Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Butterscotch Guayabera and Notes From the Film Festival Frontlines

So I bounced into First Street Studios for the first-ever Tlalpaleria event a few weeks back. The muestra brought an even newer group of talented Chican@/Latin@ artists to the storefront's forefront. Chalk another one up for Lilia Ramiriez, the fine artist and jeweler behind many of the explosively creative events going down consistently in Boyle Heights of late. For the opening, Liliflor gathered spoken word artists, a capoeira troupe, DJ Poncho and a score of gifted artisans who, as a whole, were part of what was being billed as an "astral" experience. Among those who populated the "Stellar Artisan Alley" were Noelle Reyes and Danell Hughes, a pair of fashionistas, El Sereno community activist moms and owners of the Mi Vida boutique in South Pasadena. Specializing in classic vintage wear, cool contemporary threads, hand crafted accessories and original art, Mi Vida is, above all, an elegant aesthetic expression that marries their love for beautiful clothing and an allegiance to the philosophy that encourages neighborhood and community self-sufficiency as a precursor to political and economic independence. Both Reyes and Hughes have children who attend Academia Semillas del Pueblo, where Reyes also works and both practice danza azteca.

Thus, I found myself in the middle of Artisan Alley, chatting with the firme Mi Vida proprietors after a quick hello to Elisa Rodriguez of IMIX Bookstore. Upon a closer examination of the clothing rack they'd installed as part of their booth, I spied what must have been the sweetest guayabera I'd ever laid eyes on. Hanging on a wire, the butterscotch yellow, short sleeved, Cuban-style shirt was immaculately pressed. It whispered to me in unheard melodic strains of guaguanco and rumba madness. I swear I heard it call out my name and had to laugh aloud at my own looniness. It goes without saying that I voiced my attraction to the textile wonder I've been lucky enough to behold. Promising to make Tejano-style papa con huevo y queso breakfast tacos for them the following day, I begged and pleaded and cajoled the honorary sisters because I didn't have cash in my pocket.

Maybe it was the novelty of having breakfast made and delivered by a dude... in any event Danell saw fit to take the guayabera off the rack and return it to a box under the table. The following day, I'm walking out of the store on Huntington Dr. just before Fremont in the finest shirt I've ever worn. Two smiling mujeres are talking about how I look like the mayor of poetry and, wouldn't you know, I head straight for a spoken word presentation in Altadena. There, I read seven poems and walk away--still in the butterscotch guayabera--with $50 I never expected to receive. Who gets paid for poetry these days, huh? Unheard of, right? It's almost as if the guayabera has endowed me with unbelievable luck, super-human powers of literary extraction and a little Caribbean charm tossed in for dressing.

The guayabera later become even more symbolic because I've come to work at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, a yearly celebration of moving pictures held in Hollywood at the famed Egyptian Theater. I'm charged with wrangling volunteers for the 12th annual edition of the festival co-founded by actor Edward James Olmos. In my head, I'm thinking about The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, a 1998 film starring Olmos and written for the screen by Ray Bradbury (based on his 1958 short story which he later turned into a play for a collection of pieces written for stage). In the story, a magical suit inspires a group of young men to yearn for and imagine a world where they can walk the street in the dazzling radiance of a suit that will give them the ability to realize all of their inner-most hopes and goals. And here I am, working for Olmos indirectly while at the same time whistling with glee and smiling effusively to myself each time I think of the guayabera in my closet. It is a not-so-literary descendant of Bradbury's white linen suit and a reminder that the business of movies and movie-making is not all bad. It's also a reminder that inspiration can come from anywhere, not just the anger, bitterness or pain that can often accompany personal disappointments or lost love. Hay que celebrar el truinfo humano de vez en cuando, que no?

Look for a film festival blog after the fact at the LALIFF website. It will detail my life as an occassional wordslinger marooned on film festival island for several weeks. From the festival front lines, you'll hear about films and filmmakers, festival chisme and perhaps a tiny bit of celebrity revelry. I'll try to make it a day-by-day, blow-by-blow chronicle of as much as I can remember now that it's over and I can get back to the serious business of launching the much bally-hooed Brooklyn & Boyle magazine. It's amazing how a festival can put your life completely on hold. Try an entire three weeks since this blog was active. More on the Brooklyn & Boyle project next time. It's high time for a real East Side magazine, no crees?