Alejandro G. Iñárritu And Latin Cinema, So Good It’s Scary
Cinema Junkie / March 17, 2017
This week, the 24th annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off, and that is a perfect excuse to look at Latin cinema — so good it’s scary.
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. Right now, podcasts big and small, are working together to get new people to try new shows. Many Americans, not you of course since you are listening to a podcast right now, but many Americans don’t even know what a podcast is. So, we are trying to change that through a movement called #trypod. All you need to do is recommend podcast you know and love and use the #trypod. So, here’s what I want to recommend today. First a podcast I’ve listened to for years the Horrible Imaginings Podcast with host Miguel Rodriguez. Then The Projection Booth with Mike White and then something brand new from a fellow KPBS colleague, The Mist with Nathan John. Take a listen and let the world know what you think with #trypod. So, spread podcast awareness like a disease but a good one.
Okay, so now on to today’s podcast which is going to include an Oscar winner (audio clip) and an ornithologist, well, sort of. This week marks the 24th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival and that’s our perfect excuse to look at Latin Cinema that’s so good, it’s scary.
I live in San Diego which is a border town and that influences our film festival in the best possible way by bringing us new and exciting Mexican cinema on a regular basis. As proof of why you need to go to film festivals and support film festivals, I’m going to share with you an interview I did in 2001 with Alejandro González Iñárritu that I did because his first film Amores Perros, was playing at our San Diego Latino Film Festival. The festival also gave us our first glimpse of Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and many more. There’s nothing to match the excitement of seeing fresh new talent that you know will break out. Iñárritu was nominated best foreign film Oscar for Amores Perros and has since won a quartet of Oscars including a most recent one for directing The Revenant. For this podcast, I want to look at Latin cinema especially from Mexico and consider where it’s been and where it’s going and to use the film festival as a leaping-off point.
First, I want to share my interview with Iñárritu and then I will speak with my fellow film gig Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. He just programmed the Un Mundo Extraño sidebar for the San Diego Latino Film Festival. That sidebar includes the film We Are the Flesh, for which Iñárritu helped mentor the director. And finally I’ll speak with festival programmer Moises Esparza about the role of a film festival in turbulent political times. I interviewed Iñárritu in 2001 after Amores Perros had made a splash in Mexico, but had yet to be distributed in the United States. San Diego Latino Film Festival executive director Ethan Van Thillo recalls how the film did at the festival.
Ethan Van Thillo: Yeah, the biggest film of the 8th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival was the screening of Amores Perros, both times we screened it sold out, we did not really expect, we knew it was a popular film and we knew there was a lot of hype but it was the biggest film of the festival. We could not have enough seats for everyone, we screened it twice and each time hundreds more than it can fit into the actual building came and it caused the most stress for our film festival. Actually it was a film that really, you know, we had so many people eager to get into that.
Beth Accomando: Now when you originally voted for the festival, did it have the Oscar nomination at that time?
Ethan Van Thillo: No, it was before the Oscar nomination and so that’s a big surprise. It just helped us and I know it helped the film a lot. But for us we booked the film because we are so close to the border that we hear what people are saying, because it’s already been screened or distributed in Mexico and so a lot of our audience members come up to us and say, ‘hey, you have to screen Todo el poder or you have to screen Por la libre or you have to screen Amores Perros and so that’s why we booked the film.
Beth Accomando: Iñárritu couldn’t attend the film festival, but I was able to set up a phone interview with him. It began in a pretty typical manner with us testing the line.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Hey one, two, three, test one, test two, test three, one, one, one, two, three, four.
Beth Accomando: But it was quickly apparent that he was at some sort of noisy event.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: And then I….
Beth Accomando: Excuse me, are you there? We are getting like a noise coming through.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Let me go outside, right? Wait a second.
Beth Accomando: So, for the rest of the interview, poor Alejandro ended up standing on the street outside the restaurant.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, can you hear me.
Beth Accomando: Oh, that’s better.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I was in the restaurant, sorry.
Beth Accomando: Oh!
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Now, I am out so you want to begin again?
Beth Accomando: Yeah, if you can just start again, telling me about your background?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Okay, well basically I start as a DJ in a rock and roll radio station at what’s called WFM. I was like five years there and I have a three-hour show daily. And then in 1991, I became a creative director and I began to write ideas for TV spots, holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and that kind of stuff and I began to direct that idea, so I began to write and direct and produce 30 seconds, one minute piece for television and film. And I began to learn there how to make tools and some skills and I began to explore some techniques and styles. In 1995, I direct a 30-minute piece for television that was a pilot. I studied theater from 1994 to 1996 to become more closer to the actors and how to direct actors in theater, that I was a musician too I began to score music for the films, very bad films, but I made a straight musician basically and in the 80s I promote a lot of concerts and basically that’s my background.
Beth Accomando: Do you think that there’s a kind of a new wave of Mexican cinema going on right now that you are a part of?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I don’t know if it’s new wave, I think there’s a new situation. I think that Mexico has become a little more, the economy has been a little more balanced I think, a little more not as gracious last three years and a lot of theaters have come here and so now there is a lot of theaters and the private investors are a little more excited about it. And the audience in Mexico, the people in Mexico are really more hungry to see themselves in films, so I think there is a lot of things that are going on in context that allow the directors to make better films, better stories and just like the things are began to change. I don’t think it’s a wave, but I think it’s getting better little by little I think.
Beth Accomando: Well, it just seems like I have seen a couple of other films Todo el poder and Herod’s Law and your film and they just seem to have a different kind of energy and style to them than what I have seen before and I don’t know if that’s because we just don’t get that many films.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yeah, I think you are right. I think there is a little, this is different in the spirit. I think there has been so many changes here politically speaking, socially speaking that I don’t know always when a country’s in crisis always the culture is better I don’t know why. Maybe to express more think and more things are happening to the people inside and that’s I think is the beginning of something that will happen here I think. But I agree with you, I think the films maybe ones are better than others but most of them have a new point of view I think.
Beth Accomando: Maybe it’s just a younger perspective that’s coming through than before.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yeah, I think so. I think the older generations were very resentful and they don’t have too much choices, they don’t have money and they don’t have the exposure and they don’t have the freedom political freedom, so they were more like a nostalgic Mexican cinema, like more picturesque and more romantic or more stereotype kind of films and they show a very romantic side of Mexico, but now I think a little more real.
Beth Accomando: There still haven’t been that many films from Mexico to gain like real worldwide attention and make a real big impact like on the American mainstream or in American theaters. Do you have any concerns that the image painted of Mexico City in your film and in Todo el poder with the amount of violence, do you worry that that might stereotype the city or create an image that, I don’t know, more limiting image or something?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I don’t think so. I’m not worried about that, some consul from Tokyo, some Mexican consul was worried about that. I mean she asked me about like, are you not, you know, you don’t feel ashamed that you are show another kind of Mexico that’s not Mexico? You are showing the world, and really I get mad because first of all, I’m not the ambassador of tourist of Mexico, you know what I mean. And I don’t think I am lying, I think this is part of Mexico. Of course, it’s not that Mexico is like that. I saw a Scorsese’ film and I think that all the New Yorkers are with guns and are Italians are gangsters. It is like ridiculous, I think that it’s part of a reality and I think that people, I think that the audience is more intelligent sometimes to think that that’s not the total reality of Mexico and that kind of people, I don’t care if they think that. I am not worry about that, I think love stories that’s all, it’s a fictional film. You know United States appeared with a film of students killing students in the university and I think that the United States universities, the students kill each other is like ridiculous I think.
Beth Accomando: How did you feel about getting the Oscar nomination? Was that a surprise to you?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, I was really surprised. We have the honor to be awarded in such different countries which have I think we are the most awarded film this year all around the world and I have been travelling with the film almost all around the world and I am very surprised about the reaction of the people with this film and I thought that was a possibility but at the same time I doubt, always I doubted that the Academy will select this film, because it’s not a very Academic film. But when we were nominated I felt very proud and very surprised and very honored I think.
Beth Accomando: For the four from Oscars, each country has to select a single film to submit so there are a lot of chucking for position in Mexico to get your film as the one to submit?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Well, it was basically it was Academy of Mexico that choose it and I think like 80 percent of the people can see that Amores Perros to be the one that they should send I think. Probably the one that disagree, but always happen I think in all the countries that will happen so. But basically I have a good response here not only by the Academy members but the audience was incredible reaction the summer, last summer we were the number one summer films here in Mexico, it was a big success so we are very lucky.
Beth Accomando: Would you say you’ve been influenced by other Mexican filmmakers or are your influence is coming from something outside a film or outside of Mexico?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: A director I really like is Jorge Fons, he’s a Mexican director I really admire a lot. I think he is a really great actor-director. Yeah, but mostly my influence mostly are from American films.
Beth Accomando: The way you depicted violence on your film was very forceful. I mean it’s not that there was a lot necessarily of scenes with violence but whenever you did use it, it had a really powerful impact. How did you decide on how you were going to depict that?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Well, I think I want to take out the frivolous part of the violence that normally very classic in American film. I tried to take out the glamour or the frivolous part or the superficial part of the violence. I did not use the violence to entertain people or to make people laugh because I cannot laugh about violence. I don’t think there is nothing to laugh about because I live in a violent city and I know the painful consequences of the violence. So, I try to explore the violence in a very emotional and the human consequences with humanity and with tenderness to the characters with understanding, I don’t know, like I feel some weak part of them and I understand the animal nature that we have, that we are basically in some way we have this bold nature, the divine nature and the animal nature and sometimes we are dealing with that. And for me it’s not a violent movie for me, it’s an intense movie. For me violence is what you see in Gladiator or what you see in The Cell, for example, that’s violence that is very glamorous, these people killing each other and sometimes it’s a very incredible and beautiful search for this people cutting the head to other and bloods everywhere. That’s the violence that for me doesn’t mean nothing and that’s scary for me.
