Stand and Deliver
"My family pioneered Spanish-language film exhibition in the U.S. three generations ago," says Lawrence Martin, with equal parts pride and bravado. His family owned and operated the Tower, New Mission, and Grand theaters, all located in the Mission between 21st and 24th streets, but Martin has since moved from exhibition to distribution, and his Monterey-based company, New Latin Pictures -- co-founded in 1993 with veteran foreign classics distributor Kit Parker -- was one of the first to realize that the Hispanic market was also changing.
Martin points to El Norte, El Super, La Bamba, Blood In, Blood Out, Selena, and Carlos Avila's new Price of Glory as authentic expressions of the American Latino experience that were made especially for that audience. (A film starring Jennifer Lopez or Salma Hayek doesn't automatically qualify, regardless of what Hollywood marketing execs think.) What Martin sees is an increase in English-speaking Latinos; as in every other immigrant population in the history of the U.S., many second-generation American Latinos speak two languages. "We're the only ones coming out and saying this is a two-language market," Martin explains. "We're not going to limit ourselves to Spanish or English only."
New Latin Pictures is opening Luminarias, a romantic comedy starring Cheech Marin, Scott Bakula, and an actress I've never heard of, on 50 California screens on Cinco de Mayo. That's a lot of prints for a niche distributor, but Southern California is, of course, a key target for Latino-themed films. "We're putting it in the L.A. market as a mainstream film because, in L.A., Latinos are the mainstream," Martin says. "Now in San Francisco, the Latinos are not the mainstream but they are a rich part of the diversity."
While it's difficult for small distributors to wrangle top screens in a market increasingly dominated by Indiewood juggernauts, Martin is unperturbed. "We already have a track record in delivering the Latino public, and we have the pedigree. And if you have a picture that's grossing, they'll keep playing your picture." Luminarias is booked locally into the UA Colma and the AMC Kabuki, with other theaters to be confirmed.
Truth or Dare
S.F. producer/distributor Marc Smolowitz of Turbulent Arts has chosen 12 teams of filmmakers for the omnibus gay-themed film Love and Taboo. All that's left to do is line up eight more filmmakers and, oh yes, raise the $4 million budget from various international sources. Meanwhile, Sam Green's The Weather Underground was one of 36 projects invited to participate in Hot Docs, a new documentary co-production forum launching in Toronto. The plan is to finish the film in time to compete for Sundance 2001, which happens to coincide with Inauguration Day. In Web news, Smolowitz invites the public and indie filmmakers to check out www.turbulentarts.com on April 1 for a major announcement that he wouldn't even leak off the record.
On the Beat
Debbie Hoffmann and Frances Reid's Sundance winner, Long Night's Journey Into Day, begins its theatrical rollout this week at NYC's Film Forum. ... At long last, Lars von Trier's controversial The Idiots opens May 19 at the Lumiere. ... A group of student producers from S.F. State's Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department (BECA) received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation's Bricker Family Award for best presentation of a humanitarian concern. The winning project, "Family 2 Family People," aired on KTVU last June and profiled five educators and volunteers who work with young people.
Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.