Tuesday, January 26, 2010

post-production time

Why does it always cost so much? The mentor at the Star Lab where GMU Final Cut Pro resides (the film editing software) told me that I can't upload the 15 hours of footage that I have onto a public computer. She suggested I buy an external hard drive, and bring it to the lab to work on. It's $99.00.

I want to upload some videos for people to catch some previews and interviews in their entirety, but in order to get the space I need, gotta shell out $60.00 Yes it lasts a year but still. Meh

I was excited to see the Cocolai video again. So I'm excited to share my work soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I'm back. This experience has been an adventure, a learning process, and I can't friggin wait to upload all 20 hours (yes, 20) of film and start editing, cutting, and pasting. I have no idea how to use Final Cut Pro, but I'm going to take a stab at it. It will not be as exciting to blog about my learning a computer application, but I'll still updated this with how the editing process is going. I would love any feedback, ideas, or if you are up for looking at some rough cuts, let me know!

Thank you everyone for your amazing support.

Friday, January 15, 2010

that's what I get for bragging

It has been raining for three days now. I still went last night to the first night of Fiestas de la Calle, although all the events and mask parades had been cancelled and there were a lot less people expected. There were still plenty of people on the street of San Sebastian. It was rainy but by 10pm, plenty of drunken bachanalian revelry. It was interesting to see that the festival did have heavy sponsorship by beer companies, especially from Medalla, the local Puerto Rican beer. Most interesting were the yellow and black hats that people wore...

San Sebastian was a martyr who was said to have been shot by arrows so many times, his body was completely covered but he did not die. Among the usual assortment of miracles and healing the sick and dying, he was killed by romans for his Christian faith.

The hats? Well, blazoned with a Medalla logo for starters, the hats also screamed out SAN SEBA with an arrow logo underlining the word "san." The irony and double meanings with this little adornment are palpable. I'm hoping to find out a little bit more on how the festival started and why the choice was to hold it on San Sebastian street. I managed to get some footage of the street action (which basically reminded me of Bourbon St NOLA on your average night) except for one thing:

While there were plenty of bars blasting latin rock, bachata, and reggaeton, the real action, the real frenzy, was focused on the street. Three pleneros were beating a rhythm on their panderetas and the street was clogged, by people staying out in the rain, singing along, dancing, and not just for fun, but out of love, or adventure, or connection or, something else. Yes they were drunk. Yes, it probably made the rain less of an issue. But, there were plenty of bars, with plenty of room, and plenty of indoor dance floors. But these people chose differently and here is where the interesting part is. How can I define it, explain it, or analyze it? I still don't know what to make of it myself, its just an instinctual feeling that in these street gatherings there is a nexus of meaning of something, I just seem at loss of words for it right now. To make matters even more difficult, how do I transmit this onto a video? I got some footage but did I really? I felt something great watching it take place, but on video does it just look like people dancing in the street? I think its important, but will anyone else care? Is anyone else happy that Medalla and Coors Light parties are not enough? That corporate sponsorship can't encompass meaning of festival?

Oh and did I mention that for the first time, the city is imposing a curfew on the fiestas? Nothing major happened last night, the cleaning trucks came, and the police told people to go home. For the most part, they did. But many have said that other things could happen, and to be ready to run.

Tonight will be different, I am going to a paranda! So a different kind of party.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Um, from start to almost finish

Going into the Fiestas de la Calle, there is already plenty of rumor floating around. Rumor has it that the city of San Juan is going to instate for the first time ever, a curfew on the street festivals. Nobody really knows what that means, if it means stores have to close at a certain hour, or just restaurants serving alcohol, or if everyone has to be off the streets by a certain time. It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts. I've also been given a tentative invite to a paranda on friday night, so I'm pretty excited about it. It's the one traditional Christmas event in Puerto Rico that I still have not been able to go to.

After so much trial and error, I am finally pretty confident with my panasonic camera, it needs less external lighting then I initially thought, and nothing says guerilla video like a non-tripod or monopod'ed shot. Who knows what might happen for the street festivals. Running shots?

My british camera guy has left today, and the continental U.S. one is arriving tomorrow. It makes a huge difference having someone to share the load. Both in equipment, and brave adventure :) So thank you London kid! Hola Americano!

