How did your film 50 Years come about?
I received an email from one of my professors, Bart Weiss, about the U.S. Department of Education seeking 50 students to participate in a re-creation of the Freedom Rides in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the positions they wanted to fill was student documentarian, someone to make a film that encapsulated the experience of the celebratory day of events. I was challenged with describing the film I would make, if chosen.
What was most challenging about making the film?
I was a one-man crew. I had to conduct all operations—sound, camera, and interviews. This presents many challenges for a filmmaker. At a technical level, you have to ensure that all of your equipment is functioning fluidly while at the same time tuning in to your surroundings and making sure you are where you need to be at any given moment.
What surprised you when you were interviewing the Freedom Riders?
I was most surprised at the convergence of my generation and the Freedom Riders' generation. Who would have thought 50 years ago that a Mexican-American filmmaker would be sitting next to a man like Charles Person, the youngest Freedom Rider, exchanging personal stories, political stances, and aspirations for this country.
When did you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker?
At 13 years old I remember getting my hands on a camera. I would spend night after night making mini-stop motion films in my bedroom. I would make small clay figures with googly eyes, tinker with lamps, and imagine a narrative. I was mesmerized by the idea of conducting the frame in any fashion that I could dream. I could see endless possibilities.
How has attending UTA helped you grow as an artist?
My professors have proved to be invaluable mentors in ways that I’m not sure I can articulate. Personal relationships with fellow filmmakers are crucial for developing this agonizing craft. You need to be surrounded by people who will be honest about your work and who will push you past your limits.
What are some of your favorite films?
My favorite films include Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard, The 400 Blows by François Truffaut, and Blue Velvet by David Lynch. One of my favorite cinema-going experiences is when I saw The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. I was dumbfounded, awestruck, and moved beyond words. It was almost a spiritual experience, witnessing the power of the cinema manifest itself in that film.
If you could make any movie, what would it be about?
I would explore people’s plight toward the elusive American dream. I would question what that dream even means. How it’s been constructed into an almost mythological tale we tell ourselves and our children.