With "La Ciudad," Riker Explores the Latino Immigrant
by Eugene Hernandez
Walking through the Four Seasons Hotel here in Toronto with filmmaker
David Riker and PR rep Jeremy Walker I get an immediate sense of the
patient, soft-spoken and thoughtful nature of the director. The two
comfortably discuss business as we proceed to a quiet spot so that Riker
and I can chat. As Walker heads back upstairs, Riker immediately asks
me for my thoughts on his new film, "La Ciudad" ("The City").
David Riker's touching feature-length collection of four vignettes about
the Latino immigrant experience in New York City is familiar -- in
researching "La Ciudad," the filmmaker spent time with an immigrant
woman who lives just down 10th Ave from my Hell's Kitchen apartment,
hanging out with her in a laundromat that she and I apparently have in
common. As we talk about the movie, and the buzz, Riker earnestly
addresses his goals for the movie.
"My hope is that the film will be seen widely," Riker explains softly,
"That the film will be seen not only within the Latin American community
here and abroad but that it will be seen by a general audience." Yet,
Riker is aware of the challenges in getting distribution -- "It's in
Spanish, it's subtitled, it's in black and white, you're asking people
to do work and I know that, but I would like the film to be seen broadly
because I want Americans to remember, whoever they are, that they
themselves are immigrants."
"There is a tremendous ignorance now about who the new immigrants are,
and that ignorance produces conditions that are unacceptable," Riker
continues, "To the extent that the powers that be in this country refer
to Latin American immigrants as illegal aliens, its impossible for the
rest of Americans to really begin to understand who this community is,
and to have a dialogue [and] at the same time, for the immigrants
themselves to express what they are feeling so that their feelings are
not just kept to themselves."
The subject of industry buzz here in Toronto, "La Ciudad" just may get
an opportunity to reach a wider audience, Riker is in talks with
distributors and preparing for a trip to the San Sebastian Film Festival
and a screening next month as the closing night of the Los Angeles
International Latino Film Festival.
This tender portrait of contemporary immigrants struggling in a new
world evolved from Riker's own fascination with the "mass uprooting of
people on a global level." As a film student in New York, the filmmaker
was inspired by the many uprooted people who reside outside of the
city's more affluent "Woody Allen" neighborhoods.
In researching the stories and creating the four segments, which include
performances by a number of non-actors, the filmmaker forged a lasting
sense of trust between himself and the immigrants who worked with him.
"Not only am I a gringo in their eyes -- a white person -- but then when
I ask them if they will participate in the film, I am asking them to
come out of the shadows of the city," Riker explains, "Not only come out
of it, but to get in front of the lights -- building that trust has been
a big part of my work."
For one particular vignette, Riker worked with an organization that
represents garment workers. Through the group, the filmmaker built a
bridge to the workers and began to interview them. "I understand what
it means to mistrust a filmmaker, and to mistrust a journalist, because
we have done a bad job -- those of us that are in this business we have
done a bad job," Riker offers patiently, "Who should trust me -- I don't
have the attitude 'Hey you should trust me I am a man with a camera,' I
think just the opposite, 'Beware of me, I have a camera, and you better
really find out if I am genuine.'" Through persistence, members of the
community ultimately opened their homes to Riker, just as he opened
himself to their situations.
"Filmmaking is so hard and it is unforgiving work," Riker states
concludes, "You work hard and...even if you are not getting anywhere day
to day or week to week, the life itself is rich because you are making
new friendships, you are learning constantly, what I have learned is
just remarkable, only a fraction of it gets into the film, learning how
to dance a cumbia, learning how you make tamales, learning about the Day
of the Dead -- all of that became part of the filmmaker's experience --
it becomes part of your life."