As heartbreaking as the film is, it’s also overflowing with hope, and the belief that the good in people still outweighs the bad, which, after 9/11 and still today, is essential for our survival not just in this beast of a city, but in the world.


NYILFF Review: "Don't Let Me Drown"

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Sundance. "Don't Let Me Drown"

"Cruz Angeles's 'Don't Let Me Drown' is that kind of New York debut feature that holds lots of promise for all those involved," writes Anthony Kaufman. "With this urban Brooklyn tale of teen love and familty strife, comparisons to 'Raising Victor Vargas' and 'Manito' are inevitable. Surprisingly conventional, both in its style of shooting and in its narrative arc - boy gazes at girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy... you might guess how it ends. But Angeles's genuine care for his characters and fine attention to the cultural conflicts between Mexicans and [Dominicans] raises the film above the norm."

"I'd be lying if my heart didn't race from the sheer joy of discovery as I watched it," writes Bilge Ebiri at Screengrab. "Every exchange brings with it a small moment of surprise - an unexpected line of dialogue, an unforeseen narrative development, or maybe just a glance - that the film, for all the indie portent of its plot, feels like the freshest thing in years."

"[W]hat makes 'Don't Let Me Drown' extraordinary - aside from the way Angeles recreates the look of immediate-post-9/11 New York on an indie budget - is how intimate and lived-in everything looks and feels," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "As a storyteller, Angeles has some room to grow, but as a scene-setter, he's already at the top of his class."

"Newcomers EJ Bonilla and Gleendilys Inoa are charismatic and engaging as Lalo and Stefanie," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "While its performances play a significant role, 'Don't Let Me Drown' stands out as a director's piece, a movie that thrives on the artful skills of its Brooklyn-based filmmaker."

For the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, this is "one of the best film portraits yet of New York City in the aftermath of 9/11, where a city and its people cope with collective post-traumatic stress while military jets boom overhead and smoke from the Twin Towers hangs in the air.... The film is fast-paced but finds more than enough time to explore the family dynamics, its personalities and struggles in a tough environment.... Sundance has again given us new talent to watch."

"I loved it," exudes FirstShowing's Alex Billington

Sundance Mini-Review: DON'T LET ME DROWN

Brooklyn, NY...

Mexican boy...

Dominican girl...

They hook up...

BIG TIME and often hilarious complications ensue!

To regular folks, a Mexican boy and a Dominican girl hooking up should really be no big deal. But to 1st and 2nd generation Latino New Yorkers that would a huge deal and the unlikeliest of hookups because Dominicans and Mexicans have ethnically diverse backgrounds.

That's the premise of Cruz Angeles's DON'T LET ME DROWN, a sweet and heartwarming post 9/11 love story about two high school kids living in Brooklyn who are trying to build something together, while the world is crumbling around them.

Lalo, the Mexican boy, played by E.J. Bonilla and Stefanie, the Dominican girl, played by Gleendilys Inoa start out as friends after they meet at a birthday party. Their friendship then develops into a romance on the down low.

When I first of heard of the film and it's selection into the dramatic competition, I had hope that the film wouldn't be corny and once again misrepresent Dominicans the way a minstrel show like PRIDE AND GLORY did.

Not the case here.

DON'T LET ME DROWN not only didn't disappoint, it delivered on every level!

I came to Sundance mostly to check out what's going on with the Latin stuff and I think I already found this year's gem.

One of my favorite things about the film is how it absolutely nailed the idiosyncrasies and nuances between Dominican and Mexican New Yorkers, especially when they are trading quips with each other. There was some really snappy dialogue and funny banter between Lalo and his Dominican boys.

Not only is the film a love story but it is also an intimate look into the daily lives and struggles of Dominicans and Mexicans chasing the same dream in New York City.

Lalo's father was a formerly a janitor working at the World Trade Center, now works at ground Zero cleaning up debris while Lalo's mother struggles to make ends meet. Stefanie's family moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn after her sister perished in the attacks. While Stefanie's mother, (played by Gina Torres) tries to hold the family together, her dad (Ricardo Chavira from Desperate Housewives) is overwhelmed by the loss and cannot control his anger. Stefanie's parents are constantly battling over their conflicting ways of dealing with the death of their oldest daughter while emotionally neglecting Stefanie.

