Programming Documentaries for a Film Festival Can Sometimes Feel Like You're In a Telenovela
I spent the earlier part of this year watching lots and lots of documentaries, about a hundred of them. Since the New York International Latino Film Festival puts out a yearly Call for Entries on withoutabox.com and allows for blind submissions--not all entries are good. Some of them, in fact, are really bad. But, then out of a pile of DVDs, one appears that is so good, it makes it all worth it.
After months of scouring the internet and obsessively looking through other festivals' programming announcements, after tons of emails to strangers, begging them to send you a DVD of a movie that you hope might be the one, after spending days watching film after film--dreary-eyed and delirious--then, all of a sudden, something magical happens. All the other kinda okay documentaries you've been watching fade into the background, you can barely even remember their names--it's just like falling in love.
It's the best, most amazing, satisfaction-guaranteed kind of feeling a film programmer can have. It's like the runner's high of marathon film-watching (except you're sitting on your couch). But, just like falling in love with a person, falling in love with a film can be filled with ups and downs and be fraught with heartache and disappointment--it can kinda feel like you are in a telenovela.
Sometimes, a movie you absolutely love and thought you couldn't live without suddenly doesn't return your calls. Maybe they are going to hold out for a festival that's bigger, more well-known, wealthier, prettier, skinnier. And it hurts, a lot. Other times, a film that promised to be faithful and actually made a commitment to you, breaks the news, a few days before your press release goes out that, "Sorry, it's over. I want to see other festivals." And because you really did love them, you wish them well and hope for the best.
Even in the the face of heartache and despair--what keeps me coming back--are the movies themselves. These are important stories. They speak to the varied and diverse experiences of Latin Americans and U.S.-born Latinos. We come from over 30 different countries, can be Black, White, Indigenous, or like the ex-President of Peru, Japanese. We are not one homogenous group of people. In my choice of films for this year, I tried to make that clear.
I've been programming documentaries for the New York International Latino Film Festival for a couple of years now. After watching hundreds of Latino docs, I can't tell you how many films I've seen about someone who lives and works in a garbage dump or who is crossing the border illegally. These certainly are compelling stories and absolutely deserve the chance to be heard - but this year I tried to reach beyond the familiar and find something completely different. I wanted to share stories you rarely hear. I wanted to share positive stories.
The result is an eclectic mix of films that come from Mexico, Cuba, Chile and the U.S. What they have in common are two themes that Latinos can relate to: music and family. They are funny, entertaining, sexy, inspiring, and might even put butterflies in your stomach. These are not your abuelita's documentaries.
BUSCANDO A LARISA (Looking for Larisa)
Director: Andrés Pardo | Mexico
Screening at 4:50 PM | Wed, Aug 15 | Chelsea Clearview Cinemas
One day filmmaker Andrés Pardo stumbles across 2,000 feet of Super 8 footage at a flea market in Mexico City. Home movies shot during the 1970s, at their center is a lovely young blond-haired girl, Larisa. Teaming up with a photographer friend, Pardo decides to try and track her down.
EL MÉDICO: THE CUBATÓN STORY
Director: Daniel Fridell | Cuba, Sweden
Screening at 7:00 PM | Wed, Aug 15 | Chelsea Clearview Cinemas
High up in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where Castro's revolution began, "El Médico," a doctor and musician, serves the cause. When a Swedish music producer sees "El Médico" as the next big thing, Communist ideals collide with capitalist dreams.
ESPERANDO A LOS BITLES (Waiting for the Beatles)
Directors: Diego Graue & Raymundo Marmolejo | Mexico
FREE Screening at 6:30 PM | Fri, Aug 17 | Chelsea Clearview Cinemas
Beatlemania is alive and well...in Mexico, where a fervent following pays continuous tribute to the groundbreaking Liverpool quartet. This hilarious and touching documentary shows that the genius of the Beatles transcends decades, continents, language and culture.
Director: María Paz González | Chile
Screening at 2:30 PM | Sat, Aug 18 | Chelsea Clearview Cinemas
Filmmaker María Paz González and her mother journey across Chile in a Volkswagen Beetle, searching for long-lost family members. María's mother, who was adopted, knows little of her personal history and goes in search of a sister she has never met. María hopes to connect with her father, a man she knows little about.
CLOSING NIGHT FILM + AFTER PARTY
Directors: Laura Brownson, Beth Levison | U.S.A.
Screening at 6:30 PM & 7:00 PM | Sat, Aug 18 | Chelsea Clearview Cinemas
Three-time felon, one-time Tony Award winner, Lemon Andersen is an acclaimed poet who broke out on Broadway in Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam. But Lemon has landed back in the projects and is desperate for a way out. He turns to the only things he has left, his pen and his story.
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