Viva la Vistas

We had lost faith in local film festivals--until this one

We should be ashamed for overlooking the Vistas Film Festival last year, its first in existence. In our haste to cover those in Deep Ellum and Fort Worth, and in our haste to once more bury the USA Film Festival, this four-day celebration of Latin film fell between the cracks, and we hate to think of what we--and you--might have missed. We say this only because after watching much of this year's lineup, we're astonished by the quality--such depth, such charm, such substance, such range, such wonder. It's unfortunate we don't have the room to write at length of all the films showing in the Vistas Film Festival, if only because so much of what we have been able to see has so delighted us that at least three movies--Under California, Side Streets, and Road Dogz--have restored our faith in the art of filmmaking. Any festival would be proud to contain a single one of the three on its roster; Vistas, bless the heart of organizer Rita Meno, has them all.

The 24-year-old SMU graduate has, all by her lonesome, assembled a roster that should be the envy of any local fest; the USAFF would be wise to consider Meno as its new artistic director, if she's fool enough to take the gig. The executive director of Vistas attended various Latin fests around the country, including those in San Antonio and Chicago and New York, on a tiny budget, and she came back with quite the bounty. Most of the films playing Vistas have no U.S. distribution; see them here, or miss them entirely. Meno estimates that 90 percent of the films screening at the festival have yet to appear on a screen in Dallas, despite the fact some are three years old.

"The basic goal of Vistas is to promote Hispanic film and culture in the film industry, but it's also to rally support for minorities in the film industry," Meno says, in between answering phone calls four days before opening night. "Latinos are lucky if one big film comes out a year. There are so many films being made by and about the Hispanic community, and they're not being seen by the right people. By making people excited about these films, hopefully it will change what's happening in Hollywood. Eventually, there won't have to be film fests to make these films more popular."

Worth the trip: Side Streets, above, and Road Dogz are among Vistas' notable entries.
Worth the trip: Side Streets, above, and Road Dogz are among Vistas' notable entries.
Road Dogz
Road Dogz


Opens at 7:30 p.m. October 12 with a screening of Side Streets at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. Films will screen October 13-15. An all-access festival pass can be purchased for $70, but weekend and individual passes are also available. For a complete schedule and ticket prices, call (214) 220-3260.
DMA; the Medallion 5 Theater, 125 Medallion Center, Skillman Road and Northwest Highway; and the Bob Hope Theater on the SMU Campus

Cuban Women: Branded by Paradise This sometimes harrowing documentary by Mari Rodriguez Ichaso begins with the discovery of two tiny, decaying bodies on a small islet called Dog Key between Cuba and Florida. One of the survivors of this escape attempt related how the two unlucky girls had to drink salt water and eat raw meat that had been ripped from seagulls before they died of exposure. It’s an explicit introduction to Cuban Women: Branded by Paradise, in which old and young, famous and obscure Latinas who’ve fled the island for various reasons relate their experiences with their native land. “A dual morality is the psychological fatalism of all Cubans,” says one woman, an expatriate writer living in France, to explain the effect of being asked as a young Catholic by Revolutionary leaders, “Do you want to be God’s daughter or Fidel’s daughter?” Another complains that Castro’s name always comes up when she mentions her heritage: “I carry the whole Cuban tragedy with me everywhere I go.” The two most famous interviewees are Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz, who was branded a “non-Cuban” by the regime along with all others who didn’t return by 1960 (“I’m as Cuban as palm trees!” she sniffs) and denied permission to see her dying mother; and Alina Fernandez, one of Castro’s numerous daughters out of wedlock. When asked if she has even a smidgen of reflexive affection for her father, she says without blinking, “No. But I do pity him, the way I pity all evil people.” October 13, 6 p.m., Medallion; October 14, 3:30 p.m., Medallion. (Jimmy Fowler)

Flight of Fancy Gorgeously shot, sumptuous in every aspect, Flight manages to soar despite—perhaps even because of—its broad brushstrokes. Even when this family film telegraphs where it’s headed—and it does so often enough that you may want to brush up on your Morse code—the mood of magical realism is so charming and sincere, you forgive it completely. (Well, not completely. A line like, “It will take a miracle for us to be a family,” guarantees miracles aplenty in the last half-hour, but, trust us, it works.) Director and co-writer Noel Quinones—with an assist from Tom Musca, best known for his collaboration with Ramon Menendez on the Stand and Deliver screenplay—tells a pat tale, but he’s smart enough to set it in on a wondrous location (a small Puerto Rican isle...we’ve already booked a flight) and embrace the corny, heartwarming aspects instead of trying to downplay them. It opens with a wedding between the widow Mercedes (the stunning Talisa Soto) and local plantain-field owner Frank (Miguel Sandoval). Meanwhile, Mercedes’ son, Gabriel (Kristian de la Osa) is distraught that his mother is remarrying, so much so that he and his young cohorts drive a truck through the outdoor ceremony. Tension builds as the wedding is postponed. Enter Dean Cain, a pilot who—with the help of a white-bearded spirit-Shaman guy...don’t ask—loses control of his turbo-prop plane and is forced to land in said plantain patch. Cain, the Mysterious Stranger With a Past, must stay on until they can get his plane airborne again. Not surprisingly, Mercedes and Cain make illicit kissy-face. And Gabriel talks to his plane. Which talks back to him. And his friends find evil spirits. More magic ensues. It sounds hokey, but—didn’t you read what we said—trust us. It works. When that plane emerges from the gorge, flying straight up to heaven, you can’t believe you’ll get tingly. But have faith: You will. October 14, 3:15 p.m., Medallion; October 15, 1:15 p.m., Medallion. (Eric Celeste)

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