Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Missing: Nightmares, Aliens & A Coming of Age Filipino Love Story

By José Alberto Hermosillo 

“The Missing/Iti Mapukpukan” is a unique and profoundly moving animation. A miraculous film that tackles the long-term effects child of abuse, trauma, and overcoming grief to find happiness in the middle of a chaotic world.

A coming-of-age story filmed with a rotoscope with real actors. The animation representing the Phillippines at the 96th Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film is surprisingly compelling and engaging.

The well-developed drama introduces an extraordinary mute character trying to connect with others but having difficulties opening his heart even to his loved ones. His prolific imagination and mental challenges made Eric a relatable character. 

Eric is exquisitely played by Gio Gahol (“Sila- sila,” “A Tale of Filipino Violence,” “Sana dati”). He is an outsider with psychological problems who engages the audience right from the beginning with emotional elements such as compassion, sadness, and wondering about the future.

Eric is a mouthless animator who, when he suffers a mental breakdown, loses other parts of his body. A similar situation is presented in the nominated French traditional animation “I Lost My Body.”

The profound symbolism of losing his mouth means that he cannot speak about what he suffered years back when he was too little to defend himself.

Being a quiet boy made him the object of bullying at school. Now, he is a very introverted kind of guy.

At work, Eric starts going out with Carlo, played by Carlo Aquino (“Love You Long Time,” “Bar Boys”), who seems to be caring for his “new buddy.” Their relationship starts getting out of control due to Eric’s mental episodes.

His busy mother, Rosalinda, is exceptionally well played by Academy-Award nominee Dolly De Leon (“Triangle of Sadness”). She is unaware of anything happening with Eric’s past, but she accepts her son’s sexual preference with love and understanding. She knows her son has become mute but does not know why. 

They communicate by video chat using Eric’s whiteboard. Over the phone, she asks him to check out the situation regarding her missing brother. When Eric enters his uncle’s house, the terrible odor and all the flies in there worsen his nightmares. At that cathartic moment, Carlo’s profound love cannot help stop the alien invasion and destruction inside Eric’s brain. In the devastating process, only kindness and caring can be used as a catharsis to relieve so much pain that a young boy carries inside.

The Filipino-Ilocano production is directed by an Award-winning filmmaker, Carl Joseph Papa (“The Unforgetting,” “Paglisa”), who wanted to tell a very personal story based on situations he lived and interviews he attempted to bring out of the shadows the children who had been sexually abused in the archipelago.

Award-winning filmmaker, Carl Joseph Papa
Joseph Papa shot the film with the actors for four consecutive days on a green screen, then the post-production using the rotoscope technique took nine months. That particular style was used to create confusion and to question whether things were real or not. He also hybridized the project using 2D animation to show Eric’s memories buried somewhere inside his mind and stuck somewhere in his childhood. 

When Eric was a child, he was more talkative and had a mouth. Now that he is a grown-up, he is nostalgic and timid.

In the US, Disney’s “Fantasia” and “Anastasia” were made with the rotoscope post-production technique, which is to record the live-action actors and animate them later.

Using this technique, director Richard Linklater made an existentialist piece called “Waking Life” and, later, the suspenseful thriller “Scanner Darkly” with Keanu Reeves, Winona Rider, and Robert Downey Jr. 

Other animation films using the same technique are the Polish work “Loving Vincent” and this year’s Rotoscope-Impressionism Oscar entry “The Peasants,” which were made with a similar laborious post-production process. 

Winner of the Balanghai Trophy at Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Film FIPRESCI Prize at the Palm Springs Film Festival 2024, “The Missing” is the official Oscar entry from The Philippines in the Best International Feature Film category for the 96th Academy Awards.

“The Missing” is the first animated film ever made with an LGBTQ+ central character submitted to the Academy. The Philippines has never been nominated in that category, and the director feels honored to represent his country in the international arena and to all the talented Filipino animators. 

“The Missing” is a profound and transcendental Filipino jewel waiting to be discovered by a large audience worldwide. 

