“Selena,” the movie, 15 years later

Actress Jennifer Lopez, who plays Selena in the movie “Selena,” performs with her band in one of the scenes from the movie. (RICCO TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Actress Jennifer Lopez, who plays Selena in the movie “Selena,” performs with her band in one of the scenes from the movie. (RICCO TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known to the world as “Selena,” was taken away much too early at the ripe age of 23. As she was nearing the height of her cross-over music career, she was murdered by her fan club president, Yolanda Saldivar.

In 1997, just two years after her death, Gregory Nava wrote and directed the biopic, “Selena,”about the Tejana star’s life. This film tugged at the hearts of all who watched, because it consoled thousands of fans still mourning their idol’s death, and it also created new Selena fans of people who had never known of her before.

“She reached the English audience through the movie,” says Constance Marie, the actress who played Selena’s mom 15 years ago. “It took her mainstream.”

“Selena” will be making its 15th anniversary appearance kickstarting HBO’s New York International Latino Film Festival on August 13. Although it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition and a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical or Comedy motion picture for Jennifer Lopez, it actually won four ALMA Awards.

The successful film included a Latino-studded cast, including a 28-year-old, Jennifer Lopez, in one of her first feature film roles; Edward James Olmos, who played Selena’s dad; Constance Marie, who played her mom; and Jon Seda, who played Chris Pérez – Selena’s band and soul mate.

Constance Marie still remembers vividly that time in her life when she was cast to play Marcella Quintanilla. The award-winning actress from Los Angeles says she had never even heard of Selena before trying out for the movie, but she was hoping for the lead role.

“I watched videos of her over and over and became a fan while watching them,” says Constance Marie. “Then all of a sudden I had the thought ‘Oh my god, she’s not with us anymore!’ I became a fan and realized she was gone all in a week, and I began to cry.”

When she was told she wasn’t going to play Selena but her mother instead, she says at that point she felt grateful for any opportunity to get Selena’s story out — regardless of the role — the best that she could.

“We all had to sit down and meet the people we were playing,” recalls Constance Marie. “We had to learn how they carried themselves…I needed to connect with and absorb who Marcella Quintanilla was.”

Seda says he practiced with Chris Pérez for many hours and tried his best to mimic him as much as he could.

“It would take years to be able to play as amazing as he can,” says Seda. “Although I respected the fact that he didn’t want to come to the set because it was just to emotional for him, I felt the only way to do him justice and let the world see how great a talent he is was to have him do the solo, and I’m glad he did!”

Constance Marie concurs it was a tough time for everyone. Sometimes, in the middle of interviewing Mrs. Quintanilla, they would both break down and cry.

Constance Marie also had it rough, because her call time was four and a half hours earlier than the rest of the crew. She says being only two years older than Jennifer Lopez, a lot of makeup was needed to look like her mother.

Seda says the recently-late Lupe Ontiveros also had a challenging role — playing the woman who killed Selena and making her one of the most hated women in the world.

“I think she was an unbelievable woman, and I think it was really difficult for her to play that role, because people didn’t deal well with her death,” says Constance Marie. “She was very gracious, and she handled it really well.

There was also controversy about the Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez being chosen for the role of Selena, rather than a Mexican-American.

“I was really upset about that,” says Constance Marie who worked at a time when Latinos weren’t getting Latino roles. “Everybody should have been so thankful that an actual Latina was actually playing her…”

She says Jennifer Lopez, who often hummed Selena’s “Dreaming of You” on set — bringing the cast to tears –  accomplished a huge undertaking.

“To imitate someone who could sing, but she also had to dance, I don’t think anybody could have done it better — not even myself,” says Constance Marie. “I think Jennifer just picked up the baton that Selena threw out there and kept running with it.”

Until this day, Constance Marie says she has only seen the film once.

