NBFF Latino Showcase: Newport Goes Tropical with Tropicalia
Wednesday night, they were being celebrated for their recent achievements in cinema at Newport Beach Film Festival's Latino Showcase through three spotlight films from Mexico, Chile, and Brazil at the Lido, Triangle, and Big Newport theaters, respectively.
While I wish I could have checked out all of the films, I set my sights on the Brazilian import Tropicalia. This was an after party-slash-red carpet night, but I was befuddled when I noticed neither the filmmaker for Tropicalia nor a producer were present for the screening; but I was greeted by the always cheerful volunteers and some ladies selling raffle tickets, so no matter. The vibe was low key, as I realized this film was being screened at one of the smaller theaters in Big Newport, not the massive space used for opening night.
I imagine it was a much bigger screening at Lido, since Cinco de Mayo: The Battle was shown there, with director Rafa Lara and main actor Kuno Becker in attendance. I caught a glimpse of Becker at the after-party later that night (but more on that later!). If you haven't heard yet about Cinco de Mayo's greatness, I'd advise you to go here and read about it.
NBFF festival co-founder Gregg Schwenk opened the film with that now-trademark address after audience applause, "Only you and my mother would applaud after hearing my name." I know he's fishing for chuckles but somehow that line hasn't quite lost its charm. Preceding the film was the Brazilian short Of Other Carnivals about a young boy and girl who only meet every year on Carnivale; their friendship blooms into romance as they become teenagers, but they drift apart as they become adults. It's a cute and funny film with a great lead-up to a hilarious ending.
Tropicalia is a documentary on the Brazilian avant garde music, art, and film movement of the same name that occurred in the late 1960s, inspired by experimental theater, Brazilian music and culture, and rock and roll of the era. The film chronicles political shifts in Brazil like the rise of a military dictatorship in 1967, protests, and student unrest that would fuel the movement's main musical figures, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, to collaborate with art group Os Mutantes to create the seminal album Tropicalia. Veloso and Gil would be sent to jail for two months for their subversive ideas and lyrical content promoting freedom of speech and independent thoughts. Four months of house arrest later, the two were exiled from Brazil in 1969, carrying on with their music in London until their return in 1972.
The film contains punchy visuals and photo montages fitting for such a vibrant and wild subject, but when it comes down to telling the story it's rather unorganized in the beginning and bombards the viewer with facts that aren't followed through or explored further along in the narrative, opting to focus solely on the Veloso and Gil's political awakening into the movement. Having no prior knowledge of Brazilian history or on tropicalia itself, I was left with so many questions: what was the political climate of Brazil at the time of Veloso and Gil's return from exile? What musical shift in music occurred after tropicalia? what other art movements did tropicalia inspire? It's worth the watch, but do some light research beforehand.
The after-party at Fashion Island was similarly low-key, with a handful of food vendors serving paella, sopes, and ceviche, besides the libations served by Absolut Vodka and Stella Artois. But the entertainment was extraordinary: a capoiera demonstration, followed by Danza Folklorico Puro Corazon performing traditional Mexican dances from Guerrero and Jalisco; dancers from Sambala Samba School wowed the crowds with their...um... feathered costumes, and Grammy-award winning Mariachi Divas eased the crowd into dancing to their mariachi renditions of "Mi Cucu," "La Bomba," and "La Pollera Colora." It was great to see Mexis and non-Mexis grinding and getting down side by side to these Divas, and I have to give major props for the organizers for doing their research and booking some impressive acts.
Many a Latino film showcase should be in Orange County's near future, so if you had the misfortune of missing out at this one, keep a weather eye out for more Latin American film festivals, or take a gander at these spotlight films in their wide release.