Dylcia Pagan on the set of MACHETERO

MACHETERO History Lesson

Dylcia Pagan on the set of MACHETERO
Dylcia Pagan on the set of MACHETERO

Today being International Women’s Day i’d like to share this story that came from my film MACHETERO about a very strong woman, Dylcia Pagan. The role that women play in the ongoing revolution to make the a world better place than when we came into it is something that i think is completely exemplified here by Dylcia. This is the story of how Dylcia Pagan, a former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war who served 20 years in US prisons for fighting to free Puerto Rico from US colonialism came to be in my film and in the process gave the film a much need dose of feminine power that brought into focus what it was that MACHETERO was really all about.

MACHETERO started out as a short film but as i worked on it, it began to take on it’s own life and i needed to respect that and allow it to take me where it needed to go. As an artist i believe that the ego is a dangerous thing and the more you get in the way of the ideas that are flowing the greater the chance there is for polluting what needs to be said. i think the artistic process is really a process of creative meditation and that as the ideas flow through you they take on your own unique shape. The danger is in the ego wanting to take those ideas as they flow through you, claim them for their own purposes and shape them for their own selfish desires. The hard part is being able to recognize the natural shape that the ideas will take as they flow through you, from the ideas that the ego wants to distort. This is the artistic and creative battle i feel every artist faces.

While in the midst of my artistic struggle with MACHETERO i found myself in the Brooklyn studio of the great Puerto Rican painter Juan Sanchez talking to him about this particular creative journey that I was on. He had seen the short version of the film and was going on and on about how much he liked it and how bold and courageous a work MACHETERO was, not just in terms of its political stance but also in terms of it’s artistic aesthetic value. Although I was flattered because Juan’s opinion is something that I greatly respect and appreciate it made me think how I had better stay on track and not let things get out of hand.

While talking to Juan he suggested that i call one of the Puerto Rican political prisoners that President Clinton released at the end of his second term in 1999 for the role of the mentor. This was a really amazing idea and we started to talk about who we thought would be a good natural fit for the role. We came to the conclusion that Dylcia would be perfect.

Dylcia Pagan was born in the Bronx and raised in East Harlem to Puerto Rican parents. She was a child actor on a show called The Children’s Hour on NBC in the 1960’s. As an adult she continued to work in television as a producer working for ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. As a member of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional – Armed Forces for National Liberation) she fought for the independence of Puerto Rico. While pregnant with her first and only child, the father of that child, William Morales was arrested for seditious conspiracy to bring down the US government after an accidental explosion in garage in Queens. While recovering from his injuries in a hospital bed, William escaped custody.

Shortly after that Dylcia gave birth to her son Guillermo. The FBI began was not pleased with William Morales escape and suspected Dylcia of also being involved in the FALN. They were looking to arrest her for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government as well. Dylcia felt that the FBI was closing in on her and she was forced to give her son to sympathetic supporters of the Puerto Rican independence movement in Mexico and go underground. That Mexican family raised Dylcia’s son as their own. A short while later Dylcia was arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy and sentenced to 55 years. She served 20 years until her pardon by President Clinton in 1999. There was a documentary produced for PBS about the hardships that she and her son Guillermo endured called The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez. It’s an interesting film that people should definitely check out.

i needed to get in touch with Dylcia to talk to her about the project. Not4Prophet (who plays the lead character Pedro Taino in the film) got Dylcia’s phone number from Jesus Papoleto Melendez one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poets movement and a life long friend of Dylcia. At the time my main concern was that Dylcia was still on parole and i was worried that her being involved in a project that dealt with the question of political violence as a means of liberation could get her put back in jail. i don’t mean to over inflate MACHETERO’s importance but the US Federal Parole Board needs very few excuses to bounce you back into the joint and i didn’t want in any way to supply them with that excuse.

When i called Dylcia and re-introduced myself (we met briefly when she first got out in ’99 and came back to El Barrio, NYC) i told her about MACHETERO and what it was that i was trying to do. i let her know that i knew she was still on parole and that i didn’t want this project to in any way jeopardize her hard-won freedom, she’d done enough time as it was already. She then laughed and told me that the phone call she had received just minutes before i called. It was a call from her lawyer telling her that she was no longer on parole and that she was legally, (Dylcia has always been spiritually free) completely and without restriction a free woman. i was totally relieved to hear it and she said that she couldn’t refuse the role because it was too much of a coincidence. A few months later we flew down to Puerto Rico and shot this scene on the beach in Loiza a short walk from where Dylcia lives today.

