Monday, June 28, 2010


I am the exclusive U.S. rep for this elegant, heartbreaking Chilean documentary, which recently finished third in the audience voting at Hot Docs and has been praised in festivals all over Europe (famed filmmaker Costa Gravas - "Missing" - is a also big supporter). Now we're bringing the film to the U.S. First stop: Lincoln Center in September 2010.

My Life With Carlos TRAILER from Mario Diaz on Vimeo.

More exciting festival news soon! For queries about the film, leave a comment here and I will respond promptly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The 2010 Cannes Film Festival awards were presented on Sunday by an international jury that included Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro and was led by director Tim Burton. Javier Bardem took home the Best Actor award (a tie with "La Nostre Vita's" Elio Germano) for his gritty performance as a dying father Alejandro Gonález Iñárritu's "Biutiful." It was one of two awards presented to Latin American productions. The other was the Camera D'Or (Best First Film), which was awarded to "Año Bisiesto" ("Leap Year"), Mexican filmmaker Michael Rowe's sexually explicit chamber piece.

Latin America also fared very well in the awards for the Un Certain Regard sidebar, which were handed out on Saturday. The Jury Prize (Runner-Up) went to Daniel and Diego Vega, the young Peruvian directors of "Octubre" ("October"). According to the Associated Press, the film "garnered enthusiastic applause" at its premiere at Cannes. It is "the story of Clemente, a middle-aged loan shark and confirmed bachelor who suddenly finds himself saddled with an infant — apparently his — left on his doorstep by a prostitute he had frequented." (AP)

A special prize was also handed out to the three actresses - Adela Sánchez, Eva Bianco, and Victoria Rapos - at the center of the much-admired, Argentine film "Los Labios" ("The Lips") by Ivan Fund and Santiago Loza.

Here is the complete list of winners in all the categories:

—Palme d'Or (Golden Palm): "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)

—Grand Prize: "Of Gods and Men" by Xavier Beauvois (France)

—Jury Prize: "A Screaming Man" by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad)

—Best Director: Mathieu Amalric for "On Tour" (France)

—Best Actor: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful" (Mexico) and Elio Germano, "La Nostra Vita" (Italy)

—Best Actress: Juliette Binoche, "Certified Copy" (Iran)

—Best Screenplay: Lee Chang-Dong, "Poetry" (Korea)

—Camera d'Or (first-time director): "Ano Bisiesto" by Michael Rowe (Mexico)

—Best short film: "Chienne d'Histoire," by Serge Avedikian (France)

Prize of Un Certain Regard: Ha Ha Ha, directed by Hong Sangsoo
Jury Prize: Octubre, directed by Daniel Vega & Diego Vega
Special Prize: The three actresses—Adela Sanzhez, Eva Bianco, and Victoria Rapos—from Ivan Fund & Santiago Loza’s Los Labios (The Lips)

Art Cinema Award: Pieds nus sur les limaces, directed by Fabienne Berthaud (France)
Prix SACD/SACD Prize: Illégal, directed Olivier Masset-Depasse (Belgium – Luxembourg – France).
Label Europa Cinemas: Le Quattro Volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino (Italy)
PRIX SFR: “Cautare”, directed Ionut Piturescu (Romania) and “Mary Last Seen,” directed by Sean Durkin (USA)
Palm Dog Award: Vuk, the goatherd’s dog in Le Quattro Volte, directed by by Michelangelo Frammartino

Grand Prix Semaine de la Critique: Armadillo, directed by Janus Metz
SACD Prize: Bi, dung so! (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!), directed by Phan Dang Di
ACID/CCAS Support: Bi, dung so!, directed by Phan Dang Di
OFAJ (Very) Young Critic Award: Sound of Noise, directed by Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjaerne Nilsson
Canal+ Award for Best Short Film: “Berik,” directed by Daniel Joseph Borgman
Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film: “Deeper Than Yesterday,” directed by Ariel Kleiman

