“Alambrista!” (“The Illegal”) is filmmaker Robert M. Young’s portrait of a Mexican farm worker’s journey across the border into California. Young’s film is an unflinching account of one man’s journey and is a refreshing change to far too many pessimistic accounts of illegal immigrants seen as roaches on the North American landscape.
“Alambrista!” was made for television in 1978 and one could argue at a more questioning time in the US. It is doubtful that this kind of story would be made today in this vacuous contemporary culture of celebrity adoration and “reality” TV. But what makes “Alambrista!” and all of Young’s work special is his beautiful cinematography coupled with genuine story telling that put him in the class of his European counterparts Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.
Roberto (Domingo Ambriz) leaves his peaceful life in Mexico and journeys to California only to discover that for him it is hardly the land of opportunity. His journey is never sentimental and it is only time before he throws in the towel and returns home. But before he does we watch him learn how to act like an American. He meets Joe (Trinidad Silva), who gives him a lesson in how to walk into a café and order American food. Roberto inevitably meets a waitress (Linda Gillan) who serves as padding for his double life –he already has a wife in Mexico. It is Sharon who helps him with the every day machinery of living in a foreign country, yet despite this assimilation Roberto will always be a foreigner.
By taking on the California Coastal Commission head on, this riveting and intelligent documentary from Richard Oshen exposes the archaic and unbending rules of power on the lives of ordinary homeowners.
The story unfolds naturally as we first sympathize with the rule makers in preventing the destruction of habitat by homeowners until the CCC quite remarkably shoot themselves in the foot as dogmatic rules and corruption unfold. The film shows all sides with interviews from couples that have fought the CCC for years, ex CCC staff that believe in the Commission but not their strict laws, and the Commissioners themselves who are absolute and unwavering.
No one is denying the purpose of a commission that protects Southern California’s rich landscape. Oshen’s film dares to question authority and in doing so ignites the kind of investigative journalism that has been sadly missing during Bush years.
Sins of Commission
Directed by Richard Oshen
The Ventura Film Festival’s opening reception at the Elk Lodge was packed to the rafters last night as Ventura’s film community, sponsors, and fans enjoyed a night of music, food, and drinks before the festival’s premier showing of local documentary “Thy Will Be Done.”
The festival director, Lorenzo DeStefano, welcomed the community and special guest independent filmmaker Robert M. Young, whose body of work is being honored throughout this four-day event.
Tonight’s tribute to influential independent filmmaker Robert M. Young includes the documentary “An Independent Portrait” by Jose Muniain and Young’s feature “Alambrista.”
The Ventura Film Festival
The Elks Lodge
11 South Ast St. Ventura, CA 93001
From March 26-29
The Ventura Film Festival kicked off last night with a powerhouse of a documentary “Thy Will Be Done” from first time filmmaker Jacob Cunningham. The documentary tells the story of Kevin Natale’s drastic life change at the age of 14 when his clinically depressed neighbor shot Natale and left him quadriplegic. The film is a testament to Natale’s strength and of his loving family who continue to support and love him. Cunningham gives equal measure to all involved in this tragedy -the strength in unity of Natale’s mother and sister and their forgiveness of Joyce Adams, the mother of the shooter. Consequently our pity lies not with the Natale family but with Joyce Adams tortured soul.
The Ventura Film Festival
The Elks Lodge
11 South Ast St. Ventura, CA 93001
From March 26-29
The first Ventura Film Festival runs from March 26-29. Under the tag line “Real People, True Stories, New Cinema, the festival intends to showcase an eclectic mix of cinema and new media that pertains to art and community rather than glamour and glitz. Erick Zonca’s “Julia” staring British avante garde muse and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton gets its first US screening and there’s a retrospective of filmmaker Robert M. Young whose body of work includes “Dominick & Eugene” and “Short Eyes.”
