Cinequest 23 — A july playlist

25 02 2013

OK, so without a doubt one of my favorite Bay Area events is the Cinequest Film Festival held in the beautiful city of San Jose every year. I’ve had the good fortune of media access the last three year and 2013 will be my fourth time covering the awesomeness. And let me tell you, there is so much awesomeness it’s like, having your mind blown and before can be like, “oh shit, my mind just got blown” it gets blown again.


So yeah, 20 minutes ago, I submitted my recommendations for the Daily Journal and, because I want our readers not to hate me, I only picked 10 (OK, 11) films, features, whatever you want to call it (pieces of awesome? yeah, that works) to check out. Here you go, July-ers:



A powerful story of love, hope, and what it truly means to be American.

All Joe’s ever wanted is to achieve his dreams in the country he’s loved and known all his life. With a college education and a good job, he’s well on his way to living the American Dream. Yet, when his employer discovers his undocumented status, Joe’s life begins to crumble around him, and he must face the possibility of losing his livelihood, his family, and, even, himself.

Jesse Salmeron’s Dreamer opens a window into the reality of many who, because of one insurmountable obstacle, find it impossible to achieve their dreams. And by transcending racial lines, Joe’s story illuminates the immigration debate for what it is: a tragedy that affects all Americans.


La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus

The inspiring journey of a bus fraught with danger.

Every day dozens of decommissioned school buses leave the United States on a southward migration that carries them to Guatemala, where they are repaired, colorfully re-painted and used as daily transportation by working class Guatemalans. La Camioneta is the enthralling story of the journey of one such bus and its owner, a man determined to survive as an entrepreneur despite overwhelming odds against his success.

In Guatemala, local gangs control the buses by extortion, violence, and even murder, which has become tragically commonplace among those who do not cooperate. Director Mark Kendall dramatically brings us into a world of dreams and ambition, fraught with terror and uncertainty. And in the end, we witness not only the rebirth of an abandoned bus, but the triumph of the human spirit.


The Almost Man

Immaturity versus Adulthood: two will enter, one will leave.

Uneasy feelings about becoming a father and adult cause Henrik to act out in hilariously inappropriate ways in this offbeat comedy. On one hand, he wants to ignore adulthood and spend time fooling around with his friends. On the other, he must grow up and make his relationship work with Tone, the mother of his unborn child. Henrik finds it nearly impossible to balance his immaturity with his responsibilities, as he lacks certain abilities needed to handle this conflict. Will Henrik be able to mature or will his relationship fall apart? The Almost Man comically tells a tale of one man’s long road towards maturity, and how hard it can be for some individuals to face the prospect of growing up.

Preceded by the short film: Where We Are Safe; PTP film; 6min; To escape the claws of the Bay Area’s underbelly, fear-stricken youths seek shelter away from dark corners.


Made in China (Hecho en China)

One would think that a simple road trip across Mexico would be less…complicated.

For his 50th birthday, Marcos receives an invitation to the wedding of the only woman he loved…30 years ago. To add to this, the Chinese Mafia is after his restaurant, and Marcos’ dream of becoming a writer seems very unattainable. So, wouldn’t the wedding be the perfect time to get away from it? One would think so. But when joined on the road trip by Fernando, an irresponsible delivery guy, the cross-country adventure becomes a bit more problematic than Marcos needs, and he can only hope he will make it to the wedding on time.

Director/writer Gabriel Guzman crafts a highly entertaining adventure that is both funny and affecting. Top that with stunning performances from Odiseo Bichir and Victor Hernandez, and you have a recipe for delight.


Goldfish Go Home (Akane Iro No Yakusoku)

Two kids. One mysterious blue goldfish. And a beautiful adventure.

Young Brazilian immigrant Ricardo is having real trouble settling into Japanese school, where he is bullied and can barely follow the classes. When Ricardo catches a blue goldfish that turns out to be the spirit of a Chinese Princess, the ensuing surge of interest in this rare creature forces him and his charming classmate, Hanako, to join forces to take on the mayor and the Yakuza to save their town and the livelihood of its people.

