Five titles underscore trends, talent in Central America and the Caribbean
Two buzzed-up titles — Julio Hernández Cordón’s latest, “Te Prometo Anarquía,” and Ariel Escalante’s “The Sound of Things” – as well as “Angélica,” from Puerto Rican first-timer Marisol Gomez-Mouakad, feature at the IFF Panama’s’s Primera Mirada. They are joined by “1991” (pictured), Guatemalan Sergio Ramírez’s follow-up to 2012’s multi-laureled “Distance,” and “Kenke,” from Panama’s Enrique Pérez Him.
Curated by Toronto Fest programmer Diana Sanchez, also IFF Panama artistic director, Primera Mirada is a pioneering Central America/Caribbean pics-in-post showcase. All seeking completion finance, only one title has played at a major fest: “Te Prometo Anarquía,” which screened well at March’s Miami Fest’s Encuentros; Costa Rica’s “Things” played and won the Guatemalan Icaro Fest’s Premio Central America Concluye.
Three films — “The Sound of Things,” “Angélica,” “Kenke” – are fiction feature debuts. That said, the inaugural Primera Mirada competition, carrying a $25,000 cash prize, features five directors who are in no way neophytes. Hernández is already a distinguished Guatemalan-Mexican auteur. Ramirez’s “Distance” won top plaudits at Cuba’s Havana Fest and the New York Havana Film Festival. Outside film formation in their own countries, Escalante studied at Cuba’s EICTV and Montreal’s Concordia U, Pérez Him at Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños, Gómez-Mouakad at the New School and the U. of Massachusetts.
Unspooling one month before Cannes, Primera Mirada offers sales agents and buyers a privileged dedicated window onto titles, talents and trends in Central America and the Caribbean, as they rapidly come on world cinema’s radar, aided in no small way by the IFF Panama.
Announcing “Te prometo anarquía” to Variety at the 2013 Locarno Fest, producers Sandra Gomez and Maximiliano Cruz at Interior XIII, a lynchpin production-distribution house on Mexico’s left-of-field arthouse scene, promised that it would rep a step up in scale and more open arthouse style from Hernández. By accounts, the director appears to have delivered. Love story “Te Prometo Anarquía” centers on Miguel, from a middle-class family, and Johnny, from a humble barrio, who are skateboarders, best friends and lovers. To finance their lifestyle, they sell their own blood, and those of their gang of skateboarders and acquaintances, to clandestine clinics, until a big delivery job for a mob goes wrong.
Pic reportedly boasts noteworthy scenes of of the skaters skimming through a Mexico City market or practicing board tricks on its stone esplanades, while tipping at time into near-documentary in a hybrid style characterizing more out-of-the box filmmakers in Latin America
“’Te Prometo Anarquía’ is a lovely and heartfelt exploration of love and friendship. Beautifully shot, the film demonstrates Hernandez’s versatility and progression as a filmmaker. The scenes of the skateboarders in Mexico City, for instance, are kinetic and feel very realistic,” Sanchez said.
Buzz on the major achievement of “The Sound of Things” centers on Ariel Escalante’s style: how he conveys the mindset of a young hospital nurse, Claudia, who is knocked near comatose by the death of Sylvia, her flatmate, cousin and best friend who committed suicide two months before.
Unable to deal with her pain, Claudia retreats into the confines of emotionally aseptic routine, until she becomes reacquainted with a former friend from happier times who’s ill and needs her support. A two-time best short winner at the Costa Rica Film Festival, Ariel Escalante worked as an editor on Canadian movie “El Huaso” and Costa Rica’s “Red Princesses,” which played at 2013’s Berlin Forum.
“I was impressed with Ariel Escalante’s agility, balancing narrative and formal elements as he portrays a young nurse experiencing deep grief. Using long, precisely-timed takes, Escalante manages to make us feel the weight of loss through the experience of his protagonist,” Sanchez said, calling “The Sound of Things” a ”very promising debut.”
Focusing on a tight set of relationships, the seemingly semi-autobiographical and intimate “Angélica” taps emotional fallout from generational change in the Caribbean. Newcomer Michelle Nono Rodriguez plays the eponymous heroine, a black ex-university student who is riled by old hierarchical traditions – her uncle’s racism; her boyfriend’s assumption she’ll cook for him every night; her mother’s going on about her looks, her style of dress, her hair. She has yet to find her place in the world, whether in Puerto Rico or New York. “Angélica” is “a wonderfully honest account about someone coming to terms with liking themselves in a society beleaguered by deep-rooted racism,” said Sanchez. “Marisol Gómez-Moukad realistically re-creates daily interactions between family members and offers a thoughtful and intimate portrayal of family dynamics.”
True to Latin America’s grand tradition, “Anarquía” and “Angélica” both portray meticulously delineated milieus, a Mexico City slate-board clan. Puerto Rico’s new educated youth. But they offer more than that. The same could be said for Sergio Ramirez’s “1991.” Set in 1991 as the army and guerrilla wage war in the highlands, causing sudden blackouts in Guatemala City, it is a coming-of-age tale revolving around Daniel and his high-school friends who indulge in rites-of-passage – boozing, weed, sex – and also, in an arresting addition to the package which reportedly gives “1991” its originality, violence, as they take to the streets at night, baseball bats in hands, to chase and beat-up indigenous break-dancers.
For Sanchez, part of “1991’s” originality is its take on the psychology of hierarchical societies. “Ramirez subtly explores coming of age in a country with extremely high rates of violence. There is a parallel between the violence in the rural areas and how that is replicated by urban adolescents, finding enemies in those with different tastes in music and dress styles, as well as indigenous features.”
Also written by Perez Him, “Kenke” is a comedy, set in a contempo Panama, which turns on Kenny, a figure with a long film lineage: an adolescent loser and loner who carries a candle for his high-school class beauty and, when trying to score some ganja in a black neighborhood, gets arrested in a police sting. Josué, his supposed big-shot businessman cousin, is drafted in to wean Kenny of weed, saving him from a correctional center. Trouble is, Josue’s also partial to marijuana.
“A portrait of double standards in Panamanian society, ‘Kenke’ has many moments of wonderfully timed, idiosyncratic humor,” Sanchez said. “Perez Him’s second feature demonstrates the emergence of a uniquely Panamanian voice, telling a story from the point of view of a middle class family.”
Primera Mirada runs April 12-13. Its jury will be made up of Spanish producer Elena Manrique; Pervuian actor Salvador del Solar, who also directed San Sebastian Films in Progress winner “Magallanes”; and Lourdes Cortes, director of Costa Rica film fund Cinergia, a key source of financing for many Central American movies.