There are so many things happening back home that I am beginning to take care of now, that its kinda nice having the distance. But I'm looking forward to seeing folks and getting started on other projects.

However I do need to tell you all. It's sunny and 86 degrees here right now. Hugs!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I admit it. I am now in holiday mode. After that trip to Cocolai's house, everything is just icing on the cake. Yesterday we headed to San Juan and visited an artisan shop. It's run by the Cruz family and Jose Cruz is also a history teacher at a local private school.

He's opinionated, feisty, well spoken, angry, thoughtful. It was my second time last night seeking him out for an interview, but it was worth it. He was a little hesitant and nervous at first, but eventually started to loosen up. Since he was worried about getting his work for the shop done, I promised him I would only take up ten minutes of his time. However, once we got rolling along, he wanted to say more, and he kept the interview going for another 20 minutes. All in all great insights on Puerto Rican culture, people, religion, life. This is the guy everyone wants their kids to learn from. I only hope the parents at his school appreciate him (Since like most teachers, his salary probably doesn't reflect the importance of his role)

Old San Juan has little nooks and cranies everywhere that are new and different every time you walk them. It's like there is never enough time to see it all. It has to be one of my top favorite places I've ever had the opportunity to visit. There is also a Calle de la Luna with a little crescent moon symbol underneath the sign. I think I need a picture.

Went to Rio Piedras today and saw the University. Great campus, from outside the gate at least. They are still on break so I couldn't get in to walk around. I did buy a children's book though in Spanish, about the moon, called Lagrimas de la Luna. I saw it in a book store by campus and something compelled me to buy it. I think the moon is following me on this crazy adventure of mine, for luck.

Ciao luna!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A day that folklore dreams are made of....

I wake up and Juan is running late. The Maori chant of "I live! I live! I die! I die!" is in my head because I've convinced myself that if this day does not happen I will not have a wonderful film and I will be a total failure. I am asking myself if I want to live, really live, and learn to roll with the punches, or just lay down and wait to die,,never taking chances, and living a boring life. As I am having this mini psycho-drama in my head, Juan comes and we pack up the car and head to Mayaguez.

First stop, Cocolai's house. He happens to be one of the oldest living pleneros at 83 years old. Not only do I get a more extensive interview with Juan, I also get one with a professor who is an expert in Puertorican folklore music and most important, I meet Cocolai.

Cocolai is 83 and still remembers a lot of plena songs. He plays the panderetta like he's 23 and jokes around in a way that would put top comedians to shame. He plays practical jokes, and makes fun of everyone's accents. I adore him from the start.

I honestly feel blessed and honored that I was able to film this musician in his home, playing music with his friends. I only hope, that other people can appreciate him as well.

I left Coco's house to go eat some of the best seafood in my life. Then we headed back to San Juan. I feel relieved and lucky and blessed. I have such amazing footage! And I'm so excited to start cutting and pasting. Now just heading to Las Fiestas de la Calle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mas fotos!

Camera guy "el gran" Bonny
La Isla del Encanto from a restaurant window
Tito and Juan rockin' it at a show in Rio Piedras
An altar for the Three Kings
One of the most beautiful voices and a great pandareta player. Goes by the name, "el gato"

Photos de P.R.!

Me interviewing Juan "Llonsi" Martinez
Tito playing at the radio station
Me again interviewing Juan
Ricardo Ponz of Viento de Agua
Proof that I really am working in Puerto Rico

Photos from Bonnyface Sentrossi

Feliz dia de los reyes everybody! And look what I spied with my little eye on the beach today when I went for a walk in the rain:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

El Morro loves the camera baby

Had another round at the beach (oh just be jealous already) then packed off around 4pm to head to Old San Juan. We've been doing a lot of filming at the dusk magic hour because the light at that hour in this city? Splendid.

We take some footage of El Morro. Google search some images and you will see what a wonderful performer this historical site can be. He performed magnificently for the camera. El Morro is quite the ham.

Next we filmed around Old San Juan to get a sense of an average evening on the streets. I'm hoping to juxtapose some of these images with the ones of the fiestas de la calle. That way, the contrast between what the streets normally look like in comparison to the festival crazyness will be apparent.

