Last Update: Thursday, May 23, 2013
|COMMENTARY- "Bless Me, Ultima" Finally Released as a Motion Picture|
|Written by Andres Chavez|
|Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:09|
When it was published in 1972, "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya was recognized as a masterpiece of Chicano literature. The novel is a staple of Chicano Studies classes nationally.
"Ultima" is about a young boy, Antonio Marez, who is growing up in a New Mexican village toward the end of World War II. A mysterious curandera (herbal healer) named Ultima comes to live with his family and she teaches him about the power of the spiritual world. As their relationship grows, Antonio begins to question his parents' strict upbringing. A series of mysterious and sometimes terrifying events forces Antonio to question the nature of divinity and his own destiny.
It was always clear that "Bless Me, Ultima" had the potential of being made into a great film. The Latino Creative Cinema Community was just coming into being during the 70s, as producers, writers, directors, and even studio executives. They were just beginning their struggle to penetrate Hollywood.
There was a lot of creative juice flowing through the Latino community, with a recognition that a long, hard road lay ahead.
In this atmosphere, a Chicano producer optioned the book, i.e. purchased exclusive rights from the author, to try to make a film. For the next thirty years the option would float from one Latino producer to another. One couldn't get a script he liked. Another had funding issues. A third had problems with the studio that wanted to turn the film into a star vehicle for one of its Latino actors rather than remaining true to the story. In the end, they all failed in their desire.
In 2009, a group of creative producers and a highly talented Black director/writer convinced an heiress to support turning "Ultima" into a film. The director/ writer is Carl Franklin who has an impressive list of credits including "One False Move"; "Devil in a Blue Dress"; "One True Thing"; and "Out of Time." The producers – Mark Johnson, Jesse Beaton, Sarah DiLeo, and Tom Williams – are veterans of the independent film world and have, over the years and in different combinations, worked with each other. The executive producer is Christy Walton, the $32 billion (that's with a B) Walmart heiress.
She reportedly financed the film. Let me state clearly that nothing of what follows is to be taken as a slight against the production team that created the movie. I have not yet seen the film, but by all accounts it is a first rate movie with tremendous performances by the Latino cast, especially the highly esteemed veteran actress Miriam Colon.
But it is a crying shame that none of the Latino producers who held the option were able to overcome whatever problems they faced to bring "Ultima" to the screen. It saddens me that funding couldn't be found within the Latino community to produce "Ultima."
It is highly interesting that Christine Walton financed this film. Considering the amount of money Latinos spend in Walmart stores, I suppose this could be considered a form of giving back. However, in light of the company's antiquated hostility to unions, having a hassle free vote on unionization is a more direct way.
The people who are marketing "Ultima" are using some of the same techniques as Walmart. They are doing a limited national release targeting states, and areas within the state, with a high Latino population.
The movie had a regional release in El Paso, TX, on Sept. 21, and in New Mexico on Oct. 19. Now "Ultima" is getting a limited national release in more than 200 theatres across the country.
In California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Monterrey, Palm Springs, Fresno and Bakersfield.
In Arizona: Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma. In Texas: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Austin, Laredo, Odessa, Corpus Christi and Lubbock. In Nevada: Las Vegas. In Colorado: Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo. In Illinois: Chicago. And in Florida: Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa The idea here is to market the movie to its natural audience. If there is a strong positive reaction and non-Latinos come in large numbers to see the film, a wider national release could be undertaken. That would benefit everyone.
The filmmakers would make their investment and Hollywood would see, at long last, that there is profit in making Latino films.
Given the bottom line orientation of the studios, that could mean more Latino films, including those produced, directed and written by Latinos.
"Bless Me, Ultima" opens in Los Angeles tomorrow, Feb. 22. Check your local Listings for times and theaters.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:14|