Cannes Competition: Tournée” (On Tour) directed by Mathieu Amalric
Un Certain Regard: Pal Adrienn, directed by Agnes Kocsis
Director’s Fortnight/Critics’ Week: Todos vos sodes capitans, directed by Olivier Laxe

Kaboom, directed by Gregg Araki

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The 2010 edition of the Cannes Film Festival is past the midway mark, so it's time to evaluate how the Latin American contingent has fared so far. Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Biutiful," the only Latin American film in the main competition, has already screened and received a mixed critical reception. Eric Kohn, Indiewire's newly-appointed chief critic, called it a "misguided melodrama", explaining that the director doesn't know the difference between "understanding the tools of melodrama and successfully putting them together." Read his review here. Hollywood blogger Anne Thompson printed this positive critique, saying that she "dived right into this chaotic milieu, caring for the guy" - referring to Javier Bardem's lowlife character. She reported that foreign critics were generally more positive about the film than their American counterparts, and that the film may have a hard time finding an audience stateside (it still doesn't have a U.S. distributor). The Hollywood Reporter, however, gushed about the film, calling it a "a gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt." You can read the review here. The one constant in all the reviews I read was that Bardem gives a stellar performance. Could he be headed to the Kodak theater in Hollywood again next year?

French filmmaker Oliver Assayas came to the Croisette with "Carlos," his 322-minute opus about "Carlos the Jackal." Edgar Ramírez ("Che") plays the starring role. The film has received unanimous praise from critics, especially former Variety critic (now working for Indiewire) Todd McCarthy. He calls it "an astonishing film" and compares Ramírez to "Brando in his prime." Read his entire review here. Another overwhelmingly positive review came courtesy of Variety's Justin Chang who called it (click here for his review) "a spectacular achievement." I know I'm stretching it here since Assayas is not a Latin American filmmaker but the subject matter warrants a write-up, me thinks.

Another notable film is "Los labios" ("The Lips"), Santiago Loza and Ivan Fund's documentary-like drama about three women on a government-sponsored poverty mission to the outbacks of Argentina. The film screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. The Hollywood Reporter writes that the filmmakers "show enormous respect for these selfless idealists and for the people unto whom they minister." But they warn, "It's an exceedingly small film that will find little space outside festivals." Click here for the complete review.

Brazil seems to have a hit in their hands with "5 x Favela: Now By Ourselves," a collection of 5 short films set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The project was the brainchild of Carlos Diegues and Renata De Almeida Magalhaes, who gathered over 80 young filmmakers and gave them the opportunity to tell stories about the places they know so well. Serving as teachers and advisers were big-name filmmakers Fernando Meirelles and Walter Selles. The Hollywood Reporter says it "renews faith in the kind of moviemaking that lives and breathes, and reflects the human spirit in all its colors." The film will be distributed next August by Sony and was screened out of competition at Cannes. For some interesting background on the project (it is actually a new incarnation of a groundbreaking 1962 collection of shorts by the same name), check out this article in the Wall Street Times.

"Carancho," Pablo Trapero's follow-up to the mesmerizing "Leonera" ("The Lion's Den") is being called "tough-as-nails." The film follows the exploits of an unscrupulous lawyer (Ricardo Darín) who takes advantage of Argentina's corrupt (at least in the eyes of Trapero) health-care system. Twitch calls it "the film of the festival," and adds "Trapero serves notice here that he is one of the very best film makers in the world today. Period." Read Twitch's review here. Screendaily considers it "an expertly crafted thriller steeped in the social injustices of Buenos Aires, it combines crisp storytelling with appealingly flawed characters and moments of startling violence." Read the complete review here. Every review I read seems to highlight the film's visceral violence. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, despite my previous criticisms of Darin in this blog.

Finally, a couple of curios:

"Leap Year" is a Mexican film by Australian transplant Michael Rowe. A chamber piece featuring three people stuck in a room for the entire film, it reportedly drove out audiences from screenings due to the explicit nature of the sex scenes. Hollywoord Reporter believes that "In the U.S. it would have to undergo major cuts to escape an X rating." Full review here.

