Lost in Utah with Gael

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I just got back from my first trip to Sundance. A short film I acted in (Small Collection by Dir. Jeremiah Crowell – shameless plug) was selected for the official selection. By the second day, I had a hard time remembering what day it was.

And no, it wasn’t because I was abusing the open bars. Being packed into a little mountain town with people from all over the world, being in a movie theater packed with 1,200 other people at 8:00 in the morning, continually being transported cinematically from one landscape to the next fucks with your sense of time. In one day, I traveled to the Spanish civil war in The Anarchist’s Wife (Spain, Dir. Marie Noelle, Peter Sehr) ), the underbelly of the Mexican countryside in Sin Nombre (US, Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga) and closeted Burma in Burma VJ (Denmark, Dir. Anders Ostergaard) all before a little late-night disco inner tubing. Is it any wonder that I was lost in Utah?

If being lost in Utah means watching Gael Garcia Bernal sing “Quiero que me quieras” at 10am, I will gladly hand over my New York passport. I had the unique pleasure of watching Rudo and Cursi, the first film by the Mexican powerhouse Cha Cha Cha productions, at 8:30am in a packed theater, followed by a Q & A with director Carlos Cuarón (hermano de Alfonso), producers Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal, who even though he just became a first time papi made the trip from Madrid just for Sundance. (Co-star and fellow baby daddy Diego Luna, was doing a play in Mexico City and couldn’t make it.)

Hey, I’m not alone in my fetish for Gael, the programmer introduced the panel asking the audience to please respect the performers privacy and NOT try to throw oneself into his car as he leaves. So, after the screaming and catcalls – yes there was one particularly aggressive blond, again, not me, who wouldn’t stop screaming – the panel answered some questions.

Gael explained some of his training process. In the film he plays a banana plantation worker who dreams of becoming a singer but instead falls into the career of a professional soccer player. So, he had to work on his accordion playing and soccer skills. He shared that learning to play that portable piano had a pretty steep learning curve. Not that he tortured the crew with his attempts but it was a bright day when finally no one actually asked him to stop.

In the film Gael sings a Spanish rendition of Cheap Trick’s I want you to want me, so of course, one audience member asked him to sing a few lines of the song. Poor guy. He really didn’t want to, he demurred saying, he didn’t become an actor to be a singer, but he wasn’t getting off the hook from anyone, not even his boys had his back. Sowhen he belted out “Quiero que me quieras,” the audience went wild…with the aforementioned blond sitting in front of me nearly losing her mind.

Moving to more serious topics, the most rewarding film I saw at the festival was a feature by first time director Cary Joji Fukunaga called Sin Nombre. Remember his name. Watch the film when it comes out. He’s going to be huge, I promise. In the words of the Sundance guide, “a socio-political thriller in the tradition of American film noir, Sin Nombre is set on the border, where Mexico becomes the crucible and the fearsome gangs of today’s Mexican countryside, the gauntlet to freedom.” That is a lot to tackle and Fukunaga does it with skill and integrity.

Fukunaga, who is of Japanese and Swedish heritage and grew up in California’s East Bay, was very clear about how he felt about the process of casting, and how it often ruins the film. When he signed up to do it, he had it written into his contract that they would use Central American actors to play the Central American roles instead of simply fishing out of the broader Mexican pool. And did he succeed. Edgar Flores, first time actor from Honduras, is heartbreaking in the film. At the Q & A panel after the first screening (yes, I saw it twice), the lead actor, Flores simply cried with joy. At the second Q & A, he described how the experience has changed his life, how it wasn’t until he was working on the film for a week that he really realized that he had the job. Kudos to them all, I say, for Fukunaga for having the balls to insist on authentic casting and for the cast on pulling it off.

I could go on about Fukunaga but I’ll save that for another post. Final thought… I don’t know that I would say that Latino films were well represented this year at Sundance, but I will say that they have generated a nice buzz. Quality not quantity wins that duel.