Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oddball Films—This Is For The Raza: Brown and Proud!

Attended this program with Michael Hawley. Oddball Films Director Stephen Parr joined forces with L.A. filmmaker Jesse Lerner to curate a program of films devoted to the Chicano experience. While the audience gathered, Parr played border tech music and screened Kodachrome Mexican home movies from the 1940s involving scenes from Mexico City, Taxco, among others. The surefire winners from this batch were scenes from the floating gardens of Xocimilco and a litter of adorable piglets.

These appetizers were followed by a 1972 Encyclopedia Britannica group portrait: The Mexican American Speaks: Heritage in Bronze. Naïve in its ambition to introduce the average American to mestizaje and the burgeoning social role of Mexican-Americans, the Britannica vehicle took me back to the educational films I used to watch in junior high school. It carried a taint of assimilation even as it suggested parity.

The 1971 documentary Latino: A Cultural Conflict was shot by Brian Lewis on the streets of San Francisco's Mission District over 35 years ago. It charts the alienation of teenager Mauricio from the Anglo community and his descent into drug use and criminal activity due to the cultural conflict between home versus school, and the unrealistic expectations of educators who expect Chicano students to conform to Anglo ways.

Filmmaker Veronica Majano was on hand to screen some of her indie shorts. The first—Calle Chula—was a 16mm portrait of 15-year-old Calle, a mixed Salvadorian and Ohlone girl, who travels through the Mission District seeking her own, rendered in ambulatory fashion with doowop teenage heart throb music, the kind of music Laura Nyro emulated, indicating a street feminine sensibility. Calle is, in fact, the street personified. Majano received a Film Art Foundation grant to create Calle Chula.

She also screened Two Four, an experimental piece that pays tribute to 24th Street in San Francisco's Mission District. This decasiatic short implies the fragile decay of memory via hand-processed super eight color film. Seeping and rich with images that fade in and out of perception and abstraction, Two Four articulates emotional and nostalgic experiences of home and memory. I Reminisce, her tribute to the Mission District of yesteryear, incorporated footage gleaned from Oddball Films' archives, including footage of Mission Street back when the sign of the Mission Theater was painted bright red (it's now weathered and rust orange) and bouncing lowrider car clips. Using these archival images and another golden oldie, I Reminisce is a slow cruise through time, place and the people of San Francisco's Mission District.

Her devotion to the Mission is an admirably personal aesthetic.

I asked Majano if she had music rights and she admitted no, but, that no one had ever harrassed her about it. It's not like her films are going to be shown at the Metreon. Her films are more like diaries she has written to herself describing her self-awareness as a woman of color in the Mission. And after seeing her own films so many times, she admitted to being glad for the music; it's the music she still enjoys when she has tired of her own films.

She has also filmed Remember Los Siete, a short experimental documentary about the seven Central American young men from the Mission District in San Francisco falsely accused of killing a white undercover police officer in 1969.

Majano is an Artist-In-Residence and Consultant for the Proyecto Contra SIDA Por Vida Basta Project, working with lesbians of color to utilize art, writing and film as a means of community activism. She is presently working on a script, Prince Saves, about two queer Latina teenagers.

The crown of the evening was the 1967 Decision at Delano, which portrays a very young Cesar Chavez at a crucial moment in the farmworkers struggle. It thrilled me to see this footage! I was just a kid working in the fields in Southern Idaho unaware of these historic events taking place in Southern California. My awareness came long after the fact. Decision at Delano includes glimpses of El Teatro Campesino in its infancy. One confrontation between a white woman and Chicano strikers amazed me: She shouts at them, "I feel sorry for you people. My kids are going to grow up to be psychotherapists and yours will amount to nothing."

There is also excellent footage of Robert Kennedy taking the local police chief to task for arresting strikers on the supposition that they were going to cause trouble. I recommend, Kennedy quips pointedly, that the police chief and his staff take their lunch hour to read the Constitution of the United States. Thrilling material that made me all the more appreciative of the early work of the Chicano movement.

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