In this scene the Young Rebel is dreaming of Puerto Rico and he dreams that he is at the grave of someone he loves. It’s not clear who the person is but as the dream goes on he dreams of his mentor (played by Dylcia) and the idea is that it’s her grave that he’s visiting. The grave is actually in the cemetery of Loiza and is the grave of a famous Puerto Rican mother and grandmother Doña Adolfina Villanueva who was killed as she stood outside of her home with a machete in her hand to defend against an eviction that police were sent to enforce. The killing of Doña Adolfina Villanueva was meant to send a message to other poor landowners in the area who were also being evicted.

His dream then moves onto a memory of himself as a child (played by Francisco Sanchez Rivera, Dylcia next door neighbor’s son) bringing a coconut to Dylcia. The “FUTURE” title that comes up on the screen as we see the Young Rebel as a boy is not so much a chronological representation but one of character. In the film Pedro Taino “the terrorist” is the “PAST” and Jean Dumont the journalist is the “PRESENT” while the Young Rebel represents the “FUTURE”. So when these titles appear on the screen throughout the film they are not chronological representations but characteristic representations. As the young boy comes running through the tress with his machete and his coconut Dylcia is sitting on the beach smoking a cigar (as older Puerto Rican women will) and proceeds to tell him the history of Puerto Rico’s 500-year struggle for autonomy. She tells him that he must one day continue to carry on that tradition of struggle when he grows up.

i never wrote any dialogue for this scene. i spoke to Dylcia about what it was that i was looking for and what it was that the story needed in terms of tone and intent. She took it from there and improvised all the dialogue compressing 500-years of history into a 3-minute story. It was amazing to watch.

The role that Dylcia Pagan played in the film although small (she’s only in two scenes) was crucial. Her specific role was as a mentor but her specific relationship to the Young Rebel and to Pedro Taino however was intentionally left open to interpretation. In Puerto Rico as in the African tradition a village raises a child and so i wanted Dylcia to be mother, grandmother, aunt and neighbor. Her role also helped solidify two concurrent ideas in terms of the relationship that the Young Rebel and Pedro Taino share with Dylcia.

One interpretation that could be drawn from these scenes was that both characters are sharing flashback scenes that incorporated the same grave and memories of this mentor that Dylcia played because she influenced them both as two separate characters. Another interpretation that is inferred is that the Young Rebel and Not4Prophet are the same character living in the same time. This is physically impossible in real life but completely possible in cinema and makes for an interesting idea that only served to further illustrate the cyclical themes of violence presented in the film.

This scene takes place pretty late in the film and it’s the scene that really illustrates what it is that’s at stake in terms of revealing the natural beauty of Puerto Rico. Up until this point the film has been full of rage and anger and although that rage and anger may be completely warranted and justified i wanted to switch gears with this scene and have the emotional core of the scene be one of sadness. i wanted that sadness to be the seed for all the rage and anger that is felt throughout the rest of the film. It was difficult to pull off, the scene had to be played with a certain subtlety and without an air of nostalgia. The way to do this was to have this dream scene be a scene in which the Young Rebel remembers who he is and what he must do going forward. This took the nostalgic edge off the scene and gave the scene a relevance to his future.

None of this would have been possible had it not been for the creative generosity of Dylcia Pagan. MACHETERO would not be what it is, had it not been for Dylcia bringing a strong, rebellious, nurturing feminine energy into the film. Although her scenes take place late in the film, those scenes set the stage for everything we have seen that comes before them and after them. They become the lynch pin by which everything else hangs. It was a true honor to have Dylcia be a part of this film. Looking back now MACHETERO would not have the power that it has without her participation and i wanted to take this moment out to honor her on this International Women’s Day.

You can watch MACHETERO on Vimeo On Demand

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-Yr

Lit-by-lighter by vagabond ©

Successful Guerrilla Filmmaking

Lit-by-lighter by vagabond ©
Lit-by-lighter by vagabond ©

Guerrilla Filmmaking Rules

1 • No permits or permission
(art is its own autonomy)

2 • Skeletal crew & gear
(be lean and mean)

3 • Be ready to cut and run
(avoid being busted)

Successful Guerrilla Filmmaking

1 • No one gets arrested

2 • No gear is lost, damaged or stolen

3 • You got footage


Went out the other evening to shoot a book cover and to test the Red Epic DSMC. i wanted to shoot a sunset shot on a rooftop for the cover to Ezra E Fitz soon to be published novel Morning Side Of The Hill to be published by 2Leaf Press this fall. My nephew Kelvin knew of a spot where we could shoot in Jackson Heights Queens in NYC. We scouted it out and found the building front door open and no alarm on the roof door. Perfect spot.

