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Filmmaker Will Not Make the Cuban Character White

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These lines from last week's post raised a few of your eyebrows.

The Downey college grad who lives in her car and her film about a Cuban American lesbian aspiring photojournalist with a lust for bi-women and malt liquor.

This week, meet Vanessa Libertad Garcia. That's the film she's making. She grew up in South Gate and Downey, graduated from the L.A. County High School for the Arts 11 years ago and Loyola Marymount University four years after that. She makes films, writes poetry and short stories. Recently she's been mining the sordid and beautiful fast life she shared with other 20-somethings right around the time of Barack Obama's election.

We sat down at a $6 taco shop on the same block as Barragan's in Echo Park, the scene of many of her bygone drinking nights.

She's currently shopping around for a producer for her film "Dear Dios." It's about an aspiring photojournalist who wants to be someone of substance in the photojournalism world, has no connections so she's stuck working as a bottom of the barrel temp at a local celebrity tabloid rag. All while nourishing a lust for bi-women, malt liquor and clubbing. It's a story of a downward spiral with the backdrop of cheap media and superficiality. Can someone please cue up the Nino Rota and whisper, "Marcello" in my ear?

What inspired you to write "Dear Dios"?

I took inspiration from my own life, a certain period in my life, when I was in my early 20s, in which I temped a lot and I tried to figure out if I wanted to as a filmmaker make it up the studio system or if I wanted to ahead and go my own independent route. Do I go the way other people tell me they want me to go or do I carve out my own way, which is so scary and harrowing.

What have people told you to be as a filmmaker? Or what films have they told you to make?

They've told me, I like your script. You can make the lead character white if you want to have more of an option with regards to getting it distributed. It's a film about a person of color, which has a very niche market, they constantly emphasize the word niche. It's a very big niche at this point in this country. I've got a pretty big niche: Latino Americans who are my family, my community. I've got the GLBTQ, which are my family, my community, and I have my 20-somethings, which are very multicultural. I think we're a very multicultural generation and we're very open to the stories of different faces and different backgrounds.

We're just up the street from the statue of Jose Marti in Echo Park, there's a lot of Cuban history in L.A. What was it like to grow up Cuban American in L.A. County?

It was quite lonely in certain senses. Because I did feel unified to my community when I was growing up. I grew up around all Cuban people. I think I thought I was in Cuba until I was about five because I was surrounded by crazy Cubans. And then when I went out into the world I was surrounded by Mexicans and white people. I think I was a little bit lonely because I didn't necessarily feel that other people allowed for another Latin identity in this city. Even though I was Cuban it was like, people said, you're Mexican. I'd be proud to be called a Mexican because I have so many amazing Mexican friends and it's a gorgeous culture but I have my own culture. It was an extremely beautiful experience to grow up around other cultures that were not my predominant culture, to grow up around Mexican Americans and Jews and African Americans. I feel grateful that I had a multicultural upbringing.

What about being lesbian, did that marginalize you even more?

I think that being a lesbian, I would not say has been easy but it's been easier in a strange sense than being Cuban because at least I can identify much more with a community. And being Cuban, we're a very small community in Los Angeles.

At what age did you get comfortable being lesbian?

I was 18. I was doing an anthropological study in college on the differences between men and women coming out and I realized that men came out a lot earlier in life and women came out after they had married, had children. I realized that I didn't want to be 40 and married to a cop with two kids before I decided to kiss a beautiful woman and fall in love and write poetry and all that kind of stuff.

What did you get out of the L.A. County High School for the Arts?

It saved my life. It was so amazing. Being a teenager was really hard for me. I was 235 lbs., extremely depressed. I was this goth girl that listened to Billie Holiday. I was a weird, eccentric kid. It was the first place I felt at home, and I found my community and a lot of friends that I made there, that I'm still dear friends with.

Tell me how you chose the title for your first book of poetry?

It's a collection of poetry and short stories, it's called "The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive." I chose that title because I wrote it at a time when the Obama elections were happening. There was just a lot of political energy in the air. It was also at a time that within my group of friends, a lot of despair and self-destruction. It was like this nucleus of clubbing, and drinking, and darkness in the midst and in the center of one of the greatest kind of historical, American moments, and we were still a part of it because we still went and voted.

Walk me though a typical Friday or Saturday night during these years.

I would go get two 40s, drink the two 40s. I do not condone drinking and driving. At the time, this was my life. I would go over to my best friend's place. He was this crazy, little Mexican queen and from there we would go to the Short Stop, right up the street from where we are right now and we would just drink and party until the night was over. We would separate and then be promiscuous, like we would go find other people to make out with, other people to go home with. And then find out way back to our car with smeared mascara, both of us early in the morning, the next day.

Have you been through tough economic times?

I'm going through that right now. I am in the process of looking for a job, a more stable job and I'm on welfare, which is not something I'm proud of but it's my truth right now. But even in the face of this tough economic time, I can't imagine not doing my art. It'll pick up. I've got a couple of different interviews for different positions, we'll see how it goes.

You're currently shopping for a producer for "Dear Dios." How do you feel now about the project?

I am really excited about it. I began writing it in 2007 and I just finished the final draft this past year. My book, "The Voting Booth After Dark," actually features the characters from the movie, just in an entirely different scenario.

What's the title of your forthcoming book and what's it about?

My forthcoming book is called "Bloody Fucking Hell," it's a collection of poetry and essays. The poetry is the emotional side and the essays is the reflective, analytical side about the three times I fell in love, which were with straight women or bi-curious women, or whatever gray zone they were in or not in. It was a confusing period of time for me. It was very painful and at the same time very beautiful, so I explore that.

Any other thoughts about this particular time and place for you, L.A., your age, your projects?

It's a very exciting time. We live in a very eclectic American society at this point, even though there's still segregation and isolationism, especially in Los Angeles in regards to cultures, there's still at the core of it I feel there's a huge enmeshment and we affect one another. I think it's a very exciting time to bring to the forefront a story that really captures that American enmeshment of different cultures.

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

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