Los Angeles Film Festival: 'Mamitas' continues a coming-of-age tradition
From "Hoop Dreams" to "Half Nelson," movies about kids growing up under difficult big-city conditions are a staple of pretty much every major movie gathering. At the Los Angeles Film Festival, a young writer-director named Nicholas Ozeki is adding a new name to the list.
Ozeki's "Mamitas," which premiered Tuesday night and plays again Thursday and Saturday at LAFF, tells a story of several complex family relationships in a predominantly Latino eastside Los Angeles neighborhood.
Based on a short that Ozeki wrote and directed, "Mamitas" begins by focusing on Jordin (EJ Bonilla), a wisecracking high school senior. The product of a male-centric home -- his mother died in childbirth, so he lives with his father and older brother and takes care of his grandfather nearby -- Jordin is an outgoing charmer whose mouth sometimes moves faster than his mind.
But what looks like a story about a young man struggling to find himself soon becomes something more ambitious, as Jordin strikes up an unlikely friendship with Felipa (Veronica Diaz-Carranza). A bookwormish teen bound for college, Felipa is newly relocated from the East Coast after her mother couldn't take care of her for mysterious reasons. She lives with her aunt and uncle, as well as a cousin, a popular girl with whom she has little in common.
The movie teases out Jordin's and Felipa's relationship slowly, while also examining dynamics within each family (Jordin and his father, for instance, and their long suppressed resentments).
While the movie is rooted in Los Angeles' Mexican American community, Ozeki says he wanted to use ethnicity as a backdrop more than a theme. "I didn't want to tell a story that was just about immigrants or their children," Ozeki told an LAFF audience. "It could have been any family."
"Mamitas" is notable for its performances (some from first-time or nonprofessional actors) and a casual slice-of-life vibe that evokes other Latino coming-of-age films, especially the well-regarded 2006 Sundance winner "Quinceanera."
Ozeki says he's next working on a thriller that could be bigger and more commercial -- and hopefully provide an opportunity for a wider audience to sample his work.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "Mamitas." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival