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Television Review

Short Films Try to Capture Latino Experience

September 18, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Short films are paradoxical by nature. Young filmmakers use them to expose their burgeoning talent to the world. But just like writing a perfect short story is at least as demanding a task, if not more, than delivering an involving novel, the format of a short film is actually harder to master than that of a conventional feature-length movie. For a short to be effective, it must create a distinctive universe of its very own within the limiting confines of 10 or 20 minutes.

The four shorts Showtime is premiering this week as part of its Latino Filmmakers Showcase stand up, to a lesser or larger degree, to the challenge at hand. Because they have so little time and resources to work with, some of them try too hard to capture the complex essence of the Latino experience. Still, all of them offer intriguing viewpoints, and one of them is actually a joy to watch.

Written and directed by Matt Casado, "Honest Injun" is the winner of a Latino shorts competition sponsored by the pay cable service. Although it offers yet another variation on the tired post-Quentin Tarantino "witty-gangster-as-hero" genre, the film reveals Casado as a talent to watch, able to make a low-budget production look like the real deal, and manipulating narrative structure so as to make the most out of a simple but effective story.

The short follows three amateur delinquents after a botched bank robbery where a shot was mysteriously fired. Most of the action takes place in a Mexican restaurant where the protagonists await the arrival of their boss, who, in typical Tarantino fashion, will quickly take care of the situation at hand.

Interestingly enough, "Honest Injun" is the least ambitious of the four films, and yet, the most powerful. Although it has no grandiloquent message to deliver, it ends up offering food for thought on the themes of moral ambiguity and the subjectivity of reality. Showtime has rewarded the director with $30,000 for the production of a new short. It is a worthy investment.

Of the remaining films, Edwin Figueroa's "Taino" is a technically solid effort that tries to tackle a hefty number of issues in only 20 minutes of time. Still, its makers' attempt to connect with their Puerto Rican roots is touching.

*

Handsomely photographed, Regina Don Rodman's "New Suits" includes some truly exciting boxing scenes, interspersed with the exploration of generational conflicts between a father and his son.

Finally, Guillermina Zabala's "The Hot Room" is a moodily photographed, lingering look at a failed romantic relationship. It is not the most fascinating of subjects, but Zabala shows an artist's eye for detail and a keen understanding of the beauty with which lights touch the film's subjects.

* The Latino Filmmakers Showcase premieres tonight on Showtime with "New Suits" at 8 p.m.; "The Hot Room" follows at 8:30 p.m. The network has rated these TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children). "Taino" airs at 9 p.m. and Showcase winner "Honest Injun" follows at 9:30 p.m. The network has rated these TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with special advisories for coarse language and violence).

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