"La casa muda" ("The Silent House") is Gustavo Hernández's haunted house horror pic. This Uruguayan film is actually made up of a SINGLE 78-minute take. The HR loved it, calling it a "meticulously crafted first feature." Read the review here.

"Nostalgia for the Light," is Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán's surreal documentary which juxtaposes the tragedy of those who perished under Pinochet's rule with ASTRONOMY! Variety calls it "often breathtaking" (click here for the full review), while the Hollywood Reporter claims the unusual concept "produces electrifying and unexpected results." (click here for the review).

As I come across more reviews I'll continue to add them to this post. And I'll be sure to report back when the awards are announced.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"ENTRE NOS:" A Real-Life Family Drama

In Hollywood, multi-hyphenate filmmakers like writer-director-producer-editor James Cameron are sometimes characterized as narcissists, their numerous credits seen as an insatiable need for control. In the indie film world, however, when filmmakers take on multiple roles it’s often due to sheer necessity.

Such was the case for Colombian actress Paola Mendoza, whose touching and nuanced new feature film "Entre Nos" was a hit at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. When she first conceived of the project, Mendoza simply set out to write a screenplay (along with co-screenwriter Gloria LaMorte) that would do justice to the real-life story of her immigrant mother who became homeless with two children when she first arrived in the U.S. The process took two years.

"We were just focused on writing a good script," Mendoza said in an interview during a recent screening of her film at the San Diego Film Festival. "And once that was done we went on to the next job."

The next job was finding a director, but when that effort proved fruitless they decided to direct the film themselves. Prior to going into production, Mendoza asked her mother, Liliana Legge, for the official rights to her life story. According to Mendoza, her mother said: "I give you permission to tell my story but only if you play me." Mendoza agreed, adding yet another credit to her growing list.

But that's not all. As is often the case in independent projects, her responsibilities also extended to tasks that went uncredited. During shooting, the now writer-director-actress also served as den mother to the two young actors who played her children (Laura Montana Cortéz, 6, and Sebastián Villada López, 10). "We shot the film in 18 days with two kids who are in 90 percent of the film and could only be on set 8 and 9 hours respectively. Every day was an impossible task, literally," Mendoza admitted.

The true nature of the story made the process even more challenging for Mendoza. She felt enormous pressure to represent her mother's experiences in a truthful way, both in her roles as actress and filmmaker. "I couldn't even eat. I was just angry, worried, and stressed," she recalled.

The process, overwhelming as it was, eventually paid off. "Gloria and I were very lucky. When we got to the shooting we shot a better film than we wrote, and when we got to the editing we edited a better movie than we shot. And that's the ideal trajectory."

"Entre Nos" makes public some very personal details about Legge's life. It recounts the time when the family had to sleep in park benches and resorted to collecting used cans on the street for money, as well as the moment when Legge's character was forced to make an extremely tough decision (I'll just leave it at that). Like it or not, the film brought back some painful memories for the real-life family members.

"I remember myself being a lot like [my character in the film] - a quiet strength. I have an overwhelming sense of obligation because of what my mom went through. I always felt that I had to help her, that I was the man of the house," said Rick Mendoza, who now has three children and is a Director of Admissions for a private university. He also made the trip to San Diego, along with his mother.

"It's true that I relied a lot on him. I couldn't make it through without him. He was my strength," confessed Legge, who now lives happily in California on a 5-acre ranch and works as a bookkeeper.

Ultimately, the film focuses on the way the family stuck together despite dire circumstances. Legge's character, for example, turns everything into a game for the kids in order to soften the brunt of reality. Rick Mendoza's character, meanwhile, catches on early and tries not to burden his mother with his fears. The theme that emerges is one of sacrifice and unity, and this gave the real-life family an opportunity to discuss issues long ignored and to grow even closer.

"I remember [my sister] sent me the first rough draft of the script as a Christmas gift. I started reading it thinking I would read for about 20 minutes and go to bed but I stayed up 'til 3 o'clock in the morning. I read the entire thing. Bawled my eyes out. And I think ever since then we've been a lot closer," said Rick Mendoza.

