Made for just $400,000 in the filmmakers’ own Los Angeles neighborhood, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland‘s “Quinceanera” stars a newcomer cast. The film, its title taken from the traditional Latino ritual of elaborately celebrating a young woman’s fifteenth birthday, is the coming-of-age story of two L.A. teenagers (played by Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia) who are rejected by conservative Mexican-American families. The cousins, living in a gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood, form a modern family with an aging uncle who rents a small home from an upwardly mobile gay couple.
“Quinceanera”, executive produced by Todd Haynes and Kitchen Sink Entertainment and produced by Anne Clements, screened at the Berlin International Film Festival following its Sundance Film Festival world premiere, where it won both the dramatic grand jury prize and the narrative audience award. It was subsequently acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and will debut in theaters this weekend (August 4, 1006).
Westmoreland previously directed the documentary “Gay Republicans,” about the dilemma faced by gay Republicans considering President Bush’s opposition to gay marriage. Glatzer’s film “Grief” screened at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
Glatzer and Westmoreland responded to indieWIRE’s email questionnaire prior to their film’s debut at the 2006 Sundance Films Festival. Their answers to our questions are published below.
Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Wash Westmoreland: [Age] 39, grew up in Leeds in the North of England. I came to America in 1992 and since then have lived in New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. I have worked in film, TV, documentary for the last 10 years. Before that I was doing illegal immigrant-type stuff: washing dishes and cleaning houses.
Richard Glatzer: [I] was born in New York, grew up in New Jersey. Currently live in LA. Produce the hit TV show “America’s Next Top Model.” Was an academic for awhile — got a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia — taught screenwriting at the School of Visual Arts and The New School.
What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker?
WW: Post-college I was a member of a DJ collective on the dole in the North of England. Although it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, I came to America looking for a new direction. I finally picked up a super-8 camera at age 28.
RG: I left academia when I was taken under the wing of Jay Presson Allen (writer of “Cabaret” and “Marnie“) and wrote some scripts for Disney that never got made. I moved to Los Angeles to produce “Divorce Court” (Andy Warhol’s favorite TV show), which inspired me to make my first film, “Grief” (on $40,000).
How did you learn about filmmaking?
WW: Deciding to take up film relatively late in life, I had not the time nor the economic means to go through film school. I just decided I was going to make a short film, and I got loads of friends who HAD been to film school to come and work on it. After coming to LA, my first job was in the adult industry. This was a very good place to learn about directing.
RG: I have always been obsessed with film. In my family we went to the movies once a week. Even when I was eight years old I was always reading magazine reviews and lobbying my parents, usually for horror movies. Later on I got my degree in English, not film — but I was teaching film classes while in grad school, and I picked it up from there.
Where did the initial idea for “Quinceanera” come from?
WW & RG: In 2004 we were invited to our next door neighbor’s Quinceanera (which is a giant 15th birthday celebration for Latina girls). Once we stepped through the door, we were amazed at the elaborate ceremony taking place. We thought this would be a good subject for a film, but we didn’t think we would be the ones to make it. It was later on in 2005 when we were thinking about setting a drama in a gentrifying neighborhood that the whole idea resurfaced and rapidly took shape. We thought of it in January, wrote it in February, cast it in March and shot it in April.
What are your biggest creative influences?
WW & RG: For this movie, we had very specific influences. We’d long been fans of the British kitchen sink cinema of the early ’60s. These were socially conscious dramas with powerful characters, a real feeling for place and sometimes an unexpected sense of humor. Movies like “A Taste of Honey,” “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,” “This Sporting Life” and “Room at the Top.” To try to reinvent this genre in Echo Park [neighborhood in Los Angeles] seemed exciting and appropriate.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
WW & RG: The biggest challenge was to be authentic. We didn’t want this film to feel like it was made by two white boys peering in. It had to be insider. We cast people from our Echo Park neighborhood and constantly looked to them to let us know if we were on target.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
WW & RG: A movie that is not based on a comic strip or a ’70s TV show — a film that is not yet branded.