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Artblog previews Philadelphia Latino Film Fest’s 10th year festival, a conversation

Now in its 10th year of programming, the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival provides a great roundup of searing and soaring documentaries, narrative films and some great shorts. In this 48-minute podcast, our film reviewer, reek bell joins Morgan and Roberta to discuss some of the selections they all watched. Congratulations to PHLAFF for another great year! The festival is online, and ticket information is in the post below.

Three Latinx women of varying ages -- two young and one quite old -- gathered in a row. The two young women stand on either side of the older woman, who is sitting. They are smiling and laughing.
Film still, “Joyride” by Edwin Alexis Gómez. Courtesy Edwin Alexis Gómez. Featured in Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.

Get ready for some great online viewing starting May 30, with Philadelphia Latino Film Festival’s lineup of documentaries, feature films, shorts and so much more! From the Festival’s website:

“Greater Philadelphia region’s only festival showcasing the extraordinary and innovative work of emerging and established Latino and Latinx filmmakers. The mission of PHLAFF is to nurture emerging and established Latino and Latinx creatives and filmmakers by celebrating the richness and diversity of our cultures and experiences, while fostering cross-cultural understanding and dialogue.”

Tickets and passes available here. The Festival runs through June 6, and offers LOLA Award winners; LGBTQIA+ selections; some world and US premieres. Explore the films here. Our reviewers, reek bell, Morgan and Roberta suggest a few films they enjoyed. But the list is long and the selection is deep, so explore and enjoy! Be sure to check the schedule by dates and by categories, because not all films are available during the full run of the festival. And do not miss the chance to see the rough cut of Philadelphia artist and activist Kristal Sotomayor’s documentary “Expanding Sanctuary.”

A young Latinx girl wearing a hazmat suit looking wondrously at a tree brand and feeling it with her right hand.
Film still, “Sol (Sun)” by Andy Alvarez. Courtesy Andy Alvarez. Featured in Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.

Mentioned in this podcast

You can listen to Artblog Radio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thank you to Kyle McKay for composing Artblog Radio’s original podcast intro and outro!


Morgan Nitz: [00:00:12] Hello everybody. And welcome to Artblog Radio! Today. We are speaking with, it’s Roberta, myself (Morgan), and we have our Artblog Film Contributor, reek bell, here with us today. Hello, reek!

reek bell: [00:00:26] Hi, y’all!

Roberta Fallon: [00:00:27] Hi reek!

reek bell: [00:00:28] Thanks for having me.

Morgan Nitz: [00:00:29] Yeah, I’m super excited because this year is the 10th anniversary of the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival. And so we decided to watch a couple of the films that are going to be featured, and we’re just going to talk to each other about it. Some of us watched the same films and some of us watched different ones.

So to kick it off, reek is going to talk about a couple of shorts that both reek and Roberta watched.
reek bell: [00:00:54] Thanks Morgan. Yeah, so from some of what’s scheduled, I watched Whitina, Sol, and Joyride, of the shorts category. And also watched one of their more feature documentaries, The State of Texas vs. Melissa. I’m going to kind of just go through a list, but I’m going to start with the one that was my favorite. All of them were really incredible films.

But Joyride really struck a chord with me. Roberta. Do you remember this one?

Roberta Fallon: [00:01:27] Yeah, I remember it. It’s a good one. It’s very homey and sweet. My favorite was Sol, S-o-l. I thought that was knock your socks off.

reek bell: [00:01:40] Yeah.

Roberta Fallon: [00:01:40] But I did love Joyride. I did love it. So go ahead. What, what did you love in particular?

reek bell: [00:01:46] A couple different things, but Morgan, to give you context, since that wasn’t the one wasn’t one of the ones that you watched. It’s, I like that you, you worded it like this, a “road movie,” and I love road movie categories. And as like just a genre overall. But it’s a movie about these two, two sisters that go to pick up their abuela, their grandmother, and take her on this like little mini road trip that they’re not supposed to be taking her from, some sort of like assisted living facility that she lives at. But they kind of like take her without permission for the day, to go to the grand canyon.

And it seems, it becomes like, obvious that it was like a trip that she really wanted (their Abuela) to have happen and they don’t really know why this date was so special for her, and like the urgent need to make sure it happened. But they make it happen (laughs) and it’s really sweet. It’s just like this sweet intergenerational story that also, I feel like what really, like a lot of things stuck out to me, but it made me think a lot about just breaking down cycles of intergenerational trauma and abuse.
Because in, in the film, when they’re on the way to the grand canyon, the abuela shares with them, the reasoning of why this date was so, so special to her to go on this particular day. It was her wedding anniversary. And then she kind of shares information about their grandfather of just abuse that she had survived throughout their marriage. And this day she wanted to go and release, and let go, and get rid of her wedding ring.

So, and in that moment too, it seemed like that’s information that she hadn’t shared with them ever before? And I thought that was like really powerful. I feel like sometimes there is, especially with survivors, there’s this shame? Especially when it’s in situations with like, family members. ” Well, I don’t want to make them look bad. I don’t want to…” So I was really struck that, like, she just was… open about it in that moment and shared that with them.

