Friday, April 09, 2010

Interview transcript: Peter Bratt (director of "La Mission")

Peter Bratt, director of “La Mission” starring his brother Benjamin Bratt, spoke with ‘The Beat’ about the movie and his partnership with his famous brother. Below is a transcript:

On the genesis of the project:
I would say that as a a writer, I start with a theme or an idea. I had a clear intention for what that theme was (in “La Mission”). I wanted to explore the presence of violence in the community, and how we kind of unconsciously accept all if its manifestations. And then prior to that, the ideas of masculinity and how we as males define power. So that was kind of the genesis.
It was always conceived as a coming of age story. At the center of the story is a father son relationship. But it's not necessarily the coming of age of a young man. It's the coming of age of a father who's at mid life. And it's really about moving beyond our accepted notions of what makes a man powerful and growing, coming of age so to speak, maturing emotionally and psychologically.
The catalyst to jump start the story was this old macho de la calle, who finds out that he has a gay son. And that kind of thwarts his identity of who he thinks he is, in the neighborhood, the street, and certainly the low rider community.
So that's the catalyst that sends the character on this introspective journey. That was the initial core theme that motivated me to want to write the story.
And the second motivating factor was, Benjamin and I have always dreamed of making a film in our home town, in The Mission District. So the perfect vehicle for us was to put in other people that we know (from the neighborhood). The template for Benjamin's character, Che, was a guy named Che. He was born and raised in the Mission District. He's a bus driver like the character in the film. He was a single father for a period of time, and was what they call in the street an O.G. low rider. So he was the template and we thought he was the perfect vehicle to take the audience into this unique world.

On presenting characterizations of real-life friends and associates in the movie:
I think there was a little apprehension in there. I wouldn't say that the characters are tied to specific individuals. Some of the characters, even Ruben's character, to a certain degree, he's inspired by one guy, but he's also a combination of many of th people in the neighborhood.
And I think any writer, any story teller, mirrors his or her life experiences and relationships that he or she has in their life. I think that all writers can borrow from the people that they know, the communities that they belong to. I don't think that's anything new. But I was a little apprehensive to see how the film would be received. Not apprehensive, but nervous, to see if it was going to ring true and have the authenticity that people, I think, were looking for. And surprisingly and happily, that was the case.
It's been praised by a lot of people in the Latino community. And the Latino community is very complex, like any community. There's the hardcore homies, the gay, straight (Latinos), hip-hop generation, old, young, first generation immigrants, second, third generation Latinos. Even with that big complexity, the film still seems to be embraced by the whole spectrum. We're very happy about that.

On the film's premier at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival:
The movie premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. I think the Sundance Film Festival is the premier U.. S. film festival. It's certainly that for independent films. But it is mostly attended by a mainstream audience, i.e. a white audience. So I think that any time you take material that doesn't speak to that mainstream experience and is peopled with brown faces, I think there's always a little bit of nervousness. Are they going to get it? Are they going to get the humor? Are they going to take the cultural cues that are imbued in the film?
I think that the father-son relationship is universal — everyone has a father. And everyone has experiences where they sometimes don't' live up to th e expectations of their parents, both mother and father. And the film is rife with that conflict. I think a lot of people got it on several different levels.
We had awesome experiences at Sundance. I think every screening we had was a standing ovation. And we were happy to see that the film was embraced not just by Latinos, but a whole array of audience members. That was pretty awesome.

On his hopes for wide release of the film:
It's an independent film, and the climate for independent films is not that great. A lot of the studios have closed their independent divisions. So there's not a lot of demand for independent content. The fact we have do have a distribution effort taking place is a miracle, let me put it that way.
But it is a small effort, so we are rolling out to I think about 25 to 30 cities. And depending on how we do the first week at the box office, that will determine how long the film sticks around or if it expands into more markets.
We're definitely using social networking to try and get out the word, because we don't have a big ad campaign. We're mainly reaching out to Latino community leaders, educators, and spreading out the word to not just support independent film, but an independent Latino film. If we want to see more content like this, we have to send a message to the powers that be that there is an audience for material like this. So the first week is critical.

On representing his hometown with the film:
I think that the Mission District is one of the most dynamic and unique neighborhoods in the country. There's so much going on culturally, artistically, politically. When I was a kid during the '60s and '70s, it was a focal point of so many grass roots, social workers (movements), the farm workers movement. The Native American struggle. Even the Black Panthers struggle, to a degree. So I think the neighborhood is imbued with this social-political consciousness that effects everyone living there, including the low riders. And there's a real strong Chicano pride, which can also be tied to the indigenous cultural root. You walk around the neighborhood and all of the murals detect indigenous resistance to colonization. And I think that spirit is still everywhere in the Mission District, in gentrification and all the other changes that have taken place the last few decades.
Certainly, when I was young and low riders were cruising through the Mission District, you saw that spirit and struggle depicted on a lot of murals that were painted on the cars. There's so much pride in the Mayan and Aztec culture and history. That's still very much intact. That's something that was incubated and nurtured in many ways, through the kind of Northern California, Bay Area, San Francisco, how ever you want to call it, culture. Every community has its own distinct quality. But I think what you find here, is that political consciousness and that sense of responsibility tied to social activism is really strong, even today, in the Mission District. It certainly influences both Benjamin and myself. I think that also comes through in the film.
At the same time, there are core cultural Latino signifiers in the film that I think speak to Latino communities everywhere. We played in San Antonio at Cinefestival, the oldest Latino film festival in the country, and people were saying “Wow, I thought I was in San Antonio watching this movie.” That' s also great, but I think what we hear from the hometown is“Wow, you guys got San Pancho, man. You guys nailed the 415.”,

On the experience of working with his brother:
We call each other best friends. This is our second film together, us as producers, and him in the role of actor, me in the role of director/writer. But like we tell people, this is not the first time we've worked together. We've been working together since we were kids, pulling weeds in people's yards , sheet rocking and painting houses. Me and Ben, we've always gotten jobs together. The fact of the matter is, I think we love to work. That's how we enjoy ourselves. And so, we do that together, and certainly, an independent film is probably the biggest job, the biggest endeavor we've ever taken on. And it's such an intense environment that it brings us even closer together. When you go through that with someone, it can't help but bond you. I guess it can make you or break you, but it's actually made us even closer.
As a director, this is only my second film. So in many ways, I still feel like this is film school.
And the great thing about working with Benjamin is, as an actor, he's been doing this for over 30 years. He's worked with some of the best directors and filmmakers out there. He's an incredible storyteller. He knows his craft forwards and backwards. He 's a great script consultant. He's great in the editing room. When I have questions or doubts about a certain aspect of the story, or on the set directing an actor, there's that trust I have with him as a brother. I can go to him and say “Bro, I'm not really sure what I should be doing her. Can you throw me a bone? Give me a tip?” And he'll pull me aside and just give it to me direct with no judgment or no negativity, just very supportive. I figure it's that brother component that allowed for that (type of support) in our creative collaboration.

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