Is there a country in Latin America that you think is producing really interesting films? Mexico and Argentina have always been known to do so, but what are some of the other, more recent players?
I think the last decade, really from 2000, Latin American cinema has really been booming, and for me, it's the best Latin American filmmaking, period, since the 1960s. As you mentioned, Mexico has always been an important source, and Argentina, which is perhaps the place where this current boom kind of started continues to make a lot of interesting work. Chile, which is a country that's had a smaller participation, I think has a good group of 5 or 6 really first-rate filmmakers who are working there now. Colombia is another country with little cinematic tradition, and now is a place where you get to see a lot of fine films. One thing about contemporary Latin American cinema is that you can see films from Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay -- places that we never thought of as being on the cinematic map now very much are.
What are your top 5 Latin American cinema classics? Not too obscure on this one, but for the average cinephile.
I'm kind of an obscure guy, so I have to think hard here. Well, one that I hope most people know is the great Luis Buñuel film, Los Olvidados. I continue to teach it, it has as much of an impact on my students than I think it did when it first came out. From Brazil probably a film like Bye Bye Brazil, which came out in 1980, and it's another film with a very popular life; people continue to enjoy it. A recent Argentine film which I was a great fan of, and actually we were the ones to premiere it, it's called Nine Queens, wonderful film by a director [Fabian Bielinsky] who sadly passed away a few years ago of a heart attack at 49.
Well, from Cuba, obviously Strawberry and Chocolate, a terrific film made by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, who I think is the best Cuban filmmaker and a man whose work was really, deeply humanistic and challenging and important. I think for the last classic I'll go with another Brazilian film called Vidas Secas from the early 60s. It picks up a little bit where Los Olvidados left off.
You've talked about how your love for filmmaking was sparked by going to theater with your Castillian grandparents as a young boy. Can you take me back to that time?
There was a movie theater at 8th avenue and 19th street called the Elgin cinema, now it's the Joyce Theater, a theater devoted to dance performance. On Mondays and Tuesdays in the afternoon, they would show Spanish language films. That part of Chelsea has always been a Hispanic neighborhood and a lot of older folks lived there as well, so the movie theater in order to cater to the clientele would do that. So very often my mother would leave me with my grandparents and they would go to the movies and they'd take me along. I remember the idea just that there were other movies, that there weren't only Hollywood movies or American films. It was part of my experience from a very early age.
Any Spanish-language films that you remember in particular?
I was pretty young; it was before I went to school. It's very funny, every now and then I'll see a film and I'll say I bet you I saw that when I was a little kid, there'll be something that just reminds me of whatever that was.