The next day we went up to do the actual shoot. Skeletal gear and crew. One camera case and a backpack of lenses with a small AA battery operated hand-held LED light. Crew was me and Joe with Kelvin (who you can see in my film MACHETERO) as our model.

The front door was locked and there was a sign on it letting people know that they should use their key and not force the door. We pretended to text and ring a buzzer as someone came in with a key and opened the door. Stealth our way onto the roof. Shoot until dark and come down. A successful guerrilla shoot. No one got arrested, no gear got lost, damaged or stolen and we got footage…

Once again art wins out over legality and authority for the sake of legality and authority… The risk is always worth the reward when it comes down to having art or not having art…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1oT

A quick rehearsal

Asking For Mercy From The Victims Of Violence

Prison Interview Rehearsal with Isaach de Bankolé, vagabond & Not4Prophet
Prison Interview Rehearsal with Isaach de Bankolé, vagabond & Not4Prophet

This is another excerpt from the script of the six-time award-winning film MACHETERO. Watch it VOD as a rental for 48 hours or download it to own it.



For some context to the script excerpt below… Jean is a French journalist who is interviewing Pedro about his decision to use violence as a means of liberating Puerto Rico from US colonialism. The interview takes place in a prison where Pedro is being held for trying to overthrow the US government in Puerto Rico. Pedro describes himself as a Machetero, a historical and cultural symbol of resistance to colonialism in Puerto Rico.

In the film the questions and answers are all in voice over with other images contrasting the dialogue. This scene is the climax of the film where for the first time we see and hear Jean and Pedro face to face and understand for the first time that the interview we have been hearing all along is this interview. In the film this dialogue goes on for much longer than is here so if this interests you consider renting or buying MACHETERO digitally…

Jean in the film is played by international film star Isaach de Bankolé who you may recognize from such films as Ghost Dog, Manderlay, The Limits Of Control, night On Earth, Chocolat and Casino Royale. Pedro is played by lead singer of Puerto Rican punk band RICANSTRUCTION and MC of the hip hop duo X-Vandals, Not4Prophet. MACHETERO’s story revolves around this interview between Jean and Pedro.


The US government has a policy of not making deals with terrorists.

“For the strong to hear the weak their ears will have to be opened with bullets” – Albizu.

You had to know that you would have been caught eventually.

“It took seven of them to break my jaw, but the power of the whole American empire could not break my spirit.” – Rafa

Sedition is a crime punishable by death in this country.

“I didn’t come to kill I came to die.” – Lolita.

So you thought you could change the mind of the US congress with bullets? How will violence liberate you? Hasn’t the time of political power through violence passed? Haven’t the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even someone still here with us today Nelson Mandela shown us a new way? In South Africa black Africans are forgiving their white oppressors in an attempt to break this cycle of violence and hatred. Do you really believe violence will change anything?

Are you asking for mercy from the victims of violence? Have you asked those who want me dead, to show me mercy?

Are you asking for mercy? Are you asking your oppressor for your freedom?

My freedom is not something that my oppressors can give me. My freedom is something that I take.

Killing US congressmen and CEO’s and bombing US military targets is taking your freedom?


Your freedom? Doesn’t that sound egotistical, self-centered and selfish? Is that what this is all about? Your freedom? I thought you were fighting for more than that? I thought you were fighting for the freedom of your country. I thought you were fighting for ideals. I thought you were fighting for something greater than yourself.

No one is free until all of us are free. Steven Biko said “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” The decolonization of self is the decolonization of the nationless nation.


These are some stills taken from the prison set which was shot in an actual prison. The prison is the old Bronx House of Detention on River Ave just a stones throw from the old Yankee Stadium. The Bronx House of Detention is now gone. Replaced by a shopping mall. A Target now sits in its place.



Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1oj

July 4 by vagabond ©

A Self-decribed Machetero

Isaach de Bankholé as Jean Dumont from MACHETERO
Isaach de Bankolé as Jean Dumont from MACHETERO

An excerpt from the script of the six-time award-winning film MACHETERO. Watch it VOD as a rental for 48 hours or download it to own it. For some context to the excerpt below… Jean is a French journalist who is interviewing Pedro about his decision to use violence as a means of liberating Puerto Rico from US colonialism. The interview takes place in a prison where Pedro is being held for trying to overthrow the US government in Puerto Rico. Pedro describes himself as a Machetero, a historical and cultural symbol of resistance to colonialism in Puerto Rico.

