The Maya Indie Film Series in LA


The Maya Indie Film Series, a national traveling film series now in its second year, comes to Los Angeles on August 27. The films will play in repertory for one week at Manns Chinese 8 to tie in with Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.

The six films in the series include: The Kid: Chamaco, a bi-lingual drama about a Mexican boxer starring Martin Sheen, Kirk Harris, Alex Perea, and Michael Madsen; Backyard, a Mexican thriller starring Jimmy Smits, Ana de la Reguera, and Joaquin Cosio; a family film about Roberto Clemente starring Ray Liotta and Rory Culkin called Chasing 3000; a Brazilian comedy, In Therapy, starring Lilia Cabral and Jose Mayer; Michelle Rodriguez and Juan Fernandez star in Tropico De Sangre, based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters; and Solo Quiero Caminar, a thriller starring Diego Luna and Jose Maria Yazpik.

Miguel Necoechea’s “Chamaco” (“The Kid”), the latest feature film by Los Angeles-based Rogue Arts (in co-production with Ivania Films, Mexico City,) was acquired over the holidays by Los Angeles based Maya Entertainment, prior to it’s its U.S. premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film premiered in October at the Morelia Film Festival.

“Tropico De Sangre” tells the true story of the martyred Mirabal sisters who openly opposed the brutal dictatorship General Rafael Trujillo and and were brutally murdered. The film, which stars Michelle Rodriguez as Minerva Mirabal, César Évora as Antonio de la Maza, and Juan Fernandez as Rafael Trujillo, was developed with the participation of the surviving sister Adela “Dede” Mirabal, and premiered at the New York International Film Festival, 2010. The story the three heroes of the Dominican Republic, has been brought to the screen before. “In the Time of the Butterflies” (2001), based on a novel by Julia Álvarez, starred Salma Hayek, Marc Anthony and Edward James Olmos (as Trujilo.)

“The film series is a celebration of the best of U.S. and foreign Latino-themed cinema,” said Maya Entertainment President, Jose Martinez, Jr. “Maya Entertainment continues to strive to make available to the U.S. marketplace, quality cinema that features the voices, culture and aspirations of Latinos throughout the world.” All of the films will be available for rent on home video starting in September to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month.

The national dates of the series, which has already played in Dallas and Washington D.C. are: August 6 – New York City,
August 13 – Chicago
August 20 – Miami
August 27 – Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego

Agustin Diaz Yanes’s gripping femme-gangster film “Solo Quiero Caminar” (Just Walking), returns to the ambiance of his earlier femme thriller “Nobody Will Speak of Us When We’re Dead” (1995). Four female hoodlums face off the Mexican Mafia and assorted outrages of male chauvinism in this heist -revenge flick.

Packed with film references from Peckinpah to Melville, the film hides its implausible plot points with rapid-fire edits and handsome, kinetic cinematography (watch for those tracking shots!).

A failed robbery by four Spanish hoods; sisters Aurora (Ariadna Gil) and Ana (Elena Anaya), and pals Gloria (Victoria Abril) and Paloma (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), lands Aurora in jail. Paloma (who works in a law office), and Gloria attempt to get Aurora out.

Prostitute Ana meets Mex Mafiosos Felix (Jose Maria Yazpik) and his baby-faced assasin Gabriel (Diego Luna).”Ana, you’ve got poetry in your lips” Felix says, courting her after his paid blowjob. “You can’t marry” a whore” counsels Diego, “the day you marry her the blow jobs stop.”

Ana marries possessive Felix and goes back to Mexico with them. Worn out by Felix’s jealousy and condescension, Ana plans to rob him and brings Gloria in on the job. Their target-a hard drive containing Felix’s plans with the Korean Mafia. In Spain, Paloma barters sexual favors with a judge to shorten Aurora’s sentence.

Released from prison, Aurora joins the others in Mexico. Suspicious Felix orders the women followed and, later, killed. Gabriel hooks up with Aurora for a steamy night of lovemaking. His loyalty wavers. “I’m worried. She’s one of those women who turn boys into men, and men into boys,” warns thug Cayuco when Gabriel gets involved with Aurora.

Yanes counterpoints the women’s calculated acts against the braggadocio and hubris of the male characters. “They are Spaniards, man,” explains Felix to his hit man Gabriel. The women crack safes, drop kick baddies, and suffer violence with the brio of male action stars. (You’ve never seen a robber wriggle through a tunnel in a flamenco dress before.)

José Alvarenga Jr.’s “In Therapy” (the Brazilian title Divã translates to Couch) was as successful in Brazil as the play on which it was based. Lilia Cabral developed the successful stage play by Marcelo Saback, based on a novel by Martha Medeiros. She brings her stage character to life with feeling.

Mercedes, a 40-something, married, mother of two decides to see a Dr. Lopes, a psychiatrist. She explains that she has no serious problems but is curious about the direction of her life. Mercedes has two sons, has been married for 20 years to Gustavo (Joseph Mayer) tutors math students and paints in her spare time. But something, some sort of quiet mid-life crisis, is chewing at her perfect life. Shy Mercedes opens up to her first therapist. Screenwriter Marcelo Saback fleshed out his novel and stage play when he adapted the story for the screen, adding scenes, visual jokes and characters to open up the visual possibilities.

When Mercedes runs into an acquaintance. quips fly. The opinionated busy body explains “sexual harassment is only a crime if the man is ugly.”

