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Adrian Manzano Talks Indie Filmmaking While Latino & Film About Dominican College Graduate in Crisis

Adrian Manzano Talks Indie Filmmaking While Latino & Film About Dominican College Graduate in Crisis

Adrian Manzano is interested in making films in the same vein as Woody Allen’s, but only the Latino-American-experience-in-New-York-City-version of such. “Do you know Ava Duvernay?” asks the Colombian American filmmaker, to which I obviously replied “of course.” “She’s killing it; I’ve met her [Duvernay] twice. She says ‘cast those who you love,’” Manzano explains, “when you’re on a string budget, it’s extremely hard and you have to work as a team.”

The filmmaker hired Dominican actress Sofia Rodriguez – who
had a prominent role in his first film “Sex, Love and Salsa” – as the lead of his sophomore film “La
Gradua” (The Graduate), about a young woman, living in NYC’s Uptown, having a post-collegiate crisis of sorts in trying to come to terms with her
identity and adulthood, amidst dealing with her old-fashioned, first
generation Dominican family.

“We’re still shooting
and editing [the film] as we go. It’s 75% complete right now. I have an editor (Justin
Ferrato) who’s organizing it very well and setting the pace”
says Manzano, whose first film
“Sex, Love and Salsa” – a mockumentary style experimental film about a salsa-dancing playboy juggling three casual
relationships at once – won several awards during its festival run.  

Manzano took time out of his shooting schedule to talk about
his experience as an independent filmmaker of color, and “La Gradua,” which he hopes to debut at Tribeca Film Festival next year.

VM: What inspired you to
write this particular story?

AM: I was inspired by a specific film titled “Tiny Furniture”
with Lena Dunham from the HBO show Girls. Tiny Furniture was sort of the girl
out of college story. I saw a sort of genre at that point, like Dustin Hoffman
in “The Graduate” or Winona Ryder in “Reality Bites,” Every generation has this
story. We’ve never seen the Latino or the immigrant version.

VM: How did you come
up with the leading character?

AM: I started writing about this girl called Miosotis, and the
character revealed itself over the course of two years. It’s a tough, tricky
character to write because first of all I’m a man, a Colombian man, writing
about a Dominican woman, so I had to take my time to make sure I did it right.  I know her; it’s an amalgamation of myself, my
friends, ex-girlfriends. It was just a matter of figuring out her journey and
what she needs to learn.

I don’t do a lot of structure and planning when I write; I
just start writing, then I go back and start structuring. The story started
morphing into this sort of tragic comedy, a surreal reality. The comedy I like
is sort of absurd and dark, so what started of as a coming of age story, little
by little developed into this dark comedy.

She’s the first of her family to graduate college and she
feels above her Dominican family. She doesn’t want to be “Dominican” anymore.
She’s American, born here. She doesn’t like to speak Spanish very much in
contrast to grandma, who’s an old school Catholic, racist, from an old world. Miosotis
dates this guy who’s a white hipster that has gentrified the neighborhood.

VM: How did you find
the actress for the lead?

AM: On the set of “Salsa,” Sofia was always on my team,
always supportive and she understood that this is hard, but the support goes a
long way. When I started to write the character, I said, “Sofia can play
this.” She has a very every woman quality that I like.  When she read the story, she said, “I know
this story.”

VM: It is very complex
when we talk about Latinos and race. How does race and/or culture affect her

AM: In this film, Miosotis really likes the white “gringo”
hipster, and her grandmother likes him too, because she says it will “mejorar
la raza” (better the race”). I’m shedding a light on this issue in a comedic
and absurd way. Overall, it’s a complex film, but it is definitely a
tragedy/comedy. There’s also a scene in which she gets confused for African

Race and class are definitely there in a subtle way. I’m not
trying to make a political film, although I understand the issues in those
types of movies. I’ve always been a fan of Mexican cinema, like “Y Tu Mama
Tambien.” If you watch that movie, there are multiple layers that you’ll
notice, on the 2nd or 3rd viewing, on issues of race and
class in Mexico, but it’s not over the top.

VM: That could have
more of an impact.

AM: I think so. Robert Rodriguez did it with “Spy Kids”. He
casted a Latino family, but he doesn’t hit over the head with it. I’m trying to
do something authentic, from my experience in New York, and with a more
personal approach.

VM: What’s your
directing style?

 AM: I would say it’s a controlled chaos kind of approach.

VM: Do you let your
actors improvise?

AM: Yes, I’m big on improvisation. I don’t have a casting agent. I cast really well. I’m really good at reading actors.

VM: What do you hope
for this film as far of distribution and what did you learn from your first

AM: With “Sex, Love & Salsa,” I got a lot of
distributors who thought they knew what Latino audiences want, like you know
“Machete,” Latino zombies and gangsters, because they want to make a quick
buck. I understand, but there’s also an educated, 2nd generation
market that is looking for something more personal and a little different. I’ve
had people who told me “I loved Sex, Love & Salsa, but unfortunately our
audience won’t like it.“

VM: Do you have most
of the same crew as your first film?

AM: The last film I didn’t have a DP. I have 2 investors
involved. It’s not a lot of money, but we can pay people this time; do a little
bit more. The first film right out of school, I made a lot of mistakes, but I
also made a lot of happy mistakes. We’re shooting it handheld, and that’s
actually the aesthetic we’re going for. The DP now (Jorel Odell)  is giving me ideas; this
film is more collaborative in a way. I’m getting a lot of amazingly good will
from the cast and crew. People really want to be part of this project. I don’t
know why. [Laughs]

The trailer teaser for “La Gradua” will be released soon. It will premiere at tonight’s screening of Manzano’s first film “Sex, Love & Salsa” today Thursday 10/23 at 9pm at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in NYC. For more information on this event, go to its facebook page HERE.

Manzano recently sold a spec script to Jacobo Silvera Productions in Panama. Its his first sale as a writer in Spanish and is up for possibly directing the film that would then be a Colombian-Panamanian Co-production.
*Adrian Manzano would like to thank his cast and crew, which includes Sofia Rodriguez, Zahaira Curiel, Jason Grimste, Jaime Fernandez, Jorel Odell (Cinematographer), Rosie Berridos (Acting Coach, Justin Ferrato (Editor) and Pablo Echegaray (Associate Producer).

Follow @granmanzanafilm on twitter and @adrianmanzano on instagram.


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