the love of his dance partner, Helena? Will he overcome the mysterious circumstances of his birth (“Ay, I’m a Gringo!”)? Will you learn to tango? Find out Sunday and expect a full house for this audience favorite.
--Rebecca Romani is a film instructor and documentary maker who is interested in documentaries and foreign films.