I spoke to Festival Founder and Director Lorenzo DeStefano who brings more than 30 years movie experience to the festival. “My experience as a filmmaker and at festivals has allowed me to see the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he says. His vision of a program of international alternative cinema melded with a local community vibe has been realized through his and Festival Art Director Robert Catalusci’s hard efforts over this last year. The core of the festival offers technical guidance and mentoring to local filmmakers of all ages. There are no V.I.P.’s here. “I’ve lived in LA as a filmmaker and filmmaking can be such a selfish profession.” Under DeStefano’s guidance, cinema returns to its rightful place as an art form for the people and not just the Hollywood elite. “I keep getting asked about Red Carpet and V.I.P. passes and I always have to answer with a firm “no.” I’ve also banned the term “Gala.”
The festival is benefiting indigenous and global cinema with films from all over the world and many from the Brooks Institute of Technology where DeStafano has lectured on film. There are brand new films, cheap tickets, free admission for under 16’s, and the unfaltering encouragement of local community participation that can only benefit Ventura’s art community in the future. DeStefano calls it “Neighborhood cinema.” We are “encouraging young people into film who may have been disheartened by expensive schools and equipment.” Digital cameras follow on from Super 8 and photography as the peoples’ form of art expression by bringing back ownership of film for the masses by the masses. This is community film without big studios and big budgets. This is not cinema of the elite. “All art is valid, as long as it tells a pretty decent story.”
The festival will kick off with a short film from 7 year-old pianist, Tiffany Koo and her rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne. DeStafano was introduced to Koo on YouTube. “People have said to me why show it because everyone has seen it, but it hasn’t been programmed and that’s the difference.” DeStefano was amazed to find out that Koo and her family lived local and now both Tiffany and her father have films in the festival. Following Koo is the world premiere of documentary “Thy Will Be Done” by first time filmmaker Jacob K. Cunningham, and tells the heart-wrenching story of 14 year-old Kevin Natale who was shot by his clinically depressed neighbor and in an instant became a quadriplegic.
Eighty-four year old filmmaker Robert M. Young receives a well deserved retrospective of his work with Q&A sessions following screenings of some of his award-winning films, including “Caught” which was nominated for the 1997 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director. The entire cast, including James Almos, are expected at the screening and Q&A.
Following on from the festival the Ventura Film Society will repeat screenings of festival films around the city and for Ventura’s Art Walk. DeStefano sums up the festival’s direction when he talks about the true meaning and effect of great cinema. “Story tellers and story telling crosses all genres. I want people to be seduced by movies.”
The Ventura Film Festival runs from March 26-29
Join me next week when I’ll be reporting LIVE from the 4-day event and speaking to the filmmakers, participants, and organizers. Plus I’ll be sitting through a lot of great cinema.
Natasha Richardson died Wednesday after sustaining brain damage from a ski accident. Richardson was in intensive care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York when she died. She was 45.
Richardson was skiing at Mont-Tremblant near Montreal when she suffered a minor fall during a beginner’s ski lesson. The actress said she felt fine but later complained of headaches. She was then rushed to hospital and flown on Tuesday to the U.S. with swelling of the brain. She was taken off life support on Wednesday.
The actress was a member of the Redgrave acting dynasty and was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave. She was also married to actor Liam Neeson, the pair had two sons.
She was born in 1963 and made her film debut at the age of 4 in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” directed by her father, Tony Richardson. She later trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama and made her West End debut as Nina in Charles Sturridege’s 1986 production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
She continued to be on stage and made her New York debut in 1992. Prominent film roles followed, such as starring as “Patty Hearst” in the 1988 Paul Schrader biopic. Other film roles included Ken Russell’s “Gothic,” “A Month in the Country,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Nell,” “The Comfort of Strangers,” “Widow’s Peak,” “The Parent Trap,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “The White Countess,” and “Evening.”
Richardson won the Tony as Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes “Cabaret” at the Roundabout Theatre Company. She was a regular fixture at the theatre and performed in Eugene O’Neill’s “Annie Christie,” a role that won her first Tony award nomination, Patrick Marber’s Rialto production of his play “Closer,” and Edward Hill’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” playing Blanche Dubois. In January of this year she appeared along side her mother in a one-night concert benefit for Roundabout at Studio 54 of “A Little Night Music.”