But it didn’t like make this whole film, like incredibly somber or just about trauma. Like it felt like, like reclaiming power, reclaiming, like your own agency, and the little ways that we can like liberate each other in moments and doing that with our loved ones of like, bringing them into our experiences. That felt really special.

But there were a lot of little things too that I noticed, but but specifically like that scene. Yeah. What did you think of that, that scene, Roberta?

Roberta Fallon: [00:04:26] I agree with you totally. I think… She starts out the story when they ask her of “why this day in particular?” and says, “well, this is the day that he proposed to me and he did it in the Grand Canyon. That’s why we have to go to the Grand Canyon.” And then she immediately says, “and after that he insulted me, he hit me, he went out with other women” and it’s like, oh my god! That completely diffused the sunniness of what was going on of the two girls taking grandma on a little escapade. And it was like, oh geez, this is deeper than I thought it was going to be.

I liked some of the small things, the small moments where one of the sisters calls the nursing home “old lady purgatory.” I thought that was really great. And the scene where they’re playing bingo in the nursing home, in the common room? And the white tender of all the people starts announcing what the meal is. And it’s like, “and we’re going to have chicken mole,” right? And that’s the wrong pronunciation of the word, isn’t it? Mol-ay? And it’s, you know, a small moment, but I thought it captured a lot of the milieu.

reek bell: [00:05:47] Absolutely. Yeah, that, that stuck out to me, of like… It’s interesting of like how there was little bits of like, humor, too. Like splashed into like, like, you know. And while still kind of, it’s like, it’s like poking fun at this, like, you know, Western [lens], you know, but in this, in this way that still relates to their story.
But I, I liked that a lot.

Roberta Fallon: [00:06:09] It was gentle poking.

reek bell: [00:06:11] Yeah, yeah! Especially like those kinds of things I feel like are– It’s like other, you know, other Latino people pick up on that very much, you know, like other white, like all sorts of people, but specifically like those kinds of like, jokes, or little cultural kind of insight things that I appreciate. That feel for the audience, you know? But I liked a lot about, of the, I felt like there was almost this routine of the lipstick, throughout?

Roberta Fallon: [00:06:39] I love the lipstick.

reek bell: [00:06:41] I love that all of — so all of them in the film, Morgan, they’re wearing lipstick, the two sisters going to pick her up, and then their grandmother applying it. But even throughout the film, they like are reapplying it. And specifically like the abuela, like leaving on the way back to where she lives, just like reapplying it and felt like there was a lot of like, focus on that.

But. I loved, like that they’re still glamorous in this like moment. And her applying that after letting go of this just felt… yeah, special. And I thought that that was really a nice touch as well.

Roberta Fallon: [00:07:18] The scene in front of the mirror when they’re still in the nursing home and the three of them are there? Grandma’s putting her lipstick on, but the other two are on either side, and it’s like, you see all three of them and they’re all the same person, almost!

Morgan Nitz: [00:07:32] Hmm. Now, when you say, let go of the ring, do you mean that they released it off, off the Grand Canyon?

reek bell: [00:07:39] Yeah, like threw it into the grand canyon as well. Like this really…
Morgan Nitz: [00:07:44] Mm. Mm.

Whats another, what’s another short that you watched?

reek bell: [00:07:48] Well, we watched Whitina. (I may be pronouncing that completely wrong.) But that was a short about a group of teenagers who kind of get confronted by I.C.E, and this situation that happens that… then they kind of have to flee. And one of them is a DREAMer, so his immigration status is just in jeopardy of like– not only of them all being like incarcerated and it was like a misunderstanding or– but also his immigration status.

So it. It was kind of just them on, on the run, trying to figure out like what to do. And inevitably two of them– the two girls– decided to turn themselves in, in hopes that he can get away from this situation. Which ended up being resolved. So definitely. Was kind of a film about the importance of DACA.

And even at the end, they had some info text about just how the former administration, the Trump administration’s, attempts to end DACA. And even though they were overruled by the Supreme Court, the Trump administration didn’t accept any, any new applicants. So even within that being overruled, they still were violent and just abused their power in that position. It’s wild.

Films like that. And also… A lot of these films, but also just that [one], and The State of Texas vs. Melissa just made me– like, I always think about this– but made me appreciate and remember just the importance of film as a medium, to also advocate for liberation, for change… you know, basic human needs that we are all entitled to.

It’s another form of like activism and, and organizing that… like, I know those things all the time, but it was a helpful reminder for myself too, as, as some things in my life, in the ways of like my activism have changed a lot. I’m excited for the way that film and creating things with like, film can… can support that as well, so…

Yeah. So that was, that was the first one I watched and I was a little like, Ooff! Okay. All right. It’s, it’s, it’s violent, but like it’s, I wouldn’t say gore or anything like that, or… but I, I would say just like, I feel like we see so much about police violence, state violence, in media, which is in ways that– in some things, like there’s been a lot of films, especially like Black films in America, that focus so much on tragedy and institutional violence, institutional racism, which is important, as they should– but lately, I feel like some things have just been so inundated with films about police violence, that like, I needed to just take a second after that.

