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Preview: Deep South by Suroeste 

Will Coviello on a showcase of Latino-American films at the Contemporary Arts Center

click to enlarge El Gallo: Pepe Kid is a darkly comic story of a boy who finds a magical 
cockfighting rooster.
  • El Gallo: Pepe Kid is a darkly comic story of a boy who finds a magical cockfighting rooster.

When Venezuelan native and filmmaker Sergio Carvajal finally accepted that everyone in Texas assumed he is Mexican, he set out to embrace his "Mexicanity." The result is the beginning of the episodic film series El Gallo, a darkly comic saga about Pepe, a hard-drinking, woman-chasing Mexican who loses his magical champion cockfighting rooster, Sietocueros, and sneaks across the Texas border to recover him the from the couple that stole him.

  "Pepe is an anti-hero," Carvajal says. "He's not the most desireable kind of immigrant."

  Many of the main characters are bad stereotypes hilariously re-animated with the insights of a man mistaken for Mexican who explores what it is to be Mexican, both in reality and in the projections of white Americans.

  The episode (Pepe Kid) included in the Deep South by Suroeste showcase is a sort of preamble, a flashback to how young Pepe acquired the prized rooster with a little help from the Virgin Mary and a creepy priest. The movie is in Spanish, so some of the double entendre about El Gallo ("The Cock") is lost in the subtitles, but Spanish speakers can enjoy it in full glory. Fans of Mexican TV may enjoy the references to Roberto "Chespirito" Gomez Bolanos (who fans of The Simpsons may recognize as the inspiration for the Spanish-speaking Bumblebee Man, who makes short appearances in many episodes).

  Deep South by Suroeste includes El Gallo (40 minutes) and six recent short films, most by filmmakers with ties to the Austin, Texas film community. The showcase was put together by Carvajal, who lives in Austin, and Jerald White, the director of the Charitable Film Network (CFN), which runs a film program at Antenna Gallery. The two met at an Independent Television Service (ITVS, which is supported by PBS) conference in San Francisco three years ago and talked about collaborating on film presentations.

  White's CFN has sponsored local screenings of many ITVS documentaries on a variety of subjects ranging from modern origami artists to raising an autistic child. With this partnership, he hopes to build a platform to screen more independent films and alternative voices, particularly filmmakers of color.

 "This is our way of creating opportunity for ourselves," White says. "We're trying to grow from there."

  The presentation at the Contemporary Arts Center is the first screening of this collection of short films, and White and Carvajal are working on a New York screening. White plans to bring a showcase of New Orleans films and filmmakers to Austin next year.

  Carvajal selected the Deep South by Suroeste films, and most of the filmmakers are associated with the community centered around the University of Texas at Austin's film studies program, including current and former faculty and students. There are films in Spanish (subtitled in English), English and a couple are bilingual. All deal with Latino characters, mostly Mexican and Mexican-American. A couple of the films were screened in the short film program at the Cannes Film Festival.

  One of the Cannes selections is Spaniard Mario Troncoso's Clowns Never Lie, a touching and almost dialogue-free portrait of a schizophrenic street performer who struggles for attention. Another film accepted at Cannes is Angela Torres Camarena's Frente Noreste. It features a woman desperately trying to save her family from a drug cartel's extortion scheme. It's based on a true story about a rising problem in some areas of Mexico.

  A trio of films feature children growing up torn between their parents' views of the world and new opportunities. When I Grow Up features a girl who idolizes Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and worries about getting to school on time while her mother tries to support them by selling tacos in workplace parking lots in the morning. The mother speaks only Spanish and the daughter mostly in English, and they have different visions for the girl's future. In Kid, a boy is kidnapped by his estranged father on the eve of his 13th birthday. Though they have assimilated to life in Texas, his father has Old World ideas about manhood. Gabriela Yepez's Danzak is set in Peru, where a girl is challenged by her aging father to carry on a folk dancing tradition that has earned him renown.

  Finally, La Pared examines Mexican cultural notions about masculinity and gender roles as a couple find themselves the subject of salacious rumors.

  Carvajal and several of the filmmakers will attend the screening, and there is a reception prior to the screening.

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