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Ojos! 5 Hot American Latino films to discover in 2013

All are first features by wildly original voices who are remixing potent multi-cultural heritage and inventing their own unique brand of genre. So much talent! Makes this Chicanita so proud!

Let’s start with numero uno:

1. Water & Power – from Chicano wordsmith warrior and Culture Clash iconoclast, Richard J. Montoya and produced by Mark Roberts. This is the screen adaptation of Montoya's 2006 play originally performed at the Mark Taper Forum in La. Rife with The City of Angels' legends, haunts and lore, the Chicano noir tale (how cool is that?) takes place over the course of one fateful night. An intense story centered on twin brothers nicknamed “Water” played by Enrique Murciano and “Power” played by Nicolas Gonzalez who were born and raised on the East Side streets playground - one grows up to be a senator and the other a high ranking cop. The young gifted musical artist and composer Gingger Shankar (Circumstance, Charlie Wilson's War) has contributed music to the film. The project participated in the 2007 Sundance Institute screenwriters & directors lab. A madly prolific playwright (a regular Berkeley and Yale Repertory Theatre collaborator), I got a chance to see Montoya's uproarious American history redux play, American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose last fall (read the La Weekly feature review here). An uncompromising artist with a thundering voice all over the culture pop pulse, Montoya's first feature film tops my list of films to watch out for in 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

Like the Facebook page to stay on top of future premiere announcements and here's a pic on Mark Roberts website

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2. Pardon – written and directed by R.F. Rodriguez and produced by his production company BadMansSon. A story that deals with a cholo ex-con who returns to his barrio in Highland Park and sets to go on the straight and narrow but soon finds himself pulled by his old gang familia may sound familiar, but never has it been as emotionally excavated and depicted with such sensitivity and complexity. Hector Atreyu Ruizis Saul Sanchez whose driving motivation is the chance to reunite with his estranged daughter. Guided by a sympathetic parole officer, played by Tracey Heggins (from the 2008 indie African-American gem (Medicine for Melancholy), Saul tackles catch-22 circumstances towards his mission and confronts growing uneasiness from his vatos who continue to test if he's still down. At its core the film is an exploration about fatherhood and home, in particular highlighting the social phenomenon of absentee fathers because they are behind bars, an issue predominantly afflicting Latino families and communities.

Rodriguez, a USC film school grad, made the feature before graduating, having fleshed the story further out of the short film he made of the same name. His project mentor, Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) encouraged him to do more with it and this is the amazing result. With earnest and raw performances, the moving and powerfully directed film marks this a sign of a true filmmaker talent discovery.

Website, Twitter

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3. Recommended By Enrique written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh and produced by their NY based company En Passant Films. Shot in border town Del Rio, Texas (the U.S. side of the Rio Grande) with an offbeat hipster cast of young non-professionals plucked locally, the quirky, mystical tale is about an aspiring actress and an old cowboy who each arrive into town with respective plans and expectations, only to end up waiting for something to happen. Forced to wait out their time, they've nothing to do but explore the bewitching town and its people. Lino Varela plays the Cowboy and Sarah Swinwood, a Canadian newcomer actress nails the airhead wannabe star.

This is the second feature film from Texas native Daniel Garcia and Lebanese born Rania. Their first film, Ok, Enough, Goodbye screened at San Francisco International Film Festival among other world wide festivals, and the duo were included in 2011's Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Undertones of a Twilight Zone type of dimension and the spellbinding pull of the dusty town are perfect captured - as anyone who's been in these strange little Texas towns can attest. An unexpected, unpredictable and ultimately lyrical film, this definitely gets my recommendation.

Website, Facebook

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4. Vincent & Luzy (Fka On the Run) written and directed by Alberto Barboza and produced by Cinético Productions. A charming, hip and modern fairy tale love story between a soulful graffiti artist,Vincent, played by Miguel Angel Caballero, and sexy tattoo artist, Luz, or Luzy played by Iliana Carter Ramirez. The film captures and romanticizes the happening, multi-culti rockabilly/emo scene and counter culture of Boyle Heights and Echo Parque, and features lots of home grown talent and spots like Self Help Graphics, the community visual arts mission center. The posters created by Vincent in the film are designed by La native, rising street artist, El Mac (Miles MacGregor). You'll recognize some of his murals around La like this one on Hollywood and Wilton, one of my favorites. He just did the album cover for No Doubt.

An eclectic soundtrack featuring local Vallenato band, Very Be Careful, Hermanos Herrera, Irene Diaz, Doghouse Lords and more. The cast also includes ol' G', Sal Lopez (American Me) and Lupe Ontiveros in what may be her last film role before she passed away last year (she also has a small role in Water & Power).

Fresh, exuberant and inhabiting a distinct, heightened magical street reality, Vincent & Luzy might be the first film to truly reflect this young, vibrant artist subculture, making this one a hot to track.

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5. Blaze You Out – written and directed by Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez and produced by Alicia J. Keyes. Set in the rarely seen mystic world of New Mexico, this young female driven thriller is uniquely atmospheric. Starring the rising young talent, Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas) along with Elizabeth Pena, Q'orianka Kilcher and Raoul Trujillo, all who ignite the screen. Diaz stars as Lupe, a DJ who is forced to venture into her town's heroin trade underworld in order to save her younger sister Alicia's life. To do so she must confront mysterious occult figures and harness the power within her to connect with the divine that surrounds her.

I was thrilled to hear that Lionsgate picked up the film at Afm a couple months ago. Lionsgate/Grindstone will release the film July 2013. 6 Sales is handling rights to rest of world. Intense and wicked and unlike anything else this is a film to look forward to. In the meantime, check out the press kit, pics and more on their site.

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Must Mention

Chavez – written and directed by Diego Luna and produced by Canana Films, Mr. Mudd and backed by Participant Media. The biography of an iconic Chicano figure, labor rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Luna, who is an international name talent, has obviously been given major press coverage ever since it was first announced so it doesn't really fit my 'Discovery' profile. That said, it is a highly anticipated and eagerly awaited film. I truly hope the film opens wide and mainstream - although Participant will likely need a partner to make this happen in the U.S. Michael Peña, the Puerto Rican actor catapulting towards leading man roles and more regularly Hollywood roles (he's also in Gangster Squad opening this weekend), embodies a young Chavez. It wasn’t quite ready for Sundance so it’s possible the film will bow at a high profile festival like Cannes or Toronto. Although I'm hoping Stephanie Allain, director of Film Independent's La Film Festival will go hard after the film to wrangle what would be a fitting La gala premiere. Diego Luna proved his salt as the filmmaker of Abel, an eloquent and heart-stirring portrait of a little delusional boy who pretends to be the man of the house since his father left. Peña recently shared his approach was to be truthful to Cesar the Man not necessarily the legend or myth generated by his colossal perseverance and labor rights feats. All eyes will be on the representation of such a querido and influential figure. My bet? All in. I trust the filmmakers and cast will deliver a resonant and accomplished cinematic film worthy of the inspiring civil rights story, and more importantly re-introduce Chavez to mobilize our millennial generation.

Do you have a hot independent American Latino film recommendation I should track? Holler at your girl. Email me at

Next up, Non-Fiction American Latino films to track in 2013

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