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  • Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    Winner of Best Narrative Feature at the Queens World Film Festival last month, H.O.M.E. is a poignant, beautifully shot film about the importance of human connection. Its director and co-writer, Daniel Maldonado, a lifelong New Yorker, shows us aspects of the city we don’t always see via two interconnected stories: One features Jeremy Ray Valdez as Danny, a young runaway with Asperger’s Syndrome who is living in the subways. The other thread concerns a struggling Ecuadorian cab driver, Gabriel (acclaimed Mexican actor Jesús Ochoa), who helps a distraught Chinese mother (Angela Lin) get home to Chinatown.

    Maldonado’s first feature, H.O.M.E. has both a dreamlike, impressionistic quality and realistic characters and scenes, a testament to his unique artistic vision and desire to create something human and relatable. The New York subway system is also a major character in the film; through Danny’s eyes, it is a repository of complex beauty and sometimes overwhelming stimuli.

    The film will be screened at 10:45 pm on Friday, April 15, at Cinema Village, as part of the Manhattan Film Festival. Last week I spoke with Maldonado about the making and the meaning of H.O.M.E.:

    You studied film at the School of Visual Arts?
    I kind of went about it in a roundabout way; instead of trying to get into a 4-year program, I went to night school, because I was pretty much supporting myself. After two years of night classes, I completely fell in love, so I switched into the degree program and wound up getting a Bachelor’s in film. As much as I loved making student films, what interested me the most was learning about film history and world cinema. That was the biggest spark, learning about films from all over the world, different generations; learning what art is, basically.

    Gabriel-phone

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    H.O.M.E. was co-written with Hector Carosso; had you ever worked with him before?
    The first story about a young man with Asperger’s is something I wrote very loosely. I wanted it to be a loose narrative and incorporate a lot of documentary elements, but the second story was written with Hector and he was a little bit more formal in terms of the narrative. I had just met him through a friend and it was one of those lucky breaks where we hit it off and we had a continuous dialogue of ideas and fed off each other; that’s very rare.

    The inspiration for the film was a story in the New York Times about a boy with Asperger’s who lived in the subway for 11 days.
    I knew I wanted to do a story based in New York City and use the city as a character; it’s where I grew up. I was fascinated by that story in the Times… It stuck with me, and since then there have been several instances of children who are autistic going into the subways. I did a lot of research and I befriended a family with a boy with Asperger’s; they consulted in the writing and making of the film. It was very important to me to be responsible in portraying this character. I went as far as spending time living in the subways; I would go down for 18 hours at a time for a few weeks just to know what it feels like. I traveled to almost every single station in the four boroughs.

    The film shows so much art in the subways, both intentional and accidental. Did you want to show the beauty of it?
    One of things I noticed during that period is that we generally use the subways to go from A to B, so when you’re in that environment and you’re not going anywhere, your senses open up and that’s what allowed me to notice the cracks in the walls, the way the water was dripping from one of the pipes; it became very sensorial with me. It was also important to me to capture any way I could the POV of someone with Asperger’s.

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    How did you find Jeremy?
    He already had a career in television and a couple of independent films, including one with Benjamin Bratt (La mission). I really loved his work and I thought he would be perfect. Luckily we knew somebody who knew him so we met with him. He immediately was interested because he had a family member who was autistic. Mind you, this is someone who’d never really spent time in New York—he’s from New Mexico, now living in LA—he’d never really ridden the subways, so I thought, this is going to be a challenge (laughs)…That scene where Danny has a bit of a freak out, Jeremy really had that moment right before we shot that scene. It was July, very hot, and it was a crowded subway car and he was really having that experience.

    Then there’s Jesús Ochoa, who you also wanted specifically for the role of Gabriel.
    A lot of it goes back to the casting agency Orpheus Group. These women cast Girlfight, Maria Full of Grace, some big independent films. They’re the ones responsible for getting Jesús. He did a film called Sangre de me sangre, which won (the Grand Jury prize) at Sundance. He’s an amazing presence.

    Did you shoot a lot of the subway footage at night, or whenever you could get access?
    Well, it’s technically illegal (laughs), so as many other independent filmmakers do in New York, you steal shots. The whole approach was that this would have to be planned out for us to execute it. We started off at night just because we wanted more control. Then we started getting stopped by the police … as long as you don’t have a big crew or a big tripod, you can get away with it a lot easier. They would still stop us but we had two cameras, so when they stopped one, the other kept rolling.

    MetroNorth

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    Danny’s character interacts with various people down there.
    I wanted to have Jeremy engage with people while in character. We would give him an earphone and I was speaking to him, and as we filmed, he would interact with people. There’s a scene where he goes into a store in Grand Central and has a conversation with a lady at the counter; she wasn’t aware that we were filming. So we did a lot of experimentation where I wanted to blend fiction and reality, just to see what would come of it. A few people came up to us after they found out we were filming and said that they see a lot of autistic young people in the subway, it was almost common for them.