A combination of fantasy and comedy, director Shohei Shiozaki’s debut film is a youthful tale portraying the importance of friendship through the struggles of an immigrant family, while offering a beautiful celebration of Japanese culture.


I Am A Director

Authenticity is not his strong suit.

In a mockumentary-style comedy in the vein of Christopher Guest’s Best In Show, there is one goal: make the BEST HOLLYWOOD FILM EVER! Carlos is a Puerto Rican filmmaker – one of many – aiming to make a “Hollywood” film. It has to be extravagant, dramatic, and MUST be in English. Otherwise, he says it cannot be exported. Joa, his best friend and film’s producer, tries to help him stay on track and achieve his goal. But even she did not expect him to become a puppy at one of their actresses’ feet. Jealousy will both tear these friends apart and pull Carlos further from his dream of being a master at his art. The question for Carlos is how many bad judgment calls he has to make on and off set before he realizes what he really needs to pursue.



From Castro’s Cuba to America… Remarkable stories of immigration and success.

When Fidel Castro revealed the true nature of his dicatorship, thousands of Cubans, including many who had supported him, escaped to the U.S. seeking freedom and a better life. Cubamerican weaves a mosaic of Cuban history, beginning in 1952 until present day, through the recollections and experiences of Cuban exiles who fled Communism. Cuban-Americans were brought to freedom in the United States by a generation that left everything they owned behind. Once in the United States, they started from scratch and remade themselves.

A testament to the human will and spirit, as well as to immigrants of all nationalities, director Jose Enrique Pardo artistically illustrates how hard work, sacrifice and a determination to succeed are traits which cannot be denied.


The Only Real Game

They are fighters and dreamers who connect to the world through the magic of baseball.

Manipuri, India is a remote city that has been under martial law for 60 years, and where outsiders are rarely given entry. Violence, poverty, drugs, and high civilian death and HIV/AIDS rates have taken their toll on this once flourishing kingdom of artists and warriors. But the men, women, and children who live there have embraced the sport of baseball as a source of hope and connection to the world—and their shared enthusiasm for the sport has helped heal, rejuvenate, and strengthen their culture.

Mirra Bank is the first American director to make a movie in Manipur, and she beautifully captures the spirit of an amazing people full of dreams, passion, and courage.

Preceded by the short films: Curiosity; dir. Nicholas Lipari; U.S.A.; 3min; A 12-year-old gives her view of the force that motivates is to investigate the Universe’s great mysteries.


Chaos (Desordes)

Be careful whom you let into your home.

Escaping the madness of city life in Paris, a teacher, Vincent, and his wife, Marie, move to a farm in the south of France with their son in hopes of a quieter life. But the craziness they have left behind may be more welcome once one of Vincent’s students, Thibault, intrudes upon the family’s life, begins an affair with Vincent’s wife, and becomes the catalyst in a failing marriage. And once Thibault’s true intentions are discovered, it becomes clear he will do anything he can to achieve his goals.

With incredible performances from Isaach De Bankolé (Battle in Seattle, 24), Sonia Rolland (Midnight in Paris), and Niels Schneider (Heartbeats), director Etienne Faure brilliantly crafts an emotionally-taut psychological thriller that surprises until the very last scene.


Maverick’s Spirit Award — Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk wrote the script for the short film Romance, based on his short story of the same name. Capturing the strange and slightly disturbing atmosphere of his story, Romance tells a tell as old as time: the story of a schlub in love with Britney Spears.

Cinequest is proud to present Chuck Palahniuk with our Writer Maverick Spirit Award as a part of the Writers Celebration. Join us on March 2, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. at the San Jose Rep, along with a screening of Romance.

For more information, visit

Chuck’s Maverick Award is actually part of a bigger, even more awesome, workshop day for writers which I wish I could go to but probably can’t because it’s a Saturday and other duties will await and shit, I’m bummed about that. Look at the lineup! Oh, and click on the picture for more information on that.



25 05 2012

School’s out, people. So that means more time to post some bloggerific stuff. There are a couple of things I should note while I’ve been a tad MIA from July! … I won a pair of San Francisco Peninsula Press Club awards … blog has reached 80,000 views (cool) … and shows are slowly starting to creep up as the summer season heats up. Anyway, that’s not why we’re here.

