Firelight takes Groundwork to Puerto Rico

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Firelight staff and filmmakers snap a photo at Groundwork PR

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.

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Gisela Rosario Ramos is a multi-disciplinary artist from Puerto Rico. She is the editor of the first Puerto Rican film to compete for the Palm D’Or short film at the Cannes Film Festival. She won DocTV in PR to film Cartas de Amor para una Ícona, about Lucecita Benítez a Puerto Rican diva singer. In 2018, she released her first feature documentary, Emergence and has been nominated twice for the USA Artist Fellowship. Currently, she’s working on her first feature narrative, Perfume de Gardenias, which will begin production this year.

“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.

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Tito Román Rivera was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in the area of arts education and audiovisual communication. He studied editing at the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de Los Baños, Cuba, forming part of the XIX generation. As a producer, director, screenwriter and editor, he has worked on four feature films and several fiction and documentary shorts. His most important works as director and producer are the documentaries “El Antillano” and #AyotzinapaEnMí.

“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.

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Leandro Fabrizi Rios graduated from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in 2005 with a masters degree in documentary filmmaking. He was a director of photography for the documentary Scrap Island produced for Latin America DOCTV. He is the Director and Producer of the documentary-series, Zona Franca, which has broadcasted on WIPR for the last four years. His documentary research work includes: The New school, Another World is Possible, The Red Motorcycle Has To Appear, The Last Expected Day and A Humble Diary.

“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.

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Bet Collazo Muñoz identifies as non-binary and was raised in a housing project by their mother in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Bet attended the public University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, and is the first in their family to attend a University and obtain a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. In 2017, Bet participated in the student strike against the Fiscal Control Board (La Junta) and the austerity measures against the public education system. Bet received the Community Youth Fellowship from the Open Society Foundation to create a documentary on how austerity measures impact the right to an education in Puerto Rico.

“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.

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Walter García Rodríguez is a filmmaker and an organizer working with numerous political initiatives and organizations that strive for social justice, community empowerment and the independence of Puerto Rico. He also works in the fields of graphic design, journalism, and social networks management with the goal to increase the capacity of organizations and individuals within the progressive community. Walter is a professional musician, teacher and a caring father.

“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.

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Álvaro Calderón graduated from New York University Tisch School of the Arts with a major in Film Production & Directing. He has worked as Producer, Director, Production Manager, Assistant Director and Post-production Supervisor on several TV series, commercials and documentaries. Since 2009, Calderón is also the Producer of the San Juan International Film Festival.

“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.

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Anto Gamunev graduated in 2005 from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in Film and a minor in Photography. Miami Ad School to study Art Direction. Masters degree in script-writing in 2011. He works as a Communications professor at the Ana G Mendez University and as a freelancer. In his spare time he writes and works as a photographer.

“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.

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Karen Rossi is the producer and director of Scrap Island (2007) which was sponsored by the first edition of DocTV Iberoamérica and won an Emmy (Suncoast) for Best Cultural Documentary. She directed the short documentary Something More (2009) for the television series Zona Franca (Open Spaces), and is the producer of the series “It’s your right. Defend it.” (2014), also awarded with an Emmy. In 2018, she premiered her first feature length documentary film When I grow up with her production company Aurora Docs. https://www.sergrandepr.com/

“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.

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Margaret Mair obtained a BA in International Relations from Brown University. Shortly after graduating she began seeing media as a powerful tool to educate and disseminate information. Margaret is now pursuing her own documentary projects as a producer and director. She believes that if she can tell a story in a way that can connect people at the human level, regardless of their situation or where they live, she can make real impact.

“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.

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Margarita Aponte graduated from the International Film and TV School in Cuba, specializing in sound. In 2002, she founded Producciones Lente Roto, a non-profit production house making documentaries about Puerto Rico’s art and culture. In 2011, she co-produced the award winning documentary Las Carpetas with Spain which received international distribution, a broadcast and a theatrical release in Puerto Rico and Spain. In 2015 and 2017, she was awarded Best Sound at the Festival de Cine Europeo.

“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.

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Eieri Ossorio was born in Puerto Rico. His passion for media led him to work at Imaginate Production house where he works as a producer, assistant director and facilitator. in Puerto Rico. He collaborates with the association of Puerto Rican documentary filmmakers (ADoc). He has also worked as a short film script writer, producer, and an editor for multi-state stations.

“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?

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Arleen Cruz — Director and producer with vast experience in the audiovisual industry. Her first documentary feature CUENTAS PENDIENTES was awarded in the Madrid Film Festival. Her most recent work, ANATOMÍA DE LAS CANAS is a transmedia documentary that explores how women grow old and their own conceptions about body image. She is a national cinema advocate, and is a member of AdocPR, an organization that brings together several generations of filmmakers in Puerto Rico to promote and develop local cinema. www.arleencruzalicea.com

“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.

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Llaima Suwani Sanfiorenzo De Orbeta is a Puerto Rican filmmaker; a graduate from the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. She also has a degree in cinematography from the University of Potsdam in Germany.

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

THANK YOUs

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.

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Firelight Media is dedicated to supporting documentary filmmakers of color and cultivating audiences for their work. We’re #changingthestory.

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