"It's a semiserious spoof on the shallowness of celebrity and how evil the pursuit of celebrity is," says big shot TV actor Nestor Carbonell, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles about the premise of the independent film Attention, Shoppers, which he stars in and also wrote. Carbonell is familiar with chasing Hollywood stardom and enjoying its perks. Best known for his role as Don Juanish photographer Luis Rivera on Suddenly Susan, the popular NBC sitcom starring Brooke Shields, he worked his way up through the soap opera and sitcom circuit to earn his present status as one of prime time's hottest hunks. But it wasn't until two years ago, after his first season on a hit TV show, when he agreed to make an appearance at the opening of a Houston, Texas, Kmart, that he learned how utterly ridiculous it can be to have a famous face. "I was really pumped. I get to this huge Kmart ... and no one showed up," he recalls, laughing about the first -- and last -- time he was invited to open one of the budget-shopping stores. "I was dying a slow death for two hours. I was like a lifeguard. Literally one woman showed up with a camera and I had to lie. I told her the people were coming in waves."
From that absurd and mortifying experience, a chastened Carbonell created Shoppers, the comic tale of Enrique Suarez, a Cuban actor who gets written out of his sitcom, hides the fact from his wife, and resorts to making some quick cash by subjecting himself to the indignity of appearing at a Kmart store opening. "He's basically me with things that are heightened; he's on a show called Two Guys, Two Gals, and a Cuban," chuckles the actor, who wrote the screenplay on weekends and completed filming the movie during his four-month summer hiatus. Support was lent by Luke Perry, Kathy Najimy, Martin Mull, and a few other well-known actors. The Kmart people even pitched in, too, allowing the crew to use their Glendale store, the biggest in California. Like his movie alter ego, Carbonell was raised mostly in Greenwich, Connecticut, but he has a South Florida connection. His parents are Cuban and many of his cousins -- one of them being famed alligator and shark wrestler/rider Manny Puig -- live down here. They'll all surely be in the audience, and Carbonell will put in an appearance as well, at the Florida premiere of Shoppers, slated to close the Alliance Cinema's seven-day Cinema of the Americas: Latin American and Caribbean Independent Film Festival.
Different from the past, this year's fest, the third, promises fare created anywhere in the world by filmmakers of Latin American and Caribbean descent, in addition to the usual flicks strictly from Latin and Caribbean regions. Some interesting offerings include a work about Silvino Santos, a Portuguese filmmaker who made nine documentaries exploring the lives of Indians in the Amazon jungle; Melting Pot, a lighthearted look at a black woman and Latino man running for office in Los Angeles and starring Paul Rodriguez; a quirky Mexican entry about a woman who sees saints in her oven, Santitos; and a five-film retrospective of movies made by Brazilian Cinema Novo pioneer Glauber Rocha. Presented in conjunction with the FLA/BRA Festival, the rarely screened films offer viewers an opportunity to brush up on their foreign-language skills: They'll be shown in Portuguese but subtitled in Spanish.
Not that language differences should bother anyone in cosmopolitan Miami. Seemingly it's only the political divisions that get people bent out of shape around here. Speaking hot on the heels of the Los Van Van protest, Nestor Carbonell assures that no hackles will be raised about the portrayal of Cubans in his movie. The only ruckus will be from raucous laughter. "It should be harmless," he notes about the reception of the film. "Unless they can't stand me!"