A still from Saborrrr! courtesy of NFMLA

A darkly comic noir set in 1940s Hollywood, a series of increasingly uncomfortable dinner parties, and an exciting but exploitative acting gig were among the highlight’s of New Filmmakers Los Angeles’ recent InFocus: Indigenous Cinema Program.

NFMLA’s November event celebrates the work of indigenous filmmakers in front of and behind the camera.

The line-up began with the November Shorts program, an eclectic mix of short narratives offering laughter, satire, incisive social commentary, noir, and drama. Subject matter included a fraught catchup among co-workers; a confrontation between old writing partners; snapshots of spiraling mental health; a poignant depiction of grief; the true story of a ballet dancer, and an actor faced with a tantalizing but exploitative role.

The block opened with a selection of films produced through Black Girls Film Camp, an incubator for the next generation of storytellers. The program invited high school Black girls across the US to pitch a story idea, selecting a cohort of ten each year to have their short film project produced through the program.

The day’s programming continued with InFocus: Indigenous Cinema, a selection of short films by indigenous storytellers from three different continents. The program included stories of worker solidarity; supernatural horror; a pregnant teen facing the heartbreaking terror of the baby scoop era; a hunter in a Kalahari and an animated documentary about familial estrangement from Métis artist Terril Calder.

The evening concluded with The Pines, a psychological horror film centering on two best friends on a trip through desolate forest. The film is the first feature from director Kimberly Caicedo and her team.

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming. 

NFMLA InFocus: Indigenous Cinema Program Highlights

Here is some information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo.

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“The Rewrite” directed by Ken Aguado 

About Ken: Ken Aguado was a film executive and indie producer before writing his first screenplay called “An Interview with God” (2018). This soon led to other film and TV writing assignments and also led him to writing numerous shorts for other filmmakers, two of which are now in post production. “The Rewrite” is his first directing effort, which was paid for by a filmmaker grant from Samsung. Ken is also the author of three books in publication and several plays, including the stage version of “An Interview with God.”

About “The Rewrite”: Darkly comic noir, set in Hollywood in the late 1940s. A British screenwriter asks his estranged writing partner to read a letter that turns out to be a suicide note. But tempers flare and old wounds resurface when the estranged partner insists on a major rewrite.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Ken Aguado director of “The Rewrite”:

“Spinning” directed by Carly Steyer

About Carly: Carly is a writer/director and a graduate of Stanford’s Film and Media Studies program. Growing up in San Francisco’s private school bubble but raised by public interest lawyers and social activists, she explores themes like the collision of money and mental health, race, and social capital, often with a tech-centric flare (she did grow up in the Silicon Valley boom, after all). She’s directed several festival-circuiting shorts, and a live monologue series called Crushing that completed a sold-out run at NYC theater Dixon Place in April 2023. She currently works as the development assistant to director/producer Ruben Fleischer.

About “Spinning”: A series of dinner parties among mid-20s friends goes awry when one friend’s substance abuse escalates.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Carly Steyer director of “Spinning”:

“Sandpaper” directed by Danny Mooney

About Danny: Danny Mooney is a director, producer, actor and writer. He was a Student Oscar Finalist and has since directed/produced/acted in films that played at festivals including Toronto, Berlin, Austin, multiple films in Cannes (with one Palme d’Or nomination), and the Sundance Film Festival. He’s produced over a dozen features, and made his directorial debut with Love and Honor starring Liam Hemsworth.

About “Sandpaper”: Based on a true story, an ambitious young ballet dancer suffers a devastating injury just after getting accepted into the dance school of his dreams. With the help of his friends and family, he must endure both an emotional and physical journey to prove he’s not damaged goods in an attempt to reclaim his spot at the prestigious but cut-throat ballet academy.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Danny Mooney, director, and Cameron Auble-Branigan, actor and writer of “Sandpaper”:

“Warehouse” directed by Ahuatl Amaro

About Ahuatl: Ahuatl Amaro is a queer, Latino-Indigenous screenwriter and director who studied English and Theater at Georgetown University, earned a Certificate in TV Writing from UCLA and an MFA in Screenwriting from the AFI Conservatory. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has worked as a nonprofit media and public relations professional for over fifteen years.

About “Warehouse”: A queer, Latino-Indigenous, warehouse worker must choose between keeping his job or standing up to his boss when his LGBTQ colleagues are fired for demanding better working conditions.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Ahuatl Amaro director of “Warehouse”:

“SABORRRR!” directed by Gianfranco Fernández-Ruiz

About Gianfranco: Gianfranco Fernández-Ruiz is a L.A. based writer, director, and producer. His coming of age short film “Jerome” was a finalist for the HBO Short Film Award and will be on Max in 2024. His short film “Dead Flesh” is a finalist for the Louisiana Film Prize, and his feature film script “Summer of Mercedes” is a quarterfinalist for the Nicholls Screenwriting Competition. He holds an MFA in Directing from the AFI Conservatory and his thesis film “When Big People Lie” premieres at the 2024 AFI Fest. Gianfranco is a Boston native and a proud father to Irish twins.

About “Saborrrr!”: An actor lands her big break on a heavily exploitative advertising role, but will she be able to escape this ludicrous nightmare of a set?

Watch the NFMLA interview with Gianfranco Fernández-Ruiz director of “SABORRRR!”:

Main Image: A still from Saborrrr! courtesy of NFMLA