We caught up with Catalina Gonzalez, the director of Ekaj (USA) on the hard hitting issues explored in her film, her personal experiences, guerilla marketing and what she is most looking forward to about Leeds!
A brief introduction to yourself as a filmmaker.
I was born in Cordoba, and raised in Barcelona, Spain. I lived in Philadelphia for a few years where I started as a photographer. then I ended up moving to NYC in 1990 where I currently reside. My work has been seen in French Photo, I.D, Spin, Vogue, Colors, Vibe, Interview, Paper, Big, Blaze, Trace, Surface, Liberatiòn, El Pais, Mademoiselle, New York magazines and other publications doing fashion stories and celebrity portraits of subjects such as Director David Cronenberg, Russell Simmons, Notorious B.I.G., Pharrell Williams, The Ramones, David Byrne, Thurston Moore, Chloe Sevigny, Jaime King, Common, Beenie Man among others. I have also worked on various music artist album covers for Sony, Warner Bros., Atlantic Records and others. I was awarded by “Festival De Le Mode Exhibition,” Nice, France, “The American Photography Magazine Awards”, French Photo as part of “Photographers of the Future” and Macy’s Windows Art Photographers Exhibition.
In the last few years I have been writing a couple of scripts. One short and two Feature’s. I completed my first Feature Film and baby Ekaj which is my debut presentation as a Writer, Director, Cinematographer, and Producer of the Film. If you see my photography, you can see that my Film is a continuation of my work but moving into film.
Why the name Ekaj? We tried to guess it might be because the actor playing the protagonist Ekaj is called Jake, Jake Mestre. Did we guess right? :)
Yes. I asked Jake, what name do you want to be called in the movie and he came up with Ekaj which I could hardly pronounce. Then I thought, that’s just backwards. Perfect! I’ll take it.
Ekaj is a pretty hard hitting film, dealing with issues faced by LGBT communities, such as maginalisation, poverty, addiction and homelessness. Was it intended as such? What was the motivation to create such a film?
Yes, originally I had Midnight Cowboy in my mind. The story is about two drifters, who are broke, homeless, and discarded by life. They rely on each other and end up caring for one another. These are the characters I have always photographed.
I lived some of that myself and so did my partner Mike, so I guess the motivation always comes from some part of yourself. Mike was a homeless kid at 13 and his Mother died of AIDS. Mike and I are sort of that odd couple. Mike’s brother who plays the dad in the movie, has a brother in law who is gay and had that Puerto Rican cool rough style about him. I thought the story would be strong if the characters where “Nuyoriquen” (Puerto Rican from New York) gay. After that, I met Jake who is also Puerto Rican and I thought who could be better to play the part than someone who has gone thru similar experiences. They had come from tough hoods and everything in the script spoke to them. Everybody who read the script said this is me! it’s my life! I knew it would not be easy to do and it wasn’t. People who come from hoods have a hard time trusting and they are not very reliable. I knew that because as a photographer, I worked with many street kids but making a film is a long commitment unlike taking pictures. At the end, what they brought to it is priceless. My whole intention in making Ekaj was to show that everybody with a set of circumstances suffers regardless of gender, including LGBT kids. Sometimes I find myself promoting it as a gay film and my friends remind me that it is a gay film but in reality it’s just a love story between two rejected human beings.
Ekaj is meant to be an opportunity for these kids from the other side of the tracks to work in a creative project.
What were the challenges you faced as a filmmaker, to get Ekaj seen? What was the most hardest part, how did you overcome it?
We actually didn’t have challenges getting the movie seen. I had a fan base as a Photographer who were interested in seeing the Film. While we were still putting finishing touches to the Film, a friend of ours had passed it to a Festival Director who saw it and wanted to include it at their Festival. I thank God for this because it forced me to let go or I would still be at it.
The hardest part was to physically get to the festivals and learning as a first time Filmmaker that you have to hire a PR person to get the best Press for your Film. We were so not ready for this.
It’s been down to guerrilla marketing and many sleepless nights.
Mostly for Mike, who aggressively pursued anyone and everyone with a blog or magazine. So to answer your question: How did we overcome it?
We haven’t. It’s a struggle everyday.
What are your thoughts on how mainstream media and films represent LGBT communities today?
I think that the mainstream media doesn’t know enough about the subject. Most LGBT Films are filmed by LGBT people who express their feelings from their point of view. My point of view was to focus on the human condition and not so much on the labels.
We’re really looking forward to meet you and Mike at the fest. What are you most looking forward to about Leeds and the festival?
Well, Leeds is a beautiful setting. I love the country side in England. In terms of the festival,
I think you guys own the title for the most edgy, raw, sexy underground film festival in the world, no question about it.
I haven’t seen anything like it and I look forward to it.
Thanks so much Catalina! See you very soon!