Festival in LA ©2023

Friday, December 8, 2023

Eva Longoria's 'Flamin' Hot' Swept the Imagen Awards 2023

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

"Flamin' Hot" won Best Picture, Best Director & Best Actor, Imagen Awards 2023.  Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
“Flamin’ Hot” won Best Picture, Best Director & Best Actor, Imagen Awards.
Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023. Los Angeles, California. The Latino Star-Power flexed its muscles, recognizing the best of in movies and television of 2023. The Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown was the iconic scenario for the Imagen Awards ceremony presented by The Imagen Foundation. The same historic ballroom of the hotel was the official site of the Oscars, which were celebrated from 1931 to 1942.
Year by year, it is more important to have Latino representation in the Hollywood industry. While Latinos represent one-third of ticket buyers at the box office, the Latinx presence in films and television is less than three percent. Hispanics became the nineteenth percent of the population in the United States, and those numbers are not reflected on the big screen.
On that joyous morning, Eva Longoria’s film “Flamin’ Hot” took home three of the top Imagen Awards, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Jesse Garcia (“Quinceañera,” “Ambulance,” “Narcos, Mexico”).


Jesse Garcia wins Best Actor for “Flamin’ Hot.” Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Renowned journalist Maria Hinojosa took the Best Documentary award for “After Uvalde: Guns, Grief & Texas.”

Maria Hinojosa - Best Documentary –After Uvalde: Guns, Grief & Texas Politics. Photo José Alberto Hermosillo FestivalinLA ©2023.

On the TV series section, Netflix won with the Mexican cops’ drama “Belascoarán P.I.” and tied in with “National Treasure: Edge of History.” 

In Comedy, “Acapulco” took Best Primetime Program, Best Actor Enrique Arrizon, and by the way, the winners forgot to mention the struggles the people of Acapulco are living through now due to the devastating Hurricane Otis back in October. We must be grateful and show solidarity with the people of the places we work as Mel Gibson went back to Veracruz a year after shooting “Apocalypto” and donated a million dollars for the reconstruction of the city destroyed by Hurricane Stan back in 2005.

Best Primetime Program – Comedy: Acapulco. Photo José Alberto Hermosillo, FestivalinLA, ©2023

The nominated films with Latinx presence range from independent projects to big box-office hits like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” with Zoe Saldaña, “Scream VI” with Jenna Ortega and Melisa Barrera, “Blue Beetle” with Xolo Marigueña (“Cobra Kai” & “Parenthood”) and Becky G (“Power Rangers” & “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”), “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Plane” with Daniela Pineda, “Mother” and “Shotgun Wedding” with Jennifer Lopez, and “Magic Mike, Last Dance” with Salma Hayek and Carmen Olivares.


Talking about inclusion, other remarkable films overlooked by the Imagen Awards or were not submitted for consideration were “A Million Milles Away” with Michael Peña, the biggest box-office hit in Mexican history “Radical” with Eugenio Derbez, and the independent Summer conservative blockbuster “The Sound of Freedom” directed by Alejandro Monteverde.

“Flamin’ Hot” won Best Picture, Best Director & Best Actor, Imagen Awards
Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

The Sunday brunch provided by the Imagen Foundation in the company of so many Latin stars was a total success. The Speeches by the President and Founder Helen Hernandez, actor and producer Edward James Olmos, Eva Longoria, and Jesse Garcia were inspiring. 

During the Imagen Awards Ceremony, everyone talked about the power of giving a “Green Light” to all the dreams and stories to be told by the Latino community, and that will empower and provide more opportunities to the Latinos in Hollywood. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