"Their sacrifices were huge for me and that's what has been so beautiful - making this movie, sharing it with the world, and then us having this beautiful relationship. My mother has been able to travel to a couple of film festivals with us. She's gotten so much love. My brother has been able to share in this movie, his kids will eventually see it and it's just a gift for the family that's been very special for us," added Paola Mendoza.

Mendoza is quickly becoming a mainstay in the Latin American independent film scene. In 2007, she starred in the Sundance Grand Prize winner "Padre Nuestro" and also co-directed (with Gabriel Noble) "Autumn Eyes," a feature documentary, which premiered at South by Southwest in 2006. She considers it part of her mission as an artist to contribute to Latin American cinema.

"Latin cinema not only in the U.S. but all across the world is on a huge rise and it's very inspiring to be Latino and be making movies at this time. In particular, Colombia is having a huge explosion that's pushing the boundaries and it's very exciting. We knew we were making this film in Spanish from the very beginning because that's what was true to us, true to our story. And I will continue to tell stories of Latinos, and my hope is not to just make them for the Latino audience but to make them universal and cross over," Mendoza said.

"Entre Nos" opens at the Quad Cinema in NY on May 14th and will be shown on HBO Latino in the fall.

ENTRE NOS INTERVIEW from Mario Diaz on Vimeo.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I know I should be happy that an Argentine film won the coveted Best Foreign Film Oscar a few months ago, but it's hard for me to muster much enthusiasm for the conventional, formulaic "El secreto de sus ojos" ("The Secret in Their Eyes"). People were surprised when Juan José Campanella's film beat out frontrunner "The White Ribbon" (from Germany), but they shouldn't have been. "El Secreto" is the type of bland, predigested "message" cinema that the conservative Academy members like to recognize. Never mind that some of its fellow nominees were light-years more original as in the case of "La teta asustada" ("The Milk of Sorrow) from Peru, or uncomfortably incisive like "The White Ribbon." "Secreto" represents a type of "safe exoticism," where the filmmaking follows the conventions of Hollywood (in this case a murder-mystery) but provides enough of the kind of foreign, yet politically-correct thematic subtext that is largely mistaken in this country for "serious art." To me, the Best Foreign Film category has a lot in common with U.S. Foreign Policy - they both have this charitable, we-support-you-if-you-act-exactly-like-us attitude that I can't stand.

"El secreto de sus ojos" is mostly set during the years of the dictatorship in Argentina and centers on a court investigator, Benjamín (Ricardo Darín), who, years later, can't get the murder of a young woman out of his mind. His mind is also clouded with thoughts of a former colleague, Irene (Soledad Villamil), for whom he pined but which the personal and social repression of the time never allowed him to reveal. Now retired, Benjamín decides to write a book about the murder which naturally uncovers feelings long suppressed.

The main theme here is that political oppression numbs the heart (but not entirely and not forever) and creates an atmosphere of total injustice, affecting those on the side of justice in unimaginable ways. The film also explores how the once-oppressed deal with their new-found freedom. It's an interesting fact - that victims of the dictatorship struggle to heal decades later - but the film lingers on the surface and never fully commits to this sub-theme. The film unfolds like a glorified episode of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," which Campanella regularly directs and it is precisely this approach to the material - superficial, overacted, intent on entertaining - that dooms the picture. Subtlety is obviously not his forté but the material sorely needs it to prevent it from veering into melodrama, which it unfortunately does.

The film has a requisite love story and a tragicomic side character (Guillermo Francella, whose acting is the only noteworthy element of the film). It has swooping camera moves and scenes precisely choreographed for shock value, as when a suspect drops his pants during an interrogation. The ending, another "shocker," was taken right from the "Silence of the Lambs" playbook.

It all just rings false, too constructed. In every scene, you can feel the hands of the director manipulating the strings of his slick-looking puppet and after a while I pretended I was watching an episode of "Epitafios," the HBO Latino serial killer show produced in Argentina. Lowering my expectations allowed me to get through it.

