Director Dino Dinco’s Director’s Diary on the Making of the San Antonio, Texas Short Film “El Abuelo”

Director Dino Dinco’s Director’s Diary on the Making of the San Antonio Short Film “El Abuelo.”

Film Title: El Abuelo
Cast: Joe Jimenez
Cinematography: Chris Blauvelt
Director: Dino Dinco

“El Abuelo” came about through a commission from London’s Fashion in Film Festival and funded in part from St. Martins College of Art and Design (also in London). The curators met with me while we were all in Paris and explained that the underlying theme of their next festival was violence and fashion in film. They had seen some of my photographic work and asked me to make a short for them.

Instantly, I knew that I wanted to make a film involving, and about, my friend Joe Jimenez, a poet and educator in San Antonio. To tie in the element of fashion, I also wanted to make a visual comment on the act of ironing clothes and how ironing (and creases) can relate to – and instigate – desire.

I called a TV commercial producer friend and said, “How much money do I ask for?” He told me, “Ask for $ 20 (thousand) and you’ll get $ 10.” I then asked Fashion in Film for $ 20,000 and they offered $ 9,600.

We arranged to rent a 16mm camera package from the super nice guys at Laszlo Rain and hired locals Stephen Acevedo and Chris Wenk as Asst Camera and Sound – both excellent. Chris Blauvelt (my DP) and I flew to San Antonio on a Friday with our own 16mm stock.

We shot for a good part of the weekend, interiors and a couple of exteriors, mostly around San Antonio’s South Side. Joe took us to some of his favorite spots that were important to him, places like the handball court that find their way into his poetry. We had one particular moment where my LA-production phobia came out: I was setting up a shot with Joe in front of the giant Virgen de Guadalupe “vela,” next to the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center. Chris was across the street with the camera. I saw a man with an official looking badge walk over to Chris and feared that we were going to get hassled or fined for shooting without a permit. I psychically told Chris, “Tell him we’re students…tell him we’re students….” The man walked away and Chris motioned that we were good. Later, I found out that it was Victor Payan, co-director from SA’s CineFestival, who was excited that we were shooting near the theater where the festival was on at that very moment. To truly complete the circle, “El Abuelo” recently screened at the 2009 CineFestival at that very same theater.

Although the SA production community is small, I learned that it is tightly knit. One name led to another and if someone wasn’t available, they’d happily hook you up with more than one number to call. The voiceover in “El Abuelo” is Joe Jimenez reading a section from one of his longer pieces. Unfortunately, I can’t find the engineer’s name, but we took Joe to his home recording studio and in 40 minutes, left with 2 CDs with the audio we needed. I think he charged us $35, if that.

Chris and I had a fantastic time in San Antonio with Joe and his partner, Jameson, and still, a year later, we talk about how much fun it was and how we both want to get back there to shoot more.

On a side note, flying with sealed film stock was easy leaving Los Angeles. It was nothing short of an anxiety attack, however, when I had to negotiate (and plead) with three San Antonio airport security guys that the exposed film could not be sent through X-ray, but had to be hand checked in a light-safe tent. “But how do we see the film?” one security guy asked. I looked him in the eye and said, “You can’t, because if you see it, then light sees it and it erases it.” At the same time, I imagined myself sitting on an Amtrak train with my film in my lap for 3 days.

Plan B: I started talking a mile a minute about how excited I was to have shot a film in Texas and that it was going to premiere at the Tate Modern in London…. I’m sure they surrendered just to get rid of me. The senior officer passed on the handcheck to the new guy, who was visibly happy to be faced with something that didn’t involve telling someone that they had to throw away their cologne or large bottle of anything liquid. I guided him painstakingly through the process, film can after film can, his arms plunged deeply into the elastic sleeves of the changing bag.

Ultimately, they couldn’t have been nicer. I boarded the plane with my exposed film, happy not to be on Amtrak.

That story aside, for me, there would be no film if it weren’t for the talent and spirit of Joe Jimenez. Although my background is in literature, I’ve never been a fan of poetry. The texture, craft, nuances and meat in Joe’s work, however, continue to inspire and move me.

Joe’s literary and visual work can be experienced at: http://www.godblessthedead.blogspot.com/

Contact: dinodinco@mac.com
Website: www.dinodinco.com

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Shot on location in San Antonio, Texas

“El Abuelo” (the poem, © 1983) is excerpted from the larger text / performance piece Homeboy Beautiful (and Other Things I’ve Nearly Forgotten But Am Throwing Punches Not to Forget) by Joe Jimenez.  All rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  1. Dino, you are brilliant, sexy, and I love you! This short was exciting & told our story…I grew up en barrio or the ghetto of South East Los Angeles and I was gang-affiliated. I saw this passion for getting all the creases just right by gay, bi, and straight cholos alike. I myself was taught exactly how to iron my close ever-so precisely. It brought so many memories for me, that are so alive in me, but that I almost never speak of. Thank you for opening that door…for sharing my experience with the world here on the web & anywhere else this was viewed. I would love to get to know you better and I wonder if there is a way we can collaborate in the futuro!

    Love, Light, Hope,
    Por Vida,
    Jorge

  2. $9,000 is not bad for a short film. My son is a gay cholo. Throws blows by day and a professional female impersonator at night. No that is not right, he throws blows on his off nights, when he is not dancing. Quobole y que! LOL

  3. Wauw!Great work.
    Very emotional and touching!
    And very inspiring.
    Breaks my heart to see such a man ironing!
    hug
    walter

  4. Breathtaking- bravo!

  5. Bravo!

    The theme is one that is often approached in ignorant disconnection or informed over-indulgence. Instead, this breaths raw honesty. Very moving.

    Poetry is found in all sections of our cities. Other filmmakers are falling under the trap of stereotyping “urbanity” even when they consider themselves underground storytellers. Not here, by any means. Very moving and insightful.

    Thanks for this piece.

  6. I love it.

  7. Congratulations, this is a beautiful and touching movie.

    I am finishing a feature on underground Latino Hip Hop and starting pre-production on very gifted Latino painter who went on the wrong side of the law.
    Would love to hear from you as I am looking for a DP.
    I was so moved by Joe Jimenez.

    My best,