“I cannot watch it in its entirety,” says the woman who more than a decade ago embodied the mother of a legend who still lives. “I am a mother, and I can’t even imagine it happening to me.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Cheech Marin turns 66 and wins Arts Patron of the Year Award

Cheech Marin (Courtesy Cheech Marin)

Cheech Marin (Courtesy Cheech Marin)

This is a big birthday weekend for one of America’s favorite funny men, Cheech Marin. In addition to celebrating his 66th birthday tomorrow, the ArtHamptons International Fine Art Fair is awarding him with its Arts Patron of the Year Award.

Who knew this third generation Mexican-American actor who has been in countless American movies, such as the famous “Cheech and Chong,” and who is particularly known for his heavy Mexican accent, is not really fluent in Spanish? He’s also the world’s largest collector of Chicano art.

“It’s really an honor, because I get it in the Hamptons,” says Marin about what receiving the award means to him. “They don’t really know Chicano art.”

The ArtHamptons, a three-day international art fair in Bridgehampton, NY is expecting 12,000 art lovers to visit during the weekend. Rick Friedman, president of the Hamptons Expo Group, the organizer of ArtHamptons, says Chicano art was brought to the Hamptons for the first time in honor of Marin.

“The reason he was chosen was because he has a 30-year commitment to the arts and giving back to the arts,” says Friedman, who adds that Marin has been integral to the Chicano arts movement in America. “He’s taken a lot of artists under his wing, he’s done 15 museum tours, and written books. We felt that he should be recognized…”

On his birthday, Marin will doing one of the things he loves most, talking about art and new Chicano artists.

“La Reina de las Mascotas” by Ricardo Ruiz (Thomas Paul Fine Gallery)

“La Reina de las Mascotas” by Ricardo Ruiz (Thomas Paul Fine Gallery)

He says he’s loved art all of his life and he started collecting Chicano art in 1985.

“When I got to the point when I had enough money to buy it, I started collecting,” says Marin who also wanted to help starting artists. “I started doing shows so they can be seen more.”

Today, he says he probably owns around 400 pieces of Chicano art.

“It’s all over my house,” says Marin who just recently moved to a new home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. “It’s like a gallery.”

He says he enjoys spending his days lately traveling the world sharing his art exhibitions, but he can’t bare to pick a favorite.

“It’s like choosing your favorite child…,” says Marin. “It’s a window into another world…It’s like watching movies but at a slower pace.”

He urges everyone to come out and see him on his birthday, or at least check out his website. He also mentions Carlos Donjuan and Carlos Ruiz, both from Texas, as being two up-and-coming Chicano artists to be on the lookout for.

“You don’t need a lot of money,” says the experienced art collector about buying art, although the pieces at ArtHamptons range in price from $5,000 to $30,000. “…just some knowledge. Art fairs are a good place to do some research.”

As far as what he is wishing for when he blows out his candles tomorrow?

“Peace in the Middle East,” says Marin. “Can we all just get along?”

“Tierra Nueva” by Carlos Donjuan (Thomas Paul Fine Gallery)

“Tierra Nueva” by Carlos Donjuan (Thomas Paul Fine Gallery)

Selena’s husband opens up in new book “To Selena, With Love”

"To Selena With Love" cover

“To Selena With Love” cover

This month marks the 17th anniversary of the death of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known as just “Selena” to her fans. Her husband Chris Pérez, has far from forgotten her.  After all these years, he finally decided to write a book about their love in his memoir called, “To Selena, With Love.”

“I did suppress all of my memories until this book,” says Pérez, whose upbeat nature toned down remembering the pain he went through when his wife was murdered at only 23-years-old. “That was my way of dealing with it.”

Although he didn’t want to talk about it before, he remembers everything from when they met around 1988. Selena was only 17, and he was around 18.

“As the two youngest members of the band, while everybody else was doing 21-year-old things, we’d stay in the bus playing video games, go walk around the malls, or go to a movie,” says Pérez.

It is from there that he starts telling his love story.

“It was basically me talking,” says Pérez about the writing process. He then had his conversations transcribed.

He says he can’t remember the very first time he fell in love with Selena, because they spent so much time together that one day just led into the next.

