Peru's Academy Award Submission Undertow, a Gay Romance / Ghost Story, Opens in LA & NYC on Nov. 26
After a year of playing more than 110 film festivals around the world, the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award-winning film Undertow (Contracorriente) by Javier Fuentes-León releases theatrically on November 26th in NY and LA! In this unique ghost story set on the Peruvian seaside, a married fisherman struggles to reconcile his devotion to his male lover within his town's rigid traditions. The film is Peru's Official Selection for the Academy Awards.
Opening 11/26 in NYC: Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th Street
Opening 11/26 in LA: Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 W. Sunset
From there, the film spreads around the country (click here for the full list of cities and theaters).
Watch the trailer online, or read the Film Independent case study about how Mr. Fuentes-León developed, produced, and sold the film.
Reprinted with permission from an article in the New York Times by Raphael Minder:
Javier Fuentes-León's debut feature movie, "Undertow," deals with an uneasy and secret homosexual relationship in a fishing community in his native country, Peru.
As a result, the movie has earned acclaim as a new take on "Brokeback Mountain," Ang Lee's depiction of homosexuality in the American West, but steeped instead in Latin American magic realism.
Mr. Fuentes-León, however, is irritated rather than flattered by such a comparison, which he finds "lazy" on the part of movie critics, as well as prejudiced.
"Some people seem to want to see all homosexual stories as the same, but it doesn't seem that every movie about a boy and a girl struggling in a forbidden relationship gets called a remake of 'Romeo and Juliet,"' Mr. Fuentes-León, writer-director, said in an interview during a visit to Madrid.
"Undertow" was released in Peru in late August. It was released in Spain on Sept. 17, when it also had its U.S. roll-out, in San Francisco, and has opened in some parts of Europe. The movie is reaching a wider audience since winning several prizes, including the audience award at the Sundance festival this year.
Besides Mr. Fuentes-León, a handful of other directors have also put Peru on the moviemaking map. Claudia Llosa's "Milk of Sorrow" won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2009, while "October," which was directed by Daniel and Diego Vega, picked up a prize at the Cannes festival this year.
"It's great to see that Peruvian cinema is making some splash," Mr. Fuentes-León said. "But I do find it funny to be part of a 'new generation' when in fact I'm not exactly that young anymore."
Mr. Fuentes-León, 42, took a long, tortuous road toward making his first movie. After high school, he opted to study medicine in Lima, spending eight years learning how to use a scalpel rather than a camera.
"I always knew that cinema was the world in which I wanted to live," he said. "But I wasn't in a society and at a time in which you could just do whatever you wanted to do. Nobody in my family belonged to the art world and it was simply not an acceptable career option."
With his medical degree completed, Mr. Fuentes-León headed for Los Angeles, where he still lives, to study movie making. During one of his classes, he was asked to write a scene that ended up being the starting point for "Undertow" -- with one significant difference.
In the movie, the central character Miguel is presented as a pillar of his community: keen to kick a ball or share a beer with his fellow fishermen, loved by his family and soon to be a father, pious and willing to read in church or lead the funeral service of a beloved cousin. But he is enmeshed in a love triangle with a visiting painter, Santiago, who has been rejected by villagers as an effeminate outsider.
In the original scene, the macho Miguel was trying to maintain parallel relationships with his pregnant wife and a village prostitute. That version was first turned into a school play, but by the time Mr. Fuentes-León started working on a full-fledged script, around 2001, he had also come to terms with his own homosexuality.
"This isn't my autobiography, but I did clearly struggle to accept that I was gay in my 20s," he said. "In some ways, in fact, it was a bit like realizing that I definitely could never become a doctor."
Swapping a whore for a gay painter also made sense because "in a conservative and religious society like the one that I wanted to portray, you might even get plenty of understanding from the other guys if you get caught with a whore," he said.
As an examination of sexual identity in a conservative community, "Undertow" also required the right location. Mr. Fuentes-León's choice, Cabo Blanco, is a fishing village in northern Peru that grew popular among Americans in the 1950s as a destination for marlin fishing.
But Cabo Blanco then fell back into back into neglect during a period of political tensions between Peru and the United States, ensuring that it never developed into a modern tourist resort.
"I absolutely wanted to make a movie in my home country," Mr. Fuentes-León said, with Cabo Blanco providing both stunning scenery and the perfect blend of geographic isolation and claustrophobia: a remote village wedged between ocean and cliffs.
But the movie is not a study of Peruvian society. In fact, one of its central themes -- the locals believe the dead should be returned to the ocean -- is a pure invention by the director.
"Cabo Blanco has a cemetery, but I wanted to make a fable and this story could just as well take place in Ireland, Italy or South Africa," Mr. Fuentes-León said.
Furthermore, the nonlocal dimension is amplified because Miguel and Santiago are played by foreign actors, from Bolivia and Colombia, respectively. The only Cabo Blanco resident who got a speaking part was the town mayor, in a secondary role as the owner of a bar.
Mr. Fuentes-León, meanwhile, is working on three scripts that should mark a clean break with the themes in "Undertow," including a thriller set in Los Angeles and a rock musical. A fervent musician, he also composed and played part of the "Undertow" soundtrack.
