‘Chavela’ and more at OC Film Fiesta

Chavela Vargas is the subject of a documentary ‘Chavela’ about her life and artistry.

Iconoclasts, legends, revolutionaries, romantics, bohemians and cultural heroes take center stage at the 8th OC Film Fiesta, Orange County’s cinematic celebration of diversity and multicultural heritage that returns to the heart of Santa Ana from Oct. 6 through 15.

This year’s festival kicks off on Friday, Oct. 6 with the Orange County premiere screening of “Chavela,” the new documentary by directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi about LGBTQ ranchera singing legend Chavela Vargas. The Costa Rican-born singer relocated to Mexico in her teen years searching a better future as an artist and rose to become an iconic performer of ranchera songs and other Mexican regional genres, as well as other styles of Latin American music. She was also an inspiration to Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and even sang at Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding in 1957.

Vargas lived a life as passionate and turbulent as the songs she made famous. She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and died in 2012. 

‘Tales Of An Immoral Couple’

The 2017 Film Fiesta line up includes feature films such as
“La Vida Inmoral de la Pareja Ideal” (Tales Of An Immoral Couple), Mexican director Manolo Caro’s comedy about unrequited love set in romantic and colonial city of San Miguel de Allende. It stars Cecilia Suarez, Andres Almeida, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Paz Vega.

The fest will also hold the O.C. Premiere of acclaimed filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez’s new documentary “The Rise And Fall Of The Brown Buffalo,” a portrait of iconoclastic Chicano writer and lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta who wrote the novel “Revolt of the Cockroach People” and also was the inspiration for Hunter S. Thompson’s “Dr. Gonzo” in the dark comedy novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

The Film Fiesta will feature other special events, including a rare screening of the original 1998 short film version of the surreal comedy 
“A Day Without A Mexican” plus a workshop with filmmakers and cultural icons Sergio Arau (Botellita de Jerez rock band, “Lucha Underground”) and Yareli Arizmendi (“Like Water for Chocolate”).

“A Day Without A Mexican” became the highest grossing film in Mexican history when it was released as a feature in 2004, and inspired the “Day Without Immigrants” movement in 2016. 

This year’s festival will also host the U.S. premiere of Bolivian master Jorge Sanjinés’ award-winning historical epic “Juana Azurduy: Guerrillera De La Patria Grande” (Juana Azurduy: Warrior Of The Great Nation).

“Juana Azurduy: Guerrillera De La Patria Grande” (Juana Azurduy: Warrior Of The Great Nation)

The film tells the story of the legendary female military officer in Simon Bolivar’s army who also helped bring indigenous communities into the fight to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule.

Orson Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons”

OC Film Fiesta will also host a special 75th anniversary screening of Orson Welles’ classic “The Magnificent Ambersons” at the Heritage Museum of O.C., in a turn-of-the-century cotillion-themed setting. The film is considered among the best American films ever made alongside Wellees’ other masterpice, “Citizen Kane.”

The Film Fiesta will also feature the tribute program
“Visions Of Magulandia: The California Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan from Los Four to Mental Menudo,” in association with UCI’s “From Aztlan to Magulandia” exhibit, which is part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time L.A./L.A. initiative.

Dog art by Chicano painter Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan, who is the subject of a tribute at OC Film Fiesta 2017.

Lujan, known as Magu, was a member of the seminal Chicano art group Los Four, which included Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Roberto de la Rocha. Magu’s work is known for his brightly colored style, whimsical approach and use of stylized lowriders cars, laughing dogs and playful cultural iconography to create an idealized world known as “Magulandia.” An painter and teacher who started his life as a boxer, Magu died in 2011.

“Visions Of Magulandia” will feature a screening of rare and never-before-seen videos of the artist, a panel discussion, and a recreation of one of Magu’s storied “Mental Menudo” community discussions. This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.

This year’s Film Fiesta will also feature free community Taco Truck Cinema outdoor screenings and other special events. More films to be announced.

Prices for individual screenings are $10 for general admission and $5 for students, seniors, veterans, teachers and Santa Ana residents. There are also festival passes available $75 that includes admission to films, parties, special events and discounts at local restaurants. There also an early bird Film Fiesta Festival pass for $50 that can be purchased by Sept. 10.

The OC Film Fiesta is a program of Media Arts Santa Ana , a project of Community Partners, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and proceeds support MASA’s free youth media classes.

The 2017 OC Film Fiesta is made possible with the support of the California Arts Council, Cal Humanities, City of Santa Ana, Mexican Consulate in O.C., Santa Ana Unified School District, Arts O.C., O.C. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Fundación Grupo Ukamao, The Heritage Museum of OC, Exclusive Radio Sponsor La Ranchera 96.7 FM, Stay Connected O.C., Miniondas/Farandula USA, Beatnik Bandito, Mariscos Hector, Chapter One: The Modern Local and The Robbins Nest. Schedule subject to change.

For tickets and more information visit www.ocfilmfiesta.org. For information about volunteer and partnership opportunities email victor@masamedia.org or call 888-906-0340.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am the volunteer and media coordinator for OC Film Fiesta. This article is an edited version of a press release created by festival organizers.

Check out the trailer of “Chavela” below. It includes English subtitles.




Journalist with more than 20 years of experience working for English- and Spanish-language and bilingual news outlets. Winner of three Best of the West Journalism Awards and a recognition from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

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