We’re here for my Brother, Matthew Maniego, whose project, “A WOMAN WHO” is taking off like a bandit. He just released his most recent piece which highlights a young woman by the name of Kate Wintrode, owner of Fifth&Brannan in San Francisco.

Kate’s story, and that of Fifth & Brannan, is a great one. She’s a fashion designer for men like myself who have absolutely no clue how to put ourselves together other than throwing on a t-shirt, some jeans and our Barcelona hoodie. Matt told me he had selected her for his series and I visited the site — her clothing is straight baller status in terms of quality. If you’re a guy, you’d be doing yourself a HUGE favor by following their blog >> GO.

Right about now I’d me remised not to mention the work of Matt’s team on this project, Photographer John Agcaoili, A.C. Andrew Kim and graphic designer and BFAM Mark Penacerrada (who had his hand in this kind of stuff)

Here’s the full set:

A great friend of mine is getting married soon, very soon actually, and I’ll be hitting up Fifth&Brannan for some fashion help, I’m sure. FOLLOW FIFTH&BRANNAN ON FACEBOOK HERE. FOLLOW MATT MANIEGO EVERYWHERE HE GOES HERE.

“A Woman Who” is three episodes in. Kate’s was the third.

Episode 2 highlights Rachel Tan (with major assist to my girl, Melissa)

And Episode 1 highlights Allison Torneros


20 03 2012

Perhaps the thing that I love the most about my life is how blessed I’ve been with my relationships. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve had the great fortune of associating, interacting and sharing time with friends, who are more like my family, and in that shared time, I’ve seen them grow and pursue their passions. More than anything, what inspires me, almost without failure, is passion.

Here’s the latest from my BFAM Matthew Maniego, who’s been hard at work with his project, “A Woman Who.” Matthew writes: A Woman Who is a short-film series on creative and successful women. Writers, musicians, designers, artists; each woman distinguished in her own right. And though their disciplines differ, they each resemble what the definition of a Woman is.

The series, which launched today, March 20th, starts with Allison. Painter.

A Woman Who – Allison from Matt Maniego on Vimeo.

More than anything I post on here, I’d ask you to take a minute and spread the word on this project. It’s really a labor of love. Matt continues saying: A Woman Who is influenced by the two main role models in my life: my mother, Dolores Andres Cruz, and my grandmother Flora Andres. This project is dedicated to my mother because she is a woman who sacrificed so that her children could have a better future. This project is dedicated to my grandmother because she was a woman who loved unconditionally, giving until the day she passed away. They are the women who inspired me; shaped me, making me the man I am today.

Allison is just the first of a series of women “A Woman Who” will highlight. And realistically, between you and I, is there anything sexier in a woman that ambitious? Vision? Drive? Matt was really fortunate to find women that possess those qualities and happen to be incredibly gorgeous on the outside as well. It appears Matt has done a fantastic job of capturing all these elements through his lens. Here’s the overall trailer of the other women he has chosen in this initial phase.

A Woman Who Promo 2 from Matt Maniego on Vimeo.

Matt adds: The purpose of the project is to inspire anyone, not just women, but ANYONE to pursue their dreams, just like how my grandmother and mom inspired me. If this project gets viewed by one person, and that one person is inspired to do something great, then my job is accomplished.

You can follow Matt’s journey as he pieces together this amazing puzzle on Facebook. This is a set of photos from his shoot with Kate Wintrode, a fashion designer who owns her own line of high-end men’s clothing.

You know, whether it’s a camera (like Matt), words (like July!), a paint brush (like Allison), the harsh reality is that creative minds have an inherent need to create. Let me repeat that, it’s a need, something we can’t control. Artists like Matt and Allison are terribly gifted and it’s a joy to experience a finished project like “A Woman Who.” But the pleasure I feel comes from watching a creative mind labor through the process and wrestle with their own perception of perfection. As an artist, that perfection is an unobtainable goal. But what sets people like Matt and Allison apart from the rest of us is that they show up to that fight every day. They show up. And once in a while they win.

