Puerto Rico Mash-Up: Film Forward Part 1
As I write to you from the outdoor Plaza de Armas of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I struggle to contain my excitement. To set the scene, I'm surrounded by the delicious cacophony of sounds including the Atlantic ocean breeze, salsa music, and Spanish, English, and Spanglish spoken by people of all ages. Children laugh and splash in the water fountain while the adults sit and talk over their evening coffees.
In my short time here, it's become clear that Puerto Rico is truly an entry way into the world of the old and the new, making it home to a mixture and fusion of the past, present, and future. Given this fusion, it will be interesting and powerful to share the 10 Film Forward films with Puerto Rican audiences, who will no doubt have a rich and complex diversity of responses and reactions to these stories.
What is most striking about Puerto Rico is the mixture of all these things together at once - a true collage of culture, history, and geography. Look only so far as a map to see that the northern half of the island is in the warm and salty Atlantic ocean, while the southern half of the island is surrounded by the calmer, shocking blue of the Caribbean sea. Here you will find the rainforest, bioluminescent lakes, beaches, and mountains all within a day's travel by car.
This theme of 'collage' or 'mash-up' can be found in all aspects of Puerto Rico experienced thus far - the music, architecture, conversation, politics, food, geography, art, history, and culture. The mix between modernity and antiquity; between the African Diaspora, Spanish, and Indigenous peoples; the strong presence of Catholic, Protestant, and ancient traditions and belief systems; the politics ranging from pro-statehood to pro-independence to liking things just the way they are, all mix together to create a unique experience on this island.
There is a deep sense of Puerto Rican pride and historical understanding to be found here, and there is a saying that there is 'so much history for such a little island' - this couldn't be more true. There is another saying here: 'No tengo dinero pero tengo culture' ('I don't have money but I have culture'), which is a protest in response to the attempts by the government to cut spending in the areas of the arts in schools - a common theme we also found in Tucson, Arizona. It's all the more reason why it's important we are here, joining forces with the empowered, imaginative, positive, and engaging Guillermo and Eunice of the Puerto Rico Film Society who fight the good fight every day to bring independent cinema to the people of Puerto Rico.
Our first stop with Film Forward is Old San Juan, a city that itself is an island connected to the rest of Puerto Rico by only one bridge. It's fortified by military fortresses on all sides, complete with an underground tunnel system still intact and originally built by the Spaniards to keep out the English, Dutch, Italians, pirates, and any other 'non-Spaniards.' Old San Juan is a mixture between the fast pace of a metropolitan American city and the calmer, breezier, and relaxed pace of a tropical island.
Brittany Ballard of Film Forward with Guillermo Vasquez and Eunice Soto of the Puerto Rico Film Society in front of the Opening Night Venue in Old San Juan – Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena.
We are thrilled with the outreach and success of the program thus far (screenings and events kicked off Tuesday), and our partnership with the Puerto Rico Film Society has been outstanding. We’re particularly excited about collaborating with two IMLS museums: Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and the Museo de Arte de Ponce, and applaud the tremendous outreach that Sandra Castro’s office has conducted to all members of their network. The extensive list of our partners on the Puerto Rico Film Forward program include Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Asociación de Productores, El Instituto de Cultura de Puerto Rico, La Universidad del Este, The Puerto Rico Queer Film Festival, Municipio de Ponce, Municipio de Mayaguez, Escuela de Actores de Puerto Rico, The Puerto Rico Film Comisión, and many more!
Directors Debra Granik (Winter's Bone) and Lixin Fan (Last Train Home) have both arrived from New York City and China, respectively, to share their films with the Puerto Rican audiences as well as participate on panels in both San Juan and Ponce, which is two hours south of San Juan nestled on the Caribbean sea. Meredith Lavitt and Trevor Groth from Sundance, along with myself, will join forces with Puerto Rico Film Society to bring Film Forward to Puerto Rico!
Landing in Puerto Rico, where they say 'God rests,' is like suddenly swimming into a warm spot in the ocean; both calming and thrilling. I look forward to sharing my journey of discovery through the continuation of Film Forward Puerto Rico!