7 items from 2016
I screened "Hostile Border" (Fka "Pocha, Manifest Destiny") at Urbanworld Film Festival (www.urbanworld.org) last September after hunting it down for what felt like an eternity having followed the project since its audition process. Not only did Veronica charm fellow filmmakers and audiences alike, she gave an understated and captivating performance that carried the film effortlessly. One that should take the young Cali Latina to dizzying heights.
LatinoBuzz: Is there an artist whose career you greatly admire?
Veronica Sixtos: I greatly admire Jennifer Lawrence's career. She was put on the map by her performance in an indie film called Winter's Bone. Knowing that gives me faith that I can lead a similar path. I can tell that she puts everything she has into giving the audience the most honest performance that she can. I adore her for her bravery in letting go. She chooses her roles wisely and she's not afraid push the limits. I love that. I also love how she presents herself in public. Whether it's a TV interview, red carpet, or a tweet, she is not afraid to be herself and I think that makes her so unique.
LatinoBuzz: Does your music help you with your acting and vice versa?
Veronica Sixtos: I was an actress first before I was a musician and songwriter. So what I had learned about letting go and trusting my human instincts in the art of acting I applied to my music. When I write and perform my music I do my absolute best to always come from an honest and sincere place. I imagine it would be more difficult to get to that place if I was not also an actor. During the filming of Hostile Border I would play my guitar and sing my songs during down time. It helped me unwind after an intense day of work. It also helped me to tap into the more emotional side of my character.
LatinoBuzz: Did making Hostile Border help you gain a better understanding of the complexities of the immigration issues?
Veronica Sixtos:: Before making "Hostile Border" I had a limited understanding on the immigration issues today. Being a part of this project has allowed me to gain a lot of insight and perspective on immigration/deportation on a more personal level. One thing that has really stood out to me is the extent of how many people's lives are affected by it and how they are all affected in different ways.
LatinoBuzz: What was the most important element you wanted to bring to the role of "Pocha"?
Veronica Sixtos: Humanity. I wanted to bring to my character such a level of humanity that the audience would identify with her whether she was making bad decisions or not. I didn't want it to be a performance. I wanted to share with the audience a real human experience.
LatinoBuzz: How did the whole experience of making the film change you in any way?
Veronica Sixtos: Around the time that I was offered the role of Claudia I was feeling like I was at a stand still in my career and in my life in general. I was tired of living the same routine everyday and auditioning for similar stereotype roles all the time. Without realizing it I was waiting for an opportunity to express my art in such a way that it would make a real impact on people. I wanted to jump into something that had never been done before where I could have the freedom to truly push the boundaries of what is considered correct or acceptable. Playing this role forced me to completely let go of ego. I had to let go of the preconceived ideas of what women in movies are supposed to be like. This was one of the biggest challenges I faced in the making of this film. What I continued to remind myself was that it was not about me... it was about the art, the message, and the experience of the audience. Embodying such a complicated character required for me to delve into the darkest parts of myself in order to portray Claudia in the most authentic way possible. Doing that wasn't easy and I found myself learning a lot about self acceptance and transformation. To this day I am still learning and changing from this experience.
LatinoBuzz: The film first premiered on the east coast at Urbanworld Film Festival and took the jury prize for Best Narrative Feature Film. How was that experience to come to New York for the first time and accept the award?
Veronica Sixtos: I love New York. Walking the beautiful city streets in designer pumps and dress was like a dream!! What an incredible time I had watching beautiful films and meeting incredibly talented and passionate people at the festival. Seeing Tyrese Gibson watching my movie was an insane surprise. He even stayed for the Q & A and asked me a question! I felt so honored just for him to have seen it let alone hear his thoughts on it. During the awards ceremony I remember looking around and feeling overwhelmed that I was lucky enough to even be there to witness these film makers accept their awards. Which is why I was completely caught off guard when they announced that my film had won the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative feature film and I was the only one there to accept it! In front of all those people. I was so over joyed that I couldn't stop giggling like a little girl. I'll never forget that experience.
LatinoBuzz:Is there a filmmaker you really want to work with? Put it out there!
Veronica Sixtos: Alejandro G. Inarritu. After watching "The Revenant" I fell in love with this directors work. I started doing research on him and found that we have some things in common! He was born and raised in Mexico (I wasn't but I'm Mexican and I love Mexico!). At a young age he went traveling around the world which he says has heavily influenced him as a filmmaker (I love to travel too!). He is a musical artist and says that music has a bigger influence on him as an artist than film (I can totally relate!). He has a long list of critically acclaimed films and one day I hope to be in one of them. I think we would work really well together. Can someone send him a "Hostile Border" screener???
LatinoBuzz: What's the ultimate game plan for Veronica?
