For folks who start dreaming of an escape to someplace subtropical when the polar vortex comes to town, a trip to Mexico can be an appealing option. It’s somewhat more affordable these days for the same reason that many Norteamericanos find it too scary to contemplate: The stories about drug-gang violence that have saturated news coverage from south of the border in recent years have created a slump in the country’s tourism industry.
Talk to someone who has been there lately, though, and you’re likely to hear that most of Mexico is still pretty safe and friendly to visitors with US dollars to spend. “Just stay away from the border towns and you’ll be okay,” people say.
In John Sayles’s latest movie Go for Sisters, the character portrayed by Emmy-winner and Tony and Oscar nominee Edward James Olmos puts it a different way, calling border towns in general and Tijuana in particular “a theme park for bad behavior.” That’s where the son of a hard-nosed, by-the-books LA parole officer named Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) gets kidnapped just as she is becoming edgily reacquainted with Fontayne (Yolonda Ross), her best friend from high school.
A former drug addict who is making a serious effort to walk the strait-and-narrow after being released from prison – against horrific odds, considering the crime-ridden neighborhood in which she lives – Fontayne unwittingly commits a minor parole violation and falls under Bernice’s unsympathetic scrutiny. (It doesn’t help that, years prior, they fell out because Fontayne had “stolen” Bernice’s boyfriend.) But the tables are turned when Bernice finds out that her grown son Rodney (McKinley Belcher III) has disappeared, his partners murdered or in hiding, after getting mixed up in cross-border human trafficking.
Desperate to find him, Bernice needs someone who knows how to navigate life outside the law, and makes a deal with Fontayne. To help them infiltrate the perilous world of the Tijuana border gangs, the two women enlist Freddy Suárez (Olmos), a disgraced former LAPD detective whose vision is failing due to macular degeneration and who is looking for one last chance to redeem himself.
Such is the setup for Go for Sisters, which had its New York premiere in October at the Woodstock Film Festival and will be screened twice this weekend at the Rosendale Theatre, with Sayles, a Red Hook resident, on hand for a live question-and-answer session following the 7:15 p.m. show on Saturday, January 18. If this were a Hollywood movie, the emphasis would be on nonstop guns-blazing action; but fans of the great indie writer/director know to expect something subtler, focused more on character-driven drama via human interaction that reflects the realities of life on the socioeconomic fringes.
It’s tougher than ever these days to get thoughtful narrative features like that made, and Sayles had to finance Go for Sisters out of his own pocket. It was reportedly made in 18 days, on a budget of less than a million dollars. You won’t likely be seeing it in the multiplexes anytime soon, so this is a rare chance not only to catch his latest opus, but also to ask questions of the director whose many iconic independent works include The Return of the Secaucus 7, Liana, The Brother from Another Planet, Matewan, Eight Men Out, City of Hope, Passion Fish, The Secret of Roan Inish, Lone Star, Sunshine State and Honeydripper.
A second screening of Go for Sisters, sans the filmmaker, will be offered at 7:15 p.m. on Sunday, January 19. The film is unrated because, according to Sayles, he had better things to do with the estimated $2,000 that it would have cost to submit it for rating to the Motion Picture Association of America. So if you’re bringing the family along, expect some violent scenes typical of a crime thriller – even if it is essentially, in the words of New York Times critic Stephen Holden, “a rare African-American female buddy movie.” Tickets for Rosendale Theatre screenings typically cost $7 general admission, $5 for Rosendale Theatre Collective members.
Go for Sisters screening/Q&A with John Sayles, Saturday, January 18, 7:15 p.m., $7/$5, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-8989, https://rosendaletheatre.org/2013/12/21/go-for-sisters.