And, and yeah, but while it’s it’s important, I’m glad there are. It feels in abundance right now. In response to the last couple of years, especially the last year.

Morgan Nitz: [00:11:03] Yeah. Yeah. It’s like replicating the trauma that you’ve already under gone in real life. And it’s like, you can’t get away from it.

reek bell: [00:11:13] Yeah. Yeah. So I would just like exercise Content Warning! Going into that, and it might be triggering for some folks. But. Definitely a good End All Borders film. And I thought it was really in a, in a different light. I thought it was really interesting. Just some of the, like the design of the film, part of it is she, Whitina, uh, she kind of becomes like a social media star from being on the run. So they kind of, like some of the, the shots, they kind of like use like Instagram timeline. And then they’ll have like the, the one part of the film in the center. Like I thought some of the composition and some of the things of like, new technology and integrating that into the films was, was kind of interesting and cool.

And I like seeing more and more of that. Like it reminded me of like, Divines, this French film, that in the beginning, like the first couple of minutes, it’s just like the girls on Snapchat, but they like using that. And like, even just like the way it would be on your phone and like the whole black screen and every, I really, I like seeing that.

And I think that’s really fun. Yeah. And like useful, you know, so.

Morgan Nitz: [00:12:26] Absolutely. I do love that. I, one of the only examples I can think of is that film Unfriended. It’s like kind of a. Yeah, it’s a thriller and it’s, it’s not maybe the best, but like the experience? I watched on a tiny TV in a pitch black room, and the whole thing takes place on a laptop screen. And I was there! You know?

reek bell: [00:12:45] Yeah. Is that the one? Yeah, that’s the one that just the whole laptop screen. It’s the guy and his daughter, right?

Morgan Nitz: [00:12:51] it’s a, like a, a friend group and they’re like group chatting and someone keeps coming in. Yeah.

reek bell: [00:12:59] There’s there’s this there’s film that I watched not too long ago… yes. It’s called Searching. John Cho film, but it completely it’s just on the laptop screen. And so you’re seeing like you’re watching it as if you would be watching through like the camera on someone’s laptop.

Morgan Nitz: [00:13:17] Ugh, man. I need to watch that.

reek bell: [00:13:19] It worked really well for that. Yeah. I was surprised. But anyway,

Morgan Nitz: [00:13:27] Well, so is that, was that each of the shorts? Or… I’m also really excited to hear about Melissa vs. The State of Texas, because I’ve been listening to this podcast series about this school in Texas and their marching band, and reopening during COVID. So I’ve kind of been in that world.

reek bell: [00:13:44] Yeah. Yeah, we can talk…. I know I am curious to hear a little bit of like, roberta you’re, there was one more short that we watched , And you mentioned that one being your favorite. Yeah. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on that, what you really liked.

Roberta Fallon: [00:13:59] Yeah, just one counter sentence about Whitina.. I thought it was very high school-ish? And it felt like a public service announcement. It was very blatant in its political message. So I just thought it was not as nuanced as it could have been. It seemed helter-skelter-y.. Anyway, the one I really liked was Sol, or Sal? S-o-l, however you pronounce that.
It seems like… it was a science fiction set in 2042. There was a mother and a daughter. The daughter is maybe 10 years old, 11 years old. The mom runs a veggie lab in the house. You can’t see outside. There’s an illusion to how the sun never shines anymore. It’s out there, you just can’t see it because of the pollution. You can’t go out of the house unless you wear a hazmat suit. I thought it was done, it was very claustrophobic in that respect. You’re in the house and you can’t see out the windows even because they’re covered with opaque plastic sheeting. And when you go outside– there’s an episode or two where they’re outside– it’s dense fog. Like you can’t see a thing really, you know, two feet in front of you.

But there seems to be some backstory of the mother having previous experience, and there was a father that’s not in the picture anymore, and possibly dead. And I thought this was like, a treatment to take to a producer and say, let’s make this into a movie.

It had that, I don’t want to say slickness but, completeness of thought in it, you could feel there was a whole plot in there that could, you know, that had been envisioned. The story of the daughter who couldn’t wait to break out of the house, and did at a certain point, spoiler alert, and the mother who goes chasing after her and what happens then it felt very real, you know, our rebellious daughter and a very worried mother.

I can identify with that. I think we all could. And I’d like to see this expanded into a full movie. I think it has great potential. The music was beautifully scored, you know, the swelling violins and the beating of the drums, the percussion when there’s running. And it was very well done. So I liked it a lot and it was very short.
wanted You know?

reek bell: [00:16:40] It was, I wanted more.