    Those scenes in Gabriel’s cab: he’s really driving around the city, isn’t he?
    Yeah, he’d never driven in New York before.

    So you had a guy who’d never ridden the subway and a guy who’d never driven here!
    Jesús is so amazing, what he was able to give us, all the sacrifices. I said, we don’t really have a whole lot of money to get all the equipment needed for a proper way to film this, so are you OK with driving and performing? He said, yeah, no problem. So we put the cameras in the car and we were all cramped in there; we had another car in front. I think the most challenging part was trying to stop traffic on the Manhattan Bridge (laughs). That was a really tough moment.

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    Courtesy of Gashouse Films

    The immigrant experience, which we don’t always see portrayed on film, is obviously important to you.
    I’ve been on that trail for a little bit now; I did a short film in 2009 about a Mexican delivery worker (Lalo), slapstick comedy. In New York City there are a million stories to tell and a million stories have been told, but I’ve always been interested in the immigrant experience because they are the fabric of the city. And the way I see my career going in terms of my interests and inspirations, I’ll continue to make films with immigrant characters.

    What do you most want viewers to take away from H.O.M.E.?
    When I started to write the story I was very bothered—and still am very bothered–by acts that we hear about, where people are oblivious to situations. It was reported a couple of years ago that a man bled to death on a sidewalk; there was surveillance footage of people throughout the night, passing by, looking at him and not helping. Stuff like that really gets to me and pushed me forward to make this film, write the stories, and ultimately not get on a soapbox and preach about paying attention and being aware, but just tell a simple, quiet little story and hope that people can draw from it the importance of connecting with others.

    What are you working on next?
    It’s bigger in scope; I’ll just say that it’s a film that I want to do in Puerto Rico and it involves a community that is affected by a tragedy. It’s loosely based on actual events and it goes into mysticism, myth, folklore; there’s lots going on.

    Marina Zogbi

  • It’s seventy days until The Vans Warped Tour! The annual outdoor tour has been making its lap of the continental US every summer since 1995. Although it started as an alt rock sponsored by every skateboarder’s favorite brand of shoe, Warped has expanded into an all-inclusive fun-for-all. Attendees can now see rappers, rockers, pop punkers and every genre in between at their local show. From The Aquabats and Antiflag to Goldfinger and Green Day, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, The Misfits and Pepper, Saves the Day, Say Anything, The Starting Line, Tonight Alive and countless others have cut their teeth during the hot days of Warped. In a way, the tour is a great equalizer. Sure, there are different stages with bigger speakers that allow for larger crowds, but out amidst the muddy fields and catering tents bands as big as Blink 182 share space and probably sunscreen with up-and-coming acts. Everyone is there for the same purpose: music.

    Here are some bands from this year’s line-up that you should be sure to catch when Warped comes through this July:

    Read More

  • No April Fools joking in this report. Beyoncé’s 200-piece activewear line will hit specific stores U.S. Topshop, Net-a-Porter, and Nordstrom on April 14. She announced the release date to her 65 million Instagram followers on March 31.

    Introducing IVY PARK a new activewear brand for women. Arriving 14.04.16 #IVYPARK

    A photo posted by IVY PARK (@weareivypark) on

    Ivy Park will offer comfortable workout gear, ranging from leggings, to crop-tops, to jackets.

    According to a statement by the Pop icon herself: Ivy Park “purposefully goes against the celeb collaboration phenomenon. ”

    She also says that her line is intended to “push the boundaries of athletic wear, and to support and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than your physical appearance.”

    The inspiration behind the athletic line came to the superstar after realizing how much she tends to wear athleisure. “When I’m working and rehearsing, I live in my workout clothes,” she says, adding “but I didn’t feel there was an athletic brand that spoke to me.”

    As we’ve said before, athleisure is not disappearing anytime soon. And Beyoncé’s line has even sparked a Twitter war with activewear giant Lululemon.

    Tweet from Lululemon, courtesy of Jezebel:

    Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 11.01.15 AM

    The tweet was since removed, however the brand will have a tough time living that gaffe down. In the meantime,  here’s is a clip introducing the line to the world.

  • Just in time for election season comes Ron and Laura Take Back America, a ragged mockumentary written and directed by Janice Markham and Mel England, who star in the title roles. A few years ago when the duo conceived of a satire about a conservative couple who become anti-healthcare reform activists, the country was already polarized, with many on the right espousing the vague “take back America” rhetoric that continues to be popular despite its meaninglessness. Now, in this presidential election year, with contentious battles for both parties’ nominations, and (especially!) the emergence of Donald Trump as demagogue of the disaffected right, emotions are running extremely high, and campaign oratory dangerously loose. The sentiments expressed in and by Ron and Laura… have become all too familiar.

    ronandlaura

    While Ron (England) and Laura (Markham) Grawsill are classic ring-wing prototypes – religious, angry at the government, intolerant of homosexuality, etc. etc.—they’re also somewhat sympathetic, in that their issues with health insurance and Ron’s mother’s dementia, for example, are real and crippling. They also try, in their own clueless way, to be open to certain new ideas. We laugh at the familiar, fumbling, not-quite-logical rants (and they spout it all, from blather about illegals taking away their insurance to concern about death panels and “commie care”), but they’re not quite cartoon cutouts.