Mercedes speaks to us even more than to her shrink. Cabral’s performance builds an easy empathy with her audience. Alexandra Richter, as Mercedes’ best friend Monica, almost steals the movie. Monica, who married “as a virgin” complains about her sex life. Mercedes commiserates that married sex life is boring. To the horror of a patient waiter, Mercedes gives self-love tips to Monica, explaining that she always has Mel Gibson to help out her masturbatory fantasies. “If you get home and your husband is asleep, Mel Gibson might be busy” she jokes to scandalized Monica.

Mercedes wonders if Gustavo is unfaithful but the thought doesn’t worry her. A chance meeting with Theo, the handsome brother of one of her students, leads to a romantic fling. The next day, she pops into the hairdresser and begs Rene (who) to “spike it out.”

When Theo settles down with a younger woman Mercedes confesses to Dr. Lopes “It wasn’t love, I’m sure, but I was focused, calm.” Monica and Renee play comic Greek chorus while Mercedes gets up courage to leave Gustavo.

There have been a spate of Brazilian middle-class comedies following the success of Daniel Filho’s comedies: “The Inheritance” (A Partilha- 2001), “If I Were You” (Se Eu Fosse Você-2006), ” Lots of Ice and a Little Bit of Water” (Muito Gelo e Dois Dedos D’Água-2006.) José Alvarenga Jr.’s dramedy follows on their heels. The film was a tear-jerking audience pleaser at LABRIFF, 2010, where I saw it.

Carlos Carerra’s thriller, “Backyard” (El Traspatio), was one of the strongest contenders in the 2009 Oscar Foreign Film race.

The screenplay by Sabina Berman is based on actual events that took place in 1996 in Ciudad Juárez: a Mexican border city sustained by American-owned factories (maquiladoras) that riddled the Mexican side of the border after the NAFTA agreement went into effect.

Press notes explain,”1996 was the year when people on both sides of the border began to grow accustomed to the fact that every month or every week in Juárez, a young woman would turn up dead. The screenplay was written in the year 2001 as the murders continued: three or four bodies appeared like clockwork every month, while the author [Sabina Berman] was writing her screenplay in the local Holiday Inn. Backyard was filmed on location in 2008, when each week murdered women continued to appear–in keeping with what is now a local Juárez custom.”

Earlier films like Lourdes Portillo’s extraordinary documentary “Señorita extraviada “(Missing Young Woman-2001), “The Virgin of Juarez (2006) and the Jennifer Lopez vehicle “Bordertown” (2006), have tackled the subject..

The production received numerous death threats during filming. One actress was replaced after she found a slaughtered lamb on her doorstep.
Local governments downplayed the murders to keep international investments flowing and prop up business interests. Both the Juárez and Mexico governments tried to dissuade Carrera from filming but ultimately provided protection to the crew, which shot in a cordon of armed men, including Army troops and agents of the Division of Investigation Specializing in Organized Crime (SIEDO).

Carrera (“El crimen del Padre Amaro”) based his fictional thriller on true stories. He shines a light on the various possible culprits of the ongoing Mexican femicide. Whether it’s the work of a serial killer, snuff film makers or sex traffickers, what emerges is a grim portrait of a society on the brink, in which femicide is common and the culprits have never been brought to justice.

Dogged Police Captain Blanca Bravo (Ana de la Reguera) investigates the murders of rural migrants who work in multi-nationally owned sweatshops on the border.

Her investigation of a preserved body of a young woman (sans nipple) leads her to suspected serial killer Sultan (Sayed Badreya). But the murders continue while he is custody. He leads Bravo to the Cheros gang’s nighclub,
owned by sleezy bar owner, and sex criminal Mickey Sanchez (Jimmy Smits), who maintains his respectable family life (and cover) in El Paso. Sanchez favors school girls, and the lawless bordertown offers him easy pickings.

Teenage Juanita Sanchez (Asur Zagada) joins her cousin Márgara (Amorita Rasgada) who works in an electronics maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez. On Juanita’s first day at work, the factory doctor gives her birth control pills and warns her she’ll be fired if she gets pregnant. One way or another, women are valued or devalued in sexual terms.

Juanita’s naive romance with Cutberto (Ivan Cortes), leads to her death.
Both actors are wonderful as the easily manipulated peasant workers in well over the heads. Traditional Cutberto is lead around by the nose by a group of rapacious club goers. DP Martin Boege’s shots of the desert dumping grounds, where bodies turn up almost ritually add some dark poetics to the earnest melodrama. The nightclub sequence and ensuing kidnapping, rape and murder is harrowing and sadly believable.

A literary DJ details the murders on the local radio station. Joaquín Cosio plays the reporter Peralta. Alejandro Calva plays the corrupt police commander, trying to protect his promised desk job. Enoc Leaño plays the Governor of Chihuahua, eager to get the story of the unsolved crimes off the pages of the New York Times. Worried that the factories will be closed down by the scandal he convenes a task force. His ideas fall flat. The powerful Japanese and Texna industrialists who own the biggest factories have no interest in spending money to make Ciudad Juárez safer for women. Rather than hire more police, or install proper lighting, they threaten to move their factories to countries that will undersell the Mexican $1.08 an hour wage.

Carrera portrays the ruthlessness of Globalized capital. His end titles are a rolling head count of femicides in Spain and the Americas (3541 were killed in the US in 2004 alone.)


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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