When people first hear about the documentary, the first (or second) question they inevitably ask is “How did you find this story?” It’s a long story in itself, but here it goes…
I lived in Los Angeles for the first years of my life. My mother would take me to the playground and judge all of the other mothers with platinum hair and the influx of nannies. It wasn’t until she met Margarita Manduley that she had a friend.
Margarita was born in Cuba and her family had come to this country after the Cuban revolution. She had lived in Japan for a while after having graduated college, and while there, had a daughter who is my age. The few things I remember (or have been told) about my experience in Los Angeles was eating Japanese food with Margarita and her daughter (I’m really fantastic with chopsticks now.)
To make a long story slightly shorter, Margarita was an immigration lawyer. Years later, when I was working on a photography project about immigration (see image below) I called up Margarita at 10 EST (I now live in New York City) to ask her some questions about immigration. It was 7 AM in Los Angeles. She kindly got out of bed to answer my questions, and after over thirty minutes on the phone, she mentioned her LGBT cases. “My dream is for someone to make a documentary about them,” she explained. “Their stories are so interesting.”
Months later, I was having a difficult time back at home. I needed a change of scenery. I thought back to my conversation with Margarita and about how interesting these stories had seemed. I called her again. “Would you mind if I came to stay with you to learn more about this and take some photographs?” “Of course!” she responded. I packed my bag and my mother warned me to be clean.
Over the next few weeks, I met Brenda and Abigail. I went to work with Margarita and learned about the asylum process. I sat in at HIV support groups and heard stories that put my life in perspective. Abigail and I took a road trip to San Diego for the Gay Pride parade. Brenda introduced me to her friend, Leslie, and I went to see Leslie perform. During all of this, I took photographs and some initial footage. One afternoon, when I went to get lunch, I wandered into a photography store and impulsively bought a polaroid camera. That week, I took over fifty polaroids.
Those weeks in Los Angeles were truly life-changing. I came back to New York with a new perspective on my life and its obstacles. People like Brenda had faced a lifetime of obstacles and still managed to be happy and lively and strong. I realized that this project had become bigger than me and my camera. I needed to do their stories justice.
Over Thai food one evening with the amazing and talented Katrina Sorrentino, I explained this all to her. Katrina has this way of listening and nodding that makes you feel like you are being heard. I got my Pad Thai to go and the next day I got a call from her. “I want to help you with this,” she said.
Since that dinner, the project has snowballed into what it is today. The Associated Press took interest in the project and asked me to continue the photo essay. After doing that, Katrina and I went back with better equipment, a sound guy, producers and a plan of action. By this point, I had met Francis who was having her final asylum hearing on February 13th. I had to miss a week of school and my parents were ANGRY. (For the record, I made up all the work.)
So, here we are today- more than a year later after I rudely woke up Margarita that fateful morning. We have shot all of the footage needed to make the film, and now we are applying to grants and trying to raise $$ to move forward (WHO KNEW making a film was so expensive!!) Alex Pitz, writer extra-ordinaire, is going to work with me to write the script in July. We start editing the film on August 1st. I’m so, so, SO excited. I feel like this film is finally doing Brenda, Abigail and Francis’ stories justice.
Anyways, sorry for the long story (I warned you!) Check in over the next couple of weeks to see photographs from that first Summer in Los Angeles (and some photographs of me and the crew.) (I really like parenthesis apparently.)