Missed the Tribeca Film Festival? Here’s A Recap Of Everything Fun/Important That Happened

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It doesn’t happen often but, once in a while, a big film festival inadvertently turns into a Latino one. This year’s Tribeca Film Festival provided a heavy dose of Latin American films and Latino celebrities. There were movies about New Yorkers searching for love (starring and produced by America Ferrera), a black-and-white ode to slackers set during a Mexico City student strike, a divorced Miami chef who buys a food truck (starring John Leguizamo and Sofia Vergara), a Venezuelan kid who’s obsessed with having straight hair, a naive Afro-Colombian teen who gets caught up in drug smuggling (produced by Spike Lee), plus documentaries on transgender youth in Puerto Rico, Diego Maradona, farm workers in Florida fighting for fair wages (produced by Eva Longoria), soccer during the Chilean dictatorship, and the Argentinian pretty-boy boxer Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez.

Hopefully, you put our Guide to Everything Latino at the Tribeca Film Festival to good use and caught some of the movies. If not, you missed out on a lot. There were premieres, celebrities, interviews, drag balls, immersive transmedia exhibits, parties, and lots of booze (usually free). Here’s a recap of the past two weeks in pictures and tweets.

Thursday, April 17

Together with the Tribeca Film Institute, Heineken is the co-founder of the annual Voces Award. In its third year, the grant is one of very few funding opportunities available to U.S.-based Latino directors. This year’s winners were announced at a party that was a who’s-who of the New York Latino film world. The two projects receiving the much-needed grant money are Rodrigo Reyes‘ documentary Sanson and Me and Yolanda Cruz‘s fiction film La Raya. In between the mingling and the drinks I was able to chat with both of the winners about what it means to be a Latino filmmaker.

Since they both were born in Mexico, I was curious to know how the experience of living in the United States factored into their filmmaking. Yolanda, who comes from an indigenous community in Oaxaca, studied film at UCLA. “My work is definitely influenced by my experience in the U.S.,” she said. “Sometimes, Latinos they grow up with the fantasies of their parents of what is Mexico or what is Latin America — this nostalgia of what it is like back home. What I bring to the table is that I grew up there and I have family there. And I’m like no, life is not ideal. At the same time when I go to Mexico, when I have conversations with people who have never left, they think that the U.S. is evil or the opposite they think everybody is rich, that life is easy in the U.S. and then I’m like, well it’s not. That is what I can bring into the conversation of filmmaking because I am fortunate enough that I can go back and forth between those two things. My work is richer because I have those two experiences; I can have those two angles.”

Rodrigo, who was born in Mexico City, moved to California when he was six. He credits moviemaking with helping temper his feelings of in-between-ness “I’m interested in subject matters that touch me. And a big thing that I’ve had to deal with has been, what am I? Am I Mexican? Am I American? How do I deal with these two cultures? How do I find a way to make them co-exist? Now, I’ve found a way to strike a balance thanks to filmmaking.”

Later that night, at a theater in Chelsea, Spike Lee showed up to introduce Manos Sucias, a film he Executive Produced. Set on the Pacific coast of Colombia, it tells the story of Delio, a naive Afro-Colombian teen, who gets caught up in drug smuggling.

Friday, April 18

Maravilla, a documentary on the Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez, is one of the most riveting films that played Tribeca. I caught the doc at a press screening before the festival and was mesmerized. I walked in having serious ethical problems with the sport of boxing and walked out a huge fan of Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez and wanting to punch things. No joke, I was so hyped! It was like the cinematic equivalent of listening to “Eye of the Tiger” on loop. I forgot all about my issues with boxing and got wrapped up in his story of growing up in rural Argentina and struggling to make it in an industry that favors big money and politics. Even though Maravilla wasn’t in town for the festival (he is in training camp for an upcoming match) I was still able to interview him. He absolutely wins the award for being the best looking/most humble (but still filled with Argentine bravado) boxer that ever was. I chatted with Sergio Martinez about the documentary, the need to talk smack before a bout, and his favorite Rocky movie. I also got a chance to interview the filmmaker, Juan Pablo Cadaveira, Director of Maravilla Doc On Trying Not To Piss Off the Boxing World.

Saturday, April 19

On Saturday there was a free outdoor screening of Next Goal Wins, a crowd-pleasing documentary on the American Samoa men’s national soccer team. (I know, it’s not a Latino film but I heart futbol and had to include it.) The Samoan team suffered an embarrassing 31-0 loss versus Australia back in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup and have been consistently listed in last place in FIFA’s rankings. In attendance was their new head coach who screamed at them until they started scoring goals plus members of the national team. The star of the night and movie, both on the field and off, is Jaiyah Saelua who was born biologically male but identifies herself as a member of Samoa’s third gender, the Fa’afafine, making her the first transgender person to play in a World Cup qualifier. In a slinky, white dress Jaiyah was surrounded by fans after the screening. It’s a classic underdog story and totally worth checking out. (The doc is currently in theaters in NY, SF, and LA.)