Matt, you won, Brother.

Follow the project at


25 02 2012

July! gets to cover a lot of cool stuff in his journalism endeavors. I am, a sports reporter by business card, but I am first and foremost a writer. And of all the things I get to write about, one of my favorite every single year that I’ve done it, is CINEQUEST in San Jose. For my money, it’s one of the best things about the Bay Area — and definitely about San Jose.

Now going on 22 years, CINEQUEST is a cinema-lover’s paradise. There is a ton to do over 13 days that, if I could, I’d get a hotel room somewhere in San Jose and just enjoy the two weeks of film, lecture, awards, parties, etc. etc. etc. Awesome stuff. I’ve been given access to it in 2012 (thank you, CINEQUEST) and I’ll be bringing you more about my time there on July! at a later time. For now, here a couple of must haves. First, the festival guide, you can download the 36MB thing here.  You’re going to need it.

Second, here are some films I picked out from that guide that are on my list for the next couple of weeks. Last year, this same method yielded me four great films. But honestly, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Oh, our write up of CINEQUEST is here. Remember folks, there are 200 of these! Jesus. That’s a lot of great films. Here’s the ones we mentioned in the Journal:

And then there are others that caught my attention which you should look into if you have that kind of awesome time to do so. Lucky you.

I’ll see you all there. Follow me on Twitter if you don’t already @julitolara … I’ll be giving you some THUMBS UP or DOWN after my viewing. I’ll there on the weekends mostly. Hopefully. Can’t freakin’ wait!

Seguir Siendo:Cafe Tacvba — @SFLatinoFilmFestival

16 09 2011

It was a honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to view and review Seguir Siendo: Cafe Tacvba, which is the opening night film at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival. As you may or may not remember, I’ve been covering a Latino film festival in some capacity for three years now, and when I saw this movie was going to be playing, despite having ZERO time, I knew I had to be involved in some way. The SFLFF is going to be great, and this documentary on one of the best BANDS, Rock en Español or otherwise, is a great way to kick things off. Here’s the page we ran in the Daily Journal … the review in its entirety is below.

By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff 

In a time when everyone knows everything about their favorite band, there is something refreshing about being clueless.

Think about the best music documentaries of all-time — “Gimme Shelter,” “Don’t Look Back” or “The Decline” for example — the thing they have in common is that before the day and age of reality television, paparazzi, etc. these films made you feel like an iconic artist just handed you a piece of candy, or you just experienced your first kiss all over again. There was a bit of magic there.

It’s a shame that the age we live in hampers our ability to truly enjoy a music documentary. Now more than ever before, for a band to pull off a quality film is rare.

But “Seguir Siendo: Cafe Tacvba,” the opening night film at the San Francisco Latino Film festival, which begins tonight, proves that music documentaries can indeed be great. In a genre that has become formulaic, “Seguir Siendo” does what a music documentary should do: It reignites a passion for a band with a beloved history.

It’s actually a shame you probably don’t know who Cafe Tacvba is. To put that into perspective, it’s like not knowing who U2 is, Radiohead or The Beatles. Any conversation about Latin American rock, or even music, starts with Cafe Tacvba. In their 22 years as a band, no group has left a more lasting impact on Latin America than the quartet from Mexico.

In “Seguir Siendo” fans (and non-fans) get their first real extended look at the band; their rise in popularity throughout the world and a glimpse into the creative process of a rare kind of genius, four-headed music monster.

As a ride-along kind of documentary, directors Ernesto Contreras and José Manuel Cravioto do a terrific job of pulling old footage from the 1989 beginnings of Cafe Tacvba and fusing with their travels today. We go everywhere with the band, from Mexico, to Spain, to Chile and an entertaining stop in Japan which featured a performance in front of Princess Hitachi. We go throughout the United States, with stops in Utah, Anaheim and a couple of familiar places here in the Bay Area.

