Yesterday I rode up Sixth Ave. on a float in the Dominican Day parade. If you were there, you would have noticed me. I was one of the few gringos in a sea of waving flags and a half a million celebrating Dominicans.
It was yet another one of the strange and amazing experiences I've been having since I set out three years ago to direct a movie called La Soga, which opens, in a limited theatrical release starting Friday, August 13th.
The film is set in the DR and follows the journey of a government hitman who finds his soul through the love of a woman and turns on the powerful men that employ him. Because it was largely produced by Dominicans and is one of the first films from that country to be critically recognized outside the island, it has become a defining event in the history of the DR's film industry.
To me it was an answer to a problem I had been struggling with for years. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I was sick of shooting in New York and pretending it was an interesting place. I was sick of making up stories about fictional characters that had vital lives and much to lose when a lot of creative people here seem to spend most of their time working and shopping.
I grew up in Brooklyn in the seventies and eighties and although it was dangerous, I remember a city where artists lived. And I don't just mean established artists who live in luxury brownstones. There were neighborhoods that were defined by artistic movements. Brooklyn Heights had writers and playwrights. Soho has painters. The East Village had music, etc. From the Velvet Underground to Keith Herring, to Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, the Talking Heads, Run DMC, Norman Mailer and countless other committed artists, New Yorkers changed the world with a culture of the mind.
The story of how all of that vitality was crushed under the weight of rent prices and high-end shopping is well known. I realized that if I were going to try to be like the artists I remembered I was going to have to get out of town.
When the actor Manny Perez told me about the script he had written for what would become La Soga, I was blown away. He told me about a scene where our hero as a sensitive child is taught by his butcher father to kill a 150lb. pig. This wasn't just a movie about a man confronting corruption; it was a poem about how most of the world lives.
We shot on location in villages and slums and every day we saw the problems people face there. Kids with no shoes or schools or indoor plumbing. Kids with worms in their bellies and a society rife with corruption and a staggering disparity between rich and poor. We did this with an impossibly small budget because almost no U.S. -based producer would finance a film in Spanish or shot in the DR.
But here's the point. Media defines culture here, and in spite of billions of dollars being spent to create "content," our culture isn't even close to being as rich and fresh and vibrant as they have in the DR, where despite all of the problems, they don't rely on corporations to define who they are. As an outsider I couldn't help but be seduced by a society that hadn't traded community, culture and family for a dream crushing job and an obscenely expensive apartment.
If you think of Thai restaurants and Yoga as multiculturalism or farmer's markets as a connection to food production, I'm here to tell you you're missing out. When I saw the poverty of the island I immediately became grateful for all the things I have. That feeling was followed five minutes later by the realization that 95% of the things I think about and worry about are a complete waste of time. Our money has caused an anxiety and boredom that no amount of feng shui, green space or bike paths will ever be able to overcome.
To me, La Soga was an opportunity to follow the passions of my predecessors and be part of something that means something to somebody. Despite the fact that a couple of us almost died during the production, we learned to believe in something and that is the missing link between what we do and who we are. In that state of inspiration, iphones and politics and sushi all seemed pretty boring by comparison. All that mattered was the work. For an aspiring artist, that was not a film production, it was a state of ecstasy.
La Soga will open theatrically in New York on August 13 with a nationwide release to follow.
For further information please visit: http://www.lasogamovie.com/