Tag Archives: cinema

A CINEMA OF UNDERSTANDING


The first version of the MACHETERO poster by vagabond ©
The first version of the MACHETERO poster by vagabond ©

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” – Martin Scorsese

My father was a big jazz fanatic. Growing up in my house meant listening to jazz, a lot of it (much to my mother’s chagrin who was no fan of be-bop and couldn’t stand free jazz). The truth is that i didn’t understand be-bop either but watching the way my father listened to Miles, Bird, Mingus, Trane, Diz and Monk i realized that this was important. He listened with an intensity and a kind of reverence. He used to listen to jazz historian, archivist and DJ Phil Schaap on 89.9FM WKCR in New York. Phil Schaap spoke about jazz with the fervor of a tent revival preacher that made you want to accept Jazz as your personal savior. My father would add his own commentary to Phil Schaap as we listened not really talking to me per se but talking out loud for me to hear and in looking back now that commentary cemented this idea that all great things have a genesis.

i couldn’t understand half of what was going on at the time but what i did take away from all of it was that there was a hidden history that existed in the genius of things and that the geniuses who created were leaving bread crumbs that led back to the past as they moved in to the future. So at 17 when i first decided that i wanted to make films i started to do research. If my future was going to be in cinema then i needed to go back into cinemas history in order to see where i wanted to take it.

One of the people i studied (and still study today) is Martin Scorsese. Today is his birthday and i came across this quote…

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” – Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese

Beyond celebrity culture, beyond opening weekend box office numbers, beyond the hype, the red carpets, the glitz and the pretty lights… cinema is art… and art is a means of wrestling with the human condition. When i started to make MACHETERO that’s what i was trying to do. i was trying to get the human condition down as it relates to the colonized and the colonizer using the specific example of something i knew a lot about, the colonization of Puerto Rico by the United States.

Filmmaking for me has to be fun. i always have a saying with the friends who happen to be my collaborators on set “If we aren’t having fun, then its not worth doing…”. We had fun making MACHETERO. It was a lot of work but we laughed and we joked and kept our sense of humor. It was that laughter and joking and humor that made making MACHETERO a labour of love.

My initial conscious reaction to the Scorsese quote was that i had made MACHETERO to open up a dialogue, a debate, and a discussion about this colonial condition that had become a part of our human condition. To ask the hard questions, to pull no punches, to face the consequences of our decisions and to understand why we had taken them in the first place. However subconsciously it reminded of the of the responsibility that i carried for this film. For many people MACHETERO could be the first time they hear about the 100 plus year-old Puerto Rican colonial condition with the United States and the weight of that sat with me as i’m sure it did with everyone else (to varying degrees) who worked on the film. Not4Prophet (the actor who played Pedro Taino) and i had many conversations about this and i know that this responsibility weighted heavily on him as well. i wrestled with quite a few things in the making of this film, weighed down by the history, weighed down by the fact that this story had not been told in this way before.

When i decided to talk about the issue of Puerto Rico’s colonization by the United States i decided to do it in a film. When i set out to make MACHETERO i felt the same way that Scorsese felt. The world needed to know about the Puerto Rican colonial situation, they need to hear it and understand it and see it and cinema was the best way to do this. i think that making a film is only the beginning of the conversation and that those who watch it are continuing that conversation. i know that the conversation continues past the roll of the credits and spills into the streets and seeps into the collective consciousness and one of the things that i’m very proud of is that because of MACHETERO people are talking about the Puerto Rican colonial condition. Whether or not people like the film or agree with the views it presents people have better understanding of what’s going on because i chose to use cinema to communicate these very complex ideas.

My scrappy little film made on the frayed edges of a shoestring is changing consciousness because cinema is more than a business, it’s art and art is the struggle to express and share the human condition with others. Cinema is the best way to seep into the collective consciousness. If you don’t believe me, ask Martin Scorsese…

“People have to start talking to know more about other cultures and to understand each other.”  – Martin Scorsese

PS – Happy personal new year Marty…

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MACHETERO Goes To School


BRING MACHETERO TO YOUR CAMPUS

MACHETERO is a film that questions and challenges Puerto Rico’s colonial status in a way that brings post-9/11 definitions, ideas and notions of terrorism into play. Theatrically self-released in 2013, MACHETERO has screened all over the world and won awards in South Africa, Wales, England, Thailand, Ireland and New York. Check out the film in its entirety on Vimeo On Demand to determine if it’s right for your classroom or as a campus activity. MACHETERO is a perfect fit for:

  • Latin American Studies
  • Afro-American Studies
  • Post-Colonial Studies
  • Creative Writing
  • Media Studies
  • Film Studies
  • Music Studies
  • English Literature
  • Political Science Studies
  • Pan African Studies
  • Pan Latino Studies

For more information
Email: machetero.movie@gmail.com
Call: 347-772-9186

Other screening events have been sponsored by Latin American, Black, and Asian student groups as well as various social justice groups.