Roberta Fallon: [00:16:42] Yeah!

reek bell: [00:16:43] I agree with you. Like I would have loved to, I would love to see that as like a, a full length film and it did feel complete, but yet there was still so much like, intrigue of like “what happened with this father?” And it seemed like there was that one scene when she was searching for her, that maybe he may have been injured and she had to like, leave.
Like, it seemed like there was, there was almost some guilt or some more. Something else there, like it had a lot more layers that in, in just that short amount of time, that’s what I love about shorts. It’s amazing what people can capture in a short amount of time.

Roberta Fallon: [00:17:20] And then at the very, very end they swing around to what could be seen as sort of a message, where the mother asks her daughter “and what is your first thing that you must remember?” And the daughter says “I never go out alone.” And the mother says “WE never go out alone.” So the thought of We Are One.

Which I thought was a very nice moment to end on.

reek bell: [00:17:48] Yeah. I had that in my notes. I really liked that.

Morgan Nitz: [00:17:52] Was it that they could not go outside because… is this an apocalyptic, like the sun is too strong? The ozone layer is burned away? Or..
Roberta Fallon: [00:18:01] it’s not clear what it is, but it’s pollution of some sort is going to kill you. You just have to wear your hazmat suits and can’t breathe the air.

Morgan Nitz: [00:18:10] Oh, okay.

reek bell: [00:18:11] I think there’s something, cause I noticed too at the end, there was a moment when they’re back inside after you know, the daughter gets lost outside for a little bit. And she’s standing next to this plant and… you know, as they have that moment of, “we never go out alone,” and they’re leaving the room, the light above the plant changes. It wasn’t like… I had to rewind it, too, cause … but there was like very much like a focus of that. And there was like nothing else in the room they’ve walked out, but it’s still just the shot on the plant. And then, kind of like subtly, the light on the plant changes and then comes in like the end credits.

And it’s a very bright screen. So it made it seem like something about the sun, but even, Morgan, like when they’re walking around outside, it’s so thick of like this fog smoke that they can’t really see and we, we can’t see anything else but that.

Morgan Nitz: [00:19:11] Oh, wow. That sounds, man. I got to watch that (laughs) gotta watch that after this.

reek bell: [00:19:17] Yeah, definitely worth checking out.

Morgan Nitz: [00:19:19] Yeah, yeah.

reek bell: [00:19:20] And then, yeah. The, Those, so those were the three shorts that we had watched. And then there was The State of Texas vs. Melissa.

Morgan Nitz: [00:19:33] Yeah.

reek bell: [00:19:33] It’s about… Like an hour and a half, I would say? And this documentary is just all about Melissa Lucio who is the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death row.

And she’s been death row for, I believe, 13 years at this point? I had that in my notes. Death row in Texas, obviously, in the title. I mean, Texas has historically just been a, the state, I think the most, responsible for the most executions in this country. But yeah, so this, this documentary is about her, about all of the corruption the the way that her case was completely mishandled.

And there have even been several appeals, there’s been neglect as far as her defense attorney, not sharing information with the court, the, the assistant district attorney is I think actually incarcerated right now for corruption and bribery. There, they went into that in the film.

So it talks, it’s a lot about her, her life, and her experience and they, her, especially her relationships with her children and what she was charged with, I don’t know her specific charges, but she’s incarcerated for the murder of her child. She was charged with the murder of her two year old child.

Morgan Nitz: [00:21:02] Oh, was it a shaking baby syndrome type of thing?

reek bell: [00:21:05] No,

Morgan Nitz: [00:21:06] Oh wait, two years would

reek bell: [00:21:07] So it’s like, I’m trying to remember specifically. There was some sort of accident that happened the two year old, I believe like fell down on some steps. There’s some things of whether or not like a sibling may have been like abusing the child, but the, the, ambulance were called because the child was unresponsive and had like fallen down steps.

And then shortly after it passed away in the hospital. And then the mother was kind of like picked up, interrogated for like eight and a half, nine hours, and kind of coerced into this confession. And from there, it’s just been all of these people from like the coroner, also just seeing bruises and being like, “okay, this is just child abuse. I’m not going to investigate this any further,” to the defense attorney being like, you know, this, this oh, this information that I’m hearing from another witness that says that yes, someone, you know, the child did fall down the steps.”

He like made the decision to not bring her children, her other children into court, because I remember specifically there was this one line that like just really irked me that he said. Which was amazing that they were able to even like interview some of these people that they’re critiquing in the film, rightfully so, that I was, glad to see that, but. It, it really highlights like shows just how awful the situation and these people are. Her defense attorney at the time I, there was a line specifically that he mentioned keeping the kids still long enough.” To be able to like, “Oh, the court’s not going to want to deal with that.” and I feel like it’s like something that they always talk about. Like people always say about like children. “Oh, like they’re just like fidgety, or like…” To dismiss them. Like “they’re just kids,” you know? But “It would look bad because the court doesn’t want to deal with that,” which is just like bullshit.