And can anyone explain why Ricardo Darín is so damn popular? I generally find him stiff, and this was no exception. I thought he bogged down "El aura," an otherwise intriguing film. His depth never registers but maybe it's me. I wonder if his fame is often mistaken for acting ability. His involvement in a project might make it easier to raise financing but sometimes his presence doesn't do a film any favors.

Campanella's "El hijo de la novia" ("Son of the Bride"), which was nominated for an Academy Award back in 2001, was truly affecting even though it was unabashedly made for a mass audience. Eight years later, Campanella's experience in U.S. television and his apparent preoccupation for slick visuals seem to have overwhelmed the very quality that made him stand out in the first place - his human touch.

The problem I have with Campanella's Oscar win has nothing to do with the film itself but what it represents. After all, cinema is full of noble failures and there should be room for that, always. But what is tragic is that the win overshadows more deserving films from Latin America; original, risky films (both in style and content) that push boundaries - a new type of cinema altogether. The wide exposure the Oscars afford should be used to introduce audiences in the U.S. to filmmakers like Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, Lucia Puenzo, etc - all Argentine directors who are working beyond the narrow scope of American cinema.

Reader correction: the film is actually set in 1974, when the country was descending into but not yet an actual dictatorship.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


At first glance, the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Lineup - announced today - lacks excitement. Compared to last year, there's just no wow factor, no titles to make the mouth water - especially in the main competition. Bold names like Tarantino, Campion, Resnais, Heneke, Almodovar, and Chan-wook have this year been replaced by the more snooze-inducing Kiastorami, Kitano, Mikhalov, Leigh, and the only intriguing choice - Doug Liman.

Read the complete lineup here.

One bright note is that Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's "Biutiful" was included in the main competition. He is the sole Latin American representative in that category and I hope he's gotten past the fractured narrative style, which was getting really old. I thought "Babel" was really contrived. It will be interesting to see what he's accomplished without the help of his writer/collaborator Guillermo Arriaga (the two had a falling out a few years back).

Some other good news emerged from the Croisette today. From Tropical FRONT: "The Peruvian film Octubre by Daniel Vega and the Argentinean film Los Labios (photo) by Santiago Loza and Iván Fund were selected for the Un Certain Regard competition, whilst Diego Luna's Abel (which was premiered in Sundance last January) and Patricio Guzmán's Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) will be shown as special screenings."

Strangely missing was Pablo Trapero's "Carancho," starring Ricardo Darín. Many (including Variety) predicted that the film would be in the lineup. However, it is widely expected that more titles will be added to the main competition. Only 16 films were announced today. Last year there were 20 films in competition. In fact, indiewire reports that festival chief Thierry Fremaux is leaving the door open to films that need more time to be finished like Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


On March 24, 2010, a select number of film critics and professionals met in New York (at the house of Judy Man, blogger - La Grande Enchilada) to record the first-ever TropiCast podcast. The group chose the Best Latin American Films of the Decade list as a topic. As you may know, the list was an initiative of DiazFilm and Cinema Tropical and it was picked up by numerous media outlets in the U.S. and abroad in late 2009. The topic sparked a terrific discussion - a must for anyone interested in current trends in Latin American cinema and in its burgeoning auteurs.

You can listen to the podcast here (in participant Rodrigo Brandão's blog, Latin Frame):

Photo: Lucrecia Martel (director - "La Ciénaga," which occupies the #1 spot on the list)

Here's a short video that captures part of the conversation...

Monday, March 22, 2010


The San Diego Latino Film Festival came to a close on Sunday after 11 crazy days of compulsive movie-going. I managed to watch 20 films in that span of time. That's what happens to me at festivals, I tend to go on a binge. A healthy binge, good for the mind and soul, but a binge nonetheless. Some films were like nice hors d'oeuvres - light and fluffy - others were disappointing dishes that left me half-full, while a select few were fully satisfying - a complete meal.

