East LA Interchange: Diversity of Boyle Heights is a History Lesson for the Nation

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Xavi Moreno in East LA Interchange. © 2015 Photo by Chris Chew/Bluewater Media.

by Tom Nguyen

Boyle Heights, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, is so much deeper than how the community has often been portrayed. In Hollywood films, it’s the Latino community with intractable gangs glorified by graffiti along the concrete of the Los Angeles river, massive freeway interchange and bridges connecting it to downtown. When Boyle Heights makes mainstream news nowadays, it’s either in reference to a gang shooting or impending gentrification. What has been largely forgotten and what the documentary “East LA Interchange” seeks to restore and rightly celebrate, is its rich history of being LA’s most racially integrated and welcoming of communities. The history is one of a poor community of color that has historically been ignored or pushed aside according to the whims of those in power but it has always fought back. From coalition building by its different minority residents to elect the first Latino to LA City Council to the student walkouts against unequal education, the community has a long history and pride in resistance and empowerment.

Narrated by Danny Trejo, the film is the 9 year culmination of extensive research by filmmaker Betsy Kalin, with archival footage and interviews with historians and current and former residents, including notable people like will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, LA Councilmember Jose Huizar and playwright Josefina López of CASA 0101 Theater. The film starts with the unprecedented global migration occurring in the early 20th century from upheaval and war, that resulted in immigrants from all over the globe finding their way to Los Angeles. Continue Reading →

Top 10 Picks at AFI Fest 2015!

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by Tom Nguyen

AFI Fest presented by Audi, hands down the most anticipated film festival each year in LA, returns to Hollywood November 5-12! The festival will kick off with the world premiere of Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea, which stars her and her partner Brad Pitt, as a couple in crisis in 1970s France. All told, there are 127 films (74 features, 53 shorts), representing 45 countries, in all kinds of categories.

It’s a one-of-a-kind festival where the general public can get free tickets to attend star-studded gala screenings, catch the films everyone is buzzing about on the festival circuit, and be among the first to see the work of emerging and first-time filmmakers from around the world. Here are the top 10 films I’m excited to see: Continue Reading →

LA Film Fest 2015: 15 Films to Watch

15 Film Picks
by Tom Nguyen

The 21st Annual Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) opened last night at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live and runs through June 18. Looking at the list of films, I had to do a double take: there are a lot more documentaries and foreign cinema than ever before, my two favorite film genres! The LAFF site says they’ve made a new effort this year to include a “diverse selection of documentary films from around the world; and a smaller round-up of exceptional international films” and festival director Stephanie Allain made it a personal mission to make sure this was the most diverse festival yet: “About 40 percent of the films [at LAFF] are directed by women, and 35 percent by filmmakers of color,” Allain tells NBC News. “That doesn’t just happen…I so believe in this and the difference it makes in the lives of so many artists…We want to be the change we’re looking for. That is our mission.”

I recently attended a talk at CSULA Pan-African American Studies department featuring Selma director, Ava DuVernay, who said it’s absolutely vital to have more diverse perspectives in film-making and it’s heartening to see a big festival like LAFF setting a visible example showcasing films by women and people of color. After the preview are 15 films I want to see with summaries provided by LAFF. There are also free screenings at nearby FIGat7th and Metro Union Station and a free cultural event Guangzhou Traditional Arts Extravaganza hosted by Sister Cities of LA. Find a printable festival schedule here.

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Black Cowboys in Compton: Help Preserve their Legacy!

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by Tom Nguyen

I just learned from a KCRW interview about a community of cowboys in Compton that is dying out. LA’s agricultural roots are still alive in the most surprising places. In the middle of the urban landscape of Compton, sits a community where people are allowed to ride horses in the streets and it’s one of the few neutral zones where youths from different gangs can set aside their differences. The cowboy club there has taught a lot of kids how to ride horses, to help keep them off the inner city’s mean streets. Unfortunately, with the ever increasing urban sprawl, this way of life is quickly disappearing and so too is the cowboy culture.

After a stable named the “Hill” burned down mysteriously a few years ago and the cowboys lost their main meeting place, the club has been in rapid decline. Documentary filmmaker Brett Fallentine has been documenting their way of life and attempts to rebuild the stable as a way to preserve their heritage. It’s a unique and forgotten part of LA history that can be traced to the Black cowboys on the American frontier and deserves to be told. But time is running out for his film titled Fire on the Hill!

Fallentine is funding the film with a Kickstarter campaign that only has until Saturday, March 21 to raise the last $10,000 needed! On the campaign page, Fallentine writes, “Everyone has a preconceived notion of Compton and South Central LA. I certainly did when I first met the Cowboys. Let me tell you that this film destroys all your expectations of this area, its people, and its heritage.” I just made a pledge and I hope you will too and please help spread the word by March 21!

23rd Annual Pan African Film Festival opens with Black Panther documentary

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Tolulope Olusola Lamidi and her mother. ©Kevin Rhone

by Tom Nguyen

Last night, the Pan African Film and Arts Festival launched its 23rd annual festival celebrating cinema and arts from the African American and African diaspora.The opening night featured the West Coast premiere of director Stanley Nelson’s documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. The film is a powerful chronicle of one of the most iconic and still misunderstood groups in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and a very timely one. With recent incidents of police violence dominating the national discussion on race relations, films like this and Ava Duvernay’s Selma, are important and inspirational reminders for the current generation that much work and activism remains to be done.