Beth Accomando: Well, I think you definitely succeeded in doing that. I mean I think it had a very forceful impact. I also wanted to ask you about the characters you created because they all seemed to have contradictions and to kind of pull us in two different directions. I mean we feel sympathy for them for some of them and like just when we are feeling most sympathy, they’ll turn around and do something kind of unexpected that reveal some of their flaws. I mean even the dog, here you sympathize for the poor dog being shot and then the man comes home and he finds that the dog’s killed all his. When you were creating him I mean was that something that was prominent in your mind or was that, did you feel that was a realistic way to create these people?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: No, no, I think we really want to explore that complexity of human beings and animal beings. I think that humans, we are very complex, we are very contradictory. We are not good or we are not bad. We are good and bad at the same time. The world is not black or white, I think it’s very complex, it’s multiplex. It’s a three dimensional, more than dimensions can be only one scene or only one act of the human being. So, we were trying to explore that. Our premise was that that the characters are not archetypes or stereotypes of all the bad ones, the good ones. I really don’t care about that films, I think that the good ones against the bad ones. I think the world and the human beings are more complicated, so that’s why we were trying to get that complexity in the film.
Beth Accomando: How do you see your film fitting into, if you look at kind of the way Mexican film has grown or changed, I mean do you see your films kind of signaling a new direction or do you see it kind of playing upon themes or styles that have already been well established?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I think and I don’t want to be pretentious, but I feel that my films, is something new for Mexico. I don’t think that no film is new, I think nobody invents nothing. I am not discovering nothing, but I think that in the Mexican panel cinema I think is a special film, a unique film, you know what I mean, it’s a new film. It’s a new way to tell the stories and the language and all the style and the matter that we talked about it I think is a different point of view I think.
Beth Accomando: How did you decide that you wanted to have this car crash kind of be the pivotal point around which these stories all kind of collide and converge?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Well, we thought in beginning that we should have some explosion in the middle, like a big bang explosion that really can affect all the stories and that big bang will be the thing that will affect all and will connect all the stories. That means the-- of reality and how fragile in mind the human beings are and that’s something that can happen to rich, poor, king, servants. Car accident is terrible thing that can happen to anybody even for Lady D. And it’s something that you would cross with somebody that you never know, but from that moment you will know for all your life and you will have something with that guy that you get the accident and at the same time it’s the revenge of the technology. I think man thinks that control the world but some of the technology makes a revenge in man I think.
Beth Accomando: Do you have another project lined up at this time?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Basically I am working now in another project with the same screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, which is called 21 Grams. Doesn’t have to do nothing with drugs, 21 Grams is a weight that you lost when you die. It’s about guilty and forgiveness and it’s a very complex story again. And we are very excited about it. We have already our first draft, but I think this year I will take for, relax a little and to find my next project.
Beth Accomando: So, has Hollywood approached you to come there to make films are you at all interested in that?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, I have been having some meetings last year I think with some different studios and a lot of people that has been very gentle with me and they like my work and they’d like to work together, but until now we haven’t find something that we can work together. So, I think until the day that I find something exciting and that I can share the vision with the studio with somebody, until that moment I will take the rick, but that’s hard, nothing easy to have.
Beth Accomando: Does it interest you though to come to Hollywood?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yeah, I will be interested not only in Hollywood, I will be interested in France and Spain that I have been getting some stuff there too, but it will depend in the story. For me filmmaking is only an extension of the human being so it will be me anyway, but I think that the most important thing is the story, to find the right story and I don’t care because film is just about emotions and images, there is no frontier, there is no language frontier so I will be able to shoot that film in Vietnam or France or anywhere if there is any good story anywhere.
Beth Accomando: Now, if you had to kind of sum up your film for the little blurb they put on a poster or something, how would you summarize it for people who haven’t seen it? I mean you use to make 30 second spot so you are used to that.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Well, first of all, I think I would say to people first of all it’s a very entertaining film. It’s very entertaining film, it’s very entertaining, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of things that happens to the characters. Everybody should go to the restrooms before the start of film because they cannot go out from the film and then I think that only about three love stories, about love, about death, about redemption, that cross in the car accident and that they will find very human story. That they will go out of the cinema with a lot of questions with no answers, only questions and with a very human emotional experience from their heart and spirit I think. Then sometimes I always think that people always go to cinema because they know what to expect but this kind of film that you don’t know, that you expect that but you like it. It’s like a Vietnamese food, sometimes you always expect of your favorite restaurant, the food that you like, but somebody takes you to a Vietnamese restaurant you eat something that suddenly you realize that it’s a new flavor and you like it to something that you didn’t expect it but you like it, is the kind of experience of this filmmaking. So, it’s an experience, it’s sort of a roller coaster experience.
Beth Accomando: Was it your film that I had heard about where you were using different scents and smells for the characters?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, well I was obsessed by the smell, everybody told me about that Mexico was a character and I didn’t show Mexico, you realize that I don’t have any site of Mexico? You cannot recognize my film, but I was obsessed about the smell of the film and I was obsessed by that and then the writer, Bicentenario wrote something in the newspaper that said that is the first film that you cannot see Mexico, but you can smell it so high. I liked that because I was interested in that and yeah, I played with the characters. I play with the actors with some perfumes to get attracted and I used all the tools to get a good acting, I think so they are surprising so I used all the animal instincts to get to that emotion I think.
Beth Accomando: So, it was just the case where you used, I think I’d heard that one of the actors and actresses weren’t really kind of striking sparks and…?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, see the marvel in the second story because you know the second story is about the man that leave the family to begin to live with a model. But they, in the real life she was not very attracted to him. So, I asked her which kind of perfume her real boyfriend uses and I put that perfume to the actor the next day and really works a lot. It’s a very animal instinct.
Beth Accomando: Can you just tell me why or how you came about choosing the title and making the dogs kind of run through the story so prominently?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Well, because we always find that dogs have a lot of things to do with men. I think that our nature, that the human nature and the dog nature is very close. We can be very humble, very unity, very loyal, but at the same time we can kill if somebody cross our line and the animals too, the dogs too, you know. And you can meet and know people by observing which kind of dog he has and how he treats the animal. So, I love the animals and at the same time I think, as I wrote the other day, this is the greatest dog story ever told. We are trying to get a real dog story and the owner stories, what happens to the dogs happens to the owners, we begin to explore about the brothers Cain and Abel in the first story. Cain and Abel in the second story, the first one are fighting because of love, common love. And in the second and third story, the brothers fight because power and ambition and we were trying to explore the thing and the dogs fight the human, and fights that they are really, the men really at the end. We are at the end we are no more than animals in some ways so we are trying to use dogs as heroes, I think.
Beth Accomando: You mention you brought up the brothers fighting in the notion of Cain and Abel. Do you see any kind of Biblical themes running through that as well?
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yes, yes of course. I think it’s a very Biblical thing. I think brothers fighting is something that happens since the man is man, I think and father figure is affects all the family, the father really can be a very strong fear in the family and I think for me at the end he was kind of the redemption of himself. And it’s not like, he’s more realistic or religious. The Bible you can see, I don’t know, 90 percent of the stuff that men are dealing with nowadays, that’s why Shakespeare I think is a great writer because he always deal with that kind of primitive matters. Very primitive about love, passion, jealous, betray, hope, redemption, all that kind of things are very primitive and not the same things that really affects men since the man is man.
Beth Accomando: I don’t know if you are aware, but they showed it here at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and it had two completely sold out screenings.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: And the people like it?
Beth Accomando: Yeah, I mean because they screen it on two separate nights and so they were I think they were like a thousand people for a 600 seat theater who came and then they…
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I’m really glad. I’m very happy and I would like that the Americans see this film I think.
Beth Accomando: Yeah, well I hope so. I thought it was very good and especially considering it’s a first film too, I mean I think that’s a fairly monumental thing you can tag on that. And you didn’t want to try something easy for your first one.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: I like the complexity of things. I think the risk to take a risk covers that or I think.
Beth Accomando: I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or what, but it seems like there are a number of films right now that are really playing with – it’s like kind of the-- notion of every film has a beginning and middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order and your film and I just saw memento and they seem to really be playing with that linear structure and saying we don’t have to.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Yeah, I think it’s nothing new. We were sparring William Faulkner in the novel Sound of Fury and it’s something that Kurosawa did in ’51. So, it’s nothing new. I think something that we are rediscovering and my theory is that we are so fragmented, we are playing with the computers and the emails and the internet and at the same time the cellular phones so we can be in different places at the same time. So, we are living a very fragmented life. So, that’s why I think we are more used to that and it’s easier to read like maybe before was a little more complex to read for the audience, but now it’s normal I think.
Beth Accomando: Well, I thank you very much for your time and good luck with your film.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Thank you very much.
Beth Accomando: Thanks. Bye.
That was my 2001 interview with Alejandro González Iñárritu. I’d like to say that I chose to interview him because I knew he would go on to fame in Oscars. Well, I sort of did. I did know after seeing Amores Perros that there was undeniable talent there. And yes, I knew he would go on to great success. Just as I know, some of the films from this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival will introduce us to a new generation of filmmakers. As our guide through some of the scary good Latin horror filmmakers, I have my partner in crime, Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, to talk about the films he just programmed for Un Mundo Extraño. Even though these films are screening here in San Diego, I hope you listen to the podcast because you will be able to find these films at some later point either on Blu-ray or DVD or streaming online, plus by listening to us talk about these films you’ll have your appetite wetted about what Latin horror directors are doing and how they are defining a very particular kind of horror cinema. This is Miguel’s third year programming in Un Mundo Extraño and I asked him to define that to find what Un Mundo Extraño means in terms of what films did the program.
Miguel Rodriguez: The name literally translates to the strange world. So, I always come at it from the perspective of what is normally called fantastic film in a lot of other countries cinema fantastic, which kind of covers horror fantasy, science fiction, kinds of genres that they are all kind lump together a little bit and I like that because it lets me as a programmer get really creative about what can fit and which films can be part of this showcase because it broadens the horizons a little bit and in fact just as your programming, I have had conversations with Moises and some of the other programmers about a couple of the films and whether or not they fit. And there was one film I kind of fought for as being part of my showcase and we got that, so I’m excited. It’s open to interpretation, but really I’m looking for things that are a little bit on the fantasy side, not super realistic necessarily. But there’s a lot of metaphor for things that are going on in the real world as subtext. And sometimes too we are looking for some really crazy stuff and I think we found it this year.