I headed into a small artisan shop to look at some cards. Wouldn't you know, the family that owns this store are experts on three kings, folklore, and masks! They actually make Taino inspired masks and collectibles, by hand using natural organic materials.

I got into a conversation with the shop owner, and asked for an interview. He point blank said that honestly, he was not in a good mood today. He was smiling because I was a customer. He actually said it in a much nicer way then it comes off in writing. I appreciate his candor. We did exchange contact information, and before I left, he pointed to the liquor and candies he had for sale. "This shop was doing so bad, that we've had to resort to selling alchohol and other shit to stay afloat." I understand his frustration and anxiety. I would be angry too, if I was in his position. It's not fair that these intangibles, these belief systems, these stories and crafts and rituals, are what sustains people, enriches people's lives, and can basically be the sole reason to keep on living (See the book Fire in the Placa, about the Fire Festivals in Berga) yet it is impossible to have respect of a financial nature, within the Western world's economic system.
Anyway, tomorrow is the Three King's Day. People here call them Santos, although technically according to Catholicism, they are not. So, it's a big deal.

I'm not sure what we are doing tomorrow. If we can rent a car for cheap, we're heading to the town of Juana Diaz for the big festival. If not, we'll be filming in Old San Juan. Either way, the day has been long, and I'm looking forward to a Caribbean winter's nap. zzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, January 4, 2010

Where have you been!

Sorry folks. Been busy. My mother thought I had been eaten by chupacabra. Not really, but she was worried.

Let's see, January 2nd Juan called up and asked if we wanted to come to some parties where he was playing.

First party, a dedication to the epiphany, or three kings day, which happens on January 6th. The dedication was a bomba y plena group playing in front of a three king's altar. Here in Puerto Rico and perhaps other places, the epiphany is huge. Exchanging presents is done on this day, since it is celebrating the gifts the three king's brought to Jesus, and some folks around here go so far as to decry Santa Claus and not celebrate Christmas in that context at all. (As in, they will celebrate it as a holiday that commemorates Jesus' birth, but they do not exchange gifts or talk of ol' St Nick. )

We started filming, and then the festivities took a more religious tone, and we were asked to shut the camera off. I had no problem with this, but just hope that no one thought anything exploitative was going on. I'm there for the music, and the meaning behind the music, but with all of the utmost respect and reverence I can muster. If I did not bow my head in prayer, it is only because I do not practice religion in any organized sense, and I would feel deceitful to act a part that I do not practice in my life back in DC.
I like to watch people, and I like to watch people praying. It's like watching someone sleep on the metro. It's one of the most intimate things people do, and there it is out in public! When music is played here, it is an act of prayer and I will confess that it is one that I am more comfortable with. I was raised Catholic and still feel bitter about its menace and damnation. However, that is not to say that I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I like the images, and physical actions of worship, whether it is playing music, praying, dancing, or meditating. I love saints, and statues, and idols, and good luck charms, and rosaries. But some old man in Rome is going to dictate morality to me? No thanks.
Anyway, we head of to Juan's next stop (yes, this guys can play anywhere from 3-16 parties a week during the Christmas season. He also has a full-time job) It is a family party and the musicians have been hired to specifically play plena. The group is a bunch of different guys that have known each other their whole lives, along with their teenage sons. Juan has known some of them since they were kids. This is the kind of generational exchange of tradition that is amazing to someone like me. I have learned recipes from my family but we do not have a musical folklore tradition. It amazes me that someone can learn to play by ear. It's refreshing to see a six year old put down their Wii game box because someone with a guiro (gourd instrument) has come into the house and the six-year old wants to learn how to play. Real time magic can beat simulated adventure any day, I think.
We do not videotape this party. Juan states that perhaps we should sit this one out and we do. We eat some snacks, meet some family, and dance for a little while. Juan says goodbye, and its off to the final party
Here we meet the rest of the members of Viento de Agua. They are set up to play a big house party in Rio Piedras, which is the university district. There are tons of young university age folks around excited for them to play. Dubz and I start to videotape.
I'm still having trouble with lighting. It seems like the quality is grainy. However the audio has improved, and this is largely because the audio at the party was better. I caught some great footage of a timbale player, and experimented with close ups and some of the natural lighting. I'm excited to edit and cut and paste.
I got home around 3am, and slept till noon. I hit the beach. I know, you all feel very sorry for me but truth be told, filming is hard work. Harder than I thought. Harder than any jobs I'm working at right now back in DC. This is largely because it is new and foreign territory for me, but it's also the schedule, and the coordinating with other people. I wouldn't have it any other way. Grueling can also mean satisfying :)
So Sunday was housecleaning day. Laundry, cleaning, more beach (I know, poor little me!) and looking back through some footage.
Today we shot some footage of Condado, one of the most commercial and touristy areas in San Juan. I want to use the footage to juxtapose it against some of the footage of less commercial areas and interviews where musicians are talking about cultural heritage. Puerto Rico is rife with contradictions, but despite what some people think or may see in San Juan, it is not taking capitalism lying down. Hopefully I can make my point better in the movie.
Next two days are the epiphany and I don't know what to expect. They are family holidays so it might be pretty lo-key and my one chance for chilling out before the 7th, then weekend, then the fiestas de la calle.
I hope to get some interviews from folks on the street about Christmas in Puerto Rico so we'll see.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Feliz Ano Nuevo!