But no matter the precise moment it happened, his love for her was inevitable.

“Her laugh, her smile, her sense of humor…just to be near her was good enough,” says Pérez. “She had a daring side to her, like a ‘Man you’re crazy’ kind of thing.”

He remembers the last time he saw her vividly.

Chris Perez (left) with Selena (right) (Courtesy Chris Pérez)

Chris Perez (left) with Selena (right) (Courtesy Chris Pérez)

“The last visual memory I have is that smile and that laugh,” he says. “I didn’t have my phone because she took my car and my keys. Nobody could get a hold of me. She wanted to make dinner for us, and I went to get the ingredients. When I got home, I got a call saying there was an accident.”

He says even on his way to the hospital, the idea that she might be dead wasn’t even a thought in his mind.

“I was in shock,” he says. “I was devastated. Something like that changes you. It shakes your core. As cliche as it sounds, food didn’t taste the same, colors didn’t look the same. Everything was gray.”

Being a songwriter and a musician, he says he began taking little baby steps forward. As time went on, he started walking at a steady pace, until he started running with his musical career.

He says he even tried marriage again, from which he has a 13 and 7-year-old.

Although his second marriage did not work out, he has not lost his zest for life.

“My hopes for the future are to watch my children grow up, to continue to be able to make a living playing music, and to have a happy family,” says Pérez.

As far as Selena is concerned, he will always remember how she loved junk food, especially the Whataburger from Corpus Christi; how she had a really bad habit of not putting gas in her car, and how she would just get out of her car and drop her keys wherever and lose them – same thing with her cell phone.

“Cell phones were the size of a cracker box, but she managed to lose it.” he says fondly.

However, he says one of the most important things she stood for is that all is possible with hard work.

“That’s one of her biggest messages,” says Pérez. She was part of the D.A.R.E. campaign and the educational push in Texas, and obviously her voice and music. That’s what she’d like people to remember her for – those things.”

Pérez says the whole experience of having had Selena in his life, even for just six years, has taught him to be less afraid to express his feelings of love to his friends and family.

“I believe that if you feel love in your heart for someone, it would be difficult to deny,” he says. “Never be afraid to love or fall in love.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

“Lemon”, the story of an ex-con who wins a Tony Award

Lemon Andersen (Courtesy Miami International Film Festival)

Lemon Andersen (Courtesy Miami International Film Festival)

Lemon Andersen is an accomplished spoken word artist, but he’s also a champion at hurdling obstacles. He went from growing up in a Brooklyn gang and being a thrice convicted felon, to a Tony-Award winner for “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.”

On March 3, he’s having his story be told in a documentary, “Lemon,” at the Miami International Film Festival.Laura Brownson saw Andersen perform for the first time a little more than three years ago. She was so moved by how he conveyed his painful past through his poetry, that she and her partner, Beth Levison, decided to follow him around with cameras to document his personal and professional life for the next three years.

“He won a Tony Award and then at the heels of that had a hard fall living with 13 people in the projects, and he said to me, ‘I’m going to write my life story and get out of here. I’m going to get out of here for good,’” says Brownson, the filmmaker of “Lemon.”

And he did.

The half-Puerto Rican, half-Norwegian Andersen, says he now lives in artist neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and three kids. He enjoys spending his days getting up early to do research on his newest play, reading “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and writing in his neighborhood cafe.

Andersen, whose birth name is really Andrew, got his nickname “Lemon,” because he was the whitest kid in his Sunset Park neighborhood. He grew up with drug-addicted parents who died by the time he reached 15 from AIDS. The only way he knew how to support himself was by stealing and selling drugs.

“I’ve come a long way. Today I feel, I am a working artist,” he says.

It all started when he got out of jail for the last time at 19. He says his life sucked as it was hard to get a job with a criminal record, and one day at barber shop someone handed him a flier about a poetry reading.