I’m excited about this year’s program because I think it’s one of our better years overall and I hope that everybody who comes, because you are all going to come will agree with me.
Beth Accomando: One of the films which challenges kind of what you might expect from Un Mundo Extraño film is Los decentes, which I enjoyed. I thought it was great and bizarre and it takes a huge kind of left turn at the end that you don’t expect and we won’t have spoilers. But tell me a little bit about this film and what attracted you to including it?
Miguel Rodriguez: Okay, so it’s funny. I just did a podcast with interviews with some of the directors and I started the podcast with going through each of the films I selected and I started with Los decentes because I called it the outlier film in a way. But also in a way. It fits perfectly, you just have to kind of deal, explored a little more. In my introduction to Un Mundo Extraño, I talked about some other different themes that we are hitting like the limits of human endurance and so forth. But I also say something about bizarre colonies or unusual colonies and Los decentes that’s actually the film I was talking about with that description.
Los decentes, it’s kind of a dark comedy but that might be off-putting descriptor because although it is very darkly humorous to say it’s a comedy might write it off for some people because there’s a lot going on there. This is a film that is a collaboration or co-presentation of Argentina and Austria and one other country that is eluding me right now by a director named Lucas. What’s fascinating about it and one of the reasons I chose it is you have this woman who is – we’ll call her the straight character and by that I mean she is very normalized, very traditional. She has a very blue-collar job and she suddenly discovers that right next to her where she’s staying is a group of people who are the opposite of that and who are kind of dare I say, at least in her point of view threats to her status quo. Actually it’s not a spoiler at all to say, it’s a nudist colony.
So, on top of the nudist colony and these aspects, the characters that populate that colony are really kind of over the top and out there. Some of them, they wear makeup and they will crawl around like animals and the kind of the friction happens when these two worlds are place right next to each other, adjacent to each other it just builds and builds and builds until it kind of explodes.
Beth Accomando: Well, then it’s right next to kind of this very wealthy gated community and she’s a maid. So, you’ve got class, hierarchy involved in this as well.
Miguel Rodriguez: As well as the kind of what we call a polite society, the comedy of polite society together. Yeah, class as well as cultural mores clashing and they come ahead in a really interesting ways. It’s funny to try to talk about this without giving away some of the things that make this a unique film and one that fits Un Mundo Extraño, other than to say the characters are so colorful and the ways that they react to each other are exaggerated just enough to give it a strange king of hyper real air that for me it fits the program.
Beth Accomando: Well, we are going to bring this up again probably but the Latino Film Festival this year has a tribute to Arturo Ripstein, who is a veteran filmmaker with a large body of fascinating films. And he grew up on his father’s sets and knew Luis Buñuel. And both of those filmmakers seem to have an odd sort of influence on Los decentes and part of it for me was that the Buñuel aspect is kind of the class differentiation and the kind of bizarre way that it’s not part of the real world like they are king of ridiculous and the commentary comes from kind of that contrast between how ridiculous these rich people are to this hardworking woman and then the whole moral question kind of echoes some of Ripstein’s stuff. So it seems like this is one of the descendants of Ripstein and Buñuel in an odd sort of way, which makes it an interesting continuum.
Miguel Rodriguez: We’re certainly very Ripstein-esk and the subtle exaggeration of how people actually are, it’s not caricatures, but they are not quite grounded either, these people, and it’s just enough for us to take notice and be completely engaged with the people on screen but not enough where we think. I mean I’d use the term over-the-top before and even that’s too strong. They are definitely…
Beth Accomando: Because it’s very deadpan on a certain level.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, totally deadpan and that’s why it works is, the deadpan way that not just how these characters present themselves, but how this woman, the decent woman of the English titular reacts to them. They work because they are done with such not just sincerity but without any kind of winking at the camera, played very straight and the absurdity of those two things. Yeah, there’s a juxtaposition of the absurdity of the image with how it’s being delivered that fits and makes it all the more bizarre and enriching experience to sit down and watch it. I mean I’m excited to see it on the big screen because I only got to see it on a computer screen and I think you will be able to catch so much more nuance with the way their eyes are and the jesters and things like that that I’m looking forward to seeing presented in a way I think it was intended.
Beth Accomando: And I’m very interested to see the audience’s reaction because I think that’s kind of especially when it kind of takes that huge left turn and I’m curious how much of a gasp you are going to get kind of at a certain point.
Miguel Rodriguez: It’s impossible to talk about the twist, not really a twist, it’s not a twist.
Beth Accomando: It’s not so much a twist, it’s kind of a logical progression. It’s leading you towards something in a sense it’s a film that depicts an act of rebellion and it’s not so much a surprise as you just didn’t expect it to quite go so far.
Miguel Rodriguez: Right. It’s a leap off the cliff a little bit in the best possible way.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Miguel Rodriguez: This one’s hard to market because the trailers and the posters and some of the images when I put that out there and try to promote this one, I really had people say oh, I can’t wait to this film, I can’t wait to see this film. I’m wondering about the Decent Woman or Los decentes I’m not sure about that and I was like no, no come see this one, you will be pleasantly surprised or you will be at least entertained by what goes on on-screen.
Beth Accomando: Something if it’s a little more conventionally into kind of the horror-thriller genre is Hysteria which it shares a certain similarity with Los decentes in the sense that it is a bit of a slow built where you start at a certain point and it slowly ramps up and you got to speak to the director from this film.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, Carlos Melendez directed this film. He’s a very thoughtful filmmaker, a lot of fun to talk to and he will be present at his screenings at Latino Film Festivals. So we are excited about that doing Q&A because he can talk about his films and one thing that I do appreciate is when a filmmaker can really talk about all that is going on kind of underneath the superficial images on on-screen. It really shows that they had a purpose for making this film and you are right too about Hysteria and Los decentes having a similar theme and that it’s kind of like when a person is driven a certain way, what’s the breaking point and how do we react to things. Well, Los decentes does this in a certain kind of absurd way, Hysteria is far more – the theme in Hysteria is wrath, it’s rage and what rage does to us. I believe the director says rage is like a virus and if you catch it you can so easily spread it to everyone around you. And we talked about this, it’s been compared to falling down with Michael Douglas and the difference is that in Falling Down there are two major differences; in Falling Down, Michael Douglas loses his marbles at the beginning and spends the entire film doing crazy bonkers things in response to that. And also when he does those crazy things, as the audience we are kind of delightfully along for the ride when he is firing, we are like yeah, go get him, break the system. Whereas in Hysteria it’s not a light switch that goes off and this character loses his mind as he mention it’s very gradual progression and it takes quite a lot for him to reach a turning point. And it’s not just him, he’s got his wife and then there’s work and all of these people start losing it. They start going off the deep end. And when they do go off the deep end and things kind of hit the wall, it’s not a release but it’s more it’s presented in a way that’s far more regrettable.
When the director talked about what went into making the film, it was during, Mexico has had a lot of periods of unrest recently for various reasons. They have had a lot of strikes, lots of government corruption, none of these request by the people to make things better are being really answered. There’s a lot of rage and he talked about seeing all of this rage around him where people would suddenly lose their minds and snap at the smallest things where traffic can make someone get out of their car with a baseball bat and come after other drivers and he would see this happening on the street and in the news and that kind of like he thought about what rage does to people and that went into the script basically of Hysteria. Now, of course by the final product, it’s a little bit different than that, there are reasons for what happens in the film.
This one is harder to pick down as a straight horror film because a lot of it really is kind of more dramatic tension, but his point is you know the horror can be found in the ordinary in the nine to five and the common everyday occurrences that we subject ourselves to in the current society. And wrath is something that we try to suppress and suppression of wrath can be both necessary, but depending on what outside forces are happening to you. Suppression could lead to a sudden combustion and all of these things are present in the film and I think I’m trying to talk about this again without spoiling anything but thematically speaking that’s what this film’s about and really the strength is in the lead actor I think I really think he did a great job.
Beth Accomando: Well, you talked about how he’s observed some of this wrath in the real world around him and he does use sound really well because there’s constantly this flow of news coming from the TV, from the radio and so it’s kind of a background element. You are constantly hearing stories about murders and about tortures and about things where people just seem to have lost it. And that really sets the tones for – actually both films do a really nice job of being slow built but from the very beginning both of them give you a sense that something is array.
I want to play a little bit, I forgot to mention this from Los decentes, but the music is crazy because you’re seeing this woman who is just a very kind of on a certain level stereotypical maid. She is very quiet, she doesn’t make waves or anything like this, but there are moments where she is just walking with this determination and the music, I want to play some of this music because you hear this music and you know something is going to go terribly wrong at some point. That’s kind of your early key to Los decentes in terms of where that might had. And in Hysteria, I think it’s this news report that set the tone that something is just bubbling underneath.
Miguel Rodriguez: And what’s perfect about that is I feel like that’s so analogist to just getting on Facebook. But if you are a filmmaker how do you present the feeling you get when you go on Facebook and you just want to kind of kill some time and see what your friends are up to and it is just a constant barrage of rage and fear and just negativity. Well, one way you can do it is with this auditory bombardment of essentially similar kinds of things. The media is focused on the negative and how much of it is around us and how much that can take its toll.
And also one thing that the filmmaker did bring up as well is he tries to find not in the film but philosophically, he tries to think about what are some of the things that contribute to who we are as people that can put us on this path toward destruction. And who’s thinking of things, he went to – the director, Malendez, he went to business school and he said business school in Mexico, you get constantly bombarded with, you need to stomp on everyone around you and be number one and always race ahead to the front of the line and he says you get told that every day. And he got the thinking like what does that do to us, to our psyches hearing something like that. And on top of that getting advertised too constantly with advertisements that say, you deserved the best, you need this yogurt because you deserve it. So, you get there’s kind of a cultural effect on us where we are both told that we deserved the world and that we need to crush everyone around us to get it and what does that do to us as people. And it’s just a question, but it’s an interesting idea and I wonder how much of that exactly get into the film, but it’s something that he was thinking about writing the script.
