Thursday, October 26, 2000
Meet Carlos Rodriguez. He''s the Latino counterpart to Beaver Cleaver: A normal, happy teenager with a loving family--in his fantasies, that is. In reality, Carlos is a friendless, fatherless, only child whose days are steeped in a loneliness so profound he concludes his morning prayers with the words, "I just want to have a normal life."
Carlos (played by Genaro Delgadillo) is the creation of first-time filmmaker Anthony Puente, a recent CSUMB graduate who wrote, directed and produced the 11-minute short, Fallen Between the Cracks. The film, which has its world premiere at FilmFest 2000, was Puente''s Capstone project as a student in the university''s Teledramatic Arts & Technology department.
Puente''s film follows a day in the life of Carlos, a high school student who awakens from a giddy dream of popularity to an empty, silent house (Mom works the night shift). He fixes himself breakfast--a cold flour tortilla spread with margarine--and indulges in one of the many fantasies that occupy his waking and sleeping hours. A beautiful mother beams at him across a dining table laden with fresh pan dulce, urging him to eat the chorizo that she''s made "just for you." Across the table sits a fantasy father (World Theater operations manager Phil Esparza, in a delightful cameo), whose wolfish grin is intended to seem comical to viewers but perfectly normal to Carlos, whose distorted view of family life has been shaped by television sitcoms.
Carlos walks to school by himself. In class, the Anglo teacher takes the roll, carelessly mispronouncing the names of her Latino students. A hopeful glance in the direction of a pretty, popular classmate gets Carlos beat up at lunchtime by the girl''s boyfriend and his cronies. When Carlos finds a handgun in his mother''s dresser drawer, the tragic arc this story will take becomes more clear.
This is a film that is carefully and lovingly made, with great attention to detail, from camera shots to soundtrack. Make no mistake; it is not an easy film to watch. Carlos'' anguish is vivid and needless to say, his story does not end happily. In his first film, Puente has accomplished what many filmmakers never achieve: empathy for his characters.
Marina resident Puente, 23, says much of the subject matter for Fallen Between the Cracks was drawn from personal experience. Like Carlos, he came from a single-parent family.
"I wasn''t an only child, but I was the younger of the two," he says. "I was often home alone and I wanted to put that on film. You never hear from those kids. There''s that middle ground a lot of people overlook. I think the majority of our young people are in that category."
Loneliness is one of the film''s themes; the other is guns and how easily they fall into the wrong hands. "There''s definitely a correlation between the two," Puente says. "They can go hand-in-hand." A surreal scene of Carlos menacing his classmates and teacher with a gun is bound to evoke the horrific events of Columbine--this imagery is forever destined to be a collective reference point. Puente recognizes this, but says any resemblance to those events is purely coincidental. He says he already had the whole film in his head when the Columbine massacre occurred.
"I had this idea years ago," he says, "about this kid, about loneliness, but I didn''t have an ending for it, and I wanted to wrap it up and make it impactful and meaningful."
By the end of the film, reality and fantasy collide; Carlos is unable to tell if his classmates are screaming in terror or laughing at him, and that is precisely Puente''s point.
"When you''re young...you get so wrapped up in things that you don''t realize what you''ve done until it''s too late," he says. "Carlos did not premeditate it--it stumbled upon him. He took the gun because he was fascinated by it; he saw it as a form of strength."
Puente credits the university''s TAT department for supporting his filmmaking efforts every step of the way. TAT was "behind me 100 percent," he says, even donating the film stock to him. He was thrilled to learn his film had been selected for the festival.
"Any time it gets in any festival, it has the opportunity to be seen by other people. I didn''t make it to get a response; but as an artist I like my work to be seen, and it definitely has a message behind it."
Puente hasn''t decided what he''s going to do next--like any good artist, he''s keeping his options open--but one thing he''s sure of is that filmmaking is in his blood. "It just keeps pulling me back in. When it comes down to it, I don''t see myself doing anything else."
Fallen Between the Cracks screens during Session 2, Saturday