By Hipolito Navarrete, Managing Editor/Publisher
Margarita Reyes is an independent, spirited, no nonsense filmmaker. She is an actress, a writer, director and a producer. Her work encompasses Music Videos, narrative films and documentary films. As a female of color in an industry that has trouble investing in herstories, she is just pushing her agenda and her vision forward.
1) Tell us a little more about you, that you think we should know.
First and foremost, I am a mother to a beautiful teen girl. Second, I am an actor, producer, director, documentarian and educator. I didn’t have the traditional educational path of most others in my field. However, I am proud of my story. I’ve been an actor for almost 20 years. During that time I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some inspirational actors whom I have learned a great deal from. For that I am grateful. I decided to go back to college when my daughter was 6 years old. I was accepted to UCLA in 2007. It was there that I met undocumented youth who inspired me to tell their stories. At UCLA I produced my first documentary. An Unfinished DREAM followed the lives of undocumented youth in the California university system. This documentary was screened across the country by undocumented student groups, universities, and was utilized by Amnesty International in their undocumented student tool kit. From that point, and for the duration of my undergraduate time at UCLA, I started working on videos for causes such as the CLEAN Carwash Campaign who were working on unionizing the carwash industry. This industry is highly exploited and my videos were utilized to raise awareness and educate others on the plight of the LA carwash industry. I eventually worked on various other short videos for local organizations. I also directed and produced a series of industrial “how-to” videos for the California Labor Commissioner to educate low wage workers on their rights. I teamed up with Jeff MacIntyre who has won 11 Emmy awards for his work as a filmmaker. These videos are currently available online as well as in all the offices of the California Labor Commissioner. My videos are available in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Korean. When working on this series I was inspired by my own parents and their work in low wage industries. I’m proud to say that these videos have helped countless individuals navigate the wage claim process in California. Although my work focuses mostly on documentary, I have also produced short films, music videos, and my latest project an independent feature film called UNABRIDGED. In 2013, I acted in a music video produced by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. This video, WAKE ME UP by Aloe Blacc, was directed by Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) and featured an undocumented woman (myself) attempting to reunite with her husband in the US. The subject matter was close to me because, like the 11 million other (un)documented stories, this was my family’s immigration story. To date we have over 17 millions views online. This is a perfect example of doing something I love and also raising awareness about issues that affect my community.
2) What is your vision for your career?
When I reflect on my previous work, I’ve always worked on projects that have inspired me or have challenged me in some personal way. Every project that I’ve directed or produced has been a labor of love. I believe in doing what you love. I will always be an actor. I will continue working on film projects that I’m passionate about. Eventually I’d like to add other filmmakers to my production company ACantar Films. I’d also like to continue working with young filmmakers. Collaborating with our younger generations not only gives you a birds eye view to emerging trends but keeps you up to speed on what they view as interesting and innovative. Our young people have strong voices that should be heard. What better way for them to express themselves than through filmmaking?
3) What is the most challenging part of that vision?
There are several challenges; however, each one presents an opportunity to learn and grow. I work in a historically male dominated industry. Go to any movie set and you’ll see that men are the majority. The last film I produced, the director Jessica McMunn, actively sought to fill in key production roles with females and people of color. The executive producer is Evan Allen-Gessesse, the director of photography is Judy Phu, the producer (me), as were the majority of the crew. The lead actresses were Jearnest Corchado and Hanani Taylor portraying best friends who happen to be Latina and African American. I think it’s important to support these productions because they are few and far between.
4) How did you prepare yourself for this career?
I’ve been an actor for about 20 years. I have the experience of being in front of the camera. Eventually I started working as a producer in advertising. I worked as a casting director, junior producer, and basically anything else that was needed. For the past 8 years I’ve produced and directed over 30 projects.
5) How do you manage set backs in your career?
I’ve been working in this industry for so long and have seen many ups and downs. The one thing to take away from this business is that it is always changing. If you can adapt to changing trends and still be excited about your work then this business is for you.
6) What is the most challenging aspect that you feel most filmmakers are not prepared for?
I have never thought that producing was a glamorous job. I’m usually first to arrive, last to leave and basically work 24/7 during production. Your work hours will be dictated by the production and budget. If you have a decent budget you can have some semblance of a normal life. However, working on low budget independent films is a whole other beast. You will be doing the job of at least 5 people. If you can get through a low budget independent project then you will do well within the industry.
7) What are you working on now?
I’m currently in post production of UNABRIDGED feature film and a short form video based on a book, Living Peace, written by author and UCLA professor Victor Narro. I’m also a film instructor working with young filmmakers at the Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project.
8) What are some projects you have brewing?
I’m also in post production of an untitled documentary featuring youth and the importance of mentorship in the arts. Filming took place over a three year period. Bobby Moresco, CRASH, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, teamed up with Southern California Crossroads and their youth to perform a play. This three year journey culminated in THE BRICK AND THE ROSE being performed at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. My focus was two-fold; I directed the documentary on the process as well as mentored youth. I also had the privilege of working with my daughter who was one of the acting mentors to the youth.
9) How are you preparing for them?
With my production team, Kim Vasiliakis and Manny Jimenez, we’ve already written the story. This was a process that lasted several months. The next steps include the bulk of post production. I will have a rough cut of the documentary by October 2016. As I prepare for this portion, I reflect on the journey of my subjects. In this case, students from the city of Lennox, Ca. What are their circumstances? What is the environment? How did they change? What was the impact of being a part of the journey with Bobby and his actors? Did they change?
I’m excited about this part of the process. I can’t wait to share the documentary with everyone.