I really dug the film and found the stand out performances of the two leads refreshing. My only minor complaint of the film is a subplot involving Stefanie and her dad's friend that comes into play way late in the 2nd half of the movie. It felt totally out of left field, and completely unnecessary.

Other than that, a very solid watch and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes the Audience award.

Sundance 2009 Review: Cruz Angeles' Don't Let Me Drown

Due to fervent encouragement from the guys at Latino Review, I decided to catch a screening of Don't Let Me Drown, a 2001 Brooklyn set coming-of-age drama. I'm glad I did, because I loved it. While the film isn't anything particularly new (like 500 Days of Summer) and takes a little while to first get going, it is a very funny and still very emotional and charming look at a few teenagers living in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. I'm not entirely sure why, but when I finally got into the story, I found myself laughing out loud at every funny moment and happily smiling at the wonderful romantic scenes.

Don't Let Me Drown is essentially about two Latino teens from Brooklyn. Lalo (E.J. Bonilla) and his friend are living in a changed New York, just one month after the September 11th attacks. He meets Stefanie (Gleendilys Inoa) at a birthday party and starts to spend time with her, slowly falling in love. The story follows their own relationship struggles, involving parental issues and emotional pressure. Lalo's father used to work as a janitor at the World Trade Center but is now helping clean up. Stefanie lost her sister and now her father struggles to keep his cool. It's a fairly simple story that's executed well.

At the start, I wasn't really expecting to laugh at all in this. But it's those comical moments that actually really made it stand out in the end. They're not out of place and they don't detract from the overall more emotional story found within the depths of Don't Let Me Drown, but the quirky reality of these kinds of teens often makes for some hilarious scenes. In the end I found myself just falling in love with the film because it was such a great story of love. These two teens are drowning in an excess of emotion and pressure coming from everyone around them, yet they still find a way to fall in love and live their life.

Newcomer E.J. Bonilla in particular steals the show, and if it weren't for him, this wouldn't have been as wonderful as it was. His character is not the stereotypical Latino, but a more realistic representation, and I think that's what makes him so likable in the end. Definitely a film Cruz Angeles should be very proud of making.

Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10

Discover More: Opinions, Sundance 09

Nested Romances, Love Stories

"The story, “‘Don’t Let Me Drown’” Headed to Sundance,” summarizes the life and work of two Californian filmmakers, Maria Topete and Cruz Angeles, now married, and focuses on their latest film, “Don’t Let Me Drown,” a love story set in a post 9/11 New York, which has been selected as a candidate for the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the annual Sundance Film Festival held in Utah...."

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Nested Romances, Love Stories

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Meet the Artists - Cruz Angeles

"DLMD" @ SF International Film Festival

A love affair set amid the ruins of post-9/11 New York powers this strong feature debut by UC Berkeley graduate Cruz Angeles, who adapts a street-level neo-realist aesthetic to capture the vibrancy (and frictions) of a community rarely portrayed realistically onscreen, the city’s Latino Caribbean population. For two Brooklyn teenagers, life has changed after 9/11: The charismatic, Mexican-born Lalo has a father who once worked in the World Trade Center but now risks his health cleaning up debris at Ground Zero, while the Dominican Stefanie nurses a greater sorrow as she helps her father and mother deal with the loss of her sister, who died in the attacks. Meeting at a birthday party only a month after the disaster, Lalo and Stefanie begin a relationship that starts off rocky, but soon seems the only force for good in their lives. Merging a cinema verité portrait of the city’s Mexican and Dominican communities with a romantic lyricism, Don’t Let Me Drown possesses the toughness of its New York setting (and the sorrow of its specific time) but is, at heart, a love story. As Lalo, E.J. Bonilla gives his street-swaggering “Mexi-Yorker” a youthful charm and vulnerability, while Gleendilys Inoa balances a natural beauty with a combustible spark as Stefanie. Discovered after a lengthy casting process, the two first-time leads are joined by a who’s who of Latino actors, including Gina Torres (FireflyAngel), Ricardo Antonio Charira (Desperate Housewives) and Damián Alcázar (who started his career in the films of Arturo Ripstein).

New Directors Prize Contender. West Coast Premiere.