And I think that the kinds of emotions that he is talking about are in there even if the story isn’t necessarily explicitly about that other than really the story in Hysteria is you’ve got this kind of Working Schmo, he’s an architect and he ends up involved in some shady dealings and succumbing to the dark part of his psyche after basically a films worth of constant abuse by everyone around him. It is about how we react to outside forces that are working against us.
Beth Accomando: I think what contributes to him finally kind of exploding is that he starts the film as this kind of moral guy, he’s got a sense of values. He’s an architect, he’s being told you got to use cheaper stuff, substandard things to save money. And he is like, no, no, that’s not how we are going to do it. And he initially starts out kind of following this moral code he has and it just gets him into trouble and he ends up compromising some of his values and I think what contributes to rage sometimes is, if you realize the role you’ve played in the decisions, the wrong decisions that you’ve made, you get even I think more angry than if you are just a victim.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, you have your own self to blame for a lot of it.
Beth Accomando: And so I think that’s part of what makes this kind of blow up to such a degree for him.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, because he could have stopped it at the beginning. And that’s actually speaks to a lot of – some of what I think is interesting about his character is at the beginning he is not just moral, which is true or ethical I think is a better word. But he is kind of weak, he is kind of a pushover, I think. And it goes in all personal and professional aspects of his life. And I think that kind of – there is a discussion here about the difference between being aggressive and being assertive. Now, starting off kind of that pushover aspect to him kind of leads to both passive aggression and then going further to actual aggression. Whereas what’s the balance we can strike when we can? If he had been more assertive and had more conviction then maybe things would not have gone quite the way that they do in this film.
Beth Accomando: And also you have the notion, cultural notion of Machismo and things which are…
Miguel Rodriguez: Particularly in Mexico.
Beth Accomando: Yes. Which--
Miguel Rodriguez: But here, too.
Beth Accomando: Which also makes it difficult because there are certain stereotypes that he’s sort of expected to live up to that he doesn’t. And you could say maybe he is not weak or a pushover, he just has a different method of, because there are moments where he has to deal with some hooligan types, who are outside his home. And there are people who say like, well there is one way to do it, which is to threaten and there’s another way to do it, which is to reason. There may not be a value judgment to place on either of those choices, but within this particular culture, I think he tends to suffer even more because his wife looks to be more assertive and aggressive than he is, so he ends up looking even weaker by comparison to a female.
Miguel Rodriguez: And in her eyes, which is kind of hard for him to take as well. And that leads him on the path that he eventually goes down. And also what I like about the film too is his wife is not just a force that gets acted upon him. She actually is her own character, and she has her own ark as well and she goes on her own path. So, the part that she plays I find very interesting. And I think her as an actress too brings a lot of kind of fury to her role.
Beth Accomando: The next film in the Un Mundo Extraño collection is something that may raise the hackles of some people to found footage film. And a lot of times that falls into a lot of tropes and a lot of formula and frequently tends to paint itself into a corner because you can’t get out of the final.
Miguel Rodriguez: Why are they still holding the camera….
Beth Accomando: Why are they still holding the camera? But one of the nice twists in this one, 1974, is they uses found Super 8 footage, which gives it a completely different kind of look than most of these films have. It’s not that video camcorder look. And there is something about that that has a certain nostalgia and a certain appeal, romantic appeal even in terms of just the visual quality.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s almost gothic kind of romance because there is a haunting quality about it. Even if you watch someone’s home videos, if they were from that time period and there are on Super 8 or 8mm, it just, depending on the atmosphere in which you’re watching it, it can be a little bit creepy, a little bit haunting just because of the way that the colors are kind of muted and often there is no sound and people are moving in this kind of unnatural way because the frame rate is weird on those old cameras, all kinds of things about them lead to a kind of unsettling feeling when you are watching it. So, just on the technical aspect on the ecstatic aspect of 1974, I think people are going to really like it.
And I thought about the film Sinister that came out a few years ago with Ethan Hawke. And I remember enjoying that film, but really what I liked about the film is there are these 8mm little short movies that get played it in and those are the best parts to the movie. And this one is like a whole thing of that. So, I actually liked it. And I am also –for me personally, I just tend to shy away from the found footage, but when I saw this one, it was like three in the morning and I got creep out. It had an effect on me. I got really creep out. I was wearing headphones in a dark living room with my computer on my lap and I got really unsettled and I think the sound contributes a lot to that of course. And just a look of that film and the acting, it’s not like the best acting but it feels natural like I feel like, I really am watching a home video for a lot of it, even though things got kind of supernatural for lack of a better term. But why I like 1974, why I think it’s strong, I think this one is a more traditional horror film. And I think a horror fan would really enjoy this film and the mystery of it. So, essentially the story behind 1974 is a family goes missing or a couple goes missing and 8mm reels are discovered that explained what happened.
And there is just something about mystery and you get a little bit with possession and then things like that, what’s going on in this family. That it’s just an effective horror film because of that feeling of dread and kind of almost by default instills on you just because the director chose to shoot on 8mm and just to kind of help people appreciate that a little bit. It’s not easy to find 8mm cameras now. And so, it took Victor – I’m going to really butcher your name, I’m sorry Victor, I think it’s Dryere, it took him many years to make this (a) because he had to find the cameras and the equipment, he had to find the films stock which required getting it developed like in the old days and waiting for it to come back before you can see whether or not your shots were any good. Lighting things for 8mm which is just not something that people do anymore and then having to edit it too that whole process took like something like five years. So, the start of this film predate Sinister so it’s not even – I thought when I saw this I was like huh, I wonder if he saw Sinister and wanted to do a whole film like those creepy 8mms in that. But no, the seed was planted before that film came out.
Yeah, I think that this is the one that or this is one of the films that more traditional type horror fan will like. But also one that will get, if someone likes to go see a film like Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring, this is also going to be something for them as well.
Beth Accomando: I think the centerpiece of Un Mundo Extraño this year is the film called We Are the Flesh. I’ve been hearing a lot about the film and hearing a lot of talk about how shocking it is and how people may be offended by it. And of course, my mind is going to a completely different direction as to what would might be offensive horror film and it wasn’t that at all. Let’s set this up a little bit so people understand what it’s like. It’s a very claustrophobic film with a very small cast. And it’s basically kind of this microcosm that’s created from these three characters of essentially homeless people, who create their own world. It starts very rooted in kind of the real world and kind of a real environment and then it just goes off the deep end.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, in a way that’s different from Los decentes or Hysteria like we talked about this one is, so from what I gather this film is a reaction to the way people conflate sexuality and violence, particularly in repressed kind of societies or puritanical societies. The confinement in this film is interesting because everything is very symbolic of like the womb, and everything is either very phallic or very vaginal in this film. So, there is a lot of sexuality. But sexuality take into a very bizarre extreme where it’s not titillating or exciting, it’s kind of disturbing.
And often not just disturbing, but it’s more about the characters completely relinquishing any inhibitions about any taboos and exploring the limits of human behavior. And I think that this film is going to be polarizing, I do. But I also think it’s very interesting and beautiful. I like the way it’s shot. I like the production design. The ways the sets are built and the characters, especially there’s kind of – I likened him to the visitor in visitor queue where there is this one character is kind of the catalysts for everything. He’s the one who kind of takes these other characters and puts them on this path and has them do all these kind of crazy things. And they take and run with it. But the actor that they have playing this kind of almost, I don’t know like Mephistopheles kind of character, he’s just so fascinating to look at it. He is so slimy but--
Beth Accomando: He is also in Hysteria.
Miguel Rodriguez: He is also in Hysteria, that’s true.
Beth Accomando: Yeah. He’s got an amazing grind that just.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah. But he is captivating.
Beth Accomando: Yes, absolutely.
Miguel Rodriguez: He’s so much charisma.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Miguel Rodriguez: But at the same time as much as you’re drawn to him, you don’t want to get too close to him. He is kind of filthy. He’s got beady little eyes. Yeah, the grind, it’s like the Grinch. It’s awesome. So, there are things in this film that are very strong. And I remember it when I did, this is the first one I requested. A lot of these I saw and I said yes, let’s show that. But this one way back, I think in November, I sent Moises an e-mails, I was like, We Are the Flesh is coming out, we need to get that. See if you can get me a link. And partly because I know that Alejandro Iñárritu, the director of The Revenant, of course, is one of the people who backed this film, one of the people who funded this film. So, I kind of wanted to see his backing on a film that’s supposed to be so controversial.
Beth Accomando: Well, I think the controversy is kind of twofold. One, there are a lot of explicit and graphic shots of genitalia, but not necessarily pornographic in anyway. And I think it makes people very uncomfortable to see that depicted kind of, on a certain level casually and very much as a means of kind of provoking the audience, and especially if you consider it in the contexts of a very Catholic and somewhat repressed society. So, you’ve got those elements going on. When I heard it was controversial and people were getting upset and I heard it was a horror film, of course, my brain is going to like it must be incredibly violent or graphic or disturbing in that respect and it wasn’t.
And again, the title I think is incredibly clever because if you hear a film that has things like cannibalism in it and a lot of sexuality and you hear a title We Are the Flesh, my first impulse was to go to oh, the cannibalism is in the forefront of this. And I know there was a moment in the film where I was watching and I had this kind of epiphany and I’m going like, no it’s not cannibalism. And no it’s not sexuality. This is going back to one of the things that I think make a lot of Latino films really fascinating which is this notion of catholic horror. And We Are the Flesh in this, it does take the sense of a certain kind of transcendence and entering into this kind of spiritual realm in the film that was really surprising and part of what makes the film brilliant.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah. I mean they’re essentially are in the ark in some ways, right?
Beth Accomando: That they built out of--
Miguel Rodriguez: That they built.
