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Herb Alpert arts winners include filmmaker who documents Mexico's drug wars

May 18, 2011 |  3:50 pm

NataliaAlmadaByJoannaEldredgeMorrissey Natalia Almada, a Mexican American documentary filmmaker whose latest work premiered this week at Cannes and focuses on a cemetery where the population has boomed thanks to Mexico’s drug wars, is among the five winners of the annual Alpert Award in the Arts. Each will receive his or her $75,000 prize Friday at the Herb Alpert Foundation in Santa Monica, according to the announcement Wednesday.

“El Velador,” described by New York's New Directors/New Films series as "a film about violence without violence," is Almada’s third feature, following “Al Otro Lado” (2005), which explored the connection between drug smuggling and corrido music, and “El General” (2009), a portrait of her controversial great-grandfather, Plutarco Elias Calles, a revolutionary leader who served as Mexico’s president during the 1920s. Almada, who lives in Brooklyn and Mexico City, adds the Alpert Award to a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship and the $50,000 fellowship she won last year from L.A.-based United States Artists.

The Alpert Award, funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation and administered by the California Institute of the Arts, also goes to Chicago jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, who last year graduated from being cited repeatedly as a “rising star” on her instrument in the annual Downbeat magazine critics' poll to being named the top flutist, period; Jess Curtis, a contemporary dancer-choreographer-company leader based in San Francisco and Berlin; Palestinian American conceptual artist Emily Jacir, whose work, frequently about the Palestinian struggle against Israel, has won her a Golden Lion award at the 2007 Venice Biennale and a 2008 Hugo Boss prize followed by a 2009 solo exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum; and poet-dancer-playwright Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a Bay Area-based 1999 National Poetry Slam winner and hip-hop theater artist who last month performed one of his short pieces at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Among the panelists choosing this year’s winners were dancer Sara Rudner, composer George Lewis and playwright Luis Alfaro.


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-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Natalia Almada. Credit: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey