GROUNDWORK PR: AN OASIS IN A FILMMAKING DESERT

A Puerto Rican Filmmaker Reflects on Firelight’s Groundwork initiative

By Gisela Rosario Ramos (English Translation by Ximena A. Cuenca)

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Gisela Rosario Ramos participated in the April 2019 Groundwork workshop in Puerto Rico

When something is self-named with the word fire, it imposes a huge expectation on itself. Accompanied by the word light, it’s a fearless promise. So were my expectations of the Groundwork workshop, and they were fulfilled.

Over the years, as I developed as an artist and decided to focus on my personal work, I came across the need to navigate the world of grants. My inexperience became obvious and challenging but, despite that, I had to face that world because in Puerto Rico there are no financing options for documentary production and even less for development.

It’s unusual for an organization to show interest in developing the quality of the work of Puerto Rican filmmakers. Besides living in a country with a government that does not support, nurture or appreciate culture as a vital part of human development, it is in those moments when I realize the disadvantage we have by being an island. An island that is colonized lives in a political limbo and that despite the cybernetic access we have, we live politically and literally isolated from many resources that would benefit us. So, when an opportunity like the one offered by Groundwork presents itself, it is an oasis in the desert.

Firelight Media arrived well represented and very well prepared. The women in charge have the perfect combination of knowledge, passion and tact, necessary to face a group thirsty for information. I liked the clarity with which the information was presented but above all, I liked the concrete examples that they used. For me that is the most effective way to learn. It felt as if they were lighting a light in a semi-dark room where you have always lived halfway or pointed to a door that has been there in the dark all along but you had never seen it. I felt extremely comfortable asking questions that may have felt very obvious but in their responses I never felt any judgment. Definitely, it has been for me the most beneficial workshops I have taken in recent years.

Film production in Puerto Rico has resurfaced strongly in the last five years, but to achieve meaningful work it is vital to understand how we can achieve systems for work that allow us to focus on the content and, for fundraising to be more bearable and not an obstruction.

Lastly, and perhaps most important for me, was seeing three empowered women of African and Latinx descent working within this discipline. That alone would have been enough to nourish my soul. The human element added to everything else is a revitalizing mix. That’s how powerful this workshop was for me. I feel elevated. This workshop has inspired me to continue, more than ever, with strength and intention and with a clearer perspective of an unknown but more enlightened path.

Firelight Media’s Vice President Loira Limbal listens to Gisela Rosario Ramos, as she shares perspective at Groundwork PR.

Cuando algo se auto-nombra con la palabra fuego se auto impone una expectativa enorme. Cuando eso viene acompañado de la palabra luz, es una promesa sin miedo. Así eran mis expectativas del taller Groundwork y fueron cumplidas.

Con los años, al desarrollarme como artista y decidir enfocarme en mi trabajo personal, me topé con la necesidad de navegar el mundo de las becas. Mi inexperiencia se hizo obvia y retante pero, a pesar de eso, tuve que enfrentar ese mundo porque en Puerto Rico no hay opciones de financiamiento para producción de documental y menos para etapas de desarrollo.

Que una organización se interese en desarrollar la calidad del trabajo de cineastas en Puerto Rico es poco usual. Además de vivir en un país con un gobierno que no apoya, nutre ni aprecia la cultura como parte vital del desarrollo humano, es en momentos como esos que me doy cuenta de la desventaja de ser una isla. Isla que al ser colonizada vive en un limbo político y que a pesar del acceso que podamos tener cibernéticamente, vivimos política y literalmente aislados de muchos recursos que nos beneficiarían. Así que cuando una oportunidad como la que ofrece Groundwork ocurre es un oasis en el desierto.

Firelight Media llegó bien representado y “blindao”. Las recursos a cargo tienen la combinación perfecta de conocimiento, pasión y tacto, necesaria para enfrentar a un grupo sediento de información. Me gustó la claridad con que se presentó la información pero sobretodo, me gustó los ejemplos concretos que utilizaron. Para mí esa es la manera más efectiva de aprender. Se sintió como si prendieran una luz en un cuarto semi-oscuro donde siempre has vivido a medias o señalaran una puerta que ha estado ahí en la oscuridad todo el tiempo pero nunca la habías visto. Me sentí extremadamente cómoda haciendo preguntas que pueden sentirse muy obvias pero en sus respuestas nunca sentí juicio absoluto. Definitivamente, ha sido para mí de los talleres más beneficiosos que he tomado en los últimos años.

La producción cinematográfica en Puerto Rico ha resurgido con fuerza en los últimos cinco años pero es vital para lograr trabajos con profundidad entender cómo logramos sistemas de trabajo que nos permitan enfocar en el contenido y, que la búsqueda de fondos sea más llevadera y no una obstrucción.

Por último, y quizás de lo más importante para mí fue ver a tres mujeres de descendencia afro y latina empoderadas trabajando dentro de esta disciplina. Eso nada más hubiese sido suficiente para alimentar mi alma. El elemento humano sumado a todo lo demás es una mezcla revitalizadora. Así de poderoso fue este taller para mí. Me siento elevada. Este taller me ha inspirado a continuar, más que nunca, con fuerza e intención y con una perspectiva más clara de un camino desconocido pero más iluminado.

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Gisela Rosario Ramos is a multidisciplinary artist who studied Black & Puerto Rican Studies and Film & Media Studies at Hunter College, NYC. She worked as a documentary editor in NY. At her return to PR in 2001, she worked for various independent TV productions as an editor and director. She was the editor of “Mi Santa Mirada,” the first Puerto Rican film to compete for the Palm D’Or short film section at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2014, she directed the short documentary “El Hijo de Ruby,” winner of best documentary in the Kerry Film Festival in Ireland. Last year, she won DocTV Latinoamerica in PR to film “Cartas de Amor para una Ícona,” about Lucecita Benítez a Puerto Rican diva singer banned for her political ideology. She directed the short documentary “Anthony Legrand,” about a 70 year old dandy and a commissioned video piece for the Museum of Contemporary Art called Recetario about Dominican women who are domestic violence survivors sharing their favorite recipes while cooking and talking about their experiences. Recently, she received an Art Matters Foundation grant and a Puerto Rican Artist grant by NALAC [National Association of Latino Arts and Culture] for her musical performance and visual artist work under her persona named Macha Colón. Considered the Queer Mama by the queer youth, she’s been nominated twice to the USA Artist Fellowship and is now in advanced development of her first feature narrative, “Perfume de Gardenias,” which has received funds from Ibermedia and Tribeca Film Institute and will begin production in August 2019.

GROUNDWORK is a Firelight Media initiative that aims to expand the pipeline of independent diverse makers from the South, the Midwest and territories outside of metropolitan U.S. cities. Our goal is to help diverse filmmakers become more competitive for regional and national programs by providing an introduction to the opportunities that exist in the documentary landscape.

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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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