I’m always very excited to see a distributor taking different approach to bringing independent film to theaters. The Maya Indie Film Series is a traveling roadshow of seven independent films that is touring eight US cities, starting a few days ago here in LA as well as San Diego and San Jose. The movies all appear to have Hispanic connections – although Maya only describes them as “diverse.” In any case, you’ll see a diverse group of marquee actors in the trailer for the films — Martin Sheen, Diego Luna, Ray Liotta, Michelle Rodriguez, Ana De La Reguera and Jimmy Smits.

Kat Feldman is the pseudonym of a very talented writer/director friend with a background in Spanish-language cinema. I asked her to check out some films from the Maya Indie Film Series. From the seven films, my friend chose Backyard and Solo Quiero Caminar. You can read more about the other five films in the series on the Maya Indie website. Enjoy, JO

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Backyard
Director: Carlos Carrera
Writer: Sabina Berman
Cast: Jimmy Smits, Ana de la Reguera, Joaquín Cosio

A warning to all women who watch this film: this may be one of the most single terrifying cinema experiences you will undergo in your lifetime. “Backyard” is set in the border town of Juarez, Mexico, where, since 1993, hundreds of women have been found brutally raped and murdered; their bodies dumped out like trash in the desert. Although this situation has garnered media attention for years, to this day these “femicides” continue.

The film begins as Police Captain Bianca Bravo, played by skilled actress Ana de La Reguera (Nacho Libre), arrives in Juarez and is tasked with investigating these gruesome murders. As she delves deeper into the case, she starts to realize the very system that she is a part of is corrupt. Eventually, she’s forced to take matters into her own hands in a gripping scene where the inimitable Jimmy Smits makes a rousing cameo appearance.

Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro) does a great job eliciting powerful, captivating performances from his talented cast. However, the film spends a long portion of its narrative attempting to cover all the known facts and theories about the murders, causing the story to feel diffuse and convoluted. This is unfortunate, because when the film sticks to the beautifully written parallel narratives of the police captain and the young native girl from Cintalapa (played by the astounding first time actress, Asur Zagada), it makes for compelling, enjoyable cinema.

Overall, this film delivers a strong exposé about the horrific situation in Juarez and is well worth watching; just be prepared for a painful ride that leaves you absolutely appalled that this is happening in our very own “backyard.”

Remaining playtimes in Los Angeles at the Mann Chinese 6 Theatres: Tuesday, August 31 at 12:10pm; Wednesday, September 1 at 2:30pm; Thursday, September 2 at 5:15pm

Solo Quiero Caminar
Writer/Director: Agustín Díaz Yanes
Cast: Diego Luna, José Maria Yazpik, Elena Anaya, Victoria Abril

Solo Quiero Caminar can be grouped alongside other classic female gang action flicks like Set it Off or Bandidas. Four sexy skilled Spanish female robbers take on the ultimate heist, robbing one of the most notoriously violent drug traffickers in Mexico. A side plot of this heist is that they are taking revenge on behalf of one of their gang members who was put into a coma by the drug trafficker.

The action sequences are well-directed and the performances are solid. Diego Luna does an excellent job of making a cold-blooded killer a sympathetic lover of women and children, much like Jean Reno in The Professional. The robbery sequences in which the women invent unique tools to infiltrate various safes are as fun as any Mission Impossible flick. However, strong performances and enjoyable action aside, the story is convoluted with so many different plot twists that it’s easy to completely lose sense of what is happening. It often feels like we’re jumping too far ahead in time and essential connective scenes are missing throughout. It’s hard to connect to our femme heroes because we never really get a sense of who they are. Despite this, it’s a pleasing action flick with a clearly talented director.

The remaining Los Angeles Mann’s 6 Chinese playtimes for Solo Quiero Caminar Tuesday, August 31 at 7:30pm; Wednesday, September 1 at 9:45pm.