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International Latino Film Festival!

Biography of ISSA LOPEZ, director of the Festival's opening film, Casi Divas (Almost Divas)
(View a trailer of Casi Divas on YouTube)

My career starts as a writer. I have written my entire life and my first literary awards (and possibly the  most exciting of the lot) were best story in 2nd grade, best poem inspired by the Mexican flag, and first prize for a story based on the life of a Saint, when I was unfortunate enough to end up in a Catholic school, the only place that would have me after being kicked out from pretty much every other school...And before even the nuns kicked me out.  

The funny thing is, even when writing came so naturally, I always dreamed of becoming an Archeologist.  But in real life, the Archaeology dream lasted a single year, and when it was over, I had to surrender to my addiction to movies.   While writing nonstop, (From 1990 to 1995 I won several National Short Story Awards, a little more important but much less celebrated than my 2nd grade award) I graduated from film School, made a bunch of short films, some stage work, and mostly, a fool of myself acting. And while completing a two year Masters in dramatic writing and every imaginable workshop, I started writing and directing for TV, because I had to make a living, and living as a film maker seemed, at the time, a task worthy of one of the Saints the nuns were so fond of. In Mexico, those were the days when eight movies were made per year.

TV, beyond the nice check and some good ratings, brought it’s gifts: I made contacts. Predictably, I started my professional film career writing; first, for Benjamin Cann, in movies that ended up drowning in development hell, but that earned me a certain name that payed off when I signed the contract for Ladies’ Night, Ignacio Darnaude’s original idea that 19 drafts later and one direction that I wont discuss here, become the fifth biggest grossing Mexican movie ever. The chance to write my own ideas and direct my own movies, was born there.

For 2005, I had 3 contracts to write with Columbia Pictures, and Variety magazine names me one of the 50 latino impact players in entertainment. So I could finally create Efectos Secundarios, -Side Effects- a very personal story that comes directly from a very real crisis: turning 30. Efectos is a painful comedy in which 4 characters meet again at a school reunion just when they are turning 30, and are faced with the insecurities and high hopes of their high school years, and the bittersweet reality of what they have become as adults. So I called 4 stage actors that I really admired, who until then hadn’t had a lead in a movie, and together we a created a workshop from which Efectos was born.  The project quickly attracted Warner Brothers´s attention, so it became the Studio’s first production in Mexico.

The movie was shot in October 2005, with the support of Fidecine and Videocine, and it opened on September 1st 2006, becoming the 2nd biggest grossing Mexican film of the year, and ranking in the top 20 blockbusters of 2006, side by side with all the Hollywood hits, and in the top 20 most successful Mexican movies ever. Efectos was nominated for 12 Diosa de Plata awards, (the Mexican Film Press Prize) winning for best screenplay, and 2 Ariel awards (the Mexican Film Academy award). It has been invited to several International Film Festivals, but above all, Efectos is a project that I truly love, and most of the people involved, I can proudly say, feels the same way. For all of us, the actual movie was an award and an honor by itself.

Niñas Mal opened on March 9th 2007. It’s my first script for Columbia Pictures, and the first movie produced by Columbia in Mexico. It follows Ladies’ Night model; an idea by Ignacio Darnaude and José Balido, written by me, then rewritten and directed by someone else. It becomes the 4th biggest opening ever for a Mexican movie, and ends up ranking as the 7th biggest grossing Mexican movie.  

On June 11th of the same year, I started principal photography for my second feature as a director, this time for Columbia.  The movie is “Casi Divas”, the script is mine too, and the idea, again, comes from Ignacio Darnaude.  It is about four Mexican women chasing the mirage of celebrity, while trying to leave behind the four very different Mexicos they come from. It is both a comedy about celebrity culture and obsession, and a deeper analysis of the huge chasms between Mexico’s many different realities. Divas, becomes too a torrid love affair with filmmaking, proving that first loves are only the beginning. Currently, I am post producing the film, that will open in early 2008. Meanwhile, as announced, I am writing “La Banda”, a script for Salma Hayek, based on an idea of hers, that will be produced by Salma with Pepe Tamez’s Ventana Rosa company, and Rick Schwartz (The Aviator, The Departed) with Edward Borges. The movie will be shot in Mexico, with Salma as the lead actress.

While I focus on my film career, my first novel, that I finished over ten years ago, and that I thought would languish for ever in a drawer, just won the Institute of Fine Arts National Novel Award, (Premio José Rubén Romero), proving that all those hours writing Saints lives were not a waste. At least it looks like the part about Saint John the Apostle, patron Saint of writers, is finally paying off.

 

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