“I didn’t even have a poem,” says Andersen. “I wrote it right on the spot, and I got on stage. They asked me if I would be part of the theater troupe, and I said, ‘Yeah, I need a job. And I never stopped.”

Hungry to become better, Andersen started taking continuing education classes at New York University funded through AmeriCorps.

“I wanted to learn all styles,” he says. “I ended up in ‘Def Poetry Jam’.”

Andersen was featured as a regular on HBO’s “Def Poetry” presented by Russell Simmons and then was an original cast member and writer of Russell Simmons’ Tony Award winning “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway”.

“I was imprisoned four years before I was on Broadway,” says Andersen. “I was pinching myself every morning.”

He says he would tell people that he would go to Broadway before it happened.

“I had a dream I’d perform my poetry on big stage, he says. “I know the smell still. I relive it in my play ‘County of Kings’.”

Andersen tells his own story through his solo spoken word play “County of Kings,” which is produced by Spike Lee. He has been performing it in many New York theaters since 2010.

“It’s like outer space, because I’m really out of my space,” Andersen says, and adds that his own family has never seen him perform, even on Broadway.

“It wasn’t easy for people to take it when I was on the cover of TheNew York Times,” he says about the people from his childhood neighborhood. “It’s like putting a mirror on them. But hey, sometimes you gotta be ‘F… that’. Piri Thomas from ‘Down These Mean Streets’ taught me that.”

He hasn’t even seen “Lemon,” the documentary about him.

“I don’t think I will ever see it,” says Andersen. “This film is not my film, it’s about me. I’m a different kind of story teller, but I’m really rooting for them.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Red Hot Chili Peppers ex-drummer, Cliff Martinez, opens up

Cliff Martinez (Photo/Robert Charles Mann, 2011)

Cliff Martinez (Photo/Robert Charles Mann, 2011)

Cliff Martinez, one of the veteran drummers for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and an award-winning film composer, started off 2012 with a bang. He was a judge in last month’s Sundance Film Festival, and in April he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his formative three year stint with the Chili Peppers from 1983-86.

“I’m just worried about what I am going to wear,” says Martinez about as casually, but as humbly, as if he were a friendly, unimposing neighbor asking for advice. “My role is quite small in the span of 27 years. I’m honored that they made the decision to include me.”

Although Martinez calls himself an introvert, it’s not hard to knock down any walls he may have up. He rather welcomes you warmly into his world of hidden surprises – such as did you know that his first composing job was for Pee Wee’s Playhouse? And, can you believe he does not know how to compose music on staff paper?

“I never had training,” says Martinez. “I really learned as I went. I’m almost completely self-taught. In my film career, I tried to fill in some of the gaps in my background. But mostly I’m a musical Neanderthal.”

His grandfather immigrated from a small village in Spain to the U.S., but Martinez was raised in an English-speaking household in Ohio. After more than three decades of living in Los Angeles, Martinez, 58, now considers the City of Angels his home.

He says his favorite part of drumming for the Chili Peppers’ first two albums were making the records.

“I went through the lifestyle of smoke-filled vans and traveling,” says Martinez. “I didn’t enjoy that much, but I did enjoy the recording process and making music.”

He says he also learned during that time, while collaborating with George Clinton, that unintended accidents in music can result in unexpected gems.

“When we were overdubbing guitar parts, there was a mistake and George said play that back,” says Martinez. “It was definitely a mistake, and George says, ‘No that’s the funk, let’s cut it up and fly it around elsewhere in the track.”

Martinez says that although he enjoyed his time with the band, he felt he never fully fit in.

“For me it was a tough thing to fit into socially,” says Martinez. “We could never come to an agreement on our look…basic issues of band image.”

As he grew out of the band, Martinez says he became fascinated with music technology in the 1980’s.

“Music technology got me started,” says Martinez. “Pop music always felt very narrow to me. Film felt much broader. My taste in music was always left of center.”

He says his favorite album is “Trought Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart, which he had the honor of working with as well. Now, instead of traveling the country in smokey vans, Martinez happily spends a lot of his time waiting on his couch for inspiration.

