The Documentary Lab team at Firelight Media traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico in April to conduct a series of programming as part of Firelight’s Groundwork initiative. Launched in 2017, Groundwork is a regional lab that supports diverse, documentary filmmakers living and working in underrepresented regions of the United States. Groundwork is designed to connect local filmmakers with industry leaders and to help position those filmmakers with national opportunities.
Groundwork PR was co-produced with local partners, the Association of Puerto Rican Documentary Filmmakers (ADocPR) and Sistema TV-WMTJ, a PBS member station located in San Juan. The program began with a public screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at the Ana G. Méndez University Theatre, which was followed by a Q&A with director and executive producer Stanley Nelson and moderated by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, founder of The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. The weekend also included a workshop with work-in-progress screenings, and feedback sessions for the 16 nominated local filmmakers. The workshop was led in Spanish by Loira Limbal- Firelight’s Vice President and Documentary Lab Director.
Here’s a complete list of filmmakers based on the island that participated in Groundwork PR:
“Nevertheless” — February 14, St. Valentine’s day, day of love and friendship. Thousands of flowers decorate Puerto Rican shops. Eduardo, a security guard, buys roses for his wife Wanda, a nurse. Those flowers were planted by Colombian farmer, Monica, in one of the flower farms at the Bogota Savanna. Mónica is married to Juan David. Juan David, although a farmer in the same flowers company will not offer flowers to Mónica as a present. Through both couples we explore love and its symbols in two societies united by a trade.
“Ground Full of Angels” is about three women living in the only house left standing on their expropriated neighborhood. They’re the only residents left from an entire community that was forcibly expropriated due to an illegal construction project that never happened.
“Psyche” — This documentary tries to verify if colonized mentality truly exists in Puerto Ricans. Taking as a starting point the theories of Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi, the director evaluates his own condition as a colonized and that of his nation’s environment. “Colonizing and colonized” relationships are presented to understand the psychological, economic and political oppression of Puerto Rican nationals that dates back to the the arrival of the Spanish Crown’s forced expansion across the Americas and extends until the final colonization by the United States.
“Bartolo” tells the story of ten families that occupy an abandoned school in one of the most remote places in Puerto Rico. Homeless amidst the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria, they transformed the old school, where most of them studied, into a community-based center where they live.
“The Last Bell” (El Último Timbre) — This documentary highlights the reality of the communities of Vieques, Mayagüez and Loíza exploring how the reorganization and closure of schools have impacted and affected the residents’ daily lives and the right to an education. Instagram & Facebook: @doc.elultimotimbre.
“Untitled” (Working Title) — about politics, economy, news, culture and community and one main program that englobes the general content of those vlogs. The mission of this multi-media platform is to create a voice of social change, justice and independence within Puerto Rico and internationally.
“Julia de Burgos: a legend in twenty furrows” — In 1914: a mixed race girl, the first of 13 children, is born in a rural neighborhood in Puerto Rico. Raised in a poor mountain town, she grows inspired by the natural glory of the surrounding hills, valleys, and an especially meaningful river which become her muses, confidants and sources of creative energy. This is the story of the immortal poet laureate of Puerto Rico, Julia de Burgos.
“Cancer, Art and Self-improvement” (“Cancer, arte y superación”) is an anthology series that tells the story of seven strangers in Puerto Rico whose lives have been affected by cancer but find strength through art.
“Awilda” is a feature length documentary film currently in development. Awilda is a coming of age story about an incredibly successful yet still struggling black Puerto Rican artist in her 70s.
“Inhabit” is an experimental documentary filmed in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, shaped by an autobiographical narrative of the present and the past. A memoir of the landscape that I once inhabited as a little girl, one that was occupied by force. A snapshot that captures emotions once felt, while also exposing feelings anew. I’m not filming because I want to, I film because I have to.
“Remember My Name” is a film about a niece trying to assemble the puzzle of her uncle’s life and death, one of the thousands of victims suffering from AIDS in the 80’s, and whose name is completely absent in family conversations.
“Three Paths To Remembrance” — As a result of Puerto Rico’s colonial status, about two hundred thousand Puerto Ricans have served on armed conflicts as members of the United States Army. During the Vietnam War, about 40,000 Puerto Rican soldiers were recruited and 345 died, but only one died without being a soldier. Was the death of Fefel Varona a political, premeditated murder?
“BENEATH THE SKIN” (working title) constructs, through testimonies from several voices, a single story about women recovering after sexual violence. It is a visual lyrical exploration of the path back to the body. Inquiring into the sensorial memory, and the intangible record of what has been lived, BENEATH THE SKIN will look at the connection between bodies previous to the dislocation caused by the aggression, and the paths they followed to heal and reconnect with themselves.
Sanfiorenzo designed the methodology of the self-portrait in 2010 and founded the Self-portrait Factory in 2011 with which she has offered workshops all over the world. Sanfiorenzo is a current Artist Fellow from Northwestern University in Chicago. More about her work: http://www.selfportraitfactory.com/#!/up
We would like to thank ADocPR, Sistema TV and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Puerto Rico for allowing us to host the workshop in their beautiful space throughout the entire weekend and to the University Ana G. Méndez and their staff for making the screening, the Q&A and the reception possible. A warm thank you to Chef Santana C. Benitez for providing delicious food to all of our participants and staff.