MACHETERO usually screens with a post screening Q&A with writer, producer and director vagabond (me). The film is a dense and layered mix of poetry, music, text, history and post-colonial theory placed within a fictional narrative framework in a manner never before conceived. The film is not just a film about revolution, but is revolutionary in it’s very form.

MACHETERO has engendered discussion, dialogue and debate on a variety of issues. There have been discussions about anti-colonial Puerto Rican history, the history of US imperialism and Puerto Rico’s global connection to the other anti-imperialist struggles. Dialogues have also incorporated the topics of filmmaking aesthetics, underground guerrilla filmmaking tactics, and the role of art as a tool for social change. The film has also sparked debates around  questioning of the definition and use of the terms “terrorism” and “terrorists” and how those terms are defined and used, who defines them and how they benefit from such definitions and labels.

DYLCIA PAGAN

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

There have also been MACHETERO screening events in the past that have included former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan. Dylcia served 20 years in prison for fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. Before she went to prison she was a TV producer, journalist and documentarian and so she has a unique perspective on the film and on the power of media in general. She also plays a pivotal role in MACHETERO. Her history and insights into the struggle against colonialism in Puerto Rico and how it’s connected to other global struggles is invaluable.

WHAT FOLKS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE FILM

Chuck D quote

Bill Quigley QUOTE

TJ ENGLISH QUOTE

SAM GREENLEE QUOTE

For more information
Email: machetero.movie@gmail.com
Call: 347-772-9186

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1vf

MACHETERO PRODUCTION STILLS


If you haven’t seen my film MACHETERO yet, maybe this collection of production stills will pique your interest…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1t4

 

The Liberation Day Tapes


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The genome of my six-time international award-winning feature film MACHETERO can be mapped right back to the NYC hardcore Puerto Rican punk band RICANSTRUCTION and their first album Liberation Day. When i write i often build a soundtrack to use as an emotional roadmap to guide me through the construction of the script. i often see songs as short stories or reinterpret them as short stories and i take those short stories and try to include them in my writing process.

MACHETERO is a film about terrorism and terrorists and how those terms are defined and by whom. The script was written a year after the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. i was waiting for a more nuanced analysis of those events to take place on a larger scale but they never did and so i wrote the script for MACHETERO and decided to explore those issues in a film. The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 were polarizing and so referencing them in the script seemed counterproductive so i decided to use the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence and the use of violence in that struggle as a means of liberation to talk about terrorism and terrorists.

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RICANSTRUCTION’s Liberation Day was a concept album based around the Puerto Rican independence struggle. So when i was looking for music to inspire my scriptwriting for MACHETERO i was immediately drawn to Liberation Day. The songs from Liberation Day started to insinuate themselves into the script and they eventually became a part of the structure of the film.

At the end of the final sound mix for MACHETERO my friend and fellow filmmaker Omar came by and brought his camera to interview Arturo and Joseph Rodriguez about how Liberation Day came into being. Artie and Joey talk about how RICANSTRUCTION came about and how the concept for Liberation Day took shape. Arturo and Joseph talk about the ideas and the creation of each song and afterward there is the corresponding scene from MACHETERO.

Liberation Day by RICANSTRUCTION
Liberation Day by RICANSTRUCTION

RICANSTRUCTION’s Liberation Day is available on iTunes and i highly recommend picking it up. You can hear all the influences of Jazz, Funk, Salsa, Hip hop, Reggae and Merengue placed into a hardcore punk setting in the music of RICANSTRUCTION. The rest of their catalog – the EP Abu Jamal and their 2nd album Love + Revolution are also on iTunes.

You can watch The Liberation Day Tapes on the Vimeo On Demand page for MACHETERO. The Liberation Day Tapes are part of a collection of extra videos that give some background information on the film and that are free to watch. There is also a radio interview i did with Chuck D about the film and an interview i did with Sam Greenlee the author and co-screenwriter of The Spook Who Sat By The Door. There is also a scene from the film featuring former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan who plays a pivotal role in the film.