And also it, each of these people just made a decision that affected this woman’s life. It’s like the coroner, from the defense attorney, to obviously the district attorney, who had… there was, there was a lot of press because it was like five days before Melissa was arrested for the murder, the death of her child that the, in that same county they had charged with man was convicted for murder, but had somehow the situation was so mishandled that he just walked out of the courthouse and was gone and they couldn’t find him. He was like on the run.

So they were getting all of this negative press. And then five days later, this happens. So, and then, yeah, and the, and, and later it all came out, the, this district attorney did a lot of bribery, like just corruption and just, and very much highlighted how atrocious this Criminal Justice System is in this country. And especially just as far as incarceration. I mean personally, like I’m prison abolitionist, and I don’t think that they should exist. So watching this, all this, films like this just fuel my fire.

And I’m glad that this woman also just could use her own voice. Cause I feel like a lot of times in documentaries and, and or even just like articles, especially it’s a lot of people speaking for the person.

So I’m, it was nice to hear directly from a lot of the people involved in this situation, but have the focus be on her and the way she has been like abused throughout this whole process. And the like, violence that continues to happen in this country. So, yeah. I just talked a lot, but… ( but laughs)
Morgan Nitz: [00:24:54] No, no I’m with you do. And it’s very infuriating. I’ve been listening to this podcast You’re Wrong About, and they had an episode about murder and how cops have committed most of the murders and they they’re very terrible at solving murders as well. Like oftentimes there’ll be like this cold case or they’ll blame it on maybe someone who is dead or yeah, like, or somebody who’s already convicted. Cause it’s just easier at that point. And they get to say that they’ve, you know, put a stamp on that case that they’ve solved it.

But the shaken baby syndrome thing, I brought it up because there was like one official who would go to all of these cases and be like, “oh yeah, these symptoms are consistent with shaken baby syndrome.” When like, We barely knew what it was and it wasn’t like what… like it was like, oftentimes like people having seizures or whatever else, or like old head trauma. And it’s just it’s so infuriating, how, like people have so much agency over, specifically, women of color, but over women who are caregivers, who, and their children getting in accidents because children are stupid and (laughs) I don’t know.

reek bell: [00:25:55] Right. No. Yeah. (laughs) They hurt themselves all the time.
Yeah. It made me think back to what you just said. Just there was one, like, cause they have some of the footage from her interrogation and there’s this one detective very much just trying to instigate some sort of confession that even like brings out a doll to like, show how she would pat, and was just like, “are you sure it wasn’t even harder? We all make mistakes. We all make mistakes. You might be tired.”

You know, like using all of this, this against her to try and push her like, “oh, you know, you’re an exhausted mother” like this. And like, “oh, it must be just shaken baby syndrome.” Like. So it made me just think about so much of the reproductive labor and the, the ways in which the state wants to control reproductive labor, but also like as far as, especially Texas, you know, People that can bear children, their their reproductive rates, especially what’s been going on lately. But then also use that as, as like a, a means to dismiss people and their agency, and also like further oppress. Oppress them and….

Morgan Nitz: [00:27:04] Ugh. terrible.

reek bell: [00:27:05] It’s, yeah.

Roberta Fallon: [00:27:06] I just want to say, I agree with you on the state being implicated in all of this. And by the state, I mean, all levels of government were against her and acting against her. But the, what I took out of this movie and what moved me the most was her family. And how, from the time she was a little girl, she had been molested by various family members.

So she was not protected in her own family growing up and had a pattern of disassociating from life. Got married at age 14 or 16 or something, extremely young, had four kids by the time she was 20. And she had… nobody knew how to deal with her. She didn’t know how to deal with the world. And nobody in her family knew how to rescue her or had the means to rescue her.

And at her deepest moment, when they really needed to rally around her, her children did, but they were not allowed to testify on her behalf because the defense attorney said they wouldn’t sit still. But her mother, for example, is quoted in this movie as saying that they believed she had done it. Her mother believed that she had been capable of this.

Her, there was a sister quoted as saying, “well, you know, we got to get on with our lives.” You know, why haven’t you been in touch with her? She’s been in prison 13 years now. Well, “we gotta get on with our lives. I haven’t seen her in seven years. I haven’t been in touch.”

And it’s like total abandonment by the family. Except for the children, you see some of the children who have grown through the years and crying, still crying for their mom and loving their mom. And, and knowing that she didn’t do this thing that she’s accused of, but being completely powerless to do anything about it.

Morgan Nitz: [00:29:06] They would have been witnesses, right? Were they there?

Roberta Fallon: [00:29:10] There was one son who was at the bottom of the stairs that says he witnessed this fall of the little, Mariah was her name, the two year old down the stairs. And yeah, so they were

Morgan Nitz: [00:29:24] Like, seems like that was on purpose, keeping them out of the courtrooms.

Roberta Fallon: [00:29:28] Yeah. So it was, everything was stacked against this poor woman. And the latest is that it’s up to the Supreme Court to take on her case. She’s exhausted all of the rest of her appeals. And unless that is, I don’t know, I haven’t read anything about it, but she, if they don’t take her case, then it goes back to Texas and they’ll set an execution date.

