We caught up with the talented director Santiago Paladines, whose film The Fare is currently showing at Hollyshorts Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Director and writer Santiago Palandines’s affecting drama, The Fare, has been selected to screen at the Academy Award qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival in August. Starring Johnny Ortiz (American Crime) and newcomer Noemi Pedraza, the film tackles the subject of human trafficking, and is based on a true story.
A young Ecuadorian kid, driving for a human trafficking gang, confronts his past when he’s asked to transport a 14 year-old girl from his hometown to a sex trafficking organization.
Award-winning Ecuadorian writer and director Santiago Palandines, graduated from the American Film Institute and is the recipient of the First Prize at the Hispanic Heritage Short Film Awards in Washington DC. His work includes the documentary Estrella 14, and successful Ecuadorian series Parece Que Fue Ayer. His film, The Fare, was chose to screen at the AFI 2017 showcase at the DGA and recently won an Honorable Mention at the Oscar qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival. Santiago has recently finished production on 12 episodes of an upcoming TV drama series in Ecuador.
In the lead role of Javier, accomplished actor Johnny Ortiz has made a name for himself after working opposite Kevin Costner in Disney’s McFarland USA and for his work on the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated ABC series American Crime, directed by Oscar winner John Ridley. Most recently, Johnny has just finished shooting Bel Canto alongside Julianne More and the up coming feature Ice Box, produced by two time Academy Award winner James L Brooks.
The Fare also boasts a talented supporting cast including young actress Noemi Pedraza, handling the challenging role of Cristina, and Eduardo Roman. Known for his work in popular Mexican TV shows, Roman’s other credits include 21 Days and Mucho Dinero, in which he starred alongside Danny Trejo and Eddie Griffin. He will soon star in the America Ferrera produced web series Gente-fied and was the lead in the Academy short listed film Contrapelo.
The Fare has been officially selected at more than 15 worldwide festivals including Cannes Short Film corner, Cleveland International film festival and LA ShortsFest, and has won 6 awards.
The Fare will be screening at HollyShorts Film Festival, running from Aug. 10th – 19th.
What gave you the idea for the film?
Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet people that had crossed the border looking to reunite with their families in the US or simply because they were running away from gang violence in their countries. I realized that I hadn’t´ seen anything on the theme with a human approach. Something that explores the contradiction and human motifs in both, captors and captives. I realized there was a fresh and human approach in a theme that is constantly stereotyped and dehumanized in the media. Later, through a very extensive research process, I found out that Ecuador has the highest rate of children that are sent alone to the US to reunite with their parents who had immigrated when their were little. Most of them, specially women, never get to their destination, or are raped and broken inside before they get to their destination. This got me really strongly. I chose to write this story because I believe voices like the characters of Cristina and Javier need to be heard; I wrote it because something touched me deep inside a long time ago and it´s been scratching my mind to get out ever since.
Please describe your film for people who may not of seen it yet?
The Fare is the story of a young Ecuadorian kid who has chosen to forget his past and who he is in order to survive. He works for human trafficking gang that deals with undocumented immigrants in southern California. He realizes he can’t run away from who he is anymore the day he meets a young girl from his home town and is asked by the gang leader to transport her to a sex trafficking organization. It’s the story of someone coming face to face with his deepest fears and regrets. The prize to find out who he really is high, and there is no way back, only to hope at the end if there is chance or something left for him.
Where did you shoot the film?
The film was shot in Santa Clarita, California, in a single location.
What feedback have you been getting from audiences?
The feedback we’ve been getting is great, all across the board. It’s a strong and intense story but I’ve come to learn through our various screenings so far that people connect with it emotionally, and understand the characters. Their hopes and their contradictions. Someone wrote something on our FB wall after our last screening at Shorts LA Film Festival. ” It’s a sad but remarkable piece of filmmaking. Impossible to leave the theatre untouched. A film everybody should watch” . I was very happy to read that. I think it exemplifies the reactions of love and support we’ve been getting from audiences in the US and overseas.
How did you choose the actors for the film?
Johnny Ortiz, our lead actor, is someone I’ve had seen in other films. I was instantly captivated by the energy he has on screen. He’s a natural and very talented actor. When I started writing the script I kept thinking about him for the character of Javier. When the time to cast came we send the script to him through his manager hoping he would read and get interested . After a month we got a call saying he wanted to make the film. We met for coffee and right off the bat he told he had had a similar life than the character when he was a kid. He was a victim of gang violence and ended up in a world he would’ve never thought he would be. Acting saved his life. I offered him the roll at the end of our first meeting. Noemi Pedraza, who played the roll of Cristina, walked in to the room in our last day of auditions. Orlette Ruiz our casting director from Mambo Casting had found her on a community theatre project in East LA. She had never been in front of a camera before. We had been looking unsuccessfully for a long time and when we saw her and she stepped in front of the camera we just knew it was her. She got scared when I asked her to bring her mom in because she thought she had done something wrong. I guess she saw our faces but we were just speechless by her performance during the audition. I saw Eduardo Roman on a short film I loved and also knew I wanted him for the role of Wellington. I contacted him through FB and he was kind enough to respond and agree to read the script. He called me the next day to say he wanted to do it.
What advice would you give to new directors?
Filmmaking is art form that is inherently shaped by limitation. It could be overwhelming at times and many had walked away from the stress and intensity that comes with the job, specially at the beginning of a career. I’ve come to learn that what matters is that extra effort you do on every step of the way. When your whole being is telling you, deep inside, you should quit that’s when you push the most. I guarantee you’ll see the sun coming up after that last push during the darkest hour. At the end it all comes down to endurance and tenacity.
How did you discover the true story the film is based on?
I had a lot of support from the Ecuadorian department of foreign affairs. They gave me a lot of statistics about children who travel alone with coyotes from Ecuador to the US. The one that impacted me the most was a high suicide rate on kids that had experienced the journey. Their hearts and minds were so broken when they were rescued that not even the idea of reuniting with their families or going back to Ecuador meant anything anymore. I couldn’t imagine a kid taking such decision, but it happens. When they experience that level of abuse in a journey like this they are forced to grow up faster than they should. Their innocence is ripped away and that decision comes from a state of mind where they are no children anymore.
Did you interview anyone who had been trafficked?
During almost a year I visited shelters for undocumented immigrants on the Mexican side of the border. I’ve interviewed and met with dozens of people who had experienced similar stories. It’s just something hard to believe. I volunteered at one of the shelters and that gave me the opportunity to get to know people better and learn the details of their amazing journeys. I listened to the stories they had to tell, I paid attention to the way they talk, the clothes they wear and all the small pieces of behavior and specific details that helped me get as close to reality as I could. Border Angels is foundation based in San Diego that helped us with the contact and facilitated out research work at the border. I’m very thankful with them.
What is next for you?
The Feature version of The Fare, called El viaje, is already been written and we are now on the stage of putting the financing together. I have a few of my feature scripts optioned to production companies her win LA and hopefully we’ll find a way to get them off the ground. An interesting fact about these projects is that many are about long journeys, the struggle to survive and leaving things behind.
How can people keep in touch with your work?
I’m constantly updating my website with new projects and news about the ones I’m currently on. www.santiagopaladines.com .