But throughout the 80 minutes, our glimpses into the past and the present don’t ever seemed forced. There’s a nostalgic feel throughout, almost as if Cafe Tacvba knows that their fans have longed to be let in “behind the scenes.” Ruben, Meme, Joselo and Quique, the Cafe Tacvba members, are all characters in their own right, and in the film, they’re forced to sit as individuals and to tell their stories and talk about their struggles as such. The band says that their goal was to give the audience a more intimate view, and in that sense they succeeded.

All this seems pretty cliché for a music documentary — technically, any old band can pull this kind of stuff off, right?

Yes, but for a music documentary to be great, like “Seguir Siendo” is, there has to be something interesting, intriguing and compelling about, the music. There has to be something mysterious about how it has always made you feel. For a music documentary to be great this intrigue cannot revolve around the band members, especially today when everyone has to be a character, everyone plays for the camera, there is little “genuine” or real about it.

But the nuances and attractions that revolve around the music (and then by extension, the band) cannot be faked. And that is why “Seguir Siendo” works.

For all their greatness, Cafe Tacvba and their music has always had a mysterious aura around it. And “Seguir Siendo” is a window into that mystery. The film doesn’t answer the questions fans have had over time — but that’s the point. A documentary shouldn’t necessarily give you everything. As Joselo, the bass player said, “we’ve figured out over time what is extra, and have stripped it down to the essential.” This is true of their music and of this documentary. Cafe Tacvba’s music has carried them for 20-plus years, and it does the same in this film. And in time where everyone knows everything about their favorite band, that actuality is what a great music documentary should be all about.

The San Francisco Latino Film Festival starts today and runs through Sept. 25, with 30 films shown throughout the Bay Area. For more information on all the films playing at the SFLFF visit

Julio and The Oscars —

19 02 2011

Oh my July! isn’t just a sports blog … we do Concerts. Festivals. Films. As Usher would say “ohhh, you got it all” >> So maybe there isn’t a better time to invite you to participate in the Daily Journal’s annual “Predict & Win Contest.” It’s our annual attempt at letting our readers guess who will win the Academy’s most prestigious prize. Plus, it allows us in the office to do a little side betting … which is always fun. Wait, I think I”m in charge of that. Anyway, below you will find the ballot — pick up a copy of the Daily Journal between now and next Friday, come on in to 800 S. Claremont St. in San Mateo (Suite #210) and enter you ballot for a chance to win dinner, limo rides and movie tickets. Should I tell you my picks? OK.

First, the non-important ones: I like “Biutiful” in the Foreign Language category, “Inception” for Best Visual Effects, Best Supporting Actress I like Melissa Leo to complete the SAG, GG, OSCAR tri-fecta, Best Supporting Actor I am rooting for Geoffrey Rush, but I have a feeling Christian Bale takes it for his role in “The Fighter,” Best Costume Design “Alice in Wonderland.” And for the big ones:

Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3 — Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me.

Best Director: David Finch, Social Network (picture belongs to (

Lead Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Lead Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Take the challenge by leaving a comment and we’ll compare notes when the Oscar winners are announced. I dare ya! I DOUBLE-DOG dare ya!

Redwood City International Latino Film Festival — Days 2 & 3

8 11 2010

What do you mean you watched “Megamind” this weekend? Fired.

Listen, events like the Redwood City International Latino Film Festival must be seen as opportunities — opportunities for enlightenment. It isn’t a certainty that everything you watch at a film festival will be to your liking — but you go into it knowing that whatever has been cooked up for you was done so with care, and intelligence; which is more than can be said about most films nowadays.

That is why events like the RWC ILFF are personal favorites — because I see them as challenges; I dare my brain to venture outside a typical million dollar movie. And the fact that this festival in particular was in my native tongue, well, I couldn’t lose. Let’s run down my last three stops this weekend.


“I’ve reached a point in my life where the best thing I can do for humanity is to be as far away from it as possible.”

“Memories del Desarrollo” or Memories of Development, is a work of art. Granted, not all art is beautiful, or touching, pretty or breathtaking. But watching it, you quickly stop enjoying it, and start trying to analyze it. That’s art to me. So complex, with layers and layers of visually challenging material — there is no way you’d be able to capture all of it in one sitting. Even trying to write something about it proves difficult because there isn’t really a starting point, I mean, what would you like to tackle?

