Sundance: ‘Filly Brown’ celebrates the power of music and family
Sundance • Edward James Olmos and his son helm drama about a struggling hip-hop artist.
Published: January 18, 2012 04:57PM
Updated: April 5, 2012 11:36PM
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“Filly Brown” is a hip hop influenced drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes — through music — with the incarceration of her mother.

The Sundance film “Filly Brown” is a story about a struggling young Los Angeles hip-hop artist who needs a big break to attain the stardom she deserves. But at its core, the story is about family — so it makes sense that the film was helmed by the Olmos family.

Co-director Michael D. Olmos and his father, executive producer and film co-star Edward James Olmos, worked hand-in-hand to bring Youssef Delara’s script to the screen.

“Mike is one of the best directors I have ever worked with,” joked the elder Olmos, whose first love was playing in a rock band but who found his calling as an actor, eventually earning an Academy Award nomination for his leading role in “Stand and Deliver.”

Michael Olmos said hanging out with his father on film sets initiated him to the filmmaking business. “There’s always been a common language,” he said of his father. “I never felt any weirdness. He is my mentor.”

The younger Olmos met Delara at a New York film festival where they bonded over their Los Angeles roots. Several years later, Delara brought Michael Olmos a draft of a script he had written about an inner-city hip-hop musician. At the time, it had a male lead. “It was raw and original, and it had a fresh voice,” Michael Olmos said.

After changing the lead to a female character, the two brought the project to Edward James Olmos, who was impressed by a story that was full of robust, three-dimensional roles for Latinos. But he told the filmmakers they would need to find an actor who was also a credible musician.

They struck gold when they auditioned Gina Rodriguez, whose résumé included TV roles in “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Happy Endings” and “My Super Psycho Sweet 16: Part 2.” Her résumé also listed experience as a slam poet. “She blew us away,” Michael Olmos said.

The cast expanded to include Jenni Rivera and Lou Diamond Phillips. Edward James Olmos drew upon his years of experience in the film industry and guided the filmmakers to avoid what he called “the easy way to do a story,” which included relying on stereotypes and force-feeding a message to the audience.

What resulted became “a real masterpiece of storytelling,” Edward James Olmos said. “It’s deliberately honest. It doesn’t try to manipulate you in any way.”

Along the way, such a personal project for the Olmos family became a labor of love for all involved, apparently. More than 60 members of the cast and crew are coming to herald the film at the Sundance Film Festival, with everyone chipping in to rent a house. “There will be people sleeping in sleeping bags,” Michael Olmos said.

Such close quarters can only be tolerated by, well, a family.

dburger@sltrib.com

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Twitter: @davidburger

Screenings of ‘Filly Brown’

Today, 5:30 p.m. • Library Center Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)

Saturday, Jan. 21, 8:30 a.m. • Egyptian Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)

Sunday, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. • Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City (waitlist only)

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 12:15 p.m. • Eccles Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)

Friday, Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. • Library Center Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)