Jean in the film is played by international film star Isaach de Bankolé who you may recognize from such films as Ghost Dog, Manderlay, The Limits Of Control, night On Earth, Chocolat and Casino Royale. Pedro is played by lead singer of Puerto Rican punk band RICANSTRUCTION and MC of the hip hop duo X-Vandals, Not4Prophet. MACHETERO’s story revolves around this interview between Jean and Pedro.

Do you find it strange that in your struggle for freedom you find yourself in prison?

No. I’ve been in one prison or another all my life. Just because there aren’t any bars on the windows, locks on the doors or guards at the gate doesn’t mean you aren’t in prison.

What was a self-described Machetero doing in the US Army?

I was educated on the streets with the hustlers and the pimps and the dealers and the thieves and the dope fiends and the winos and the cops and the killers. From La Pearla in San Juan to El Barrio in NYC, I did what was necessary to survive. When I was 16 I was looking at a state bid, looking at doing some hard time. They were going to send me to Sing Sing, where I could get my Masters in criminology but the US Army offered me less time.

Does the US Army make it a policy to recruit convicted criminals?

Militaries kill and steal. That’s what they train you to do. Prison is a good place to find killers and thieves.

And you got a dishonorable discharge after you did your time in the army.

I just wanted to be free. There are no stories there to tell, military time was about following orders, I just didn’t always do as I was told.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1o4

Mya after surgery


Mya and her whip cream

My pitbull Mya and i just came across the #NOTABULLY campaign started by photographer Douglas Sonders in 2012 to change the perception of dogs who have unfairly been labeled “bully breeds”. There are 14 breeds of dog that are considered “bully breeds” Boxers, Alapaha Blue Bloods, American Bulldogs, American Staffordshire Terriers, Boston Terriers, Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Bull Mastiff’s, French Bulldogs, Olde English Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terrier, Renascence Bulldog’s, Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s and Victorian Bulldog’s.

These so-called “bully breeds” make up 40% of the animal shelter population. Many of these dogs are passed over by people looking to adopt from animal shelters because of the reputation that people have given them and as a result many of these dogs are euthanized. Regardless of a pit bulls temperament 22% of all animal shelters euthanize them.

Mya and i decided to help by doing our share so we went through some of the photos we’ve taken over the years and selected a few.  We hope this helps in helping people understand that so-called bully breeds are as loving and lovable as any other dog. Adopting a rescue dog from an animal shelter is an amazing thing. Adopting a “bully breed” who’s chances of being euthanized for nothing but being who they are is even more rewarding. i was once under the impression that it was my girlfriend and i that were rescuing Mya but it’s turned out that the opposite was true… Mya really rescued us… Do yourself a favor and join the #NOTABULLY Campaign with a donation or better yet a local adoption and help spread the word…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1mz

July 4 by vagabond ©

Pedro’s Got A Pipebomb Set For The 4th Of July

MACHETERO July 4th by vagabond ©
MACHETERO July 4th by vagabond ©

Pedro’s got a pipe bomb set for the fourth of July
a detonator slow fuse Loisaida
high demolition dope fiends toking Tompkins Square
take the world in hand and fuck it.
When Pedro died the shitstem lied and Hiram and Elias tried
as Ponce bled Jayuya spread and Oscar and Griselo fled
with dreams and dignity a people could be free
through selfless sacrifice a nation could rise.

Pedro’s got a pipe bomb but the boom is on loan
broken-English hype-dreams sleep in skin and bone
consecrated crack heads sucking strangled tongues…
When Pedro died the sanctified Lolita and Boriqua pride
as Lares screamed Utado dreamed
and presidents and preachers schemed
of land and liberty and country tis of thee
the selfish satisfied a nation would rise.