Interviewer: …packing tape and cardboard and wood that they find. It’s an amazing do-it-yourself kind of set, but just you see it progressed through the film because they’re building it in front of you.
Miguel Rodriguez: And they’re making it out of this every day, kind of throwaway things, but the finished product is something so bizarre and fascinating.
Beth Accomando: And artistic.
Miguel Rodriguez: And incredible to look at. I think that yeah, if you can get past the genitals and there’s a lot in this to look at. That’s part of it. I think that genitals, they’re still so taboo. And when you say that they are it’s twofold how it affects people, I think it affects people who just think genital shouldn’t be seen in the first place even though we all have them. But also for people who, let’s be honest it’s everybody, but for people who openly watch porn and get titillation from pornographic material, seeing nudity presented in the way it’s presented in We Are the Flesh might be off-putting as well because it’s not intended to be sexualized even though there’s a lot of sex in the movie. But it’s not intended to make us as an audience member get sexual satisfaction. It’s very different, it’s very abstract. And I think casual is also a good word for it. I also think of another Mexican film that’s much older called Alucarda.
Beth Accomando: Catholic horror again, I will say.
Interviewee: And that one is very overt catholic horror like, I think the Catholicism – the symbolic catholic aspects in We Are the Flesh are absolutely there. I don’t think there is any question. And when you talked about repression in Mexico, I mean that’s Catholicism all the way. But it doesn’t take place in a church and there aren’t crosses all over the place or nuns. Whereas, Alucarda it takes place in a convent. But one of the differences is that used sexuality to fight repression in a way that was also sexually titillating and this is not that. This is similar in themes in that way. And certainly that film was shocking at the time it came out. But this one is a very different film even though the thematic were similar to that one.
And this one also is emblematic I think of this new wave of Mexican horror directors that seemed to be sprouting up. I think it was not very long ago where if I wanted to find Mexican horror films it would be impossible. It would be very difficult to find them.
Beth Accomando: Well, let’s point out that you run a horror festival, Horrible Imaginings. So, you are looking for them with a real purpose…
Miguel Rodriguez: That’s true.
Beth Accomando: …to try and showcase them. So, yeah.
Miguel Rodriguez: We’re seeing a lot more out of Mexico, a lot more recently. You’ve got filmmakers like Lex Ortega, you’ve got Aaron Soto. Obviously we had filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro kind of lead charge. And we had the anthology last year México Bárbaro, or two years ago actually, México Bárbaro showcasing a bunch of Mexican horror directors. And in fact, they’re making a sequel México Bárbaro 2 and one of the people who is directing a segment in that is Carlos Melendez who did Hysteria.
So, it’s this family too of Mexican genre filmmakers. And I think essentially what happened is in the ‘80s there were lots of Mexican exploitation films, that were kind of direct video, and a lot of the kids who grew up on that stuff are now suddenly adults and picking up cameras and it’s now easier to pick up a camera and make a film. And they’re doing it with purpose overall, that’s what I find fascinating. When I talked to these filmmakers that we have gotten at Horribly Imaginings or that week’s program here at Latino Film Festival, I tend to ask them – if a conversation make sense, I tend to ask them what they think the Latino point of view brings to genre film. And they all have very interesting answers that kind of go way down deep into the subtexts of everything they’re telling.
First of all, every single one of them, I think used the word metaphor at some point. So, they’re all thinking metaphorically. They’re all thinking about telling a story that’s really about something else. I see that coming a lot from the filmmakers in Mexico. So, when you watch something like We Are the Flesh, it’s interesting to try to read between the lines. And seeing the catholic aspects in that film or the social unrest that you’ll see in Hysteria or Los decentes, or even the broken family that you will see in 1974, because another answer I got that’s very interesting is that the Latino experience is very family focused. You have people who are born, live with, and die amongst their family living in the same house and that plays a role in the films that get put out.
You’ll see that in another film we’re going to talk about later, The Darkness or Las tinieblas, where a family is a huge role in that and in 1974. So, I’m fascinated to – well, I’m very excited too to not only get the opportunity to program a showcase of fantastic cinema for Latino Film Festival. I’m thrilled that they are going to give films like this a chance and go beyond just, kind of, the dramas and romantic comedies kind of stuff.
But also that we can still use horror and science fiction and fantasy to live up to the film festival’s mission of presenting the Latino perspective. We can’t present the Latino perspective through fantasy films. We can present that perspective through horror because it’s unique; it has its own voice. And to watch these films and discover that voice I find it awesome. I find really fun. And the cool thing is you don’t have to, you could just watch this for entertaining value. So, it’s works both ways. But I find it more enriching experience to say okay, what is this, this was an interesting, We Are the Flesh was a trip. What’s going on there that would lead Emiliano Minter to write that script and put some of that crazy stuff on the screen?
Beth Accomando: Well, and it’s also very much and I guess this also comes from being in a somewhat repressive cultural environment. And it’s about kind of pushing boundaries and kind of pushing at limitations and that’s something that Arturo Ripstein’s films also did. But there is the sense of pushing at those boundaries and then this notion of, kind of, a rebirth involved which is again why that sense of that environment being womb-like or being vaginal and giving birth is something that’s really a key to what that films looks like.
And the one thing I’ll say about a lot of the kind of buzz that’s been surrounding it in terms of it being controversial and offending people, is it’s somewhat unfair to the film because I think some people will come to it wanting to be shocked or wanting to see something that’s graphic or gory. And it’s a film that really does have something to say, which is another film very different in terms of kind of its style and approach. But a Serbian film got a huge reputation for pushing boundaries. And I didn’t see it for a while and I was thinking like okay, this is going to be gross set. But that film really had something to say, and this film really has something to say. So, I feel that part of the marketing campaign is to build on the sense like this is the film that’s going to send you running for the doors or this is the film that’s going to shocked you beyond belief, which may get some people in but will bring them in with some false expectation.
So, I highly recommend if you come to the film which you should, that you don’t come with that chip on your shoulder saying that yeah, gross me out or shocked me. But come expecting a serious filmmaker who’s making a film that is disturbing, very deeply disturbing on a lot of levels. But not in kind of, I think that shocked value sense that they want you to come in expecting.
Miguel Rodriguez: Right. I think Minter is a definitely a provocateur. But for the right reasons it’s kind of like Lars von Trier too in that way with film like Antichrist.
Beth Accomando: They have something to say.
Miguel Rodriguez: Exactly. There is a purpose. There is a purpose that goes beyond how much can I make the audience squirm. Well, it’s okay maybe the audience will squirm, but there is a reason for the squirming besides, hey, there is a penis on screen or whatever. Sorry, everybody, but just so you know what to expect. But yeah, I also think that in a lot of ways Minter wants to make with these casual shots. He wants to kind of take away, well maybe he doesn’t want to, I wonder about this. I’d like to ask him frankly but to normalize it, like I think we’re seeing more of new films like Love or Blue Is the Warmest Color or Q, the French film desire where you have basically real sex on screen and it’s not pornographic, there are points to those films too. But to try and make these things not as provocative just for provocative sake because they’re part of human sexuality, they’re part of the human experience, that We Are the Flesh is very different kind of film. But I’d like to ask him if he does want to kind of normalize what we see in a feature film when it’s done for more than pornographic reasons and I guess pornography has its place too but this is not bad.
Beth Accomando: Well, I think Ethan Van Thillo, who is the executive director and Moises Esparza, who is the lead programmer, they really deserve credit and kudos for putting together a festival that really has diversity and that they’re willing to take risk on not just Un Mundo Extraño as a sidebar, but in some of the other programming as well. There are couple of other films that I’ve seen, Oscuro Animal and The Ornithologist, which are films that really push the boundaries of what mainstream filmmaking is like. I mean both of those films are almost pure visual storytelling and Oscuro Animal has next to zero dialogue and I found it such a riveting film because I felt like I had to pay so much more attention because nobody was telling me what was going on and giving me all this plot exposition. I had to actually pay attention and watch those images to pick up on what was going on.
So, I really commend them for being daring enough to program some of the stuff along with romantic comedies and documentaries and films that not to discredit them in any way or to demean them in anyway but they’re a little more what you expect when you go into a cinema. And you can take genre films like romantic comedy and do them exceedingly well, but they’re very different I think from these films that deliberately are kind of pushing the envelope to say, let’s try and make cinema something that’s different and not necessarily comfortable.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, no, definitely going beyond getting people out of their comfort zones and I give them credit too for letting me program some of the stuff. It could be alienating for a lot of their audience. Well, particularly We Are the Flesh. I think the other films people will get a little bit more, Moises, I was actually looking for the email because I requested the film and he got the link and then I didn’t answer him for a while and he sent me an email that says, did you check that film out yet? And then the next line says, it is dot, dot, dot a little crazy. Yep, that’s it.
Beth Accomando: And the last of the feature films that are going to be showcased in these years Un Mundo Extraño is The Darkness.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yes.
Beth Accomando: Which fits a little more conventionally into the horror genre. We have The Cabin in the Woods even.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yes, we do. So it’s post-apocalyptic. One of the things that I think, yeah, I think conceptually it fits into horror sci-fi and fantasy even. It’s a fantastic film. It’s a definition of a Mexican fantastic film, but at the same time you’ve got this director Daniel Jim Brown. He is a painter and he brings that sensibility and the palette to the film. And in fact, the characters in it draw pictures and the father makes these marionettes that he basically makes these analogs of his children and tell stories for them, kind of this didactic fables using the marionettes and everything is designed. It’s really interesting. It really adds a visual flair to the film.
And the director actually, he’s the artist who does those as well on top of making the film. And I asked him, I said, did the story come first or did an image come first and he admitted that, well, parts of the story have been something that he’s been doing. The settings and what sets up the location that all came from an image that he drew of a forest covered in mist and I love that. I love when something like one image can create a whole backstory behind it. And he was very interesting to talk to as well because he is another one who talks about the subtext, talks about how this a film about social unrest, but I don’t want to make a movie that is realistic, I want to make movie that is about realism, through the veneer of fantasy. And what you have here is it’s a family film, it’s not a film for fan, but it’s a film about a family living in perpetual darkness. So, the title of the film is accurate. The air is kind of toxic, so they have to wear this gas mask, which lends it another kind of amazing quality and there are these humanizing moments among the family when they’re in this cabin together.