Morgan Nitz: [00:29:56] And the Supreme Court isn’t doing anything right now. They just had a case on their desk with this Snapchat thing. With this teenager who like sent a Snapchat around to the school was like “F cheerleading F school.” Like she was upset that she didn’t get into the cheerleading team. This is at the Supreme Court right now and they’re arguing it out. And then they say, we can’t make this type of decision.

What are you good for? You’re there to make decisions about these nuanced things of what is the school jurisdiction, what is not. And you can’t even make a decision? And what are they good for? It’s just… ugh, terrible.

reek bell: [00:30:31] Question Morgan. Good question. What are they for? (laughs)

Morgan Nitz: [00:30:38] Oh man. That’s, that’s a heavy one.

reek bell: [00:30:42] Yeah.

reek bell: [00:30:43] I think it is making its way around more. When I was reading about it, I believe Hulu picked up exclusive streaming rights to it. I don’t know if it’s on there already. I didn’t get a chance to check before, but it will be available on that streaming service. So hopefully a lot, a lot of people will watch it.

Morgan Nitz: [00:31:05] I’m kicking myself for not watching it before this conversation, but you guys had great things to say about it. And I feel like. Like, I, I have an understanding of it. I’m going to definitely go ahead and watch that one as well. Yeah. Thank you for explaining it to me. Yeah.

Roberta Fallon: [00:31:21] So tell us about the marimba movie Morgan.

A community of Ecuadorian people are riding in blue boats across the ocean. The ones who are visible in the front are smiling and playfully interacting with each other and the camera.
Film still, “El Murmullo de la Marimba (The Whisper of the Marimba)” by Greta-Marie Becker. Courtesy KHM Becker. Featured in Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.

Morgan Nitz: [00:31:25] Yes. So the movie that I am here today to talk about is The Whisper of the Marimba. And I immediately knew that I wanted to review this film because I played marimba competitively through ninth grade, through my freshman year of college with marching band, indoor drumline, it was my life. I was going to go to school for that, Art, or English.

And then. I couldn’t read music. I actually used to write the notes under each of the [measures], it would take me so long. We would get 20 minutes to learn a piece of music. I would spend 10 of it writing all the notes underneath, and then I would have 10 minutes to cram it in. So that was just a big barrier for me.

I felt like it was too late for me to learn and I couldn’t sight read. And so I went to school for art, but. Yeah, so this, this, I know Roberta, you watched this too, but this, this is a documentary film. It’s an hour and 20 minutes long and it follows three generations of musicians in Ecuador. And artists.

So there’s Rosa, who is the eldest woman. And then there is Benjamin who is kind of middle aged. And Christina is also kind of, you know, younger, maybe twenties. And they have children who are learning to play the marimba. And the whole thing is about how the marimba came to Ecuador from Africa, and how it is now used to preserve culture, and the lack of support that they get in that, in that venture. They, you know, there was a quote “UNESCO doesn’t care about the marimba and they, basically deemed it immaterial.”.

So Benjamin is quoted at one time saying that the story of how people came to Ecuador, was that there was this wealthy Spanish person who capsized his boat near Ecuador. And there was a slave by the same name, Alonso, and that he freed the slaves and that they went and, you know, came upon the indigenous people in Ecuador and kind of like colonized it.

And that was a story that was told by a Spanish priest and it was through their lens of colonization. But what he says the true story is, that folks who were enslaved in Colombia to mine gold, actually escaped through the forest and got to Esmeraldas. And that’s what he posits to be the true story of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, where they live.

And so they say the marimba came to the American continent through our minds, not materially. So they remembered the instrument and they recreated it. And they used it to tell oral histories and at various points in 1800 and 1930, it was banned in Ecuador. So they would collect on the beaches and they would dance to the marimba there.

And so Rosa is kind of the, the older woman. She’s, she’s a singer and she tells their history. She sings on the beach, and she, she tells the history in song. And Benjamin kind of sees the onus of preserving this culture to be on him. He says at one point that he feels that he was born to claim his right to, I guess, this culture to the music.

And he sings these beautiful songs. I, I wrote some of them down. I am a soul from the year 1800 / when the planet was still green and a river my entire universe / the voice of my mother was like a science to me / I carry the name, Juan Manuel / I left everything behind in El Patia /. A downpour of black brothers / I left my family behind in tears / I went away and said, I’d go back / my life passed by, and I did not / I was born when slavery was abolished / and still I am oppressed.” And then there’s a couple more lines. And he says, “My wounds never healed / I saw an exodus of Black youth”

And this is when he’s going to meet Nacho, who is the man who taught him to make marimbas. And he’s sick and they’re worried for the culture of the marimba because it’s kind of falling off. So what struck me the most was watching him. He made these marimbas. He learned how to do it from Nacho and… it was just, you know, mesmerizing. I grew up with these marimbas that were on a metal armature with these metal resonators. And here he is cutting logs to the correct length, planing the wood, sanding the wood, sealing the wood, and constructing it with wire. And…

he talks about playing the marimba and how you have to let the mallet just kind of fall. And that is true. With marimba you have to make your own rebound, like if you hit a snare drum, you go like that [gesturing hitting a drum] your arm is going to get whiplash. So the whole thing of playing drums is you have to have control to keep your yourself down with marimba. You have to create the snapback that goes up. It’s very unnatural. But otherwise it deadens the key, otherwise it doesn’t resonate.

