Directed by Rudy Valdez
Los Angeles Premiere at LALIFF 2018
By María Margarita López
On opening night of LALIFF, director Rudy Valdez took the audience on an emotional journey. The first time filmmaker’s feature debut, “The Sentence,” is a deeply personal documentary about his sister, Cindy Shank, and the impact a 15-year prison sentence had on her family; husband Adam and their three daughters, four-year-old Autumn, two-year-old Ava, and newborn Annalis.
The film begins with home movies that were made to record key moments so Cindy could see what she missed in her daughters’ lives while she was in federal prison. These moments turn into a story that resonates with thousands of families across the U.S. who are affected by “the girlfriend problem,” a term that refers to Reagan-era mandatory minimum sentencing laws that restricted the judge’s ability to use discretion in sentencing.
These laws resulted in harsher sentences for women who were convicted of conspiracy and imprisoned for crimes committed by their boyfriends. Between 1980 and 2014, the United States realized a 700 percent increase in the number of women behind bars, according to the non-profit The Sentencing Project, some of the data the filmmaker found during rigorous research. The minimum sentence was 15 years.
Cindy’s case was not unusual. For many women it did not matter to the courts if they’d turned their lives around. Cindy paid the price for her deceased ex-boyfriend’s crimes and the film takes her personal story and creates a window into broader issues including the effects of mass incarcerations, the prison industrial complex, and the hurdles involved in getting a sentence commuted.
In the hands of Valdez, the doc also delivers a story of love. It is moving to see how daughters miss a mother, and the lengths a family goes to in order to maintain ties across time and distance.
Director Valdez does not sugar coat difficult issues, but respects his subject’s willingness to participate. (No other director would have been able to achieve this level of trust from these subjects). His nieces’ raw emotions hit the audience with full force, as does the candor from the rest of his family. Valdez accomplishes much as a one-man crew, first starting to film with consumer-grade phones and cameras, then moving his way up to robust Canon equipment by the end of the decade.
Valdez’ evolution as a filmmaker parallels his growth as an advocate for his sister’s clemency. He organically informs the audience of the laws, policies and technicalities underlying his argument this is unjust sentencing. Neither Cindy nor the film makes excuses for why she is serving time, but the facts presented in this emotional story, and watching those girls grow up without their mother, calls into question if $64 billion a year on the warehousing of inmates under these laws is money wisely spent.
“The Sentence” will be released by HBO later this year.
María Margarita López is film producer and co-founder of AjuuaEntertainment. She is based in Los Angeles.
By María Margarita López
LA's Latinx film showcase is back after a five-year hiatus. The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LAIFF) opened June 20 to a full house who mingled before a screening of the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winning documentary “The Sentence,” directed by Rudy Valdez.
Since its inception in 1997 the festival’s mission was always to showcase the human experience from the Latino perspective. LALIFF 2018 adds to that commitment by featuring new youth, music and art programming.
Along with festival founder Edward James Olmos, Rafael Agustin, the recently announced Executive Director of the Latino Film Institute and writer for the CW’s “Jane The Virgin,” worked with Diana Sanchez, LALIFF 2018’s Director of Programming, to find Ibero-american content that will voice the discussions of our time.
“This isn’t your grandma’s LALIFF,” said Rafael Agustin on opening night
In addition to screening features, shorts and special events, the festival features LALIFF LEGACY, LALIFF MUSIC and LALIFF ART to the five-day event.
There is also a look at how Latinx culture uses new media. The sold out VIDA Podcast Panel on June 23 is co-hosted by Latinos Who Lunch and Locatora Radio.
“For too long we’ve been talking about issues of inequity and lack of diversity in our industry, and we are looking forward to being part of the solution.”
– Edward James Olmos
LALIFF Legacy is the festival’s first student film festival, produced in conjunction with the Latino Film Institute’s Youth Cinema Project (YCP). YCP partnered with public schools to teach storytelling and filmmaking skills to youth as young as fourth grade. The aim is to create life-long learners who work as a team to tell their stories, which will plant the seeds for a multicultural future in the entertainment industry. Their short form work will be presented June 23-24.
LALIFF Music inaugural programming by Alexis De La Rocha will be held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel through June 24. Opening night included Tropa Magica, Mexican Standoff and resident DJ at Eastside Luv, BSYDE-DJ.
LALIFF ART presents an art installation “Con Cámaras Y Sin Papeles [(With Cameras and Without Papers]: A Decade of Undocumented Visual Storytelling”, a video installation with undocumented and formerly undocumented artists telling their stories. The collaboration with CULTURESTRIKE, a non-profit that cultivates artists and develops projects that envision social justice, is held in the TCL Chinese Theaters' lobby.
Tickets and information are available at www.LatinoFilm.org
DOSSHAUS (Zoey Taylor, David Connelly) Los Angeles "Indestructible Object"
In the lobby of a government building sits a stack of cardboard boxes that a recent MFA graduate is daring to pass off as a conceptual art.
Wait. This is so last month.
But there they are. On a pedestal, no less.
The boxes are in the group show “Outside the Box 2” at Las Vegas City Hall Grand Gallery, which runs through August 30. They double as a backdrop for other art made of materials removed from its utilitarian context; Cardboard converted into alternative icons that range from anvils and faces now greet people walking into an environment built for civic functionality.
Local artist Bobbie Ann Howell’s “Peace” is work with gentle details on cardboard shaped into birds; and Lisa Dittrich’s fixates on the organic chaos of a small bee “Bumbling Around.”
They are joined by established artists from outside the region who are advancing the paper movement of ephemeral art creations. Los Angeles-based Dosshaus, David Connelly and Zoey Taylor, recently had an installation at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles that has viewers line up to be immersed in their cardboard-toon world. The two-person collective sent a piece that looks like it was dropped in from a Warner’s Bros. cartoon to help a coyote in pursuit of a desert roadrunner.
Shannon Goff, from State College PA, sent “Cuckoo” out West, a timepiece that hints of the details you would experience with the artist's larger intricate handcrafted paper sculptures. UK artist, Fabric Lenny, uses drawing and color meandering line that wanders on shape to form animated folk-ish images that would feel at home as street art street.
If there was someone being featured, it is Warren King’s monumental faces, inspired by his first trip to China and a visit to the village of his forebears. Also in the exhibition are King’s smaller sculptures that are a rendering of physical movement, pushing the idea of cardboard art being static upcycling of discarded materials.
As for the box installation it is a smaller version of “Artifact Pyramidal” that was first seen at The Beam. They still work as an abstraction of future archiving. Since they now sit in City Hall, consider it a pop-art symbol of paperwork.
Outside the Box 2
June 21 – August 30, 2018
Las Vegas City Hall Grand Gallery
Bobbie Ann Howell
“Blue, Yellow, and Red Hero”
Above: "Blue Angel: Between Heaven and Earth" at The Neon Museum's Ne10studio.