It’s their home, they’re barely surviving in this kind of hostile environment and the conflict of the film gets kind of set off when there is a sudden malevolent and mysterious force that descends upon the cabin and they end up having to leave and leave basically the safety of their sanctuary. But yeah, what really brings the darkness and gives it a unique quality is its visual style and it vacillates between very dreamlike narrative and very rooted and grounded narrative and it goes from one to the other in a way that is not confusing but rather kind of seamless and tells the story and gives you these characters, external world and their internal world.
So, it’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s a brilliant atmosphere and the main character is actually Brontis Jodorowsky, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s son from El Topo and Santa Sangre. So to see him, he’s actually in this director’s first film, Tau as well and that they work really well together, he gets a great performance out of Brontis. And another interesting thing to note is that these two films Tau and then this one The Darkness are part of what he calls his trilogy of light. And the first one takes place in a desert and this one takes place in perpetual darkness and other than that there’s no narrative ties between them, it’s more conceptual tie. But it’s about how people react to their surroundings and, yeah, the way that human condition can change according to our environment. I think people will really like The Darkness particularly because you know just visually it will appeal to the casual horror fan as well as someone who’s looking for a little bit more.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned that this filmmakers repeatedly talked about this notion of subtext and about metaphor and I think on a certain level, being in a country where there is a sense of repression makes you want to turn to that because it’s harder, you grow up under conditions where it’s harder to directly address something because you do feel like there is this pushback if you want to talk about something like sex or you want to talk about something in the Bible that you maybe don’t agree with, you don’t want to do that necessarily directly. And again, I return to Arturo Ripstein, who is a filmmaker who’s very well accomplished, who could easily if he wanted to leave Mexico and go somewhere where his films would cause less controversy, not meet with the same sort of censorship issues. But he’s talked about the fact that that repression and that particular culture he grew up in is what defines him as a filmmaker and that sometimes having to meet with those kind of censorship issues, I believe the phrase he used is “it makes you walk like a reptile and you have to be more clever than them” and that sometimes that really encourages the artistry because you aren’t dealing directly with the topic. And it sounds like these filmmakers are all talking in these terms that are making their films a little richer because you can take them on face value or look at that subtext.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, I think you just nailed it and I think that Ripstein, when he said – were you talking about also like film in the war with like Noir did that back in the ‘50s too, is it…
Beth Accomando: In a different sort of was, but yes.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah. It dealt with controversial things but disguised by language and shadow. But yeah, it was obviously being in Mexico and having, the Mexican film industry has had a very interesting history too whereas it’s largely government funded and certainly when it was booming like in the ‘50s, early ‘60s, ‘40s that was a lot of government stuff and when government funding was suddenly kind of cut off in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, you ended up having a lot of this kind of rogue filmmakers doing very independent cinema. And I think the spirit of independent cinema is living on in this new way of Mexican filmmakers, but they’re also politically charged. And politics has a lot of different definitions and what makes them politically charged could mean different things, but they have passions about certain ideals that they have and they are imbuing these films with those ideals. And from the films that I’m getting and choosing anyway, they are not doing it in such a way that it’s distracting from the story. They’re doing in a way that’s natural that you can have these themes but not be so didactic or tetchy, preachy with your film. I think that’s a fine line to work, but one that’s also the mark of a great artist.
Beth Accomando: These have all been feature films that we’re talking about, but there is going to be a shorts block which you can get a little bit of diversity in a condensed amount of time if you don’t have the chance to see five separate movies. And there is one shorting here from a filmmaker whose work you’ve actually showcased.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, Abraham Sanchez, I don’t know if he still lives in Tijay or Tijuana. I think he moved away unless he moved back, but he is doing a film called Devastacion. We’ve shown some of his other short films at Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. So, it’s nice to see him represented here and he’s visited the Latino Film Festival before along with Aaron Soto who is showing some of his films. So, it’s great to see Sanchez come with some of his own work and hopefully we’ll see him at the festival. I’ll have to drop him a line to see if he’s going to present at the short film block.
Beth Accomando: So, that’s the Un Mundo Extraño sidebar for this year. It’s something that you are always looking for in for your festival which is going to be coming up in September. And so, have you seen an increase in Latino films coming to you that are strictly in the horror genre?
Miguel Rodriguez: Oh yeah. We always see a ton and if we’re going to include Spain in this, Spain has always had this in scene output. But let’s focus on Mexico and maybe some of South America as well we’re seeing a boom in those definitely from Mexico. And as I look through some of our submissions now, I don’t know, I can’t say any titles because then suddenly this will get out and I think they’re definitely accepted and I can’t accept anybody yet but I have my eyes on some that’s just like some of the films we’ve discussed today as part of Un Mundo Extraño, they are out there. This one particular program I calls it kind of odd ball and that’s what I love is I feel like – this one is from Mexico and there seems to be a willingness to experiment you know and I don’t mean in kind of like annoying student filmmaker kind of way but a willingness to push the boundaries of conventions, a willingness to test the limits of tropes and or abandon tropes altogether and show something completely different, yet still explores the dark side, still kind of get into our kind of our ids or our Mr. Hyde’s if you will. That’s really all I’m looking for as far as Horrible Imaginings goes is, I wanted to find the word horror as exploring this kind of unmentionable parts of our psyches, the parts that we want to pretend don’t exist but definitely do.
Basically any film that will go there and explore The Darkness is something I’m interested in and that could be, Jason Voorhees running through the woods I guess, but I’m looking for a greater, a variety of expressions of that and I’m seeing that from Mexico. I’m seeing that from Latin America and I really hope to have something really great this year. In fact, man dare I say this, Aaron Soto is programming for us. The last couple of years he’s done a panel. This year he’s actually going to program a showcase of what we’re calling frontera horror and for anyone who is unsure of that word “border horror”. The horrors of living, from a Mexican perspective, living on the border or trying to get across the border or trying to find better place or everything that is associated with our strained relationship with Mexico particularly these days. We’re looking for films that are going to showcase that in the disguise of a horror fantastic film. And I’ve Aaron helping me out with that one, he is a filmmaker and he is also very passionate and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
Beth Accomando: All right, well once again, I want to thank you Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings and also people should go to his podcast because a number of the filmmakers you’ve mentioned are highlighted on your podcast.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, I did interviews with Carlos Melendez of Hysteria and Daniel Jim Brown of The Darkness and I have an interview plan with Victor Dryere of 1974 at the Festival and perhaps you’ll be seeing some Facebook live video from San Diego Latino Film Festival coming up in the next 10 days. So, follow us on Facebook.
Beth Accomando: All right, well, thanks very much.
Miguel Rodriguez: Thanks as always, this is always fun.
Beth Accomando: That was Miguel Rodriguez, founder of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and programmer for Un Mundo Extraño at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Moises Esparza is the programmer for the overall festival and he’s one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing about film. He’s been a programmer for the festival for four years and I asked him what that’s has been like.
Moises Esparza: So, in the last four years, we’ve definitely seen an increase of awareness every festival. Every year we get more and more submissions. And we also I think have done a much better job at connecting with US-Latino filmmakers which has always been a goal for festival. This year we have a showcase specifically dedicated to the US Latino filmmakers making movies. We want to make sure that these voices are heard and that these individuals feel included. One of the criticisms that our festival has received in the past is that we may pay too much attention to specifically Mexican filmmakers or South American filmmakers. So, we want to make sure that attention is paid to Latino experiences being produce all over the world and including domestically, I think that’s a really important perspective.
Beth Accomando: This year, I’m wondering if the political climate that’s going on is affecting the festival in any way in terms of the purpose you feel a festival should serve especially in border city with a political climate where we’re talking about potentially Trump wanting to build the wall and with travel bans and things like that. Does the festival feel energized in any different way to kind of tackle those issues through film?
Moises Esparza: It absolutely does. This current election occurred just as we were starting our screening process and the Latino community was largely under attack by this incoming administration. So, it was definitely in the primer’s minds to book films that were authentic and emphasize celebrating the diversity of Latino experiences. So, we hope that our festival is in a way a safe haven for Latinos and individuals who’ll be pleased to read our welcome letter in our program because it emphasizes the importance of traditions and unity and safe spaces. So we want the Latino community here in San Diego to know that we are advocating for them through the type of films that we screen at our festival.
Beth Accomando: Well, it also seems with all this talk about building a wall, festivals and art always seem to be a way of breaking down those walls.
Moises Esparza: Exactly. And we have always celebrated filmmakers from both San Diego and Tijuana, and the perspectives that they provide on immigration are some of the most emotional ones that I’ve seen committed to film. We have a short film called Exile this year which is about a veteran who had to go back to Mexico and was split from his from his family and they have to connect through the fence that’s near the water in the ocean. So, it is like very emotional filmmaking and I hope that for individuals who may be attend our festival and I don’t know who may not have always seen the Latino side. I hope that some of the films maybe open up their minds and their hearts to some of the hardships and difficulties face in Latinos today.
Beth Accomando: Are there any titles in particular you’d want to highlight or any sidebars?
Moises Esparza: Yes. So, speaking to this political climate, we have a film called Forbidden: Queer and undocumented in Rural America and it’s about a young student who wants to pursue higher education in North Carolina and he’s unable to due to his citizenship status. So, the film kind of traces his struggle to make a living and fulfill his dreams. And I think it’s a story that will resonate with a lot of San Diego filmgoers and the San Diego community at large. In terms of other sidebars, we’re really excited that we’re bringing back tributes which we haven’t done in the last at least four years since I’ve been here. So we’re doing a tribute to world-renowned and acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein who would be here in person to present his really amazing film, Deep Crimson/Profundo Carmesi. So he’ll be attending that screening on Friday, March 24th. So, we’re really excited that one of the titans of Mexican film is joining us for the festival.