“I usually lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling for a few weeks just thinking what general approach I would take,” says Martinez about what he does when a director approaches him to compose a score for a film. “I don’t know where the inspiration comes from, sometimes it comes in front of a keyboard, but sometimes washing the dishes or driving a car.”

He says the process for creating a score ranges from about one to three months, and the director is usually hands on as well. He is currently working on “Only God Forgives,” set in Thailand, with director Nicolas Winding Refn.

(Photo/Cliff Martinez)

(Photo/Cliff Martinez)

“I think the favorite spot I’ve ever composed in was in a hotel room in Thailand,” says Martinez. “I placed Singha beer cans to prop up my 15-inch laptop and miniature keyboard.”

He says nowadays you don’t really need a big studio to compose film scores.

“You don’t need a lot of equipment anymore,” says Martinez. “I met Nicholas Refn for dinner, and he said ‘I hate L.A. I’m going to Copenhagen,’ and so we spoke via Skype. In 2009-10, I did two French films, and I didn’t even meet the director. We just communicated telepathically.”

Martinez says the work he’s most proud of is the score for “Solaris” (2002), because it was the first time he used a 90-piece orchestra, and it is the only one he can still listen to and it still feels new and fresh.

“I’d like to think of myself as versatile, but I might fall on my face if I tried to do Broadway or a cereal commercial,” he says.

For now, he’s concentrating on speaking at SXSW (South by Southwest) in March – 10 days of conferences and festivals where filmmakers and musicians unite to discuss the most influential cultural happenings of the year. He says it seems most people want to know about the soundtrack he did for “Drive” (2011).

“Public speaking is one of my phobias, but I’ll make sure I dress for the occasion,” says Martinez.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

The Hispanic Museum of Nevada finds its home

Lynnette Sawyer at ribbon cutting ceremony for the new  Hispanic Museum of Nevada.

Lynnette Sawyer at ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Hispanic Museum of Nevada.

You might call Lynnette Sawyer a pioneer. Proud to call herself Nuyorican, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1978. Sawyer brought along the most precious belongings given to her by her family – a güiro, a piece of mundillo, a cemi, a Fania All-Stars album, and a Puerto Rican flag. Little did she know these few mementos of her heritage, which she held so close to her heart, would lead her to become the founding director of the only cultural museum in Las Vegas.

Culture was always a part of Sawyer’s life. She says she lived through the Black Panther and Chicano movements, and was exposed to the elements of NYC’s El Barrio and Museum Mile growing up.

Sawyer left her historically-artistic haven and comfort zone to follow her military husband to the city of lights and casinos in the desert Southwest. Las Vegas was a city of only 37,000Latinos in 1980.

She vividly remembers when DJ Rae Arroyo played salsa music for the first time on a Vegas radio station around 1993.

“Tears came to my eyes, when I heard ‘Vamanos pal’ Monte’ play. When you hear something like that after so long it’s like, “Am I hearing things?’,” Sawyer reminisces.

Sawyer taught middle school at St. Christopher’s Catholic school for more than 25 years and is now retired. In 1990, she says her life changed for good – all because of a broken glass display case in the school’s hallway.

“I asked the principal if I could fix it and put some things about Hispanic culture there,” says Sawyer. “From there on we kept growing.”

Sawyer and her husband started a family in Las Vegas, and she wanted her sons to be exposed to culture. But since there wasn’t much of a museum scene, she started adding items to the glass cabinet, from pieces she brought from NY, to pictures and posters about Cesar Chavez and Selena. She says others also started to chip in with special objects of their own.

A few years later, Sawyer opened the first Hispanic Museum of Nevada in the lobby of The Nevada Association of Latin Americans.

For the past 20 years, Sawyer says the Hispanic Museum led a nomadic existence, moving to different community centers and lobbies depending on the group’s budget. In November, it moved into its sixth home in the Boulevard Mall, after an anonymous donor agreed to cover the expenses for a year. Those expenses range from $30-50,000. The official grand opening was Jan. 27.