Veronica Sixtos: I love film. I want to keep working on movies and I have high hopes that Hostile Border will bring forth more opportunities for me. Currently I am working on completing my first Ep called Chapters. Eventually it will be available on Itunes and hopefully Spotify etc. I love writing music and sharing it with those who need it. Travel is another one of my passions... I don't quite have a game plan yet on how to accomplish this... but I would like to somehow incorporate travel with music and acting. All in one. That would be my ultimate dream.
Give Veronica cyber hugs at: https://www.facebook.com/VeronicaSixtosfanpage and check out all things "Hostile Border" here: http://www.hostileborder.com/
Written by Juan Caceres. LatinoBuzz is a feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow [At]LatinoBuzz on Twitter »
- Juan Caceres
Due to the myriad of people seeking refuge from the precarious conditions in their homelands or about crimes committed along the extensive area it crosses, the border that attempts to divide Mexico and the United States is an endless fountain of thought-provoking stories, sometimes uplifting and others gruesome, which have become prime source material for film productions on countless occasions. But while there are very few aspects of this interdependent relationship that haven’t been already explored in cinema, director Michael Dwyer’s “Hostile Border” (formerly known as “Pocha: Manifest Destiny”) follows a singular character with a dubious moral compass, cultural ambiguity, and whose identity is difficult to classify.
Claudia (Veronica Sixtos) is a Mexican-born undocumented American, and while that description may sound contradictory, is perhaps the closest to explain what her situation is. She identifies with American culture, as the only place she has ever called home is the United States, yet her status as an undocumented immigrant places her in a limbo that has no easy solution. When a series of terrible choices lands her back in Mexico, a country foreign to her, she realizes that the fact she can’t speak Spanish and doesn’t know what rural life involves alienate her here too. As a pocha, or someone of Mexican descent who doesn’t speak the language or relates to the culture, Claudia is force to reconsider who she believes she is, at least until she can find a way to return to the U.S. by any means necessary.
We chatted with director Michael Dwyer about his unexpected take on a new type of border story, one that takes from genres like the Western and thriller, and becomes its own unique brand of cinematic social commentary.
Aguilar: I was born in Mexico. I grew up there and then I moved to the U.S, so I'm always hesitant about the portrayal of immigrants in film and of the relationship between the Us and Mexico. However, "Hostile Border" has a very unique and authentic angle on these stories that I hadn't seen on screen before. The concept of a "pocha" or "pocho" might be familiar to people in the Mexican community but foreign outside of it. How did you come in contact with this story? What was it that drew you to this specific part of the relationship between the two countries?
Michael Dwyer: Primarily I wanted to tell a story that takes a hard look at the American Dream. For me, growing up around the border, the border is a place where there’s not just two cultures, there are many cultures pushing up against each other. I think within that space you’re able to question your own cultural values, be it Mexican or American, and that was really important for me growing up, having different perspectives on what’s really important about the choices you make, on issues of morals and family. I feel like that’s where I’m coming from, that I wanted to tell a different kind of story about the American dream. I think that there are of a lot of cheering, happy stories of people who come to the Us and who aspire to do amazing things, and it's not that I want to diminish that, but coming of age amidst the financial crisis, where there was no consequences for any of that corruption, gave me a certain feeling that the American dream wasn’t designed for everybody, and there are people who are pushed out. I think that perspective is valuable, because I think that there’s this a dark side to the American dream where people get hurt, and that’s very real.
Aguilar: Your protagonist, Claudia, is in this very ambiguous cultural crossroads , because she doesn’t speak Spanish and she’s sent back to a county that she doesn’t know. She not from here but in a sense also not from there. She connects more with American culture, but her birthplace definitely has an influence in her destiny. Can you tell me about creating this character and devising that ambiguity of what she is or what she thinks she is?
Michael Dwyer: I should say that I had been developing this story for many years, and a real turning point for me happened when I was at the border late one night and I witness the deportation of maybe 100 people. I ended up standing on the line with several of them, and I met people who, like Claudia, didn’t speak Spanish and knew very little about Mexico. That was kind of the “inciting incident” for crafting a different story about somebody who is caught in between the two cultures, the two countries, but then it’s also about being caught in between very difficult choices, and the moral implications of each of those cultures. I hope those all tie together and that there’s a through line there.
Aguilar: She is also not “victim." She’s a very strong character. Often stories made about the immigrant experience are about victimization or powerless characters. Claudia is powerless at times in the film, but she’s has this arrogance about her that doesn't let her entertain the idea of failure. Why was important for you not to have a character that's defined as a victim, but rather one that's partly responsible for her circumstances?
Michael Dwyer: We really wanted to show her as this very strong character. I always wanted to make a Western. I wanted her to be the leading character in a Western, be strong, make bold choices, and be somebody who you can judge but also really root for. I think that that’s something we don’t really see a lot in movies – strong female characters who are both good and bad, and complex, and have a character trajectory that we can grapple with. It was definitely about that, and working with the writer and co-director of the movie, Kaitlin McLaughlin, we definitely brought to it our sense of feminist values and we tried to put that in without making it a message thing. We just wanted to give her strength and determination not to be a victim.