Besides that tribute, we’ll also be doing a showcase for Manolo Caro, who is a young filmmaker also from Mexico, who is, in his own terms redefining the romantic comedy or the romantic film and he does it with such intellect and grace and style. So, we’re really excited that he’ll also be attending the festival. And his appearance date is Friday, March 17th. And then we will also have another tribute for María Rojo, who is one of the greatest actresses in Latino cinema. She star in Maria Novaro’s early 1990s film Danzon and that was in essence her breakthrough role even though she had been acting since the ‘70s. So, we’ll be screening Danzon on March 21st and she’ll also be here for that screening.
So, we are excited that we get to provide our audience members with the opportunity to engage with artists and I think that really sets festivals apart from the regular movie going experience is that one-on-one interaction and you get to hear about essentially how the movie is made, inspirations. I always like to engage with audience on what they thought about the film’s themes and plot. So it’s always neat to hear the artist’s experience not just the curator’s experience. So, I think our guest will definitely, definitely enjoy having that perspective.
Beth Accomando: Now, picking Arturo Ripstein for a tribute is great. He is not however probably a well-known name to American mainstream audiences. If you would pick someone like Guillermo del Toro everyone would be able to name some of his films. What is it about him because he is a really fascinating filmmaker, he is of Jewish descent, Jewish-Russian I believe, descent. His films have run into some issues with censorship in his own country. He’s had an ability that he could move some place where he wouldn’t face censorship, however, he kind of feels that it’s part of what defines him as a filmmaker. So, what was it about him that made you want to pay tribute to him this year?
Moises Esparza: Well, Arturo Ripstein in cinema is essentially a huge mirror to Mexican society. So, he presents themes like patriarchy and how patriarchy is treated in Mexico and handled in Mexico and he essentially built upon those themes only to then subvert them through the different cinematic techniques at his disposal and he is essentially dismantling these systems of sometimes, you know, systems of oppression that afflict the Mexican family. And he essentially just subverts them in such clever and smart ways. So, his cinema always feels fresh and never feels dated. The themes that he deals with are in essence timeless and he is, and we described him as both an icon and an iconoclast because he is so well respected within the Mexican community. But at the same time he does take a hammer to a lot of conventions in Mexican culture that are deemed almost to be untouchable.
And what he does with the cinema is in a way revolutionary and it makes some people uncomfortable. So, he has run into issues with censorship but he is such a true artist that he stands by his perspective and he is an inspiration to all of the other filmmakers, you name like Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón. So I don’t think Mexican cinema would be where it is now without Arturo Risptein’s contributions.
Beth Accomando: Well, he seems to be somebody who’s always pushing the envelope and challenging conventions and like the French new wave directors, I really I’m impressed by the fact that even though he’s been making films for decades, his films feel like they’re the works of like a young person who is rebellious and still feeling that drive to do something different.
Moises Esparza: Yes, and that’s something that I think sets him apart from any other filmmakers that there’s such energy to his films. And it’s surprising that a lot of the films that we’re screening aren’t available on DCP or digital formats and it seems like in order to preserve these movies we need to keep screening them, so the awareness of them will be heightened so then we can push to preserve the movies or his movies at least. So, getting the movies was a bit of a challenge and I think if people rally around filmmakers who are maybe not as commercial or are outliers, they’ll be able to motivate different production companies or distributors to restore and keep distributing some of these amazing works.
Beth Accomando: There’s a program I know you try to program a diverse array of films and you’re going for some films that are going to have a mainstream popularity or be crowd pleasures. But you also program some great films that are challenging in the best possible way and I have to say I was watching a couple of the screeners and two in particular stood out as being such visual storytelling. In a lot of mainstream films, you watch the first opening minutes and you pretty much know where you’re going in the film and what it’s going to be about, you’re in a revenge story or you’re in a romantic comedy and both did not announce where they were going until practically the end and it was great cause it was riveting in a way that’s very different from watching a lot of American mainstream films. So, what went into your selection process for films like that?
Moises Esparza: So, for The Ornithologist and Oscuro Animal or Dark Beast what really impressed me about these films is the filmmaker’s confidence in the visual storytelling. And I think sometimes we forget that cinema is all about the image. Sometimes filmmakers rely too much on expositional dialog and they don’t trust that their audience will be able to follow along with, visuals with images. And what’s impressive about these films is that they’re largely without any dialog. So, it’s really up to the spectator to invest in the visual storytelling and that to me seem really refreshing and bold and I think it will scare away a few of our patrons. But I think that for both films, if they stick it out they’ll find really rewarding experiences and they’ll also realize that when there are moments of dialog, they’ll see that it kind of takes away from the overall power of the film.
Like I said, you don’t need someone holding your hand and guiding you from point A to point B in a film. It’s all about the experience and these two films in particular are about journeys that several characters are taking in not populated area, regions and so you almost feel you’re a part of this almost silent odyssey. And with The Ornithologist, if you give yourself to the film, I think you’ll be amazed at how darkly funny it may be and how light it is when you think about in retrospect and the film is essentially a clear interpretation of St. Anthony of Padua. It just goes, at the end of the movie it goes somewhere truly revolutionary and something that I haven’t seen it done that well in any film or at least the ending.
So I think I don’t want to give anything away, I want to talk about it but I don’t want to give anything away. But definitely worth watching and festivals are here to challenge any preconceived notions of cinema that you may have. And sometimes spectators are weary of whatever is a vanguard or experimental, but I hope that festivals provide a great, almost introduction to this type of cinemas that exist in the world that aren’t necessarily accessible in the mainstream. And I think that ultimately attending these films and supporting this type of Latino experiences are really rewarding and you’ll just become a more intellectual and savvy filmgoer.
Beth Accomando: Well, I think what I found interesting especially about Oscuro Animal was that I felt like I had to pay more attention because it wasn’t telling me everything upfront. And so the kind of engagement I had with the film was a little more intense in an unexpected sort of way.
Moises Esparza: Absolutely and the film does go to some pretty dark places. And since you’re not necessarily being told what’s going on, you really feel like some of the events that the women protagonist go through are almost – that you’re almost a part of them or that you’re almost complicit in them and it’s a very engaging film-going experience. It doesn’t necessarily end in a very wrapped up way. There’s no, this is the end and happily ever after, but in a sense you do feel relief for these characters and you do feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So, it’s not all bleak and darkness with Oscuro Animal and it is such a wonderful film and I hope that the festival goers take a chance with it and like I said, I think that they’ll be really rewarded.
Beth Accomando: What was interesting too is that I don’t think there was much dialog at all in the film, but there were moments of music coming on, on the radio or on a car stereo that contrasted with all the silence and forest and stuff that we were seeing prior to that.
Moises Esparza: Yeah, so the sound design in the film is particularly extraordinary and I think the scene that you’re referring to is when a member of the paramilitary shows up at this woman’s house and the first thing he does without saying hello or a greeting is he just turns on the music. Since the film had been so largely sound up to that point, it is really shocking to hear the music and when I watch like my heart rate quickened, it turned into almost a very suspenseful film-going experience. And it just shows that beyond the part of the image cinema can really engage all of your senses and Oscuro Animal is one that does not skimp on engaging the visuals with the auditory. And then there’s another scene where two characters are eating and you hear the mouths chewing, the food being cut up and just those sounds that they just sound so unfamiliar. It’s almost like you’re being introduce to them for the first time and you’re just like, wait, what am I listening to, why does it sound so weird and it’s only because there’s been such a huge absence of dialog that every sound feels new and primitive and a really, really exciting film-going experience overall.
Beth Accomando: Do you see, you talked about the festival being a safe haven in a way for artist and for Latinos to come for a film-going experience, but that is a festival also kind of a safe haven for films that do push the boundaries of convention because it seems like you’re not going to get films like this playing most likely at a mall cinema. So, it seems like festivals are the place where you can have more artistic experiment and find an audience.
Moises Esparza: Absolutely, particularly with our festival we take a lot of risks with our programming. We like to be inclusive of every type of cinema whether it’s the more broad commercial romantic comedies to something like Oscuro Animal like we’ve been discussing. We really want to celebrate any type of cinema that’s being produced or all types of cinema that’s being produced by Latinos. So, I think I said this before, but I’m not necessarily here to make people feel comfortable with what we’re screening.
Last year, a patron told me that a film that I chose, they said I offended them and I said, well, this is the type of movies that are being produced in this country. The filmmaker is from this country. This is an experience that this filmmaker wanted to capture on film and it’s authentic in a sense because it wasn’t an American going to this country and making a film. It was a homegrown film from this particular city. If I screen things that weren’t representative of what’s being produced in these countries then I wouldn’t really be doing my job. And sometimes a cinema that’s being produced happens to be very bold and experimental. So that’s what I’m going to screen. And the festival’s mission is not to offend or hurt someone’s feelings, but some of the films that we screen are really strong and hardcore. There’s a film in our Un Mundo Extraño section which is horror sci-fi more like the darker taste in film. It’s called We Are the Flesh/Tenemos la carne and it deals with really, really intense jaw-dropping themes, but they’re such artistry especially with the visuals and it deserves to be seen and needs a platform otherwise no one is going to watch it. And I think a lot of these films need festivals for their awareness otherwise they’re not ever screen again or they’re not release on home video or not even release even on Netflix. So, festivals are really important being platforms of exhibition for a lot of these lesser known films that may otherwise be forgotten.
Beth Accomando: And I have to ask, what was the name of that film that offended your patron?
Moises Esparza: Oh, it was Que viva la música! and it was a film about city in Colombia, Cali and it was about a woman giving into hedonistic desires, drugs and sex and music and someone thought that it was an act of betrayal of their Colombian community. But I just can’t use that as a reason to not program a film since the film – I think the filmmaker was actually from Cali. It was based on a book from an experience that someone had in Cali in Colombia. So, if these or those types of movies being produced then I’m going to screen them. I just can’t say, I run the risk of offending someone or hurting someone’s feelings and I just hope that people realize that that’s not the intention behind film festivals. We are here to celebrate these voices that maybe unheard otherwise.
