Q & A

Luis Enrique Rodríguez

Luis Enrique Rodríguez has produced and directed films and videos for over 25 years. He started his career in Puerto Rico behind the camera shooting music videos and TV commercials for companies and nonprofit organizations, including The Salvation Army in Puerto Rico. His film debut “por amor en el caserío” (for love of the village) premiered in New York, and his second film “Dos Caminos” (Two Paths) premiered in both New York and Los Angeles.

How did studying advertising influence your filmmaking? As an advertising student at the University of Puerto Rico, I collaborated with film students. We were a small group with limited resources and we tried our hands at everything—commercials, film, photography, and advertising. Our approach was similar to that of our film making. We used the same visual techniques, cues, structures, and high production values.

Our ideas, combined with our hungry 1990s mentality, became the foundation for today’s film industry in Puerto Rico. In 2013, when I had the opportunity to direct my first film, “por amor en el caserío,” I was prepared for it because of what I learned while doing commercials.

One of the techniques I brought from advertising was to tell stories that reveal a relationship between two people. For example, “por amor en el caserío” was a Romeo & Juliet–type story set in Puerto Rico. “Dos Caminos” was about the relationship between twin brothers, Dani and Mickie, and how the sin and redemption of one brother affected the other.

In “Dos Caminos,” Mickie sees a Salvation Army canteen (mobile food truck). He puts on a red vest and volunteers. How did the Army get involved in your movie? Since the beginning, we had our eyes on the Army, though we didn’t know if it had ever backed a film like this. When we were writing the script, we knew that we needed the backing of such an organization with a reputation for helping people. When we presented the script, they said that they would help us with anything we needed. They loved the movie’s theme of second chances and seeking redemption, like Mickie was trying to do.

“Dos Caminos” could be seen as a modern–day Bible story. The brothers attend church together, a pastor reaches out to Mickie in his most difficult time, and another character may even be the devil in disguise. Was making a Christian film always your plan? I admit that at the start, I wasn’t thinking of treating it as a Christian film. I had plans to keep the story as secular as some of my previous works. But I soon saw that I was actually directing a Christian movie with redemption in the eyes of God at its center. It was much closer to my life and faith than I had realized. We had discussed how we would market the film and reach out to both a secular and a Christian audience. But everyone agreed that making a Christ–centered movie would not only be closer to what we wanted, but would also make the film accessible to a variety of audiences.

“Dos Caminos” was a great success for everyone involved. The Puerto Rican movie–going public was ready for a Christian film with high production values, and a message for everyone.

How did Hurricane Maria affect your work as a filmmaker? The devastation of Hurricane Maria postponed the filming of my next movie for about six months. The essence of Puerto Rican filmmaking is in its locations. Whatever type of scenery your film needs, you’ll find it there. Cities, beaches, jungles, and deserts—every one of them was affected by last year’s storms.

Scouting for locations came to a complete stop. Power outages, closed offices, and damaged buildings all contributed to the delays. But by the grace of God, we knew that we would continue making movies, no matter how long it took.

In what ways can the world still help Puerto Rico, one year later? The world can help by reaching out to organizations like The Salvation Army that are still working to help Puerto Rican families in need.

Last spring, I worked on a commercial for Jeep trucks in Yabucoa, a town greatly affected by Maria. There, my team met a family who still had no electricity. The family did not know when power would return, so they had learned to simply live without it. There are many families like this. Their houses need repair, and they walk miles for drinking water and fuel oil.

I also invite everyone to make Puerto Rico their next vacation destination. The tourism business is very important to our economy, and we need to share our beautiful island with the world, now more than ever.

Talk about your next movie. “The Journey Ahead/ El ojo de Dios” is a road trip movie about a girl mourning the death of her father. In seeing her mother try to move on, the girl rebels against her family and runs away from home. She meets someone who is going through a similar experience and together they take a trip that changes their worldview and their lives. Like “Dos Caminos,” it’s a story about second chances that are realized through unexpected relationships.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers? First, be sure making movies is truly what you want to do. Filmmaking is work that requires dedication, persistence, and collaboration with like–minded people. You need to learn to balance the time you will give to your art with your family and loved ones.

Second, recognize the great responsibility you have to your community as its storyteller. Seek your audience and think about the stories you want to bring to them. There are wonderful and original stories happening all around us, and even more inside of us.

Finally, don’t ever quit. You will always run into obstacles, and you will learn from them. When I was 13, I made my first movie with my G.I. Joe toys as stars. The questions I come across today are the same ones I had then: “Is this a good scene for the story? Am I filming it from the best angle? How am I going to get the shot I want?“

The obstacles will be there, but God will be there too. When you know that making movies is what you were put on earth by the Lord to do, trust that He will guide you in your art.

interview by Hugo Bravo