San Diego

SDSU Director, Short Film Winner Sees Future for Latino Representation in Film Industry

"By starting here in college, at San Diego State, it kind of is like that one step -- that we are the next generation that is willing to bring these stories out into the community," the young filmmaker said.

After winning a national film award, San Diego State University student Martha Rodriguez sees a future with more Latino representation, one that she may be at the forefront of one day.

"It’d show people that a Mexcian-American woman could also be at the top as a director, as a screenwriter -- so that’s my ultimate dream," she said when asked what it would mean to make it in Hollywood. 

The 20-year-old film major was the recent winner of the AT&T Film Awards in the Best Spanish Language Short category for her directorial work on "Chips and Salsa."

The award comes with a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts Summer 2019 program and a meeting with a talent agency. 

The short film centers on a young Mexican man named Juaquin who tells his family he is pansexual before a Christmas dinner, but Rodriguez said the film is so much more than just a coming-out story. 

"It's not only about your identity but about family," she said. "I hope people can take out of it different pieces that can resemble them, or that they can connect to," she said. 

Rodriguez lives in North Park and was raised in San Diego by parents who emigrated from Guanajuato, Mexico. When her class read "Chips and Salsa" for the first time, she saw her own family dynamic in the characters. 

"It was a sense of portraying people in reality," she said. "I was able to connect in a sense to the character because I felt like these were real people; like, these are how my parents would act, and how my family would act; this is how my neighbors would act."

The script was pitched during one of her film classes by her co-director and collaborator Jonathan Sotelo. It was the only other pitch in her screenwriting class, besides her own, that featured Latino characters.

"We've seen progression of identity and ethnicity within Hollywood but it's not enough," she said. "By starting here in college, at San Diego State, it kind of is like that one step -- that we are the next generation that is willing to bring these stories out into the community."

The two directors made unique artistic choices when deciding how they were going to share Juaquin's story; despite hearing the family's conversation throughout the short film, the characters are not fully visible until halfway through.

"We wanted the audience to feel that -- to feel that there is something unsteady, 'why can’t I see the faces of them?’ or 'why can I only see reflections,'" Rodriguez explained. 

At the core, the film is a story about a young man telling his traditional family about his sexuality, an idea not frequently depicted to the Latino community.

The film will air on DirecTV in Latin America, part of the AT&T award, and Rodriguez knows the film's content may make some uncomfortable but believes its an important story for that audience. 

"I feel like its something new, of course, and many people may not like it and many people may like it. Because as times progress, I know that there are people out there that do feel lonely because of how they identify themselves."

The filmmaking duo plans to continue to tell stories with Latino and Hispanic characters at the forefront; their next project, still in its early stages, centers around the relationship between a daughter and father. The story is based on Rodriguez' personal experiences. 

The young director didn't always have the confidence she has now. When she first applied to colleges, she recalls thinking she could never get into a school like USC because there were so many more qualified people. 

But winning the AT&T Film Award has given her the chance to soak up everything she can from the school's elite filmmakers and move one step closer towards her ultimate dream -- to join the ranks of her Mexican-American filmmaking idols, like Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro.

"I never expected to be a part of USC and I'm really grateful for this opportunity, not only for me but for my group," she said. "I'd take back everything that I can so that I can teach my group and my crew at San Diego State that we can also be at the top." 

"Chips and Salsa" can be viewed on AT&T Developer Program's YouTube channel here

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