Los Angeles, California — The theater was crammed with talent and creativity. Josefina Lopez was playing host to the 6th Annual Boyle Heights Latina Independent Film Extravaganza (BHLIFE). The film festival ran from March 2 to 4 at Casa 101 in Boyle Heights with an extra flare, as it emphasized a strong connection to Women’s History Month.
The festival kicked off with three films by strong Latina actors-turned-directors: “kAyLIEN” by Zoe Saldaña, “A Proper Send-Off” by Eva Longoria, and “California Romanza” by Eva Mendes. Friday night was the red carpet event, a strong turnout as many people stood elbow to elbow to support fellow filmmakers. Their short films would be shown on Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4.
“kAyLIEN” was the first film to screen. The film stars Malin Akerman, who previously starred in “Watchmen,” Kelli Barksdale, Bradley Cooper of Hangover fame and Judy Reyes. The movie dealt with a child, played by Barksdale, who is an outsider because she feels like an alien in her own skin. She is currently moving from school-to-school because she just does not fit in. This film was particularly moving as Cooper and Akerman play parents who support their child, regardless the outcome as she wears out her welcome within the new school by biting Reyes, who plays her teacher. This movie resonated with the audience as well as captivated it with a twist ending. In the past Saldaña has proven to be talented in front of the camera; this short film shows that she also has a talent behind it as well.
“A Proper Send-Off” followed. The film starred Jacinda Barrett from “School of Scoundrels” and Victoria Smurfit from “About a Boy.” Barrett plays a Super Mom named Alex who juggles a career, a husband and two very active daughters. However her life comes to a screeching halt when her doctor reveals to her that she is carrying the breast cancer gene. She turns to her husband and Natalia, her best friend played by Smurfit, along with a long list of pros and cons. In the end, she decides to have the surgery to remove her breasts. However, before the surgery, Natalia talks her into a sexy photo shoot as a tribute to her breasts.
“California Romanza” concluded the trio of films. Christina Ricci, who has grown up in front of all of us from her roles in the film version of the “Addams Family” to her current run on “Pan Am,” stars. She plays a young lady coming to her relatives’ home for the holidays. Her aunt and uncle are played by classic voiceover actors, Kathy Najimy from “King of the Hill” fame and Daniel Stern from the “Wonder Years.”
Eva Mendes presents a very quirky film. Najimy brings a character that is so eccentric, she lights up the screen. Daniel Stern is almost unrecognizable but great nonetheless playing a grumpy uncle that needs his medicine. Trouble arises when the family cat goes missing and the family goes out to find it – dressed in gaudy Christmas pijamas, although Ricci looks adorable as an elf. The trio soon runs into Troy Garity playing a lost young man who bites more than he can chew when he asks the family for directions and they enlist his services to search for the cat. Romance and inebriation thanks to the uncle’s medicine ensues.
Of all three movies, “kAyLIEN” seems to have found an audience. It touched several heartstrings and even moved some audience members to tears. I wish I could reveal the ending, but it would be a disservice to an otherwise great film. “California Romanza” was filled with laughs. I cannot recommend it enough, if only to watch Daniel Stern pull out his inner curmudgeon worthy of Paul Giamatti. “A Proper Send-Off” was a call for self-empowerment that we so rarely see or hear coming from the big screen.
No doubt, the message was one of empowerment that often gets lost. So many times Latinas are delegated to roles as maids, sassy promiscuous women, or undocumented immigrants. This film festival is ground zero when it comes to shrugging those expectations and that is exactly what we need – now more than ever.