One of those complete meals was "Mi Vida con Carlos" ("My Life with Carlos") which rightfully won the Best Documentary Award. More on that exquisite film later. The Best Feature Film Award went to "Cuestión de Principios" ("A Matter of Principle"), from Argentina. I had high hopes for that film since I am an unabashed fan of Argentine romantic-comedies (plus, it features Norma Aleandro and Federico Luppi in the lead roles). I'm sorry to say that it was one of the films that left me half-full (more like half-empty, actually), and for the life of me I can't understand why the jury chose it over more deserving films like "Norteado" ("Northless") or "Los viajes del viento" ("The Wind Journeys").

The Audience Choice Awards went to "El Estudiante" ("The Student"), from Mexico, in the feature film category, and to "Sons of Cuba" in the documentary category.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is a populist event. To satisfy its largely Mexican audience, the festival includes a large selection of Mexican films, some of which are mass-appeal pictures featuring telenovela stars. These films co-exist with more serious fare. Basically, there's something for everyone. I tend to gravitate to the more artsy stuff (why go to a film festival to consume the same crap you're fed at the multiplex?) so it was disappointing to learn, for example, that the fest screens documentaries only once, as opposed to narrative features which screen an average of 3 times. Still, the festival did include many noteworthy Latin American films I had been eager to see - among them some real gems.

The best film in the entire festival was previously unknown to me. "Mi vida con Carlos" is an elegantly crafted, heartbreaking, personal documentary about a man (director Germán Berger) who decides to confront the painful memories associated with his father's death. Carlos Berger was a resistance fighter who was tortured and murdered by Pinochet during the years of the military dictatorship. His death tore his family apart and they never truly spoke about what happened until they were brought together by Germán for this film. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried several times, partly because of the compelling subject matter and partly due to the sheer beauty of the filmmaking. Shot by Miguel Littin (who may or may not be the same Littin who directed "Dawson, Isla 10") on 35mm, the film is made up of perfectly composed vignettes profiling Carlos' two brothers, his wife (Germán's mother) and Germán himself. Through these vignettes we learn just how deeply everyone was affected by Carlos' death - and the fact that their lives were altered in drastically different ways. Despite the controlled filmmaking style, the director never manipulates the audience to make a point. Instead, he relies on truth and real, heartfelt emotion, which makes this film one of the most authentic and honest pieces of cinema I've ever seen.

Remarkably, the San Diego Latino Film Festival screening was the film's U.S. premiere, a fact that the organizers failed to advertise (the screening was 1/3 full). The producer also confessed that the Tribeca Film Festival had passed on the film, which is a travesty, in my humble opinion. Hopefully, the win in San Diego will help the film land in other domestic festivals since it really deserves to be seen.

The other big find of the fest (at least for me since this film has been making the festival rounds for some time) was "Beauty of the Fight," another doc. This rich, visually detailed portrait of two poor, forgotten barrios of Panama really got to me. John Urbano, a still photographer by trade, fell in love with the people of these two barrios and decided that he would document them as a way of preserving history. A melancholic tone permeates the film and you really get to see the place through his eyes (and learn to love the people as much as he does). I loved that Urbano told the story from his point of view, and did not pretend to be an insider. Even though he was using a video camera, he composed his shots like still images so the film plays like a fascinating picture book. It was definitely original and thought-provoking.

Other notable films from the fest include:

"Birdwatchers" - Powerful narrative film about the Guaraní Indians in Brazil. When some of their young commit suicide, the elders decide to move their tribe to their ancestral land which now happens to be occupied by wealthy farmers. Amazingly well acted by actual Guaranís.

"Los Viajes del Viento"/"The Wind Journeys"
- Breathtaking "road film" about an accordion player who believes his instrument is cursed and travels the country in order to return it to his owner. A bit slow (especially at the end) but stunning to look at.

- An unassuming little film that creeps up on you in a big way. It concerns a young man who is intent on crossing the border but keeps failing. In Tijuana, he befriends two women needy for companionship who make him think twice about his desire to cross. The film features minimal dialogue and the audience is asked to figure out the characters' back story and motivation, which I enjoyed doing.

