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Miami Festival opens with LA MISMA LUNA

Tonight, the 25th edition of the Miami International Film Festival opens with the premiere of LA MISMA LUNA, a Mexican/US co-production directed by Patricia Riggen. The film began its life at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it was an instant sensation. A debut feature at the Sundance Film Festival is not, in itself, a major event. However, the excitement that percolated after the World Premiere screening of LA MISMA LUNA at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival was one for the books. The film, the debut feature by Mexican director Patricia Riggen, received an extended standing ovation from the usually blasé Sundance crowds, and started an intense bidding war for rights to distribute the film. Negotations went into the wee hours of the morning, but by dawn’s early light, Fox Searchlight (the company behind such hits as LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and JUNO) and the Weinstein Company (the brotherly duo that had put Miramax on the map) had jointly bought the film for a very impressive $5 million payday.

All this has been rather heady for the film’s debut director Patricia Riggen. The distribution deal wasn’t just the biggest any Latina had ever landed at Sundance; it also was the largest ever paid for a film directed by a woman or a film in Spanish. Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara, first made her mark in 2002, with a short film, THE CORNFIELD, which won a Student Academy Award, an Ariel Award (the Mexican Oscar) for Best Short Film, as well as prizes at the Havana Film Festival and the Directors Guild of America. Her next film, the documentary short FAMILY PORTRAIT, won the Short Film Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, foreshadowing her success with her first feature at the Festival two years later.

For her feature film debut, Riggen, who has lived and studied in both Mexico City and Los Angeles, was interested in doing a film that examined the hot-button immigration issue from a personal and humanistic point of view. She was shown a script written by Ligia Villalobos, who also writes the cartoon GO, DIEGO GO and was instantly smitten. “Ligia came to me with a beautiful story about a mom and a kid who are separated across the border. That's the strongest relationship ever, so I immediately was drawn to it. I like to make movies that move people, that's my thing. So I worked with Ligia on the script for a year.” The film tells the parallel stories of a mother who is forced to earn her living in Los Angeles as an “illegal” cleaning lady, and her young son, who risks life and limb to reunite with her. The emotional strain of this situation resonated with the director. “Many women are in that situation, where they are working in the United States and they've been forced to leave their child behind in another country because they had to come here to support them. I think the most difficult immigration situation of all.”

The film, which has been testing through the roof with both Latino and Anglo audiences at test screenings across the country, owes much of its emotional impact to the performances of its talented actors. The mother is played by television novela veteran Kate del Castillo, who brings a wonderful depth to her role as a woman who has had to make difficult choices. America Ferrera (the television star of UGLY BETTY) gives a strong performance as a Chicana, earning college money as a immigrant smuggling “coyote”; and hugely-talented child star Adrian Alonso as the nine-year-old boy who crosses the border alone to find his mother in Los Angeles, gives one of the year’s most heart-wrenching performances. The film is also immeasurably helped with a bouncy soundtrack by Mexican supergroup Tigres del Norte, who also make a cameo in the film.

Asked if the situation for making films that explore the Latin-American experience have become easier, director Patricia Riggen replied: “I think things are changing and I've been very lucky. This is my first feature-length film, but it’s my third film (overall) and I've produced them all myself. My dream is to have someone doing the production for me so I can concentrate on the directing--that's what I really like.” We look forward to more quality films from this talented director in the future. To view a trailer of LA MISMA LUNA, log on to:
The Miami dailies on fest21.com

Sandy Mandelberger, Miami FF Dailies Editor on fest21.com

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