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Feb 07

2013 RRAFF Trailblazer Award: KENNETH CASTILLO

Independent writer/producer/director Kenneth Castillo has built an impressive portfolio over the last decade or more. In 2000 he and his now-wife Karla Ojeda formed a film production company called Valor Productions; their first project was The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin, a re-framing of the Charlie Chaplin silent shorts of the 1920’s and 30’s set in the Mexicano world of the Day of the Dead. Some of the Cholo episodes screened at film festivals across the country, and one appeared at the 2007 Cannes film festival and won the Imagen Award for the Best Theatrical Short Film the next year. Since 2008, Kenneth has written and directed four features, a series of “urban Latino” films under the group name of The Drive-By Chronicles: Sidewayz, Ghostown, and Confessions of a Gangster have been picked up by Comcast and Time Warner cable for Video on Demand distribution. Today he has more than half a dozen projects or more in various stage of pre-production, shooting, or post-production.

In spite of all that activity, he doesn’t begin to fit the stereotypical image of the young Hollywood hustler. “I’m not a networking guy,” he says. “I believe in building relationships. They’re truer and they last longer, and they’re more solid than ‘networking’ relationships. I’m proud of the process I’ve developed over the last twelve to fifteen years, proud that the actors want to continue to work with me after they’ve worked with me.”

Castillo’s Counterpunch is the feature film at the center of Reel Rasquache 2013’s closing ceremonies. And there’s plenty of work to be done. This touching and dramatic story of a Cuban boxer out of Miami who suffers from bipolar disorder includes a number of well-known Latino actors in its cast, including Danny Trejo, Steven Bauer, and Yeniffer Behrens, among many others. “A really great cast of established and up-and-coming talent,” Castillo says, and a real challenge for him both creatively and organizationally: he served as co-writer/director on Counterpunch, and the budget was three times larger than what he normally works with.

For Castillo, it’s not about a single project–though he has plenty to his name. It’s about a body of work. “Filmmaking is a craft; You only get better at it by doing it. Other filmmakers want their first film to be a Picasso and it’s just not. They put everything into that one project. But if I’m shooting something that means I’m already writing the next project, and if I’m editing then I’m getting ready to shoot the next project. I never feel like ‘This is the one.’ I never know, I just know at this moment, I have to do the best with what I have. I don’t play this game like the lottery.”

Comedy or thriller, short or feature film, Castillo’s stories are always told from the Latino perspective. “That’s a major problem with Latinos in this business,” he said. “We’re not engaging our own audience. We’re assuming that if we do a Latino-based film, Latinos will flock to it and we can’t assume that. If you open a business in a Latino neighborhood, even if it’s geared to Latinos, it doesn’t mean they’re going to walk in the door and start spending money. We need to have that same mentality and honestly, we don’t. That’s what I’ve tried to do with every single one of my projects: engage the Latino audience.”

No matter where he goes and what the does, you can tell that Kenneth Castillo is quietly, continually, confidently going to do it his way…just as he should. “I’m not worried about offending anybody or hurting my career,” he says. “There’s nobody out there that can do that. It’s a sad thing, but there’s no one in the Latino film community that help you or hurt you; though there are a lot who think they can, and that becomes a distraction. The one person that can help you or hurt you the most in this business is the person you see in the mirror.”

Website: kennethcastillofilm