A CONVERSATION WITH ALFREDO DE VILLA BY ALFREDO DE VILLA:


THERE IS OFTEN A LONG AND TWISTED ROAD FOR SOMEONE TO BECOME A FILMMAKER. WHERE DID YOUR JOURNEY BEING?

I was born in Puebla, a couple of hours south of Mexico City but colossally different from that cultural mecca. Unlike other cities in Mexico, five hundred years ago Julian Garces, a Catholic bishop, had a vision of two angels who descended from the heavens and traced the outline of what is Puebla nowadays. From that moment on, Puebla has been a bastion of conservatism, Catholicism and tradition. Some of my first memories are etched with a life-size effigy of Jesus Christ crucified to the cross, bruised to narrow bone and oozing with a thick purple mess captured for eternity in the icons of our churches.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR PARENTS AND YOUR FAMILY LIFE?

I was the second son born to a young couple who only stayed together another couple of years, but managed to have a third child, my younger sister, which left me in the middle. While the great filmmaker Francois Truffaut claimed to experience life more fully through art than direct experience, I used art and movies as a way to escape the realities of my life in the 1970s and 1980s and saw that there were better things out there for me.

My mother and grandmother raised me. In the early 80s, thanks to my mother’s smarts, we traded the world of Puebla for the strange world of the American South, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We lived near the University of Alabama where my mother studied for 2 years thanks to her Fulbright Scholarship. It was actually freer and more open than the world I had left.  This was 1980 and America had gone through the 60's and 70's, civil rights and feminism, social movements that had skipped my hometown. With a single mom working and studying, we “monitored” our own television hours, and hence I learned English watching “Hill Street Blues” and other classic American shows.

BUT WAIT… DID YOU STAY IN ALABAMA OR DID YOU RETURN TO MEXICO?

When we returned, I remained in Mexico until I was 16 years old. I lived with my grandmother while my mother found work in America. I missed my mother all the time and never saw my father from the age of four on until I was in my early teens. Despite my love and admiration for him, our relationship never became close. My grandmother became a great resource for storytelling and she'd asked me to read many great stories to her. I began to love to escape with her, listening to her tales from our family's lore, especially those surrounding the rise of my grandfather in the 1950s. But I can't forget the moments my grandmother and I shared watching the high camp of Mexican Soaps, so-called "Telenovelas." By the time I had watched three Telenovelas I knew that the poor, but beautiful maid would always "get" the rich dude by the end. It would always turn out that our heroine wasn't even poor, but a secret heiress to a great fortune. From "Happy Days" to "Los ricos también llorán," I could see that even these shows, although far from high art, helped us escape and experience cathartic moments and dreams.

SO YOU STAYED IN MEXICO?

No, I went back to the US and I graduated summa cum laude form The University of Miami with a degree in communications and literature. It was not until I headed for New York City to study film at Columbia University that I began to understand the craft of the medium I had chosen as my career path.

I got an early start, while in college, working in advertising agencies, and wound up producing for many years until I began to direct commercials myself. My film debut was Washington Heights (Lions Gate, 2002), a low budget film shot entirely on location in the Dominican neighborhood of the city and on Mini-DV.

A few years later, I was hired to direct YELLOW (Sony Entertainment, 2006), Roselyn Sanchez’s dream project and became enamored with Puerto Rico. I then had a chance to do what I had originally planned as my second film, ADRIFT IN MANHATTAN (Screen Media, 2007) with Heather Graham, Billy Baldwin, Victor Rasuk, Dominic Chianese and Elizabeth Peña. This film was in the official competition in Sundance Film Festival.

Producers Bob Teitel and George Tilman approached me about directing NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (Overture Films, 2008). Together with the amazing Freddy Rodriguez (who also served as an Executive Producer), we assembled a dream cast that included Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, Jay Hernandez, among others. I got an ALMA award for best director.

ARE YOU WORKING ON A NEW FILM?

I’m currently in post-production on FUGLY! with John Leguizamo, Radha Mitchell, Rosie Perez, Ally Sheedy and Griffin Dunne. It features wacky animation by one of my heroes of the genre, Bill Plympton.

DID YOU EVER WORKED IN BRANDED ENTERTAINMENT, WHERE YOU BRIDGE YOUR EXPERIENCE IN ADVERTISING AND LEGIT WORK?

Last year I completed my first assignment on brand entertainment for the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, which consisted of a 90-minute TV documentary, HARLISTAS: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY, among several pieces for the Web.

DO YOU LIVE IN LOS ANGELES?

I eventually moved to Los Angeles where I currently live with my three children and wife. I still have memories of Puebla. I can picture myself standing up in a ’64 Mustang red convertible as my father and I drive down the main boulevard of the city. I raise my hands and feel the throttle of the eight-cylinder motor of the car overpowering the cling-clang of the Ferris wheel and other carnival games mixed in with accordions, violins and screams of the loud and congested sidewalks filled with God-fearing folks seeking family thrills on Good Friday. I remember my dad smiling and the wide road on the hectic boulevard near the San Francisco 400-year old church. The wind, the sound of the motor and the color of the Mustang, and the people going about their day without a care in the world are more important than any facts of the day. I was only four and these images --which I’m not sure if they ever occurred or if I made them up on a lonely summer night-- have always been my umbilical chord to movies.

IT SEEMS LIKE YOU’RE PART OF DIFFERENT WORLDS. HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF?

I see myself as American and Mexican and straddle both worlds on a daily basis. I am comfortable in both worlds… well, actually in all worlds – Mexico, the Latino experience in America and the mainstream American one.

 

Alfredo De Villa