Six Time International Award Winning Film MACHETERO On Vimeo On Demand
Six Time International Award Winning Film MACHETERO On Vimeo On Demand

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Come Along


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These are scenes from AMOR Y RABIA an unfinished and incomplete film i began shooting in 1999 and 2000 … i’ve posted  a few other scenes from the film… Don’t Want Your Authority and God Is An Anarchist… It was a pre-apocalyptic film about three anarchists who are dissatisfied with the world they live in so they go on a road trip to find a better place. When they don’t find one they decide to start a revolution in order to create a space that will allow them to live in peace. In essence they help to bring about the apocalypse, which seems like a bad thing but when you see the state of the world an apocalypse could be just what we need to turn everything around…

In this scene from the film two of the main characters, Rudeboy (played by me) and Flea (played by my girlfriend Resister) are struggling to live outside of the system. They have set-up home in an abandon factory. i wanted the scene to show that even though they were living hard and for all intents and purposes homeless they were happy…

The film was shot on 16mm Kodak film recans and short ends (film that usually comes in 400′ rolls and isn’t completely shot and either re-canned or left un-shot), with a Bolex… It was a kind of musical where no one sang but music helped to tell the story… The music is a song entitled Come Along by the Black Arks which i think was a Lee “Scratch” Perry production since he had a studio called the Black Ark and the production of the track has Scartch’s DNA all over it…

The film was never completed because due to a lack of funds… And finding the money to make this film was going to be more than difficult because the way that the three anarchists start the revolution is by killing cops. It was an artistic response to the police brutality NYC was experiencing during the mayoral years of Adolf Ghouliani… A piece of cinematic resistance… A push back against the shitstem and its ongoing violence… It’s sad to know that this film will never be completed, it would have been interesting to see how it turned out in the end…

It would have been good to see this film come to fruition because there were so many ideas that i was experimenting with that i really believed wholeheartedly would work. i was trying to create a new cinematic language by incorporating silent era film storytelling techniques and mixing that with music video like units strung together as a kind of musical to allow the story to be told as much as possible through music…

There were other ideas i had wanted to take a risk with, such as shooting all the scenes that had cops in them in video and blurring their faces out like an inverted episode of COPS… Amor Y Rabia never happened… And the chances of it happening in the future are slim to none…  It’s difficult when a project never comes to fruition… like watching a child never grow up… Sometimes being an artist is the best thing in the world… other times it just heart breaking…

Amor Y Rabia - photo by Sam Lahoz design by vagabond
Amor Y Rabia – photo by Sam Lahoz design by vagabond

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Death Art And Taxes


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“We have art in order not to die.”
– Nietzsche

i’ve come to understand that filmmaking for me is not something i do or something that i want to do… It’s not some hobby or a means to making a living (i definitely am not making money with filmmaking).. Filmmaking for me is survival… If i go long periods where i don’t make a film my soul literally gets sick… i feel uneasy with myself and with the world…

For a long time i was afraid of admitting to myself that this was the case because being a filmmaker reeks of privilege… It’s an expensive art and to say that you need it to live seemed pretentious, seemed abusive in some way… Abusive because filmmaking requires so much of me and by making demands on my time and energy and finances and it also has the potential to take away from those who love and support me in the form of time and energy and finances… And if they are to continue loving and supporting me they have to accept that i need to make films…

It seems completely unfair… Having me in your life means understanding that i need to make films in order to be sane… That understanding carries with it some level of time and energy and sacrifice on that persons part… In some cases it may even require you to understand that i may hit you up financially to get my next film fix on…

That seems to me to be completely unfair to loved ones… i feel as though my whole life is going to be lived in debt… Not just a financial debt… (i’m an anti-capitalist… i don’t give a fuck about money…) But a physical debt, a spiritual debt, a debt of time and energy that i feel can never be repaid in full… i’m always surprised when friends and family continue to stand by me while i go off into the next project… i live in a kind of low-level constant fear that if i don’t “make it” (whatever that means) that they will abandon me…

To make matters worse the films i make are probably not commercially viable… i’m not in control of my filmmaking… i didn’t choose to be a filmmaker… When i was younger i thought i had chosen to do film… But i didn’t… Filmmaking chose me… i know this because i’ve tried to quit and painfully realized over the years that quitting it means quitting on a huge part of myself… Letting go of that large a part of myself would just mean being someone else… And how can you be someone else…?

Not being in control of my filmmaking means that the films take hold of me and use me to bring them into creation… More often than not that means i’m not making a film that has some financial reward attached to it… Which means that i’m forced to try to find some other value for those who contribute their time and energy and life force to my films… They need something in return, after all it’s only fair…

“Nobody rides for free… motherfucker.”
– King Of New York

The 800 pound gorilla that lives in a room inside my head is the financial hardships my filmmaking brings not just on me but on the ones who love and support me and it’s something i don’t take lightly because it wears on me more than i can ever express… The financial burden of it all envelopes my existence on a daily basis… There’s not a single day that goes by that i am not searching in my mind for a way to lift the friends and family who have donated their time and energy (and yes even money) to my films with some kind of financial remuneration…