There were more than 20 former Black Panthers in attendance, like storyteller Michael D. McCarty and artist/activist Akinsanya Kambon, as well as celebrities from American and African continents, like veteran actors Isaiah Washington, Loretta Devine, Nigerian TV personality Tolulope Olusola Lamidi, South African director Sihle Hlophe, and many more at the sold-out event! Continue Reading →

Fed Up about our Food: Interview with Stephanie Soechtig

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Fed Up
, a documentary which opened May 9 and is currently playing nationally, makes a provocative statement: everything we’ve been told about food and exercise is dead wrong. It’s a pretty bold statement and not made lightly. The film is the result of years of investigative research by director Stephanie Soechtig, who blew the lid open on the bottled water industry with her last documentary, Tapped, and the producers, journalist Katie Couric and Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth.

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Watch Out, The Muslims Are Coming!



The documentary, The Muslims Are Coming, recently screened at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Bearing the name of the tour a few Muslim comedians took along the Bible Belt of America, the documentary is a good way to see how the media creates fear in Americans from their ignorance of a religion different than their own. Directors Negin Farsad and Dead Obeidallah, along with fellow Muslim comedians Kareem Omary, Aron Krader, Preacher Moss, Maysoon Zayid and Omar Elba, document their tour and the reactions and receptions they receive. Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, Colin Quinn, Rachel Maddow, Lewis Black are among those interviewed giving their own perceptions on how this “Muslim takeover” scare tactic from those in the right wing has controlled the conversation of what being a Muslim is really about.

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Film of Cambodia’s Lost Golden Age of Rock n Roll Finally Premieres!


Documentary filmmaker John Pirozzi premiered his long-awaited film, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, this past Saturday, January 11, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is an homage to a musical renaissance that was happening in the 60s and 70s — Cambodian musicians were creating a rich, unique sound all their own, blending Western rock and pop with traditional Khmer folk music. Cambodia’s phrenetic capital was an exciting place to be then, with an active music scene the likes of which the West had never heard before and would not ever again, with the tragic intersection in history with the Vietnam War.

After illegal US bombing destabilized the country, the Khmer Rouge quickly overthrew the country and within a span of just a few years, proceeded to exterminate 2 million Cambodians, a third of the population, one of the worst modern genocides. Artists, musicians and intellectuals were systematically selected to be slaughtered first. Miraculously, a few notable musicians survived and 3 decades later, Pirozzi has been able track them down to preserve their memories of the music and culture both before and during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.

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Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival July 31-August 4


The Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival returns in its 5th year featuring the latest indie film talent from Brazil. Talize Sayegh, the founder, is passionate about bringing the newest voices in Brazilian cinema to the forefront here in Hollywood, building bridges between the 2 influential hubs of film-making and showing insightful films that reflect a country and culture that is ever-changing and fast-growing. With Brazil dominating the global news lately and the social transformation that is taking place, it’s a great opportunity to see how independent Brazilian cinema is reflecting the dynamic diversity, changing times and social consciousness of the country.

This year’s festival honors Anna Muylaert, one of Brazil’s most prominent and prolific filmmakers. Her films will open the festival with the international premiere of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Além de Tudo Me Deixou Mudo o Violão) on Thursday, July 31, and close out the festival with Durval Records (Durval Discos), a cult favorite on Sunday, August 4. The festival features fiction, documentary and short films, many of them making their West Coast or US premieres, and there is a special spotlight on new Portuguese cinema too. All public screenings take place at the Egyptian Theater and are completely FREE. There are a limited number of tickets for purchase to the opening night gala on Wednesday, July 31, which will include a live performance by Brazilian samba dancers and a surprise guest from Brazil and the closing night awards gala on Sunday, August 4. Click below for the lineup and trailers and here is the full schedule.

Documentary    Fiction     Short

Brazilian Summer Party benefiting AfroLatinos: The Untaught Story Thu June 27


My friends, entertainer Daniela Brazil and DJ Chris Brazil, are hosting Party Like a Brazilian, this Thursday, June 27, at Level 3 nightclub at the Hollywood and Highland Center. If you’ve never been to Brazil nor any of the many great events in the large Brazilian community here in LA, you’re in for a treat. Both Chris and Daniela organize fun events featuring the best music, dance and entertainment that Brazilian culture has to offer and all the fun and festivities are for a special cause. The night is a fundraiser for AfroLatinos: La Historia Que Nunca Nos Contaron (AfroLatinos: The Untaught Story) documentary series. The series by Alicia Anabel Santos, an Afro-Dominican screenwriter, and Renzo Devia, a Colombian filmmaker, sheds light on Afro-Latinos, the descendants of the enslaved Africans who were forcibly taken from their land and dispersed throughout Latin America. Known as the “Third Root” after indigenous and European roots of Latino populations, the histories, stories and contributions of African descendents to Latino culture and society are often lost or unacknowledged, and their communities today are still the most marginalized, impoverished and invisible in their societies.

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