“The reason it was given to us was the person knew the work we have done in the community through the years, and that we would be an asset wherever we went,” says Sawyer. “And now with the focus on tourism from President Obama, there isn’t another cultural museum in Nevada.”

At the Boulevard Mall, the museum is now at a central location. It’s the only cultural institution in a city which only has six other museums. Among them, the Atomic Testing Museum and The Mob Museum, according to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

“We have a whole demographic of people that may or may not go to a museum, and then they walk by and come in,” says Sawyer. “At our grand opening we had artists present their talent, their work was for sale, and we had different countries showcased.”

She says the favorite part of her job, which she calls a “lifelong passion,” is interacting with the many different cultural groups – ranging from Colombian, Cuban, Mexican, and Dominican, and seeing how they light up when they see their traditional dances and art showcased.

She says the Museum has received about 1,000 visitors since January from places as varied as Alaska, MexicoPuerto Rico, and Montana.

“We know that although we are termed Hispanics in the U.S., we have our own differences within our own subculture, but because we are called Hispanics in the Census, we should then unite to become more of a force in our country,” says Sawyer. “We are able to that and we are doing that. I feel that is where the strength is – in unity.”

Originally published in NBCLatino.com.

Alberto Iglesias, Academy Award nominee for Best Original Score in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Alberto Iglesias

Alberto Iglesias

You might have missed his name in the film credits, but soft-spoken, Alberto Iglesias, is no stranger to Oscar nominations. He has been nominated for Best Original Score in the film currently in theaters, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and previously for “The Constant Gardener” (2005) and “The Kite Runner” (2006).

The Spanish award-winning musician is widely known in Spain for his award-winning work in several Spanish films, mostly from Pedro Almodóvar such as, “Broken Embraces,” “Talk to Her,” and “Volver,” among many others.

With his quiet demeanor, he says in Spanish that all he needs to create his powerfully suspenseful melodies is a window.

“A quiet room with a window would be ideal,” says Iglesias as if that would be his favorite gift in the world. “A room has to have a window. I love to look at a view. I’m seeing Los Angeles now. The hills from here give me the impression that it is very tranquil.”

He says that the genre he chooses depends on the film.

“The film asks for the genre,” says Iglesias. “Sometimes it starts with one and ends with another. I don’t have a favorite genre. I like sounds and colors that remind me of jazz.”

His nominated score for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” sounds like a jazzy thriller. He says his personal favorite score is the one in the first scene of “Psycho,” which he says made him vibrate.

He had always had dreams of being a musician and writing music, but the process happened slowly and unfolded as if it were his destiny. He first learned to play the guitar and then the piano, which is what he now uses for most of composing.

He studied classical music composition in his hometown, San Sebastian, and later Paris, as well as electronic music in Barcelona. However, he didn’t start his career writing for films until someone asked for his help.

“I didn’t look for it,” says Iglesias. “My first films were for my brother who is a movie director.”

He slowly began getting more work in film, and finally with Spanish director and filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar, whom he says is a demanding artist who made him develop as a musician immensely.

“That was an intense experience,” says Iglesias. “He is a director who is in his own universe. The director influences my work a lot, because it is the work of a team.”

As in his work for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” he says the process involves a close connection to the director.

“The director explains the movie to me,” says Iglesias. “Then he asks for the music with an idea, but not an exact one. After discussing the ideas with the director, I begin to write.”

He says the director of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Tomas Alfredson, chose to work with him. It then took Iglesias two months to write the score, which he did hastily in order to make it to the Venice International Film Festival this past September. He says it is a very complex story that inspired him a lot.

“The director is extraordinary,” says Iglesias. “He is very special, and the music is very important for the movie. It moved me. I began to write immediately.”

For Iglesias it’s a greatly satisfying to see the final product finished.

“I liked it a lot,” he says. “It called attention to the director’s style. I liked his personal style a lot.”