It’s gotten to the point where i feel like that 800 pound gorilla has taken my head as collateral and is demanding payment for every film i want to make… Demanding some kind of potential financial reward for every project i embark on… The more i try to put it off the more collateral it takes in the form of space in my head… The more it tries to crowd out any other thoughts, the more it demands a larger sum for the space it claims in my thought process… The financial aspects of filmmaking are like a virus that’s overtaking my system and only “making it”, only making money will cure the disease… My mind is literally being colonized by the idea that i must monetize the thing that helps keep me sane, that keeps me able to deal with the world…

Capitalism sucks… The problem with living within a capitalist society is that everything must be monetized… Including art…  Its taken me all these years to become mildly comfortable with the idea that art and money are two separate things. If i said i was a writer and i needed to write in order to stay sane and alive it would be understood. If i said i was a painter and i needed to paint in order to stay sane and alive it would be understood. If i was a singer or a musician and needed to my make music in order to keep me sane and alive it would be understood.

However when it comes to filmmaking the idea of needing to make a film in order to stay sane and alive seems a harder concept to grasp because it requires so much capital to make a film… And that idea isn’t just harder to grasp for everyone else but for me as well… Becoming comfortable with the idea that my sanity and my life depends on making films is difficult for me to process, difficult for me to swallow… Even a no budget film requires some capital even if that capital is the time and energy it takes to make it. And if that capital of time and energy is being spent on making a film then it’s not being spent on creating capital for myself or others… And so i have struggled with the elitism of needing to make a film in order to stay sane and alive…

“And to all my friends
who’ve been the best to me
Soon will be the day
I’ll repay you handsomely”
– Big Audio Dynamite

It’s all coming to a head though… i’m maturing enough to understand that being an anti-capitalist in this capitalist world means being forced into living the contradiction… It means learning to balance the idea of doing something for love without abusing the ones who support you… It means learning to weigh your idealism against your reality… It means walking the tight rope of keeping your options open to selling your art to keep your soul and your self intact and in doing so maybe on a certain level keeping the soul and self of everyone who supported you along the way intact as well…

They say only two things in life are unavoidable – death and taxes… But for artist’s it’s much more complicated… For artists it’s death, art and taxes… Usually when people say taxes they mean paying the state a portion of your “earned” wages… But it’s all taxes to me… The concern for me as to how i will make a living is taxing… The concern of my friends and how they will make “a living” is taxing… The idea of “making it” so that my friends and my family don’t ever have to explain why they stand by me (not that i know if they do have to explain or not but i imagine that they do) is taxing… The 800 pound gorilla in my head collateralizing more and more of my thoughts and energies is a tax…

i’m finding it hard to find a way to end this little essay of self-indulgence… It was not my intent when i started writing this to say any of what i have said… My intent was to write about the joy of making another film with a new camera and how much it pushed away all the sorrow and hurt and depression and bad feelings i have been living with for so long since i was last shooting a film… i guess it’s difficult to write about the joy filmmaking brings me without talking about the pain it also brings…

Look at the picture at the top… That smile is me at my happiest… me at my most joyful… Look at the crew… Jeff “AK” my DP with the long board that double as our dolly, Omar’s daughter Mo, on my right shoulder (who is the star of this latest short film) seeing her work for the first time that night… Joe my producer who doubled as the sound man with his daughter Soliann finally seeing the fruits of our insanity… And Omar who is also a filmmaker and took the production stills, who i know is feeling good because he has a camera in his hands… Even the strangers – the woman looking over my head and the young girl in the background with the baseball hat on – are curious about what could be so important and what could be making so many people happy to on that little screen…

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THE FUTURE IS WRITTEN


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i’ve never been one to shoot stuff i don’t really intend to use so when i wanted to shoot another test for the Red Epic i had to come up with something that could have a life beyond being simply a camera test. For a while now i’ve wanted to shoot a time-lapse of an art project that i thought would be fun and interesting to do. It entailed some posters i had silkscreen years ago from some designs i did for my company Audio Visual Terrorism. So i combined that idea of making this art piece with the camera test and voila… the future is written…

Jeff “AK” Akers my cinematographer on MACHETERO (go see that film – it kicks ass and not just because i made but just because it does) and co-conspirator on more than a few other films. Jeff not only handled the cinematography duties but he also literally jumped into the film. My pit bull Mya makes a short cameo at the end because who doesn’t love adorable pit bulls?

vagabond on stage
vagabond on stage
vagabond doing his best Ivan from The Harder They Come
vagabond doing his best Ivan from The Harder They Come
Jumping Jeff's
Jumping Jeff’s
vagabond & Mya
vagabond & Mya

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