    We’re shown how the Bakersfield, California, couple first become aware of the issue of healthcare reform in late 2000s; their activism starts with support for John Zackie, the CEO of “Whole Fruits,” who is anti-Obamacare. When Ron and Laura take offense at how they are portrayed in a local TV news segment, they decide to make their own documentary, helmed by an amateur filmmaker who went to school with their son.

    Linda and Ron

    Initially so niaïve that they’re shocked when confronted by Obamacare supporters (“watch your purse,” admonishes Ron), their enthusiasm is boundless. There are frustrations: Laura repeatedly tries to get her “women’s group” interested in her cause, to no avail. The Grawsills’ clearly (but not to them) gay son Brian, who attends college, wants to be a lawyer specializing in “social justice and environmental law,” an admission that makes his father explode with rage. England’s mild-looking character has that clenched, suspicious manner of the perennially embattled and his outbursts are quite funny. Turns out that Ron has anxiety/anger problems, for which he takes a variety of drugs. When the couple decide to actually shop at Whole Fruits, they are confused by “lots of bins and roots.” A helpful wellness employee/Yoga instructor (Alex Dawson, nailing her archetype) encourages Ron to throw away his meds and just eat healthy stuff instead. This fits in nicely with his paranoia about “those Obama people” and insurance companies pushing prescription drugs.

    Time passes, as does the healthcare reform bill of 2010, and we see Ron and Laura drop in on Brian and his new “roommate,” an older African American professor (nicely played by Tony Sanders). As Brian tentatively attempts to come out to his parents, Ron barks, “I don’t like your tone,” knowing what’s coming. A nightmare scenario ensues, with Ron having some kind of fit and collapsing, but Laura is unwilling to call 911 because of their high insurance deductible.

    Gary and Brian

    Ron and Laura are also contending with his dementia-addled mother, who repeatedly runs into the street and strips off her clothes, to the chagrin of her young Latina caretaker.  The couple visit a lovely retirement village, where they are shocked by the fact that the place will cost every cent of the old woman’s savings. Ron predictably winds up calling the headscarf-wearing director “Ayatollah.” Turns out he really needed those anger meds, and he ends up in a psychiatric facility.

    In addition to all this, there’s also a subplot involving Laura’s growing obsession with designer-to-the-stars Bob Zackie (whom she discovers accidentally by confusing him with the Whole Fruits CEO), which seems extraneous. To be sure, the film isn’t exactly plot-driven and many scenes are strung together tenuously; some are funny, others not as much.

    England and Markham are fun to watch and they clearly have their fingers on the pulse of conservative America and those who are full of inarticulate outrage. As amusing as it is, Ron and Laura Take Back America feels a couple of years too late. By now, we’ve heard the characters’ sentiments amplified ad nauseam, and by those who should presumably be more informed. Maybe we’re just finding it harder to laugh at this point.

    Ron and Laura Take Back America is playing at Cinema Village, Manhattan.

    Marina Zogbi

     

  • I’ll never forget when Wesley Nessler walking into my 9th grade class at Ft. Lauderdale High wearing checkerboard slip on shoes. I remember thinking to myself, what in the world is this kid wearing? Well, I didn’t hesitate to ask, and quickly found out that these trend setting kicks were Vans. It’s now decades later, and it would be hard to find someone who doesn’t know those shoes and that design, and as I walked through the door at the Vans’ 50th Anniversary celebration Wednesday evening, I was not surprised to find that checkerboard design in full effect.

    From the super cool 3D art installations, iconic surf films and classic photography exhibit, it became quite clear that Vans has been a huge influence in American lifestyle, culture, art and sport for a very long time. Furthermore, Vans has become a cultural pillar that stands alone in its broad range of influence. It would only be fitting for the company to tie this historic evening together with diverse music performances that also span across many generations.

    The modern day rockers Yeasayer kicked things off with a an impressive set of hits and newer jams, while New York hip hop legend Nas brought the roof down with classics and some newer cuts. The energy level in the room was off the charts at this point as the night was beginning to wind down.

    It was great to see so many smiling faces in the huge crowd of both young and older guests. They experienced a special evening that will be remembered for a lifetime. Hat’s off to Vans for all of their great success and their soon to be released campaign, “The Story of Vans.”