Rang in the New Year at Tito's house, a member of Viento de Agua. There were no less than 200 people, and more kinds of pork for me to eat. Oh yeah, about 12 different types of cana too. If you know what that is, then you can understand why combining that with filming must be done delicately.

Now, the music that was happening last night are the kind of late night jam sessions that are legendary. There is no shortage of talent, and improvisation is the gold standard for achieving ultimate audience response. Most of the time people talk about musical improvisation in terms of jazz music, and while that is a fine example of an improvisational structure, it is by no means unique. The ability for a music group to come together, and have one person take a solo while the rest holds the backbone is prevalent in many folklore forms and it was present last night as well. Solos are competitive and energetic, and can flip back and forth between drums and singing.

Shooting at a raucous New Year's Party lent special considerations. The lighting was a bit tricky for a while, and I wanted to be able to capture the people playing in the background where it was considerably darker. So I moved around the crowd with some difficulty trying out different shots. Fiddling with the white balance helped, although the light attachment was not always helpful

Audio is very difficult. There was a lot of feedback and background noise in the room, and this transmitted into the recording. There is a lot of fuzzyness, but I'm hoping some audio enhancement could help this.

The best part, was to see the passion and camraderie the musicians had for each other and the audience. Puerto Rico is an island the size of Connecticut, and by some of my conversations, this is why everyone treats each other like family. In one conversation with Joksan (another Viento member) he said he noticed that people from islands tend to stick with one location growing up. Joksan has traveled considerably through his music and acting carrer, so he's been able to see a good part of the world. One observation he stated was that he felt he had more in common with people from Ireland, than people from other parts of Latin America. Island sensibility indeed.

I rang 2010 working on my documentary. I used to always be working at a restaurant during New Years. Last year, I rang it in with a small group of friends. I'm not sure how much symbolism any of it has, New Year's Eve is so rife with expectations and forced symbolism. It is different here in PR, because New Year's is just one in a series of holidays that makes up the Christmas season. And here, it really is a season, but not because its a marketing time period for stores, but because people really get excited and ready to celebrate with each other from December 1st to the end of January. By not having only two days set out to celebrate, there is no need to put so much focus on those two days, that it becomes overwhelming and stressful. You have a two month period to show your family and community how much you love them. And presents are just a part of it, they are not the focus.

Last night, the focus was music, which for someone like me, is one of the greatest expressions of,,, well, I guess universal love. I mean, I am a believer that art is a form of magic, and specifically, good magic. So where else does that good magic come from then out of love? Part of my interest in doing this project was how to bring the love back to Christmas since it has become bastardized in the States by mass consumerism. Maybe next year, I buy no presents and just force people to hang out and play music, or listen to music, or share music, or make cookies, or cards, or tell jokes, or do yoga, or tai-chi, or anything else that gives each other joy that is not a wrapped up present. I got presents this year that I desperately needed for the project, along with a couple of truly beautiful sentimental gifts as well. So I understand this might be hypocritical but I am no suggesting getting rid of presents altogether. I am only proposing, that we re-think the holidays, and make them actual holidays again.