José Enrique Pardo says he’s excited beyond belief.
His first film ever, “Cubamerican,” is sold out in two theaters in Miami tonight. In the film, Pardo interviews a wide array of prominent Cubamericans, investigating their life journeys and exploring the shifting of personal and cultural identities. It had its world premiere at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival on March 2, and tonight it will be screening for the second time, due to overwhelming demand, at the 30th Annual Miami International Film Festival.
“I’m very happy,” says Pardo. “It validates the hard work of the four years it took to make this happen.”
The first-time screenwriter and director says he started writing in law school, and all throughout his teaching and real estate law career.
“I’ve always been a writer,” says Pardo, who has written three unpublished novels and some published poetry. “Storytelling was always of primary importance to me.”
When his father passed away, he says he felled a need to reclaim his “Cubania” — which he defines as the spirit of being Cuban.
“I felt like some of it had slipped away when he passed away, because he was my link, and I wanted to reclaim it,” says the soft-spoken Pardo. “I wanted to make the movie in dedication to my parents.”
Born in Cuba, Pardo grew up in Union City, NJ, and he doesn’t consider himself a “Cuban-American” but a “Cubamerican.”
“We are normally referred to as Cuban-Americans with the hyphen, but I feel we’ve created an identity for ourselves, so I merged the word,” he says. “I think it’s taking the best of both worlds — what it means to be Cuban — keeping their Cuban roots, but at the same time, making accomplishments in the in the American mainstream…they’ve contributed to American society in a big way.”
For four years, he followed around “Cubamericans” such as ALMA Award winning actor, Andy Garcia, Pulitzer Prize winning author/journalist and Columbia University professor Mirta Ojito, and prima ballerina of the Boston Ballet, Lorna Feijoo, to document their stories.
“I wanted to find diversity, because “Cubamericans” have excelled in many different disciplines,” says Pardo. “From my oldest to my youngest participant, there’s a 50-year range — different ages and different experiences.”
For Pardo, he says his “Cubamerican” story had a traumatic beginning. He left Cuba at 7 years old with his father, leaving his mother behind. She wasn’t able to join them till a few months later. He grew up in Union City, NJ — a city with the second largest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the late 60’s early 70’s, second to Miami.
“One thing I want to point out is that this is not just a Latin film or a Cuban film — Cubans are a microcosm of a larger theme that applies to Jews, to Iranians — many different ethnic groups that come to the U.S.,” says Pardo. “They all create the American Dream out of nothing.”
He says his favorite part of the filmmaking process was hearing the stories of the people he profiled — people who are committed to ending world hunger, and saving babies from malaria.
“Feeling that bond with them, was an invaluable part of making this movie,” says Pardo. “The historical context of the film talks about the 53 years of Castro rule, but what the film says is that no human being should have to live a life where they cannot fully express themselves.”
He says essentially, it’s a film about freedom.
“Nobody has captured this specific topic — I think that’s why it’s doing well,” says Pardo. “The topic was so timely and so necessary. People have been thirsting for it, and that’s what we’ve been seeing.”
His mom will be there with him tonight, watching the film — again.
“She has not missed a screening yet,” says the newly-born filmmaker who already has various new ideas floating around in his head for his next film. “She likes the fact we can leave something behind. It’s for the people who didn’t go through this experience — so they can understand what we went through. That’s why the film was made.”