Tired of the bullshit the rat race and dog piss.
The poverty pimps future feels like a slit wrist.
I’m a goddamn Boriqua and I got me a plan
gonna bumrush this shitstem however I can!
Pedro’s got a pipe bomb.
Pedro’s got a pipe bomb.
Pedro’s got a pipe bomb….
- Pedro’s Grave by RICANSTRUCTION

Twelve years ago i wrote the script to MACHETERO. Nine years ago i began shooting the film then scrapped it. 8 years ago i began to shoot the film again. Seven years ago the first cut came in at 55 minutes. We screened it and got some feedback. Then we came up with some more ideas. We improvised. Six years ago we shot more. Recut the film and it was 85 minutes. Then we screened it and got some feedback. Then we had some more ideas and we shot some more. The film was done five years ago its final running time was 98 minutes…

Then the film went on tour around the world doing festivals in Vancouver, Los Angeles, South Africa, Egypt, Thailand, Wales, England, Ireland, and of course here in NY. It won awards in South Africa, Wales, England, Thailand, Ireland and NY. In June of 2013 i self-released the film theatrically for a week in the Lower East Side of NYC. On September 23rd of 2013, i released the film on Vimeo On Demand…

And now in 2014, Pedro’s got a pipebomb set for the 4th of July… On July 4th, 12 years after the script was written MACHETERO will be available for people to download and own… Now you can watch it on demand for 48 hours or you can download it and watch it whenever you like which is really the best way to do it…

Why buy MACHETERO? Because it’s a densely layered film. It was made to be watched again and again. It was designed so that multiple viewings  reveal something you didn’t quite see the first or second or third time you saw the film… It’s a film that has the potential to grow consciousness and whose consciousness grows with you every time you see it…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1nN

Last Poet In Harlem a film by vagabond

Last Poet In Harlem

Last Poet In Harlem a film by vagabond
Last Poet In Harlem a film by vagabond

Abiodun Oyewole, a founding member of the Last Poets, has a new book out, Branches Of The Tree Of Life: The Collected Poems Of Abiodun Oyewole 1969 – 2013 published by 2 Leaf Press. As hard as it is to believe it’s his first published volume and it spans over 40 years of his poetry.

Along with Gil Scott Heron and the Nuyorican Poets, the Last Poets were the harbingers of Hip Hop. They were the foundation that Hip Hop was built on. Their albums from the 70′s – The Last Poets, Right On, This Is Madness, Chastisment and Jazzoetry are where you can hear that foundation being poured.

On December 5th of last year i got together with Abiodun to shoot a book video for Branches Of The Tree Of Life. The shoot began in Morningside Park and then moved to 125th Street in front of the Apollo. While we were shooting word came that Nelson Mandela had passed away. The Apollo stopped promoting its shows on the marquee to let Harlemites know that the great South African revolutionary had passed.

Abiodun In memory of Mandela

Abiodun did his infamous poem America Is A Terrorist on 125th street in front of the Apollo.  It’s a poem that Def Poetry Jam refused to air because it was so controversial but it was the kind of poetry that Abiodun was known for, political, incendiary, passionate and insightful. It was a fitting tribute since the South African government got the idea of instituting Apartheid from the US policy of segregation.

Something Beautiful by vagabond ©
Something Beautiful by vagabond ©

A few weeks later i got together again with Abiodun to do another poem called Something Beautiful. We shot that on a rainy day on 125th Street under Riverside Drive. Something Beautiful is  dangerously subversive poem. Unlike America Is A Terrorist which is an unmistaken indictment on the myth of America, Something Beautiful is a poem that derives its power from its ability to pull you in and make you feel at ease all the while making a statement as powerful and as inflammatory as America Is A Terrorist.

When i was editing the book video i did the first cut with an excerpt from Something Beautiful but Gabrielle David the fearless publisher of 2 Leaf Press thought it lacked something. i did another cut this time using an excerpt of America Is A Terrorist. Again Gabrielle thought it was missing something. She felt that both version were lacking, in expressing the complexity of someone like Abiuodun.

i knew what she meant but we had created a rule for the 2 Leaf Press book videos that stated that the videos not be longer than 5 minutes and 30 seconds. To try to hint at the complexities of Abiodun we would need more time. Gabrielle stated that maybe it was time to break our 5 minute 30 second rule. i went back to the edit and took an excerpt from Something Beautiful and America Is A Terrorist and added an extra minute and 55 seconds to the video.

Gabrielle loved it and although it could never portray the complexities of Abiodun it at least made brought a multi-dimensional element to him that allowed you to see and understand him better. Check out the video here…

Abiodun’s book Branches Of The Tree Of Life is available now on Amazon… Do yourself a favor and cop yourself a copy…

Branches Of The Tree Of Life photo and design by vagabond ©
Branches Of The Tree Of Life photo and design by vagabond ©

PS… i also shot and designed the cover…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1nl

Blanca Canales Rifle by vagabond ©

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day… Remember those who fell fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico… Remember those who sacrificed decades in prison for your freedom…

Some of these images are available as T-shirts from RICANSTRUCTED

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1na

less than ideal art and ideas for a less than ideal world…


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