Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I wake up and go to yoga. Yes, yoga, because I need to move around after sitting on a plane and doing nothing for hours. My friend Dubz FINALLY makes it to San Juan to help me film. This was after a two hour security check delay, missing his connection in DC, spending the night in DCA, then finally catching a flight to San Juan. So he comes, we kick back with some Medallas (Puerto Rican beer) and run errands. We take the bus to Old San Juan because well, its a good idea to show that area to someone recently arrived, because its amazing. Earlier that day, I talked to Juan and he said we could meet around 6ish to schedule interviews. By 7ish, I hear nothing, so I call him. They are too drunk, he says, to meet. Damn musicians.
So Dubz and I go and sit in a plaza, and I start to have those doubts creeping in. This was a terrible mistake, why do I insist on making things complicated? Who did I think I was by traveling to Puerto Rico and make a movie? Just as I'm about to suggest to resign myself to a night of drinking, a group of musicians with drums walk into a plaza. Not kidding. They were amazing, led a group of people throughout Old San Juan, we exchanged contact info, and I felt like the documentary was finally taking off.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

La Isla del Encanto

"Bienvenidos a la isla del encanto" and everyone on the plane cheered. I guess we all knew that despite the fact that flying these days is a bit like (as my mother says) "like traveling by covered wagon" it felt good to be in San Juan. Not that delta airlines is terrible, but flying these days is different than it used to be. After the taxes and surcharges, online charge and long lines at the airport, paying $20.00 to check a bag makes me feel like they are bending me over.

Anyway, my friend Juan was there to great me, he is one of the members of the main plena band that got me into this adventure, Viento de Agua. I step outside and the heat and humidity hits, and shortly following my hair springs into curls a la Shirley Temple. Oh well, so much for brushing.

After we dropped off my stuff at my tiny efficiency where I'm staying, (which, btw is like a cave but has air conditioning and a clean bathroom) he takes me to Viejo San Juan. As much as we try in the U.S. to recreate and restore old buildings and sites, we have nothing on this neighboorhood. It is UNESCO world heritage site because of how well it still feels like you just stepped back 300 years.

So I sit at a bar, with an old spanish style balcony, with my friend Juan and do what is best when you can slow down. We talk, shoot the breeze, chit-chat. Looking down onto the street in Old San Juan, it is what you expect of a Monday night; some stragglers here and there, some tourists but mostly pretty empty. Apparently, when the fiestas de al calle hit, those streets are packed, frantic, music everywhere, and people loving life. So I'm pretty excited.

Today I basically woke up, got oriented, and shot some pictures to remember certain spots and also document things I might want to video later. I also managed to whip up a release form and err, um, do some fieldwork...on the beach. With my eyes closed.

One thing I saw that was pretty interesting was at a park in the neighboorhood of Condado. Condado and Ocean Park (where I'm staying) are sleepier but touristy neighboorhoods. From the reading and conversations that I've had with locals, statehood vs independence vs staying the same status are still pretty heated topics of conversation, but I can't imagine that seeing a sign like this would feel very good. I've never seen anything like this in a city park in the continental U.S. The park was a small city park in Condado, with a few benches and a playground.

Tomorrow I am meeting with Juan to hopefully come up with a loose schedule for doing interviews, and also figure out a time to go to Mayaguez which is a city on the West Coast that has a huge plenero scene. I might still do some uh, fieldwork on the beach, as things are a bit slow until after New Years, but there is still so much to see and do and film. It would be good to use this next week to experiment with shooting and see what works and what doesn't.

I will have two partners in crime with me during my time here to help me shoot and carry equipment-one till the 11th, and another special fellow until the 18th. Thank goodness! Thank you to both of you-I lugged my equipment bag and my messenger bag with camera accesories all over the Atlanta airport and it was exhausting! My shoulders are sore today. Then again, I'm also out of shape. But regardless, it will be nice to be doing this with a co-hort.

Anyway, hanging out at a nice little restaurant two blocks from my place with free wi-fi and tasty margaritas. Later taters!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Outside Magazine=$4.89

Bad turkey sandwich with chips=$12.89

Checked in bag=$20.00

Five hour layover in Atlanta airport=the lameness

Having the duty free security guard let you in because he thinks your San Juan boarding pass is an international destination so you end up purchasing a cheap digital camera=priceless!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One page blurb:

Why San Juan? Why plena? Why in the heck are you attempting to make a movie about it? Well, first, my passion is music and dance but what mostly drives that passion, is what these mediums do to people. I love people moving, lost in a moment, listening to a sound that makes them feel like they are superhuman. So it makes sense that I am naturally attracted to music forms that are irreverent, rebellious, and invoke social commentary. Plena does all of these.
Plena music is a forefather of salsa but more importantly it is percussive music that forms around a narrative song structure. Musicians will comment on everyday life, social concerns and speak against the status quo. Rhythms are played on small hand held drums that are portable and lighweight. Therefore, it is perfect for challenging mainstream, commercial ideas of music, which is where we get to the movie part.

During the month of January, San Juan holds Las fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastian. Plena musicians are a sort of Master of Ceremonies that invoke the street festival spirit as they urge the crowd to dance, play, sing and join with them until the line between musician and audience member becomes blurred.

In the last ten years, beer companies have come down to San Juan to sponsor commercial music acts and sell products. While they have been moderately successful, the street festivals have exponentially increased every year to a feverish pitch. Despite what the advertising team of Heineken corporation wants anyone to believe, people know what they want, why they want it, and how to express it. Especially when it comes to their culture, and their expressive lives.

I will be traveling to San Juan from December 28th-January 17th to film these festivals and interview musicians. I need to raise funds for my travels, and also for future production costs. I hope to complete the film by May, and provide informal showings throughout the DC area. Eventually, I will be entering the movie into some film festivals, and find a distributor.

But even more important, I want to tell this story. A story of a different kind of Christmas season that has nothing to do with a mall, or fruit cake, or buying things that you don't need.

Will you help me tell this story?

This little blog of mine

Hey all! I'm going to be keeping this blog while I'm in Puerto Rico. I've invited close friends, family, my professors, and students, but feel free to pass this along to anyone who might be interested. It's just a way to keep track of my time here along with keeping all of you in the know with what is going on. Please feel free to give feedback or suggestions of places to visit. If you don't know what I'm doing here well, I'm making a documentary on plena musicians. I will post my original blurb in a little bit.