Beth Accomando: Well, one of my favorite quotes from all the interviews I’ve done was from David Cronenberg where he said, “I’m not interested in comfortable cinema”.
Moises Esparza: No, and I think that’s true for a lot of film festivals where, like I said, we’re not here to hold your hand, we’re not here to walk you through every step of a film’s plot. We want you to trust in your own instincts that you’ll be able to understand the “point of any film” and it is okay to dislike a movie. I think a lot of people are afraid of not liking something but that’s the thing about cinema that it’s so subjective that it is totally okay to have a strong opinion against any film that I screen. That’s valid 100 percent just as long as you know that I’m not trying to offend you. That’s a takeaway message of my role here.
Beth Accomando: Well, for me personally because I see so many films, I really appreciate the risk that you take as a programmer to bring some of these films here that I would never have an opportunity to see otherwise. But you also do offer films that are if not comfortable cinema at least can offer a little more familiar kind of experience. So, what are some of the kind of more popular films that you might be – the more crowd pleasing kind of movies that you might be screening this year?
Moises Esparza: We find that there is artistry in both the more commercial films and just as well as the more experimental ones. So, we’re not here to be judgmental. We see great value in all types of cinema. So, some of our more mainstream films include a movie that was partially locally produced here in San Diego called Ruta Madre and it’s really funny retro film. We have two romantic comedies from Mexico. One is called, Treintona Soltera y Fantastica. So it’s a 30 something single and fabulous. And then the other one is called Que Pena Tu Vida. So it’s a shame about your life. So these are all more conventional films, but they do play with their formalist in very interesting and exciting ways. So, even though you’ll see something that maybe a little bit familiar you’ll be really impressed by the risks that the filmmakers take by adjusting their formula just a little bit or maybe a lot in some cases. So, like I said artistry across a spectrum of cinema and we are just happy to be able to give individuals the opportunity to watch these movies.
Beth Accomando: Every year you guys pick a country to focus on in particular so that there’s a sidebar films particularly from one place. So, what country have you picked for this year?
Moises Esparza: So, this year we selected Brazil to be our country of focus and it came about because of this documentary that I watched called Cinema Novo which celebrates a filmmaking movement of the 1950s and early 1960s in Brazil. And the documentary just bring me realize how beautiful Brazil in cinema is and how exciting and how forward thinking it is and it revealed itself almost like a revelation to me but when I thought about all of the great Brazilian films that I’ve seen in my lifetime, it just seemed like a no-brainer. And actually in college one of the most memorable films that I watched was How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman. I don’t know if anyone has seen that besides that particular film class while I was in college. But seeing Cinema Novo, it reminded me of the film-going experience I had had watching this very bold and a little bit crazy film, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman. I began to take a closer look at the Brazilian options that we had for this year and I found them to be super, super interesting and engaging and exciting and those films within the country of focus showcase are among the strongest that we have.
Then we are screening Cinema Novo, this documentary that I just mentioned. We’re screening a film about female friendship that’s done in a very subdued and bold way. Then we’re also screening one called Jewels on the Lorries, which is about the story that’s almost – that prove that truth are stranger than fiction sometimes and it’s about two individuals who think that they’re screening a replica of a soccer trophy, but it’s actually not the replica, they end up stealing the real thing. So, it’s a fun and exciting caper film that I think will be really, really embraced by audience as it is so funny and it’s just done with such flair. It’s really memorable.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned this documentary that looks back on Brazilian cinema. Is that part of you feel a festival’s goal as well as to not just screen brand new films, but to also have a place for remembering classics or remembering films from the past?
Moises Esparza: Yes. So, it’s good that you mentioned that because we always as a festival we have goals every year and one of them this year was to highlight older cinema or films that not just the new stuff, kind of looking back at our history to understand where we are now in terms of Latino cinema. So, we’re able to do this through these tributes that we’re screening which we are really like as mentioned really happy and thrilled about particularly with Arturo Ripstein and María Rojo, who are such important figures in Mexican cinema that it’s a shame to think that there might be a generation of individuals who don’t know who they are. Like that just to me is mind-boggling. So, I hope that by screening them at a festival that it will introduce a new wave of CineFiles to this two amazing individuals who have filmed just some of the most amazing films in Mexican history.
Beth Accomando: You’re talking about the diversity that runs through the festival, but if people want to get kind of a condense version of that. You have shorts program as well?
Moises Esparza: We also have shorts programs and the short film is really mesmerizing to me just the structure and the format. Short films have to tell an entire story in sometimes a minute, sometimes 10 and that is where you see the true, I think, innovation of cinema. I don’t know if people understand this about shorts programs, but you’re essentially getting 10 amazing films in the span of like 90 minutes. So, it’s really a deal and a bargain but sometimes people are little bit apprehensive about short films and I do not think that they need to be. I think that they’ll really be mesmerized by the talent of these filmmakers who have to tell his thought-out stories with limited budget, limited duration and with limited resources overall. And the outcome, the product is just as good if not better than some of this 90-minute feature films that we screen. So, there will always be a place for the short film format at our festival.
Beth Accomando: As someone who has worked on programming festivals and shorts programs, the thing about a shorts program is always like it’s like trusting the programmer to give you a really great mix tape where the flow of it has a kind of just the flow of the shorts is a story in itself to a certain degree.
Moises Esparza: That’s a great way to describe the perfect mix tape. It’s a mix that you give someone revolving on a certain theme and that you trust that the good films are just not the beginning and the end, but that everything in the middle is also impressive. And I think that our shorts curator, Juan Lopez, has dedicated so much time to put in these programs together that audiences will not be disappointed.
Beth Accomando: And are there any other films that you might want to highlight films that could get lost in the shuffle because you’re showing a lot of movies and you look at the program which is pages and pages long, you might not know where to turn to find something. So, is there something that maybe people might miss that you want to make sure kind of gets highlighted?
Moises Esparza: Yeah, there’s one film in particular that has really made an impression on me and that I hope that audiences seek out even though it’s not the most heartwarming of films. It’s called Tempestad. It’s directed by Tatiana Huezo. It’s a documentary film. It’s a film about two women who lived completely different experiences, but they are dealing with systems of oppression that exist in Mexico that are relevant to not only them but a lot of people who live in Mexico or who have lived in Mexico. So, the film is split into two different narratives essentially and the first one is about a woman who was wrongfully imprisoned and without giving too much away because that would really take you away from the experience. You only hear the woman in voice over, so you don’t ever get to meet the subject. And what you do get instead is an assemblage of images that are sometimes indirectly related to what she’s narrating, but the mixture of these images and the dialog make for really immersive film-going experience. And I watch a lot of the screeners on small laptop or like my desktop. So I haven’t seen some of these on a big screen. So this movie made a huge impact just because of its visuals from a small monitor. I know that the people who take a chance and seeing on the big screen are going to be moved very, very deeply by this film.
And then the second portion of the film, second narrative, you get to meet a travelling circus and one of the participants of this circus, her daughter was kidnapped by local authorities and you meet this mother who is going through so much pain yet she has to perform as a comedy clown as her profession. So, you get this really interesting juxtaposition of profession and what made the costume, the makeup you put on for your job versus the reality of your identity. Both narratives in the film are really wonderfully told and I hope that people take a chance on Tempestad because I think it’s one of the best films that I’ve seen in the four years that I’ve done this.
Beth Accomando: And this year, how many films did you have to look at and how many films have you paired this down to?
Moises Esparza: We screened, the screening committee myself, and Juan and all of the other wonderful volunteers who assist, we screened over 700 movies this year. We created an excel sheet with all of the films and I think were 178 feature and short films. So, it’s quite a lot of movies. The point of a film festival is to think about as a luxurious vacation for yourself where you’re going to see a lot of amazing films in a span of five days. So, give in to that luxury, don’t feel like you just have to watch one really engaged, really take the time to look through the catalog. That’s what so amazing about film festivals take you to watch five, six movies in a day and then you go to-- you wake up and you do it all over again and film-going is one of the best, in my opinion, activities. So, I really hope that people take the chance in our film festival and make it out to our movies.
Beth Accomando: And how many different countries are you representing this year?
Moises Esparza: Yeah. So, I think we’re 20 plus. So we have a lot of diversity in terms of countries. So, again we want to present the most authentic and accurate pool of films that are being produced in these countries and I think we have an underrun film, we have a film from Costa Rica, we have a Panamanian film. I mean we’re just really excited by the diversity of our countries this year.
Beth Accomando: Well, I’ve always found that there’s two approaches you can take to a film festival and that is, one, you go through the program and very carefully select your films and lay out a plan and kind of go in with a real mission. And then the other option which is tried one year and I have to say it had amazing results which is, you go down and whatever is playing, the moment you get there you gamble on. And I had a year where I couldn’t get off of work and so I would just have to leave work and go down and I didn’t have as much choice as to what I was able to see. So, I thought, okay, I’m just going to go and whatever is starting like within 10/15 minutes of when I get there, I’m going to see that. And I saw a few films I didn’t like, but I also saw some that I never would have selected based on the description and there were some of the best films I’ve seen. So, people should not be intimidated about tackling this. You can go any way you want and you’ll find amazing things.
Moises Esparza: You’re absolutely right. You take a very bold approach, very daring. I encourage it. I just think that people should let themselves be surprised and I think that they will be with some of the selection this year.
Beth Accomando: That was San Diego Latino Film Festival programmer Moises Esparza. Thanks for listening to another edition of listener-supported KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. Cinema Junkie is also a proud supporter of Landmark Theatres’ midnight movies at the Ken Cinema. So go check out what’s playing, Saturdays at midnight.
If you enjoyed this podcast, I also recommend checking out Cinema Junkie Podcast 66 about extreme Latin cinema, old and new. It features an interview I did with visionary veteran filmmaker Arturo Ripstein and he’ll be attending this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival as an honored guest. There will be a tribute to him and he’ll be at the festival on March 24th for screening of Deep Crimson. So check out the podcast and his work, he’s amazing. So, till our next film fix I’m Beth Accomando, your resident Cinema Junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place