Staying Rooted with Kevin Rios

Project 1324 asked this year’s Sundance Ignite Fellows to describe their experience at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and the effect it had on their filmmaking. Here is Kevin Rios, one of the five winners of our “What’s Next?” short film challenge, on his time at Sundance and the next steps of examining his family’s history through film:

Every filmmaker dreams of attending the Sundance Film Festival. This year I was fortunate enough to attend the festival after winning the Sundance Ignite “What’s Next?” short film challenge with my piece “Made of Sugar.” The experience, as well as joining the Sundance family, was one that I will remember for the rest of my life/career.

“Made of Sugar” is just the tip of the iceberg for me as a filmmaker. After being accepted into the Sundance Ignite Program, “Made of Sugar” has been accepted at several film festivals including the Revolt Film Festival, Outfest: Fusion, Wicked Queer: Boston LGBT Film Festival, MiFo: The Miami LGBT Film Festival, and hopefully more soon. After attending Sundance, my love for filmmaking has grown stronger.

Through the Sundance Ignite program I was able to partner up with my year-long mentor, Jason Berman (Producer, The Birth of a Nation), and continue on my road as a filmmaker with greater support as I begin work on my next film.

My upcoming project is rooted in my mother’s side of the family. The idea is to make a short film as a proof of concept to hopefully get funding for a feature. Going over many of my family’s personal stories, this one felt like a step in the right direction. After the death of my grandmother, my mother is tasked with her dying wish of having her ashes back scattered in Havana, Cuba. My mother hadn’t been back to the island in over 20 years and her only connection to her family was via letters. The emotional trip of letting go of her mother while reconnecting to her family left behind in Cuba is the story I want to explore. Using a parallel storyline structure, I’ll show my mother and grandmother’s last days in Havana in 1979, and connect past to present through carefully planned flashes that will coincide with her reintroduction to the island. The story has the potential to be a universal tale of motherhood and family, using details of Cuban history to highlight my protagonist’s story.

I hope to shoot the film over the summer in Havana primarily using a Cuban crew and local resources. I’m fortunate to have a cousin on the island who’s a working filmmaker and someone I can partner with to make the film. Fusing our talents and connecting as family to make the film is just one more reason to tackle the project.

Filmmaking is living for me and using the experience to connect with Havana and my family, just like my protagonist in the film, feels right. Cuba has become a hot spot for creatives ever since U.S. and Cuba opened dialogue with each other after 57 years of silence. Over the next few years there will be an inevitable over saturation of foreigners on the island that I hope doesn’t affect the authenticity of the story I want to tell. I don’t want to tell a story about the revolution or the politics of the island, but rather tell a story of how these forces affected Cubans on the island and in America. I’m going back to illuminate the stories like that of my mothers’ and many others who had to leave their homes, belongings, and most importantly, families behind.

Overall, through making “Made of Sugar” and attending the Sundance Film Festival, I’ve realized that looking within myself to make a film made all the difference. Finding my own unique voice by projecting my life onto film helped me discover my path as a filmmaker, hopefully continuing to grow with every future project.