Interview with Cati Gonzalez, Director of EKAJ

1) What inspired you to make this film and how did you become aware of homeless LGBTQ youth?

 

It definitely relates to our lives and experiences. Both Mike and I have been broke and homeless, which is not an uncommon thing with artists. We’ve also lost family and friends to AIDS, so I wanted to incorporate that into the Film as well.

I was writing a film with Midnight Cowboy on my mind but with Nuyorican drifters, broke and discarded by life. Once I met Jake I thought he could be in the film. I already had met another young man that was related to Mike that was also really beautiful but in a rougher way, and I decided that the story would apply to them even better, since I had not seen hot Puerto Rican “hood” gay boys featured in a lot of films.

The tale is a hopeless love story between two drifters, Ekaj and Mecca. Though Mecca has AIDS, and slowly deteriorates throughout the film, he manages to become Ekaj’s only real anchor to reason. Ekaj makes some money from prostitution, and Mecca deals occasionally in opportunistic theft; they are discarded into poverty.

Scooter La Forge plays a painter, “Johnny”, the cold and often brutal love interest and obsession of Ekaj. Though Ekaj is emotionally invested in him, Johnny is often indifferent to this bond, and even beats him. With no place to call home, Ekaj spends his days at Mecca’s cousin’s place, at Johnny’s, and in hotel rooms paid for by his clients.

With Mecca and Ekaj living such turbulent lives, their mutual loneliness leads to genuine friendship.  The motive that drives the story is to make people aware of how many kids fall into the crevices of society because of family rejection, poverty, lack of education and also rejection within their own communities. Which eventually leads to homelessness, drugs, prostitution, suicide, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in many cases.

These kids tend to live isolated, and lose trust in society.

2) Could you explain your visual style and the process of developing the script?

I was a photographer for 20 years, I worked many magazines doing fashion stories and portraits of many celebrities. The visual style is the same that I’ve always had. I really don’t think about it, I just follow my emotions and shoot.

Writing is new for me, I wrote another script before Ekaj, which I just got back into and I am hoping to make it a film in the next couple of years. I love writing, especially creating the characters. I go over and over the script to make sure the characters are as real as they can be and the dialogue is really important to me too. I think it was probably in my blood to make movies as my mother always tells me that she took me to a movie theater when i was 1 month old and was breast feeding when I saw my first film.

3) What were your biggest challenges and biggest joys in making the film?

The biggest challenge was to make these kids take the film seriously and show up to the set. It was a bit of a nightmare sometimes.

I guess the biggest joy was watching them perform with real natural talent and seeing them excited when they saw themselves on the screen.

4) Could you tell us about the actors, what about Jake Mestre made you cast him for the part of Ekaj?

I fell in love with Jake Mestre when he was 16, I found him on Facebook. After that i tried to make him a model and  took him to an agency but he would not listen to my advice and cut his hair, shave his eyebrows or show up late. He was impossible to deal with. Instead of giving up on Jake, I thought he’d be great playing the part in the film, since he was a rebel anyway. I have known Jake now for a few years now and watched him grow through the film. He has become a part of my family.

5) What communities do you wish to explore in future films? What draws you to tell stories of marginalized people?

I love the Spanish/Latino community because it’s close to my heart. I expect to always be doing some of that but I have just written a screenplay that is not Latino at all, so who knows. One thing for sure is that marginalized people are always going to be my script subjects.

I came from a poor background, my mother worked in a factory and cleaning houses when I was growing up. It’s in my blood!

6) You emphasize naturalness in your work, where do you draw the line between documentary realism and dramatic catalyst?

My photography always had a documentary style even with set productions. I love it when a scene is as close to real life as possible, I strive for that. If a scene is dramatic it’s because life is dramatic. Sometimes I wish I could be like Almodovar and dramatize all of it because I looove drama but I am what I am.

7) What words of encouragement do you have for women filmmakers and filmmakers of color?

Go for it! Throw yourself into the ring. You’re never going to know enough until you do it. Everybody that comes from another angle or experience will have lots to offer to an audience. 

Just think, we are just beginning to see the point of view of women, LGBT and Color Directors in the last few years. So it’s just begun.