Originally published in NBCLatino.com.

The Sundance Film Festival through the eyes of a juror

Filmmaker Alex Rivera (Courtesy Alex Rivera)

Filmmaker Alex Rivera (Courtesy Alex Rivera)

Now that the Sundance Festival is over, Alex Rivera gives us an inside peek to what it’s like to judge one of the most respected international film festivals. Digital media artist and filmmaker, Rivera, went from being a Sundance winner for his film “Sleep Dealer in 2008 to a juror last week.

“Being invited to be a judge is a complete honor and a privilege,” says Rivera who understands first-hand the complexity of what goes into filmmaking. “It takes about one hour and a half to watch a film, but it takes an average of six years to make. So as a filmmaker I feel very sensitive to that. It’s hard to judge, because you know how much goes into it.”

This is the second time Rivera, 38, has been chosen to serve on the Alfred P. Sloan Jury. The first time was in 2009, the year after his sci-fi thriller “Sleep Dealer,” a tale about immigration in a militarized futuristic world where borders are closed and technology takes over, won the prize of the same name. It also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was picked up by Maya Entertainment for U.S. distribution that same year.

The Sloan Award is presented to an outstanding feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character. This year, “Robot & Frank,” directed by Jake Schreier and written by Christopher Ford, and “Valley of Saints,” directed and written by Musa Syeed, tied for the win. The two films will split the $20,000 cash award by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Rivera says the two winning films couldn’t be more different stories, but they were both innovative in the way they were told.

“When I go to Sundance, I want to see people taking risks and breaking new ground,” says Rivera. That’s why there should be festivals. People can try new things and take big risks, while making sure it’s well made. I saw a lot of that this year.”

He compares being on the Sundance jury to being on a jury in a courtroom, except instead of 12 jurors, there are five.

“You travel together to screening to screening over a few days,” recalls Rivera. “You get to know each other, and then comes the moment of truth when you come to a decision.”

Sundance critically chooses individuals from a variety of backgrounds to make sure to get different points of view.

“The jury I was on was half scientists and half filmmakers,” says Rivera. “There was a guy from Berkeley who builds robots, and a woman from Rutgers who studied the brain.”

Rivera mentioned that two of his favorite Latino films that he had the opportunity to see during the festival were “Mosquita y Mari,” and “Filly Brown.”

“Gina is shining like a light right now,” he says. “’Filly Brown’ is sensational and bold and filled with contrast and drama. ‘Mosquita y Mari’ is more subtle and feels more like the kind of quiet life that most of us live, but both are really striking because they showcase Latina talent at their core.”

This is an example of how he says two films can be polar opposites but equally poignant.

“When you find that contrast, it gives me hope that we’re going to see a wide variety of Latino stories in the future,” says Rivera. “But we are still far from where we should be. We are the largest minority in the U.S., so we should have a film in the movie theater every week…We should radically be telling our stories. There is a long way to go.”

Currently, Rivera is working on a TV series and a follow-up feature film to “Sleep Dealer.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

“Scarface” actor on why he changed his Latino name to “Steven Bauer”

Steven Bauer at Veselka in NYC in April 2011. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Steven Bauer at Veselka in NYC in April 2011. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

At 54-years-old, Steven Bauer is as tall and good-looking as he was when he played “Manolo” in “Scarface” almost 30 years ago, but broader with a few added extra pounds, and his honey complexion slightly weathered. With his involuntary exuberant charm, and warm smile, the need melts away for any apology for being late to our brunch at Veselka in NYC.

“I was playing music last night with my son till really late in the Bowery,” he says.

Making sure to say “hi” to the two little kids at the adjacent table first, he then turns his attention to me. Although not currently married, he makes it known immediately that he is a family man, as something innately reminds him to make a quick, but heartfelt call in perfect Spanish to his father in Miami.

“Feliz cumpleaňos Papi!,” he says with his huge smile again, as he affectionately chit chats with his newly turned 80-year-old father.