One of the most striking features of "Undertow" is that despite a strong element of magic realism surrounding the topic of death, the story ends up feeling strangely natural. Miguel is initially presented as a hard-core macho who has already christened his unborn child Miguelito, overriding his wife's tame protest and without even waiting for confirmation of the baby's sex. But as Miguel's feelings for Santiago come to the surface and gain intensity, so too does the credibility of the relationship.
The encounters between Miguel and Santiago are beautifully shot, with their lovemaking scene taking place in the shadows of a cave, against the backdrop of a sandy beach and the ocean. In contrast, when Miguel gets back together with his wife, the scene is one of forceful sex under a harsh light and on a worn mattress.
Asked about that contrast, Mr. Fuentes-León had no qualms acknowledging that he wanted to challenge "this assumption that sex between men is only rough and painful." He added, "There's also this ridiculous idea, particularly common in Latin America, that the one who is penetrating is actually not gay."
Mr. Fuentes-León recognized that he, too, had shown some prejudice during the shooting, by initially telling Cabo Blanco residents that his movie was about a man who had "an unpopular friend." He added: "We had been warned that we might have a problem if the villagers were told that we had come to make a gay movie, but they of course soon found out and we still ended up feeling very welcomed."
Call for Applications: NEH America's Media Makers Development and Production Grants
Grants for America's Media Makers support projects in the humanities that explore stories, ideas, and beliefs in order to deepen our understanding of our lives and our world. The Division of Public Programs supports the development of humanities content and interactivity that excite, inform, and stir thoughtful reflection upon culture, identity, and history in creative and new ways. Grants for America's Media Makers should encourage dialogue, discussion, and civic engagement, and they should foster learning among people of all ages. To that end, the Division of Public Programs urges applicants to consider more than one format for presenting humanities ideas to the public.
Development grants enable media producers to collaborate with scholars to develop humanities content and format and to prepare programs for production. Development grants should culminate in the refinement of a project's humanities ideas, a script, or a design document for (or a prototype of) digital media components or projects, or a prototype for a digital media project together with a detailed plan for outreach and public engagement in collaboration with partner organizations.
Production grants support the preparation of a program for distribution. Applicants must submit a script for a radio or television program, or a prototype or storyboard for a digital media project, that demonstrates a solid command of the humanities ideas and scholarship related to a subject. The script for a radio or television program, or prototype or storyboard for a digital media project, must also show how the narrative elements, visual approach, and interactive design combine to present the project's humanities ideas. Applicants must have consulted with appropriate scholars about the project and obtained their commitment as advisers. Finally, applicants must have recruited the media team, including at a minimum the producer, director, writer, and, for a digital media project, the interactive designer.
Click here for details about Development Grants
Click here for details about Production Grants
Application Due Date: January 12, 2011
INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: Ride the Divide Case Study
This month, Think Outside the Box Office author Jon Reiss is sending out the combined case study on Ride the Divide that first appeared on his blog as a 3 part series. The director Hunter Weeks and producer Mike Dion were very open with him about their release and numbers. NALIP gave his book to all LPA narrative and documentary producers in 2010 - it contains so much valuable information about getting started in transmedia. His film Bomb It is now available in tens of millions of cable, satellite, and telco Video On Demand (VOD) homes throughout the US - so if you haven't had a chance to see Bomb It - check the listing of cable operators below and see if it might be waiting for you on your TV. Bomb It 2 launched on Babelgum three weeks ago. Each week brings episodes focusing on a new city or region. Running already are Bangkok, Tel Aviv and Copenhagen. Forthcoming are Bethlehem, Singapore, Jakarta, Chicago, Austin, Perth, Melbourne and Hong Kong.
Ride the Divide Case Study
By Jon Reiss
A few weeks ago Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion launched a 2711 minute free access to their film on YouTube to coincide with Livestrong Day. The film is about three riders as they traverse the 2711 miles of the continental divide from Banff Canada to the Mexican border. I wanted to write about this film because of the smart use of free online content - the limited access actually creates an online event around which the filmmakers can generate publicity.
In my interview with Hunter on Tuesday, he was very revealing about the success of their film - in real dollars - which is very rare these days.
INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: Catapult Yourself Forward
By NALIP mentor Stacey Parks. You can read more of Stacey's wisdom, plus take her online workshops and resources, by joining Film Specific. And don't miss her special NALIP 12 Conference workshop in Newport Beach next April!
At AFM, I spoke on a panel for the Producers Guild called "New Strategies on how to Package and Finance Your Independent Project Overseas," and we worked through an imaginary project budgeted at $10 million and discussed how to get the thing financed.
Answers from the panelists ranged from 'get started packaging talent' to 'get a name director on board first' to 'if you don't have a track record yet, partner with a Producer who does' and 'if you can't get to someone's agent or manager, go through the assistant who is the secret key to getting in the door'.
And this wasn't advice from just anyone - on the panel with me were Producers Richard Gladstein (Pulp Fiction, Bourne Identity) and Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Illusionist), amongst others who all said the same thing: every day they're just waiting for their assistant to walk in and say..."this is the one" and hand them a great script.
So what are you waiting for? Most people in the audience griped about not having access to get in the door.... but that's a bunch of B.S if you ask me. You have to create your own access by using whatever leverage you can, and without being so obnoxious that nobody would want to work with you to begin with. Let me ask you this - what are YOU doing to catapult yourself forward?