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May 20, 2006 7:31 AM
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CANNES L'ATELIER '06 INTERVIEW: Cruz Angeles: "When you're a little kid riding the big yellow school

A scene from Cruz Angeles' feature film project, "Don't Let Me Drown." Photo courtesy of L'Atelier du Festival.

Every day through the end of the 2006 Festival de Cannes, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers participating in the L'Atelier du Festival, which according to Cannes, "was created in 2005 to reveal a new generation of filmmakers through the world, whose works, still at the project stage, might one day be honoured by being selected for the Cannes Film Festival." Eighteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.

Director Cruz Angeles is at L'Atelier with his feature film project, "Don't Let Me Drown," which is the story of fifteen year old Mexican-American Lalo, who lives in a sketchy neighborhood with his mother who sells tamales and his father, an illegal immigrant hired for the World Trade Center cleanup. When Lalo meets Stefanie, a headstrong fifteen year old, "they discover that while the world crumbles around them they only thing that will keep them from drowning is each other."

Please tell us about yourself and your background, including where you were born and grew up, as well as how you became a filmmaker.

I'm originally from Mexico City but grew up in South Central, LA. I lived on 76 and Figueroa but got bused out to Bel Air and then West LA for school. I experienced LA in extremes and I guess that's one of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker - when you're a little kid riding the big yellow school bus up through Bel Air as your classmates get dropped off in Limos and Benzes... well, let's just say you develop a hell of an imagination. After high school, I attended UC Berkeley and that's really where I started getting into film. I did some theatre work and then took a video production class with Loni Ding (my film mom) and made a documentary on youth criminalization in East Oakland. I've been making films ever since.

Please tell us about your previous work, including information about your recent films and other creative projects.

All my films have been personal in one way or another - I don't think it's possible for them not to be. My first two films at NYU were stories from my childhood. I'm also obsessed with photography and my last two shorts have dealt with that. "The Show," at one level, is about spectacle and the intersection of race, class and gender during a lynching, but it's also about who has the mode of production and power to frame history through an "objective" photographic document. My latest short, "The Negative," follows a photographer as he takes pictures in a Mexican border town. It's hitting on the same themes as "The Show," but it's more of a psychological thriller where the subject being photographed comes back to haunt the photographer. It was inspired by a nightmare I had.

"Don't Let Me Drown" director Cruz Angeles. Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.

Please tell us about your new project. What is it about and what inspired to pursue this new project?

My new project, "Don't Let Me Drown" has been a labor of love for myself and Maria Topete (my co-writer and wife). Right after 9/11, Maria and I started talking about how New York City had changed - people were anxious, there was fear in their eyes - and it reminded us of growing up in rough neighborhoods. It was like all of a sudden we had to watch our backs again. It also made us remember how sometimes the only thing that could help you escape all the madness was hanging out with that one best friend or daydreaming of that girl or boy you had a crush on. So, we started writing a love story set one month after 9/11 where two 15 year old Latinos find each other, fall in love and are able keep each other's heads above water while the world around them drowns in grief and hysteria.

What do you hope to accomplish for the project while you are in Cannes? What are your specific needs to continue developing your new project?

The script, thus far, has had an interesting journey. It was part of the 2005 Sundance Screenwriters and Filmmakers Labs, where we were able to really cultivate the script. I was also this year's US winner of the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award. With the award, NHK (Japan's largest broadcaster) agrees to purchase the Japanese television broadcast rights upon completion of the film. We have assembled a strong team up to this point. Maria will produce alongside Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, who most recently produced "Old Joy," "Gretchen" and "Wild Tigers I Have Known." We have Steve Vincent and Sig de Miguel ("United 93," "Empire") on as casting directors and Jonathan Gray of Spinak & Gray ("The Station Agent", "Mysterious Skin") will handle the Production Legal. At Cannes, we're looking to secure further financing. So, we're really excited about being part of L'Atelier du Festival because it will hopefully enable us to reach new financing opportunities and be a push for the project, which we hope to begin filming this fall in Brooklyn.

What are some of your favorite movies and influences, including other films and filmmakers, as well as other creative influences? Which films are you most interested in seeing at this years Festival?

I admire the work of Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick and Wong Kar-Wai. In particular, I love "High and Low," "Happy Together" and "The Shining". Aesthetically, I am very much influenced by cinema verite and the neo-realist styles of filmmaking. So I am a big fan of Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicyle Thief", Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", and Luis Bunuel's "Los Olvidados." I also love Masaki Kobayashi's "Harakiri," Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai," Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy and Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep."

At this year's festival, the film I'm most looking forward to seeing is Andrea Arnold's "Red Road." We were at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab together and I got a chance to hang out with her. She's not only an incredible filmmaker but also really good people. After being blown away by her short film, "Wasp," I have no doubt "Red Road" will be awesome. I'm also looking forward to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel, Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" and Pedro Almodovar's "Volver."

[Get the latest from the Festival de Cannes throughout the day in indieWIRE's special Cannes '06 section.]

TAGS: Interviews
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