"Entre Nos"
- Delicate, character-driven film about an immigrant mother who finds herself homeless in New York with two young children. An incredible tour-de-force by Paola Mendoza, who wrote, directed, and played her mother in this true story of her own family. Oh yeah, and this is her first film.

"Stages" - Documentary about inner-city youth and elderly Puerto Rican women who come together to create a play about their lives in New York's Lower East Side. The film was directed by a collective of 12 people yet it's surprisingly cohesive and effective.

A few duds:

"Io, Don Giovanni" - Everyone recommended this Carlos Saura period piece about opera lyricist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who helped Mozart write some of his best compositions. But I found it terribly stale and uninspired. The film was entirely filmed on soundstages and includes long opera sequences. Saura stages the film like a theater piece and no matter how many lighting tricks he uses, it ends up feeling way too theatrical. If I wanted to see an opera I would have gone to the theater, not the cinema.

"La Mission" - Derivative and stereotypical. Benjamin Bratt gives a fine performance but the script limits the range of his character for the sake of tragedic, moralistic ending.

"Cuestión de Principios"/"A Matter of Principle"
- Unoriginal and often unfunny lesson in ethics from former comic-book illustrator Fontanarrosa. Federico Luppi and Norma Aleandro are wasted in lifeless roles.

In other news, the film festival gave special tributes to director Leon Ichaso ("El Cantante") and actor Benjamin Bratt. I edited the reels that the festival played in their honor. Here they are for your viewing pleasure...


LEON ICHASO TRIBUTE REEL SDLFF 2010 from Mario Diaz on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The Hollywood Reporter is, uh, reporting that the life story of civil-rights activist César Chavez has been optioned by the screenwriting team of Keir Pearson ("Hotel Rwanda") and Larry Meli (no credits listed on imdb). The pair has the backing of Gael García Bernal's Cananá Films and is unclear whether Gael will have a starring role in the as-yet-unwritten film.

I don't know what to make of this. Is it too much to ask for García Bernal and his team to hire Latino writers? Surely there are some good Latino writers out there. Maybe Pearson and Meli were in advanced negotiations and the only way to ensure that the film is made with at least some level of authenticity was for Cananá to come in at the last minute and offer backing. Who knows?

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Pearson is also writing a biopic about legendary Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente. Perhaps García Bernal got a hold of an early draft and deemed the writing good enough (i.e. true to Latino culture) to support the Chavez project. Again, who knows?

Since it seems like a done deal, I'll stop second-guessing the writers' ability for now. Pearson did get an Academy nomination for writing "Hotel Rwanda" so what do I know? For now, I'll busy myself with a less political query - who will play Chavez?

Here's my wish list. What are yours?

1. Octavio Gómez Berríos ("Choking Man")
2. Harold Torres ("Norteado"/"Northless")
3. Jacob Vargas ("Jarhead"/"Traffic")

Not that it matters since it will probably be someone bankable like Benicio del Toro. Maybe he's destined to play all of the Latin American icons of our time... Who knows?

Monday, March 8, 2010


In honor of Kathryn Bigalow's historic win on Oscar night, here's a reel of her work I edited last year for the Gotham Independent Film Awards, where she received a special tribute. "The Hurt Locker" is a fine film and I couldn't be happier for her. I had the pleasure of meeting her and she struck me as a highly intelligent, refined yet humble person. Hers was the first reel I edited last year and she accepted my first cut - no revisions. That automatically made me love her immensely.

One interesting tidbit: For three years in a row, the Gothams have presented Tributes to people who have go on to win Oscars. Coincidentally, I've been with the show three years but as much as I'd like to take credit for these stars' Oscar success the credit should go to Michelle Byrd, the Executive Director of the IFP (who sadly left the organization last year) who has an uncanny gift for predicting Academy Award winners. They are:

2008 - Javier Bardem (Best Supporting Actor - "No Country For Old Men")
2009 - Penélope Cruz (Best Supporting Actress - "Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
2010 - Kathryn Bigelow (Best Director, Best Picture - "The Hurt Locker")