Aguilar: Tell me about your choice of genre and the fact that it’s not a drama. It definitely exploits the elements of a thriller. Its very gritty and intense in terms of the violence and tension, but the film still manages to convey all these other themes surrounding the action. Why did you feel that using a blend between Western and thriller elements was the ideal way yo depict these ideas?
Michael Dwyer: I wrote a version of the script a long time ago that was much more exploratory and experimental in terms of the characters. I was very much inspired by José Antonio Villarreal and his novel “Pocho," and that element of the border. But what we really came to figure out is that the feeling of being caught in between cultures and impossible decisions, is a feeling of intent, suspense and tension. Ultimately we felt that the best way to capture that feeling and put the audience with Claudia was to do that with some of the elements of a thriller, and really playing on the suspense. That’s what Kait McLaughlin, the writer, was really great about – pulling those story beats and really trying to move the story as quickly as possible and raise the stakes as high as possible.
Aguilar: Did you shoot the film in Mexico or was it easies for you to shoot in the United States? Was that decision affected by the importance of authenticity or having a realistic depiction of the spaces the characters inhabit?
Michael Dwyer: We shot two weeks in Los Angeles and another seven weeks in Mexico, around Tijuana. I come from a background in documentary film, so I feel like authenticity is very important. The part of the filmmaking process that is really rewarding to me is drawing from the elements of a location, and really listening and responding to people that you are following. I say that because in a way we tried to have a bit of that documentary feeling to it. There are scenes in here involving large amounts of cattle, and that definitely came out of our documentary approach and listening to our friends telling us, “Hey there is this roundup happening and they are going to be doing vaccinations on all of these cows. “ We would stop our day to go see that. We were a small crew, since the film was made with a lot of passion by a very few people, and that also gave us the flexibility to jump around, respond, and not impart a sense of, “This is what I think this place is,” but instead let the place come alive on its own terms.
Aguilar: There visual style on display is vibrant and transforms the landscapes into incredibly beautiful, almost dreamlike, visions. Where does this approach come from?
Michael Dwyer: I’ve worked as a commercial cinematographer and the visual language is part of my passion for filmmaking and storytelling. I’ve been inspired by great cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki. I think that because this is a difficult story I wanted it to be beautiful and I wanted it to pull you in. I hope that this adds to bring the audience into her feelings and her world. That was always the driving paradigm for the choices we were trying to make in terms of the framing and the camera movements. It was about how these heightened the feeling of being in Claudia’s shoes - being caught in between impossible choices. We tried to add to that suspense and feeling of unknown and fear.
Aguilar: Veronica Sixtos is a revelation. Although she had appeared in previous film projects, this is an outstanding lead role for her. How did she come on board and what made you believe she could portray Claudia with all her facets?
Michael Dwyer: It was interesting. We had a pretty extensive casting process trying to find somebody who could play this character. It’s a very complex role because we are pushing the line of likeability. We were brought to Veronica through her costar Jesse Garcia who came on to the project very early on and eventually became a producer on it. He brought us to Veronica and I immediately knew that she had both the physicality to carry it, but also the layers to be sympathetic in the way she makes bad choices. I felt that in our first audition and I’m so happy that it all worked out.
Aguilar: The film was originally titled "Pocha," then became "Pocha: Manifest Destiny," and now for release it's called "Hostile Border." Why did you select each of these and why was the decision to ultimately change it taken? It feels like "Pocha" is really the single word that best describe the cultural complexity you are dissecting here.
Michael Dwyer: For me it was always “Pocha” because I think that term doesn’t have just one meaning. You can talk to anybody in the southwest and ask them what a “pocho” or “pocha” is and you’ll get a different answer every time. It’s not one thing. I think we can all agree that it generally becomes one thing but what changes are the different connotations that it carries. To me that captured the ambiguity that we were after, about somebody that’s stuck in between two cultures and difficult moral choices. When we went to the festivals they wanted an English title, so we wanted something that spoke to this idea of the distorted American dream that we wanted to show. I think the terminology of “Manifest Destiny” is definitely something that I enjoyed playing with at the time because “manifest destiny” is a very dangerous term. Historically I don’t think we recognize how much that term was used to justify a lot of enormous violence and human cost. We are trying to speak to what are the human costs of certain American values and ways of thinking like the American dream. I really liked that connection and thought it would speak to it, but ultimately we wrestled with it and we got great feedback from our distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films. I think we came up with a title that I hope is good in its own way and helps reaching a broader audience.
Aguilar: What was the most rewarding aspect of working between Mexico and the U.S. on this film and how each of these places add their own unique qualities to the storytelling?
