Credit: Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

“Manos Sucias”

None of the underworld glamor usually in evidence in news reports and movies about Colombia’s drug trade is present in the Josef Wladyka-directed and Spike Lee-produced film, “Manos Sucias.”

Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival,“Manos Sucias” simmers where most coverage of Colombia’s drug trade boils. The setting is in the sleepy coastal town of Buenaventura, as opposed to Bogota, Medellin or Cali. Most of the film’s characters are of African descent, as opposed to Native American or Mestizo, which most of the residents of the larger cities are.

Although other cities get much more publicity, Buenaventura is widely known as a hub for Colombia’s cocaine trade, rife with a level of economic desperation that drives the supply of young men more than willing to risk their own lives and the lives of others to simply survive.

Says Wladyka, “Buenaventura is one of the toughest cities in Colombia, a place that’s really been historically forgotten by the government for a while. It’s a place that is very much under siege with violence and drug trafficking and all kinds of different groups that try to control the waters there. It’s very much a place that not a lot of people know about outside of Colombia, and I wanted to shed a light on that with this film.”

Wladyka’s treatment of the characters and subject matter (two very young fathers’ dangerous trip down the river to deliver a shipment of drugs) is unsparing, yet delicate. Jacobo and Christian are drawn as real human beings forced to make do in a world with very few choices. “Manos Sucias” deftly shows us the insidious manner in which circumstances often shape the unfortunate choices we must make.

“Mala Mala”

Another great film at this year’s festival is “Mala Mala.” A documentary film about the lives of transgendered men and women in Puerto Rico, “Mala Mala” charms its viewers as it brings into question what is the root of gender identity issues. There is also a focus on the fight for employment equality for transgender people in Puerto Rico.

Ironically, part of the reason the film is so engaging is the fact that many in the transgender community work as entertainers or aspire to do so. Whether completely consciously or not, it is not wholly by choice that they do so. Born with an innate understanding of their separateness from the rest of the world, and further marginalized by the attention given to gay rights as opposed to transgender issues, working as entertainers functions to capture a level of attention they may feel is owed them because they are human but is denied because they are transgender. In fact, one of the participants in the film tries to get the audience to differentiate between wanting to be recognized as a woman as opposed to wanting to be an icon of glamor.

On a more practical level, because they are, in fact, discriminated against if even a whiff of their true identity is revealed, entertainment (and sex industries) are some of the only areas where they are allowed to make a living.

No, this film does not cover new ground, but there are not enough stories about the transgender community. This film seeks to move past some of the superficialities that the general public tends to focus on and bring our attention to the facts on the ground as it pertains to this community.

“Alex of Venice”

I am a big fan of “The Mindy Project,” so I was pleasantly surprised to find out Chris Messina stars in, as well as directs, “Alex of Venice.” Messina plays Dr. Castellano in “The Mindy Project.” I was even more impressed to find that Messina directed this superb little film. Also starring Don Johnson, it tracks the end of a marriage that perhaps started too soon, or perhaps should never have started at all.

When her husband suddenly leaves, Alex has to deal not only with being a single parent to her 10-year-old son but also with her father’s incipient Alzheimer’s disease. The script does a good job of balancing some very heavy themes with a good dose of humor. Its only failing is the storyline about Alex getting back into the dating scene, seemingly only weeks after the apparent dissolution of her marriage. It is not 100 percent clear that her husband is not coming back.

That being said, it is an absolute treat to see hunky Derek Luke as the one with whom she chooses to get her groove back.

“The Newburgh Sting”

The documentary “The Newburgh Sting” is also well worth watching. The film chronicles the events surrounding the apprehension of four African-American men from the suburb of Newburgh, charged with terrorism for planning to bomb a synagogue in Riverdale and blow up a plane at Stewart Air Force Base.

Newburgh is an impoverished suburb about two hours from New York City. The case made headlines in New York City in 2009, and the film shows us the actual SMDH story behind the headlines. Unfortunately, as a viewer, you are not shocked as the story unfolds onscreen.

I say unfortunately because that lack of surprise at compromised government and law enforcement officials is a sad commentary on the extremely low expectations we have of our government and police. However, it is a story that you can’t turn away from because, although not surprising, there is still disbelief at how little regard government officials have for those who are powerless in our society and the terrifying realization that you, the viewer, are a lot more powerless than you thought.

“Honeymoon”

This simple flick does a lot with a little. There are a total of (barely) two locations and four actors. Two of those actors are on-screen for a total of about five minutes. The rest of the time it’s just Bea and Paul, a young couple spending their honeymoon at Bea’s family’s country cabin. However, they hold viewers in their grip for the whole ride.

The honeymoon ends almost as soon as it begins, when Paul awakens one night to find that Bea is missing from their bed. He eventually finds her out in the woods, naked and confused. Things only get worse from there.

“Honeymoon” is a well-spun metaphor of the main reason people fear marriage. Basically, it is that the woman will change. From the woman’s perspective, she will lose her identity and/or be unable to keep up the facade erected on the way to the altar. From the man’s perspective, once girlfriend becomes wifey, she will morph into someone who is almost recognizable, both physically and psychologically, and who is just a whole lot less fun.