Sunday, April 20

A special screening of two soccer documentaries from ESPN’s acclaimed 30 For 30 series, followed by a panel moderated by Chris Connelly spotlighted South American futbol. (There’s nothing like finding out an MTV VJ you grew up watching is now a legitimate journalist with grey hair to make you feel really old.) The Opposition, tells the story of two Chilean national team players who found themselves wearing their country’s jersey following the violent 1973 coup that removed Salvador Allende from power despite being completely against the dictatorship. Maradona ’86 recounts the heyday of Diego Maradona‘s soccer wizardry — before his descent into drugs and controversy — when he led his team to a win in the 1986 World Cup. After the screening Sam Blair, the British director of Maradona ’86, explained what it was like to see Maradona score the infamous ‘mano de Dios’ goal against the English national team, “I was nine years old when Maradona punched that goal past us. That was the first World Cup I remember watching and it was the first time I learned that life isn’t fair.” The audience burst out laughing.

Monday, April 21

A drag ball on a Monday? Yes and yes! We danced, drank, and rubbed elbows with America Ferrera while watching the incredible drag performances at the party for Mala Mala, a documentary on transgender youth in Puerto Rico. Check out our recap from the party, Dancing with America Ferrera at a Drag Ball: Tribeca Celebrates Puerto Rican Documentary Mala Mala. Plus, here’s our review of Mala Mala.

Dancing with America Ferrera at a Drag Ball: Tribeca Celebrates Puerto Rican Documentary “Mala Mala”

Then, I tweeted America Ferrera and she wrote back. That helped take the edge off my Tuesday morning hangover.

Tuesday, April 22

At the screening of Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau and starring John Leguizamo and Sofia Vergara, Favreau said he was inspired by the Latino culture that exists in America’s kitchens and wanted to celebrate it. His movie absolutely did in a way that isn’t forced and is authentic without resorting to stereotypes. It’s funny, heartwarming and filled with amazing food and music. Finally, we get to see Vergara in a role where she is smart, beautiful and successful but isn’t sexualized and doesn’t exaggerate her accent. The film went on to win the Audience Award at the fest.

Wednesday, April 23

We wandered around the immersive transmedia exhibits and drank a lot. Thank God for liquor sponsors! In the powerful Use of Force project, creator Nonny de la Peña, using virtual reality goggles, places the participant on scene when the U.S. Border Patrol beat Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant, to death back in 2010. Here’s our review: Tribeca’s Storyscapes Is a Magical Land of Interactive Exhibits, Social Justice, and Free Booze. Even Robert De Niro checked it out.

Thursday, April 24

This Year, Tribeca’s Latin American Films Focused on Music & Youth. Three of the Latin American filmmakers featured at this year’s fest crafted multi-layered stories that focus on young people’s perspectives, weaving in musical themes in unexpected ways. Venezuelan director Mariana Rondón tells the story of a Venezuelan kid who’s obsessed with having straight hair in Pelo Malo. Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios brings us Güeros, a black-and-white ode to slackers set during a Mexico City student strike and American director Josef Wladyka is at the fest with his first film Manos Sucias about a naive Afro-Colombian teen who gets caught up in drug smuggling. We had a chance to chat with the three directors about their inspirations, favorite movies from childhood, and working with young actors.

Saturday, April 26

Eva Longoria was present at the screening of Food Chains, a documentary she Executive Produced on the very politically-active farm workers in Imokalee, Florida. After successfully lobbying Taco Bell and Walmart to pay more to the tomato farmers they represent, the Coalition of Imokalee Workers is now targeting large supermarket chains with their ‘Fair Food Program.’ The buzz around the screening even landed some of the movie’s subjects on the cover of the New York Times. In a poignant moment after the film Eva eloquently said, “We spend so much time thinking about our food, whether it’s gluten-free or dairy-free, but we don’t really think about the people that pick it.”

Later in the day the audience awards and other prizes were announced. Damian García won Best Cinematography for his work on the Mexican film Güeros. The Best New Narrative Director went to Josef Wladyka of Manos Sucias with a Special Jury Mention for the helmer of Güeros, Alonso Ruizpalacios. Jon Favreu’s ode to Latino food and culture, Chef, won an Audience Award.

Then, it was time to say goodbye at the TFF Wrap Party. We were sad but after a few free drinks it didn’t last too long. Until next year Tribeca, we will miss you terribly. Keep your fingers crossed that 2015 is as big a celebration of Latino films as it was this year! (Last year, not so much.)