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August 19th 2006
Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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Today we talk with the writing/directing team responsible for the new Indie hit Quinceanera.

Quinceanera
by Lisa Johnson


Above: Emily Rios as Magdalena

Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland believed they were just buying a great house in a quaint, ethnic neighborhood. The writing/directing team had no idea that Echo Park would serve as the inspiration and location for their next film. But when they were invited by their neighbors to serve as photographers for a "Quinceanera," the elaborate right of passage celebration held for Latino girls when they turn fifteen, the filmmakers were completely overwhelmed by the poignancy and the culture. An idea was born.

They decided to make a film in the tradition of the Kitchen Sink drama, which originated in Northern England. But their film would focus on the racial, class and sexual tensions of working class Latinos. The film featured their neighbors and their Echo Park neighborhood, and they made painstaking efforts at authenticity, taking much input from the people whose story they were telling.

The result was a Sundance smash, which is currently doing extremely well in its platform release. The directors spoke with the IFA about just what they were trying to accomplish.

IFA: How did two non-Latino guys come up with this film that is so authentically Latino, getting all the details of the culture and the neighborhood down pat?

Glatzer: It was very much a neighborhood event. We moved to Echo Park in 2001, and we fell in love with the neighborhood, and found ourselves very accepted, and we wanted to make a film that in some ways is a Valentine to that neighborhood. And the neighborhood is in transition, and since we made the film itís been changing. We wanted to record it the way it was a year ago, and show our appreciation of it.

Westmoreland: But we didnít even know what a Quinceanera was when we moved to Echo Park. Neither of us speaks Spanish, and we didnít want to make a movie that felt like outsiders peering in at Latino culture. We wanted it to be something that felt real, for Latino audiences and for all audiences. So when we wrote the script, we showed it to a lot of friends, we got a lot of feedback, we changed a lot of things, we kept tuning in. It was the same working with our actors. Weíre all, like ďYou know this subject a lot better than we do.Ē So even if we were in control of the emotional direction of the scenes and the dramatic structure, we left the cultural details to our actors.

IFA: Thereís a couple that buys an Echo Park house in the film, and fixes it up, giving you the opportunity to address gentrification. Were you that couple in real life?

Glatzer: Well, we bought a house in Echo Park in 2001, but unlike the characters in the film, we moved there because we loved the neighborhood the way it was, and we didnít see ourselves as instruments of change, but I guess just being Anglo, in some sense, we were. And we would try to discourage other people from moving into the neighborhood. We want to preserve it the way it is. Weíve actually been fighting development, fighting condominiums, and trying to organize people to keep the neighborhood the way it is, so yes, I guess we are instruments of change in some way, but unintentionally so, I think.

IFA: This film could be considered an instrument of change. There are so many messages about being accepting and accommodating. Could you address that?

Westmoreland: Well, thereís a lot of talk about the hot real estate market. We really want you to see it from the point of view of the renters, and people who have been living there for decades and are being squeezed out by the high real estate market, and whatís lost when that happens. So we were kind of looking at that. Also, itís a coming of age movie. Itís about two kids who have problems with the development of their sexuality, and that causes them to be estranged from their families. We wanted to look at those issues, and look at how the family evolves to cope with the problems of a younger generation.

IFA: Do you see this film encouraging positive change?

Glatzer: We absolutely see this film as a vehicle for change. We want the film to make people start talking about these things. Just in making the film, we found that itís been generating these kinds of discussions amongst our neighbors and our crew, and we really feel like the film has brought down walls for us, and we hope it will do the same for people out in the world.

Westmoreland: I mean, a neighborhood like Echo Park is a tremendous opportunity, because itís not like all one race, or all one class. Itís like a fantastic mixture of people, and if you keep your mind open and get to know your neighbors, it brings people together. If youíre going to put walls up in your mind, and not deal with your neighbors, then itís going to have the opposite effect. And what weíre looking at in the film are the consequences of both actions.

IFA: You had a fabulous reception at Sundance. Tell us a little about that.

Glatzer: Sundance was just unbelievable. I had a film there in 1984, and it was a film that had played a number of festivals, and I felt like an outsider Ė the unwanted stepchild. Then many years went by, and we went back to Sundance, and Iím sort of like, ďOkay, whatís it going to be like this time?Ē And this was the opposite. This was just a dream come true. We went there as an underdog film, and itís a festival for underdog films. It puts a spotlight on a film that might otherwise be ignored. And during the course of the week we were there, we started to screen for people, and we started to feel this kind of groundswell, and we started to feel this enthusiasm for the film, which was great. Youíd be riding busses, and hear some ladies from Salt Lake City talking about your film. And then on awards night, we won the Audience Award, which was just phenomenal, and we thought that that would be the end of it. We were there, just kind of as spectators in the peanut gallery guessing which one was going to win the Jury Prize, and when they gave us that as well we felt downright greedy. And it was my birthday, and it was the best birthday Iíll ever have.

It was both a happy birthday, and a feliz Quinceanera.

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