Over 100 films are being shown this week as part of the New York Latino International Film Festival, and we sat down with one filmmaker in particular: New York City director, Jose Ricardo Garcia, 26. His experimental short film HEE is premiering tonight. Garcia, who was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, moved to New York to study at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts film school, and in the process left behind his family and friends in pursuit of his dreams. Mission accomplished! We talked to Garcia about what it's like having one of his films shown at a well-known festival for the first time, and what his movie is all about.
You film is called HEE. What does the title mean?
HEE is an experimental and subjective short film. Each character is an archetype and each environment is a metaphor to the creative process of writing. My main goal with this film is to let the audience be a part of the creative process. The film has many meanings depending on who is watching it and the title is no exception.
Interesting! Well, what is HEE about?
HEE explores the creative process of writing. It takes place in the overlapping physical and imaginary worlds of a writer, while attempting to answer the question of who is the real author: the writer, or his character? In this world of creativity and paranoia it is hard to tell who inspires, and controls, the other. It is left to the viewer to unlock the mysteries of HEE.
How did you come up with such a complex idea for a film?
I wrote the idea as a short story about five years ago. About two years later I turned it into a script. There were a lot of images stuck in my head that I needed to get out. I was obsessed with themes like dreams and the soul and I knew that I wanted to explore them in my work. I was also reading many psychological books, especially Carl Jung's Man and his symbols. I guess out of all these things I was feeding my brain and things I was dreaming about, HEE came to be.
Why is the creative process something that you felt was worth exploring in a film?
This is something I started exploring on my previous short film Portrait, which shows the struggle of a painter—between his love, his girlfriend, and his passion, painting—and how one inspires the other. One of my favorite and most influential films is Fellini's 8 1/2 in which he explores the creative process of a director who is making a new movie and still doesn't know what the movie is about. It ends up being a psychological study on the director. I believe that with each film you find out who you are as a person and an artist in that moment.
Where were you and what did you do upon hearing the news that your film had been selected for the festival?
I was in my apartment sitting in front of my computer. I checked my email and I saw the one that said "Congratulations." I started jumping up and down like a mad man! I was alone so I started calling people to share the news. Unfortunately most people weren't answering the phone so I had to keep the excitement bottled up inside until I was able to talk to my parents and my roommate came home. I knew that this film wouldn't have an easy time getting into festivals because it's very different and it's hard to place into a genre, but I was confident that somebody would recognize it as a good film. I couldn't ask for a better situation than to be chosen to the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival since I'm a huge HBO fan, I live in New York, and I'm Latino!
Why is the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival an important festival?
Nowadays, Latinos are very influential in every aspect of American society, from politics to sports to the arts, and filmmaking is not an exception. Our presence in this industry has exponentially grown in the past decade, thanks to great actors like Benicio del Toro and filmmakers like Alfonso Cuaron, who have portrayed characters and told stories that aren't necessarily a part of Latino culture, but without ever losing their background and their roots. It's important to celebrate our culture and show the world that we are here to stay and we'll continue contributing to the film industry.
Most of the films in the festival offer expansive images of the "Latino experience," but your film isn't really about a "Latin" experience, is it?
I like telling stories that anybody in the world, no matter their background or culture, can relate to. In this case the story explores the creative process of a writer told in a very unconventional way. The Latin spice is added because it is who I am and my sensitivity as a filmmaker and the passion behind my work comes from being born and raised in Puerto Rico, which is something that I'm extremely proud of.
What Latin actress would you most love to direct in a feature film?
That's a tough one. There are too many beautiful and talented Latinas out there. I guess it depends on the film and the role, but if it's in Spanish I would love to work with Penelope Cruz. I think that when she's acting in her environment she's amazing. I'm also a big fan of Benicio del Toro. I think he's one of the best actors out there no matter the background.