Edwin Frank Ortiz, or Edwin “FrankO” as he’s known, describes his upbringing in Barrio Logan as special.
“Before it became the artistic community it is now, a lot of us were still trying to find ways to communicate our art in the neighborhood," he said.
He and his friends would stop by Salud, pick up some $0.60 rolled tacos, then head over to Chicano Park to breakdance. The jumping-off point for him was dance.
“At Point Loma High School… [I was] very passionate about dancing. And it wasn’t until a colleague of mine, a film student, asked me to dance in his film and act. And once I was introduced to that, I loved performing for the camera."
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FrankO says he wasn’t always passionate about school. He would skip out on homework, said he had no mentors after high school, he thought he’d be done with school for good.
“I wasn’t really encouraged to go to university. I thought, ‘Alright. That’s it. It’s either join the Navy or look for a stable job.’”
He says he was content working in retail, at the Adidas store in downtown San Diego. But after that job was taken away, he began to reevaluate his life.
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“And I thought, ‘Oh! Let me look into [pursuing acting] once again. [I] found gig after gig. And it opened my eyes to film production.”
FrankO says he attended Los Angeles City College, with aspirations to get into the film program at USC. And after years of hard work, that moment came… but during a very difficult time.
“I got a call from my sister that my father had his second heart attack, but he was in a coma. I rushed to my dad’s side. I [was] there with him. My phone [was] dying. I go home. I pick up my charger. And on the way out, I see this white thick packet with the USC shield on it.
“Opening that packet, pulling out a red pamphlet with a gold embedded shield, the words ‘Welcome to the Trojan family’, like Ugh! I get emotional talking about it. [My father] waited for that moment… I got to read [my admission letter] to him while he was still breathing and on life support. I remember staying there all weekend with him until his very final last breath."
This was in 2016. Then five years later, after the pandemic hit, FrankO once again found himself evaluating his life.
“I remember going on a run and thinking about my influences, my journey… I’m always thinking about, like, did I really get over my father’s death?”
The thought process coincided with the film “In the Heights” coming out, which FrankO says was a catalyst for him.
“As much as I love the director, to me, it still lacks some flavor. Specifically, within the salsa scenes… And so that made me really question, “Wow, are we really lacking Latino film directors in Hollywood? Or in the industry?”
He hit the books, determined to come out with his first narrative story. And reflecting on his father’s Puerto Rican heritage, a film about salsa dancing just made sense.
“A thought came to me… Am I really trying to keep him alive in my art?”
Inspired by his father’s passion, combined with his desire to motivate his family, the screenplay for “Fuego” was born.
“I wanted to tell [the story of] a character based on that perspective. Someone who hasn’t discovered their purpose, their fuego, their passion in life.”
It was a labor of love for FrankO. He said it made him feel closer to his father and motivated him to continue to tell San Diego stories.
“Nothing against Los Angeles or New York City. But we see so many of those stories all the time. So I feel like with the film I created, it’s important to tell stories where you’re from.”
Edwin FrankO hopes his film will continue to shed light on his Puerto Rican heritage, inspire his Barrio Logan community to keep growing and inspire others to find their inner fuego.
“I want it to be a story that people can watch and reflect on themselves if they’ve been in similar situations.”
“Fuego” will be showing again at the San Diego Latino Film Festival Thursday night at 7 p.m. For more information, go to fuegoshortfilm.com.