When gay filmmakers and partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland were looking for a subject to collaborate on for their long-awaited follow up to 2001's The Fluffer, they hit upon the idea of a story that features characters from different cultures in a gentrifying neighborhood—just like those in their own Echo Park, Calif., surroundings. The result, Quinceañera ( Kin-sin-yair-ah, a title that refers to the elaborate coming-of-age celebration for Hispanic girls ) , features not only a 15-year-old Mexican heroine but may also present the first gay cholo on the screen. ( See Westmoreland's definition of the word below. ) The movie, a winner of several awards at last January's Sundance Festival, opens this Friday at the Landmark Century Centre Cinemas. The enthusiastic co-directors sat down recently to talk with Windy City Times.
Windy City Times: OK, this is amazing. You thought of this idea in January and then you wrote the script in three weeks and filmed it, like, seconds later. I mean, even for an indie feature, this is lightning fast.
Richard Glatzer: Well it doesn't usually happen this way with us; I'll tell you it'd been years trying to get the last one—The Fluffer—going and we sat down on New Year's Day 2005 and we were thinking about how interesting our neighborhood is with different cultures side by side and we had been to the Quinceañera and were wowed by that and just had this idea of a gentrifying neighborhood with a Quinceañera in the foreground and the neighborhood in the background.
Wash Westmoreland: And the gay cholo throughout.
WCT: What does that word 'cholo' mean?
WW: I'd say a 'cholo' is a sort of young, roughneck Latino. A little bit gang identified. So, we decided to make something that would work on a low budget with no special effects or explosions. It's about people and their lives and it was shot in our neighborhood and in our neighbor's houses and we cast non-professional actors. We decided that we wanted to shoot everything within a one-mile radius of our front door so we could always walk to work.
RG: Four houses on our block were major locations, including our house.
WCT: Did you know your neighbors before the movie?
RG: We did because we'd been asked to be the photographer for our next door neighbor's Quinceañera, and that was our entry into the whole world; then, the movie really did break down barriers even more. People became much friendlier.
WW: I think gay people are often seen as the frontline of gentrification—
WCT: —and artists.
WW: Definitely. And we tend to move into neighborhoods that are considered a little sort of dangerous because it's not all white and it's not all sanitized but I think a lot of gay people like that. When we first moved onto our street, we were the first white people and a lot of people spoke Spanish and we thought, 'Well, they're thinking we're gay.'
WCT: Was it hard to make those two gay characters that are obviously based on you two a little more callous? They're really the villains of the piece.
RG: We thought, as gay men, we have the freedom to be more critical of the gay community than people outside it. I've heard those conversations. Everybody buys houses and sees the property value go up and people think that's great, but we also thought it would be great to draw the gay community's attention to the fact that something is being lost and, also, if you want to fuck somebody and don't want to invite them to dinner—that's kind of cruel. We want to draw attention a little bit to the coded racism where you fetishize something different but because it's different you don't want to go beyond the physical.
WCT: I'm glad you pointed that out because that's one of the things I really loved about the movie—the contrast of the two cultures. When the gay yuppie and Carlos say to each other, 'You live in a whole other world, don't you?,'he says, 'No, you do.'
RG: But also we think we have a gay hero because Carlos is a gay hero.
WW: He's a new type. I don't think you've seen a gay character like Carlos before. In a way he's a new type because he's gained his sexuality through the Internet; from going online before he's really come into contact physically with any gay people. He does have a very different feel about him.
RG: And he's not angsting over, 'am I gay?' He knows he's gay. It's not like you think, 'Oh, it's this big macho Latino guy; you're going to have this big coming out thing.' We want him to be very sure that he's gay because of his online experience—he just hasn't had any physical experiences yet.
WCT: And the young lady also knows who she is. They're both really honorable characters—sort of unusual for teens on screen.
RG: You know one thing I wanted to say in talking about the gay characters and their place in the community? While the gay white couple, in a way, are racist in the way they fetishize Latino boys but not treating them as three-dimensional people, Carlos' parents are completely homophobic so we wanted him to be at the center of those different issues.
WW: Maybe post-Brokeback Mountain now, there's room in gay cinema to look at whole different things that haven't been looked at before. There's just not a need to push incredibly positive images of every single gay person in a movie. There's more room for shadings and complexity and to look at issues that are in our community.
WCT: You've had 11 years together—can you talk about collaborating on a personal and professional level?
RG: Well, we decided that if we were going to direct together that the best move would be to sleep together.
WCT: Ah, that is so sweet ... . You're like the Marilyn and Alan Bergman of film directors. [ Both laugh. ]
RG: People say, 'Oh, isn't this stressful on your relationship that you work together?' I think it would be much more stressful the other way around.
WW: [ It would be tougher ] if we weren't or if we were competing— [ like ] if we had rival films.