The Winners of The Imagen Awards 2023


Best Feature Film: Flamin’ Hot 
Best Director – Feature Film: Eva Longoria, Flamin’ Hot
Best Actor – Feature Film: Jesse Garcia, Flamin’ Hot
Best Actress – Feature Film: Zoe Saldaña, Avatar: The Way of Water
Best Animated Feature Film: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish
Best Voice-Over Actor – Feature Film: 
Antonio Banderas, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish 
Best Music Composition for Film or Television: Gustavo Santaolalla, The Last of Us
Best Primetime Program – Drama – TIE: 
Belascoarán & 
National Treasure: Edge of History.
Best Primetime Program – Comedy: Acapulco
Best Primetime Program – Special or Movie: Dear… Selena Gomez
Best Director (Television): 
Guillermo Navarro, Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
Best Actor – Drama (Television): Pedro Pascal, The Last of Us
Best Actress – Drama (Television): Kate Del Castillo, Volver a caer.
Best Actor – Comedy (Television): Enrique Arrizon, Acapulco.
Best Actress – Comedy (Television): Jenna Ortega, Wednesday.
Best Supporting Actor – Drama (Television): Benjamin Levy Aguilar, Chicago P.D.
Best Supporting Actress – Drama (Television): Aubrey Plaza, The White Lotus
Best Supporting Actor – Comedy (Television): Benjamin Bratt, Poker Face
Best Supporting Actress – Comedy (Television): Liza Colón-Zayas, The Bear
Best Young Actor (Television): Ava Louise Murchison, Jane
Best Voice-Over Actor (Television): Ruben Garfias, The Casagrandes.
Best Variety or Reality Show: The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy.
Best Youth Programming: Alma’s Way.
Best Documentary – TIE: After Uvalde: Guns, Grief & Texas Politics, and Halftime.
Best Informational Program: ABC News, Uvalde 365: The Struggle to Understand.
Best Short/Student Film: The Ballad of Tita and the Machines.
Best Commercial Advertisement or Social Awareness Campaign
Mujeres Imparables 2023: Change The Game (“Cambia el juego”).

Nominee Actors “This Fool” for Best Primetime Program Comedy Series. 
Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. 
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Film critic José Alberto Hermosillo, Nominee actress Julia Vera {“This Fool’) & her great-grandson Brolach.
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

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Festival in LA ©2023

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood: Estonian Women Bonding Together

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is a stunning and powerful documentary, insightful and poetic, reflecting on women and other transcendental topics affecting their womanhood. 

Deep in the woods, where the rivers and clear waters converge, naked women talk about a wide variety of topics inside the smoky sauna. The foggy filters accentuated the light and distorted the images. Many women are photographed through shadows. Others are faceless or in close-ups to create a deeper connection with the audience. Their nudity makes us feel their vulnerability, but their voices and body language generate the image of strong women and stoicism.
The women continued discussing women’s issues – including motherhood, life, and death. Their period, losing their virginity, wearing loose pants, or giving birth to a girl, and feeling guilty for that simple fact of having a baby girl, not a boy, when, in reality, it should be considered a blessing.

Pregnancy and childbirth are other essential subjects narrated vividly and painfully.
Their intimate conversations continue involving involuntary abortion and the guilty feelings that follow those dramatic experiences. They even voice out their mother’s abortion freely, making it hard for the viewer to be judgmental.

Others talk about their relationship with their grandmothers, who participated in the war. They recalled how mentally challenging their lives have become since then and how they and their grandchildren inherited that traumatic experience.
When the bath is filled with herbs, things turn mystical, mainly because those herbs are used to clean the body and soul and to help chase the evil spirits away.

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is an honest depiction of women in their most vulnerable moments, with all the variants in between, expressing how they deal with their relationships with other women, how they cope with men, and how they prevail stoically through generations.

The story unfolds linearly, tribally, and cathartically – as the women emerge liberated from the sauna to submerge into the waters of the quiet river – making us think about their transition from a heavenly moment of intimacy with other women to nature.
“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is not religious or whimsical, and the women’s stories do not pursue a political agenda and do not wave the feminist flag that men disapprove of. On the contrary, it can be used as a tool for men to learn about women’s experiences through life and how women feel internally.

The documentary is Estonia’s Official Entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards. It won the Director’s Award at the World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance 2023, Best Documentary at the Golden Gate Awards, and Best Film at the Sophia Documental Fest in Bulgaria. 

Smoke saunas became an essential Vana-Vōromaa (Southeast Estonia) tradition, and it is now part of UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

I was skeptical about watching a project that includes in the title the word sisterhood, a total turn-off for men, and being prejudiced without knowing the importance of learning how women think and act when they are among other women. I ate my humble pie and recognized the excellence in filmmaking and how well-made it is because, believe me, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” by first-time director Anna Hints is the best documentary of the year.

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Festival in LA ©2023