But I, I was thinking so much about marching band and the roots of the marching band with the marimba and how marching band is derived from military practices. And the whole thing of marching band is you have to play so loud and it’s just so opposite of everything that he was saying. You know, just letting it drop just so and letting the rhythm kind of evolve the way he wants.

It’s funny. He was making fun of the xylophone. He was like, “oh, we don’t want any of that [makes trilling sound] none of that nonsense. That’s, that’s a Mexican sound. That’s not an Ecuadorian sound.” And you know, the piercing side of the xylophone is, is critical to the marching band. But yeah. Yeah, I just, I thought it was fascinating.

What do you, do you want to add anything Roberta, while I review my notes for more things to say?

Roberta Fallon: [00:36:57] Sure. (laughs)

Morgan Nitz: [00:36:58] Okay.

Roberta Fallon: [00:36:58] This is a beautiful movie. It’s drop dead gorgeous. Esmeraldas a city on the ocean. And so in the background, you see the march of the oil tankers. There’s an oil processing plant, and pollution is a sub theme of the whole movie because the people are sick. A lot of the children have terrible allergies and whatnot because the water is bad and the air is not good.

But if you, you know, forget about the oil tankers and the distance, the sea is beautiful and people live very close to it, at least in, in this city. The river is also a very big player, and the mountains. And so at one point, Benjamin is talking about, or. I guess it’s when his song, he’s singing his song about the river. He actually gets in a boat on the river and you see him and it’s a very low boat, but a motorboat going on this beautiful river up to a mountain top place that looks up higher, but not too far away to find Nacho.

The whole thing, you know, there are these moments of grandier with the landscape and then moments of extreme intimacy inside housing, you know, raw, not finished floors and cement walls and things of that nature that people are living in and living well in cooking well, so they’re doing well, but it’s like. For a Western audience, it’s something to be introduced to people in a respectful way, who live in these conditions and later talk about helping poor people.

You know what I mean? Cause there’s a level of poverty that they’re living with that they don’t even recognize as poverty. And yet there is a level under that, that they recognize and they are helping these people. And that just grabbed me. You know, the humanity of the people in this community was very great.

Morgan Nitz: [00:39:12] to speak to that. I wrote down something. Christina said she’s talking about how, you know, people in power there don’t care about them. They don’t care about preserving their culture. They’ll come and all they care about is money. And she says, but that’s what, that’s what led her to become creative, and led her to making clothes, to selling food, to teaching children, how to do those things as well.

And she said, “If you have everything, you can’t figure out who you are. You don’t recognize your own potential.” Because it is in that, in that space that she’s created these solutions. Yeah.
Another thing that Benjamin, I just loved is he was talking about, he was tuning the marimba after making it, and he said, I’m tuning it the way they do in Europe, but harmony isn’t everything. And he’s, he says he’s searching for the old sounds. Before music theory came and bogged everything up. I mean, some of the best musicians I know. They either learned in church or they just grew up or from their parents and they just feel it like they aren’t talking about Iodian and Mixolydian like, they don’t, they aren’t talking about music theory. That’s a supplemental education. If you decide that you need that, but you just have a feel for the music.

It reminded me also of this, this piece, I learned it was called “Two Mexican Dances for Marimba” and every measure, the time signature would change. Because a lot of American music is just 4/4 or whatever else, but there’s like 5/4, and all that… The time signature would change every measure so that you no longer actually have a grasp, it’ll be something crazy, like 15 over nine. So really the only way to learn that piece is by listening. And the three of them, the trio that’s in that band, that’s what they did. They listened to each other and they adapted on the spot and they got into a flow.

Unlearning. He said that he was eliminating all other influences, the European influence, and he was unlearning so that he could claim his right to the marimba culture that he felt was deep in his soul.
He said again, at one point, and he said um, there’s all these different types of musics that start to eradicate your own culture. But when you hear your music from your culture, you feel a deep in your heart.” So he just has this calling where he feels that, you know, he’s the person to carry this on.
Roberta Fallon: [00:41:27] I thought it was interesting that Rosa, the elder woman who is the singer and a leader, her type of singing was the call and response. She says at one point I can’t sing unless there’s a chorus. You know, like the interrelationship of that call and response was like what she needed and what she was singing was very chant like, you know, repeating of the words, repeating of the words and the chorus, repeated their words and back and forth and back and forth.