The acting? Ron Blair as “Sergio” is terrific in playing a lost soul and tormented mind that struggles with his identity on the back end of his life. Blair’s morose tone throughout the film is damn near uncomfortable, but it’s near flawless as well. Are you supposed to like Sergio? Hate him? Feel sympathy? Shame? Of the five films I watched at RWC ILFF, to me, Blair’s acting in “Memorias” was the best.

It’s through Sergio’s struggles to justify what he’s become that the viewer is taken through the whirlwind that is his brain. Spliced in between scenes of Sergio road to getting a book published you get visual collages straight from his head — they’re all visually overwhelming. The whole film is actually. The movie was directed by Miguel Coyola and gets 3.5 stars out of 5.


There are feel good films, like the ones that tug at the strings of your heart. And then, there’s “Anita.”

“Anita,” winner of Best Film at the 2009 Los Angeles Latino Film Festival, doesn’t tug on your strings, it yanks on them violently, pulls them down. If you walked out of this film without being touched then you have no soul, my friend.

Talk about splendid acting, Alejandra Manzo is phenomenal in her role as Anita, a young woman with Down Syndrome who has her life flipped upside down following a catastrophe. The film follows her as she tries to regain normalcy in a high-stress situation, which is made exponentially worse by her disability. I can’t say enough about Manzo in this movie — words like amazing, terrific and unreal come to mind. My rating? 4 stars out of 5.


“La Mitad del Mundo,” the film written and directed by Jaime Luis Ibañez, was a challenge. It tickles you and makes you chuckle, then at the end, after you laughed with it, it sets you on fire.

In “Mitad” we follow the life of Mingo, a young man with developmental problems (his mother in the film, played by Luisa Huertas, says he cooked a little too long and came out a little burnt) who is flung into a sexual enlightenment first by his mother, and then by a local cougar who takes him under her wing and grooms him to become the perfect lover. While his enlightenment is funny at times, the way the film turns felt too morbid — “Mitad” goes from a comedy to a social critique much too quickly and the tragic ending seems unjustified.

That said, what a great performance by Hansel Ramirez, who plays Mingo. Ramirez won a Best Actor award at the Iberoamerican Film Festival in Bolivia for “La Mitad” and its easy to see why. Mingo is naive, but he’s kind, charismatic. His flaws aren’t his own, they were instilled in him by the people who were supposed to protect him. Ramirez embodies that in his work and it was a joy to watch. Huertas is strong in her role as Mingo’s mother and Susana Salazar as the town cougar is terrific. Rating is a 3 stars out of 5.
I can’t say enough good things about Slyvia Perel and her choice of films for the 2010 RWC ILFF, but I’d fail as a fan of the festival if I didn’t mention the sub-par performance of the theater experience. I mentioned in the previous post about the poor quality of the presentation in ‘La Oveja Negra,” in which 65% of the film was pitch black. I did get up and brought it to the attention of the management at the Century in RWC and he told me that there was nothing he could do about that and apologized. Thanks.

If I was a paying customer, I would have asked for a refund and I hope some people actually did. Although, when I came down after watching the film, the volunteers who were manning the ticket table for RWC ILFF were no longer there. And believe me, it wasn’t just me who noticed. The following day I was asked by someone waiting to see “Memorias” if I had felt that “Ovejas” was way too dark (literally) to enjoy. I told her what Century management told me.

The issues with the presentation continued with “La Mitad” which skipped, like a dirty DVD would, every 10 minutes. At the end, the video and the audio were COMPLETELY out of sync — it was like watching an old kung-fu movie that was dubbed over in English. Yes, it was that bad. And the lighting and quality of the films was poor as well.

Listen, I’m a fan. You don’t get the chance to see films of this quality very often. So for that reason, I’ll continue to go. But RWC ILFF needs to step their game up and present a better quality movie experience. People aren’t going to want to shell out $9 if the films presented aren’t watchable. It’s an injustice to the film and most importantly, to the people who support the festival (the fans).