When Ramon Hamilton teaches elementary film classes for youth in Los Angeles, he says it isn’t an odd occurrence for a 9-year-old to look up at him and say his mom was deported last night. It’s moments he’s encountered such as this, he says, that have inspired him to make films which talk about topics which could be misunderstood or misrepresented.
His latest film, “Smuggled,” is about a mother and son making their way across the U.S.-Mexican border in a hidden compartment of a tourist bus. On Saturday, his award-winning film will be screening at the 2012 San Francisco Latino Film Festival.
The film begins with the introduction: “Each year, approximately 350,000 people attempt to be smuggled through the U.S.-Mexican border…this is one boy’s journey.”
“It’s 80 min with this one boy and his mom being smuggled into the country. Because of that, you are intimately involved with these people coming in illegally. I want to humanize who these people are and create empathy.”
Hamilton, who is half Dominican, grew up in Boston. He says when he was in his 20’s, he co-owned a construction company there, and it was also where the story plot for his movie was born.
“One of the employees came here illegally,” says Hamilton. “He came smuggled in the back of a bus. He was there for well over 24 hours in a standing up position, and he couldn’t move. That’s really intense to go for a day essentially in a coffin. It makes you think what would make him go through that sacrifice?”
He says he finds it ironic that people are doing the same thing our founding fathers did — to find an “American Dream,” but now we’re breaking up families for people wanting a better life.
“Immigrants in general are coming here to work hard and build homes,” he says. “It’s a very fascinating topic, and all around it doesn’t make sense — the widespread hatred for our immigrants — I just don’t get it.”
The 33-year-old says he was in his early 20’s when he first fell in love with acting. He took a class for fun and started acting with students in Boston University and Emerson College. He says by doing these films, he found he enjoyed the entire process — from acting to the people behind the camera.
“I love it all equally,” says Hamilton who moved to Los Angeles in 2004. “It’s such a symbiotic art. Everything has to go together.”
He says he didn’t ever trust himself to write, but eventually he wrote a script in 2009, and after getting really good feedback, he loves to do it all, from directing to editing.
“If I knew music, I would have done the score too,” says Hamilton about his work for “Smuggled,” which he says he shot in July and completed in January of this year.
He says it was a challenge to find the perfect boy to play lead role, because there was specific criteria he had to meet. The boy had to be, or look, Latino, be able to speak fluent Spanish without an accent, and be able to perform the intense emotional scenes. He says Ramses Letrado was the 3rd or 4th person he saw.
“The look of fear and desperation was just amazing,” says Hamilton about the 10-year-old who got the part playing the 9-year-old lead. “We brought him for a call back and the chemistry worked.”
Overall, he is pleased with his “micro-budget” film.
“A story can overcome big budget films with car chases and the lack of money studios are fortunate to have,” says the filmmaker. “The first thing I look at is a strong story which resonates with the people — a major topic going on in the U.S. and something that could be done with very little money.”
Hamilton, who also founded the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival in 2005 in order to share quality independent films within his community, says one of his main goals is to be like Clint Eastwood — writing, directing, and acting in engaging and meaningful stories.
For now, he’s now working on his next film, “Seekers.”
“It explores the concept of a child born here being legal, but the parents are illegal,” says Hamilton about his next project which should be completed by 2014. “It’s going to be a kid’s adventure film like ‘Stand by Me’ or ‘The Goonies.’”