And it’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful sound, a beautiful way of communicating. And it went very well with drums, and there was no other accompaniament.. When she’s playing on the beach or at night, it’s like only drums accompanying it, I believe. But the band that Benjamin leads has him on guitar. Oddly enough, he doesn’t play marimba. He just makes them. But he plays the guitar and he must be the leader of the band. And he writes the songs, writes the music and he is a troubadour, and his songs are in these sort of Western, I think, troubadour tradition of telling a narrated story. You know, it’s not call and response. It’s very melodic. And three parts, you know, drummer and a guitarist and the marimba. And so it’s, it’s been westernized perhaps, or I would have liked to hear more about the interrelationship of the African, and what seemed to be kinda Spanishy that was coming from, you know, the indigenous or from the Spanish influence that Benjamin seemed to have in his music.

I didn’t watch this movie yet to the end, so I don’t know maybe that maybe I’ll get there and that will be revealed. (laughs)

Morgan Nitz: [00:43:21] Yeah, no, I think what I, what I kind of got out of that was, you know, Rosa was around when marimba wasn’t really, it was kind of not… It was illegal, you know? So she, she had this tradition of going and hiding and she said that sometimes the bamboo hut, where they had the marimba and the dancing would be full, and she would just look in through the peaks of the bamboo and there would be other people around. And so he talks about her at one point as being the Oral Historian. And they also talk about the type of you know, singing that Rosa does as being the more spiritual community singing, where everybody is gathered.

And then I believe what he sees his role is, as is, being the Narrator or like the Oral History Keeper that is keeping it alive. So it’s different because it’s, he’s telling history while she’s practicing spirituality almost? Yeah.

Roberta Fallon: [00:44:21] Makes a lot of sense.

Morgan Nitz: [00:44:23] Yeah. Yeah, it was just so good.

And then Christina and Jorge were the others. We didn’t talk about them as much, but they were teaching dancing, to younger kids and they were saying… they were just talking a lot about the pollution and how they felt their role was to like, you know, keep the art and culture alive through the children and keeping them out of like trouble and. You know, they use the word, like “there is crime,” and they used the word, “drugs.”

So they were saying that their mission was to try to like give people the… an alternative, which was preserving the culture through dance, and through clothing making, and through marimba classes, which they held. Yeah. Yeah.

So that was, I didn’t follow my notes at all, (laughs) which is sad. Cause I took pages of them.
But yeah.

reek bell: [00:45:13] It be like that (laughs)

Roberta Fallon: [00:45:14] Well, the, the, the thing about taking notes when you’re watching a movie and you can’t really do this in the big screen, unless you have some sort of special like camera or light equipment, but if you’re screening something on your computer, you can absolutely take notes. And then when you go back to your notes, you read through them and the movie comes back to you.

It really does. You know, all the pictures are there.

Morgan Nitz: [00:45:40] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Roberta Fallon: [00:45:44] So take notes when you’re watching a movie on your Netflix.

Morgan Nitz: [00:45:51] Well, this has been lovely. This has been longer than we expected. So we should probably cut it off, but, oh man, I talked to you guys ear off about this marimba movie.

reek bell: [00:46:01] No, that was fascinating. And that’s like the one that I didn’t get to see . So I was really, really interested. I’m going to check that out before you sign off. Can we do a couple of, film things in Philadelphia, plug?

Morgan Nitz: [00:46:13] Yeah. Yeah.

reek bell: [00:46:14] Okay. Yeah. Going again, The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival is May 30th to June 6th

And also this summer, the BlackStar Film Festival, which is also having its 10th anniversary. It’s funny, both those, these festivals this year, 10th anniversary. But that has happening August 4th to the 8th I don’t think anything has been released as far as information about if it’s all online or some in person.

But then also “SEEN” the film journal, a part of BlackStar Projects, I believe they’re… Now I just got an email for pre-order for their second issue. And SEEN is a– this is specifically a quote from their website– “SEEN is a journal of film and visual culture focused on Black, Brown and indigenous communities, globally published by BlackStar Projects twice each calendar year.”

But it looks beautiful. I missed their submissions last time, but it’s an exciting thing that they’re producing. That I think would be great for any filmmakers or film lovers to check out

Morgan Nitz: [00:47:15] Thank you for doing that because I should have had that in front of me and did not. So you saved the day.

reek bell: [00:47:23] good. All good.

Morgan Nitz: [00:47:24] Well, this has been really, really nice reek. Thank you for joining us and for all of your film, insight and beautiful encapsulations of those shorts and that feature length doc. It was great. I learned a lot. (laughs)

reek bell: [00:47:39] Thanks for having me. This was lovely.

Morgan Nitz: [00:47:41] Yeah.

Roberta Fallon: [00:47:42] We’ll do it again.

Morgan Nitz: [00:47:44] Yeah.

reek bell: [00:47:44] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I would love to join you again.

Morgan Nitz: [00:47:47] I would love that as well. That sounds great. So you’ve been listening to Artblog Radio,. we’ve been reviewing some films from the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival, which is in its 10th anniversary, and… Goodbye!

reek bell: [00:48:00] Thanks. Bye.