The independent film “MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA” about a Latino family in Iowa, is playing at the LA Film Festival where it had its North American premiere on Saturday night. Starring Silas Garcia, Samantha Rae Garcia, Becky Garcia, Tanner McCulley, Nicole Streat, Elizabeth Agapito and Josefina Garcia, MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA follows teenage Silas who is considered the man of the house, but he wears that responsibility lightly, searching for more from his life than the small town mischief he gets into with his best friend., The film is written, produced and directed by Aaron Douglas Johnston who is also from the Midwest but now resides in Netherlands. We got the chance to catch up with Aaron Douglas Johnston at the LA Film Festival to find out more about his new film.
VIMOOZ: First, congratulations on MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA being an official selection in the 2013 LA Film Festival … and the North American Premiere..
Aaron Douglas Johnston: Thank you! It’s a great honor to be here at the LA Film Festival. It’s the first time the film has shown in North America, so it’s wonderful to see and hear the audience react to the film.
VIMOOZ: Tell us about MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA – the story?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: The film and its story are the result of an intensive workshop in acting and filmmaking that I gave to Mexican-American residents in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. I developed the story while working with the workshop participants, who are also the actors in the film. It was a wonderful and rewarding process that created ongoing friendships, great actors, and a film we’re all proud of. MY SISTER’S QUINCEAÑERA follows one Midwestern Latino family as they prepare for a quinceañera. As the eldest of six, big brother Silas is constantly helping his single mom and taking care of his siblings. He has become the involuntary man of the house, but he dreams of leaving his hometown to pursue his own dreams. Family relationships as well as love interest Nicole make the choice a difficult one. Surrounded by family, friends and potential love, he struggles with the question: Should he leave or should he stay?
VIMOOZ: You are credited as the writer for the film, what inspired you to come up with the story?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: The workshop participants and actors inspired me to write this story. I started the workshop with no pre-conceived notions of what the film should be about. During the course of the workshop and through the various assignments and acting improvisations that I gave, I was drawn to several recurring topics: the importance and craziness surrounding the quinceañera, the warmth and love of a large Latino family, and the heart-wrenching dilemma for a son/sibling to decide whether to continue helping to provide for his family or to leave his family behind in order to pursue his own dreams (of higher education in Silas’ case). The richness, love, and at times constrictive nature of family relationships, combined with the beautiful small Midwestern town landscape, inspired me to tell this story.
VIMOOZ: Is there a large Latino community in Iowa?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: Like much of Eastern Iowa, my hometown of Muscatine has a significant Latino population, about 10 to 15%. Latinos have long been a part of Iowa. Through the workshop and the film, I was anxious to explore my hometown, and the workshop became a wonderful way to both get to know the Latino community of Muscatine and to tell an authentic story dear to all of us who collaborated on this film.
VIMOOZ: How did you find the actors?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: All of the actors attended the acting and filmmaking workshop. They had never acted before, but they became not only comfortable but also professional and quite skilled in front of the camera. It was a great experience working with them.
VIMOOZ: Most people may not know that you graduated summa cum laude in International Studies – so will you incorporate this international perspective to all your films?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: I’ve always been fascinated by various cultures, countries, and languages. Before I became a filmmaker, I studied sociology at graduate school, and I’ve lived in several different countries. I now live permanently in Amsterdam. I’m drawn to stories where various cultures mix, mesh, and/or collide in interesting and dramatic ways as well as to stories about insider/outsider themes. These types of stories often mesh with an international perspective so this perspective does find its way into all of my films in one way or another.
VIMOOZ: What’s up next for the film?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: The film will screen at multiple film festivals this year, and we’re currently working on distribution deals to get the film out there so people can see it.
VIMOOZ: What’s up next for you?
Aaron Douglas Johnston: I’d love to make another film in Iowa, as my own hometown continues to inspire me. I’m also currently developing several projects in the Netherlands. [ Pictured above: Aaron Douglas Johnston (center wearing grey scarf) with crew at WorldPremiere IFFRotterdam 2013 ]