Michael Dwyer: Absolutely. When we were casting the project we were casting both here in L.A. and in Tijuana at the same time. I think that experience of casting in both places helped made better decisions about the casting decisions. I’d like to mention Jorge Sanders, our production designer, who is Tijuana-based. Working with him was a great collaboration, there were a lot of great collaborations in this film, but that one was especially important and meaningful. He brought authenticity to how everything should be and how it helped tell the story. He contributed an enormous amount. He is a great artist and a great friend.
Aguilar: Did you ever feel like an outsider telling a story that belonged to someone else and how did you approach it in order to understand it from your point of view?
Michael Dwyer: We really struggled with issues of appropriation. Who am I as a white American to tell this kind of story? But ultimately I hope that we were able to capture the complexity and that we did it on terms that are a critique of American values. I think critiquing American values is something that anybody can and should do. I hope that it can speak to lots of different audiences because of that. »
- Carlos Aguilar
Claudia (Veronica Sixtos), 22 yeards old, is a pocha, slang for a Mexican who has left their country (mostly for the U.S.), turned their back on their culture, and can't speak Spanish. Claudia's just fine with living abroad, until she gets deported and has to move in with her estranged father in her native country, which might as well be alien to her. Michael Dwyer's Hostile Border is a movie about immigrants and the harsh realities they face when crossing over, only this time it's the other way around, with Claudia having to adapt to her homeland. Most movies about the immigrant experience center on hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types; Claudia is the total opposite, a brat who's not above getting her hands dirty and makes a...
[Read the whole post on twitchfilm.com...]
Raised in the U.S., Claudia (22) is an undocumented illegal immigrant living beyond her means in a twisted version of the American dream. When she's arrested by the FBI for credit card fraud, Claudia is quickly deported to Mexico. Speaking no Spanish and lost in her foreign "homeland," she reluctantly takes refuge at her estranged father's cattle ranch. As she clashes with her unyielding father, she her attempts to return to the U.S. thrust her into a dangerous bond with a foreign smuggler, Ricky. Caught between her father's sermons, Ricky's promises, and the encroaching military, Claudia must navigate a tightrope of impossible choices.
That synopsis is simple enough to follow, right? But, what you’ll find once you begin watching Hostile Border is an engaging thriller. It’s a story that most cannot relate to, and perhaps that is why placing yourself in Claudia's (Vernonica Sixtos) position is so interesting. »
- Tyler Richardson
The 15th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival will take place from April 13 to April 24 in New York City and will screen two films that are works in progress, and five special screenings and four special events that include live performances by artists including Steve Aoki and Billie Joe Armstrong and special appearances including Sir Richard Branson and Pelè.
Dan Aykroyd (The Heart of the
Ghostbusters) in his Sony Ghost Corps office with pictures of his grandfather and father in the background along and other parapsychologist. Photo credit: Derrick Kunzer (co-producer and cinematographer of
Writer/director Brendan Mertens’ work in progress documentary Ghostheads is a special sneak preview into the many faces of the Ghostbusters fandom and its 30-year celebration as one of cinema’s most iconic franchises. The Wip features interviews with Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, Sigourney Weaver and Paul Feig.
- Sacha Hall
Raised in the U.S., Claudia (22) is an undocumented immigrant living beyond her means in a twisted version of the American dream. When she’s arrested by the FBI for credit card fraud, Claudia is quickly deported to México. Speaking no Spanish and lost in her foreign “homeland,” she reluctantly takes refuge at her estranged father’s cattle ranch. As she clashes with her unyielding father, her attempts to return home to the U.S. thrust her into a dangerous bond with a foreign smuggler, Ricky. Caught between her father’s sermons, Ricky’s promises, and the encroaching military, Claudia must navigate a tightrope of impossible choices. Both a slow burning crime thriller and western, Hostile Border follows the transformative journey of a »
- Amie Cranswick
"Are you, or aren't you a criminal? There is no in between." Samuel Goldwyn Films has released a trailer for the indie thriller Hostile Border, co-directed by Michael Dwyer & Kaitlin McLaughlin. Veronica Sixtos stars as Pocha, a crafty undocumented immigrant living in the Us who is sent back to Mexico, but struggles to cope on the other side of the border. The full cast includes Roberto Urbina, Julio Cedillo, Jorge A. Jimenez, Jesse Garcia and Maria del Carmen Farias. This film was originally titled Pocha: Manifest Destiny at the Los Angeles Film Festival before being renamed to Hostile Border, described as a slow burning crime thriller mixed with a western. This actually looks better than you're probably expecting. Here's the official trailer for Michael Dwyer & Kaitlin McLaughlin's Hostile Border, in high def on Apple: Raised in the U.S., Claudia (22) is an undocumented immigrant living beyond her means in »
- Alex Billington
7 items from 2016
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