Bauer has been in New York for the past week shooting the independent film, ‘Knuckleheads’, produced and directed by David Karges and written by Jaime Zevallos, set to release to film festivals this fall. In between filming, he also makes time to visit his two sons – the eldest (his son with first wife Melanie Griffith) a musician, and the younger a musical theater actor.

In two days, he’s off to Albuquerque to film some scenes for the cable series “Breaking Bad” on AMC, before he’s back to his home base in Hollywood, Calif.

According to the 2010 Census data, there are 12 million Hispanics between the ages of 20-24 today, and there will be an expected 30 million by 2050. What was it like starting out as a Latino actor in the U.S. in the 1970’s, and how do you think it has changed today?
When I was starting out as an actor, it was a very small restricted area for anyone with foreign names. Hollywood was famous for having people change their identities. When I started, Latinos were not counted. There were a lot of Latino art organizations that created theater and art programs, but for themselves.

The bilingual PBS sitcom, ‘¿Qué Pasa, USA?’, became popular because of the need in Miami. There were a lot of Latino kids in the public school district. I was 19, going to the University of Miami – I used to get lots of fan mail for it. One of the creators was my professor, Manny Mendoza. He wrote the grant to produce it. It was aimed as a language tool for bilingual education for kids and adults – kids who are Americanized, parents starting over, and grandparents living in the house too, but it’s too late for them to learn English. The show took off because it related to anyone who grew up in a three generation household – in New Jersey, California, Texas – anywhere there were Latinos.

In the 1960’s, my generation came to the U.S. I was so desperate to be an American that I didn’t hang with Cubans. I don’t dance salsa. When I was 13 and 14, I was playing Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan and Sinatra…classical music, too, which made me a nerd to a lot of my friends.

The new generation can embrace both cultures. We weren’t allowed to. Nowadays, they can meet other Latinos, but that can be a fault because they never have to learn English.
You have to learn English – you have to make an effort. You can retain your culture, but learn the language of the land. Any ethnocentricity is wrong.

Today, there are more Latino roles, and they have gone way beyond the gang member or janitors of the piece. Now there are military heroes, mayors, and politicians.

Named Esteban Ernesto Echevarría Samson at birth, you used to be credited as Rocky Echevarría when you first started acting. What made you change your name to Steven Bauer?
Rocky was a gimmicky name. When I became an adult, it didn’t feel real, and no one could pronounce Echevarría. Thirty years later, people can attempt it, but it’s not Garcia or Perez. It was my father’s idea to use my mom’s German side, which is Bauer. In the early days, it also eliminated the problem of “he’s Latino”.

What do you love about acting? 
It lets me experience life that I might otherwise not experience. By taking on a character, you are already taking on a behavior that is not your own. I like to play characters that I haven’t experienced so that I can experience life that I don’t know. That’s fun. For me, it’s very therapeutic.

What was your favorite role and why?
My favorite role so far…’Scarface’ was very fun. EXHILARATING actually – working with Al Pacino. I also enjoyed the role of the young Israeli I played in ‘Sword of Gideon’ (1986), and more recently in ‘Session’ that’s coming out this year with Bar Refaeli.

My role as Manny in ‘Knuckleheads’ is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played because it’s emotionally satisfying. I play a man trying to get on with his life when he feels there is nothing worth living for. My work in this film is as good as I’ve ever done. It has given me an opportunity to show my many colors.

Jaime Zevallos, the writer of the film, also co-stars with me. He told me that when he wrote the script, he had me in mind to play the role. I think it’s going to speak to a lot of hurting people. It’s not a Latino movie – it goes beyond any ethnic identity. It’s about hurt and healing – with a sense of humor.

Favorite place?
Miami. So many great memories there and the climate; my parents and my culture is there. I love Cuban culture. Even though I was only three-years-old when I came to the U.S., I retain a love and loyalty for where I came from.

As we leave, he makes sure to tell me to follow him on Twitter. I’m “thestevenbauer,” he says.

Originally published in AOL Latino.