Not Just A Pretty Picture

Tick...tick...bang: Cora Cardona in 'Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around a Bomb'
Roxie Releasing

Marlina Gonzalez, the new curator of Intermedia Arts' monthly "Films First Fridays" series, has a subversive streak. Consider what happened when her mother--an actress on Filipino radio soaps, as well as a screenwriter--asked Gonzalez to pen an episode for an on-air drama. "I submitted a script where the main character was mute, and the only way she could be present was through noise," says Gonzalez with a chuckle. "There was a rustling of clothes, the throwing of a glass of water on the floor. The other characters had to acknowledge her."

Using radio to imply a personality is no easy task, but Gonzalez, who grew up in a family of film and theater artists in Manila, has never dodged a creative risk. This sort of fearlessness has rewarded the 48-year-old with a fascinating life, including stints with the revolutionary Philippine Educational Theater Association, a job directing children's television (with subliminal political commentary), and, stateside, high-profile curator positions at New York's Asian American Film Festival and the Walker Art Center (where she created the "Women in the Director's Chair" series, now known as "Women With Vision"). That sense of adventure has also molded Gonzalez into a programmer with an eclectic, multidisciplinary sensibility--a perfect match to an organization that celebrates the fusion of disciplines.

According to Gonzalez, "Films First Fridays" will be more of an experience than a set of screenings under her tenure, providing an opportunity for artists from varied backgrounds to become inspired by the moving picture--both onstage and in the audience. "Film is really so rich in its different disciplines," says Gonzalez. "It's affected by technology. It's multidimensional and collective in that you have a cinematographer, a director, a set designer, musicians. But ultimately it ends up being just a can of film or a cassette tape: It's not art until you activate it by throwing it onto a blank space."

Gonzalez is devoted to making the most of that blank space. Her first "Fridays" program in January brought together young video artists from In Progress and members of Young Dance. "Within minutes," she says, "the dancers were choreographing a response to the videos. The content, the feeling, the colors were all translated into movement. Then it was fascinating to see the footage for a second time, because we began to see something we didn't see before. Combing hair or lighting a cigarette suddenly became poetic movement. It made the viewing even more meaningful."

This weekend's event is dubbed "Films First Frida!" in honor of Ken Mandel's impressionistic film Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around a Bomb. Gonzalez has paired the Kahlo doc with Helena Solberg and David Meyer's film Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business. Segments of the films will be interwoven with live performances by Tina Maria, Lupe Castillo, and photographer Deborah Ramos. "The partnering of the videos compares and contrasts two Latina icons," says Gonzalez. "The performing artists have decided to do a parody of a game show: Name That Stereotype. It's not a straight performance or a film screening, but it's not like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, either. I want to be careful to preserve the intent of the original filmmaker and the performing artist. The challenge is really to the performing artist, however, to discover what to take away from this experience without imitating the film."

Gonzalez also plans a preview of the April screening of Lourdes Portillo's documentary Señorita Extraviata, which takes a disturbing look at the horror of the missing women of Juarez, Mexico. "This is the spice that shocks your tongue in the program," says Gonzalez. "You go from the exoticized and the commercialized visions of Latina women to real victims." Other "Films First Fridays" programs will include "WARriors and PEACEmakers," held in conjunction with Intermedia's "Immigrant Status" series.

"The fun part is that, as a curator, I can't give you an answer about what a show will be like now," says Gonzalez. "When I used to [just] curate film, I could. Now it's more exciting to say, 'I don't know--even I will be surprised about what will happen.' But isn't risk what art is all about?"

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