What can $700 dollars, belief in your project, and the love of all your friends do? The result is EBONY CHUNKY LOVE: BITCH CAN'T GET A DATE!
I often describe the film as a disaster film. It had everything going against it. When I finally convinced Keith to participate in the film, it took about six months to get the whole set-up going. Keith began workshopping the show and we had intended to film the entire show for a few runs at his venue "The Starlight," the venue where he hosted a successful comedy show every wednesday. As I cleared my schedule for the summer to prepare for postproduction, the venue fell through. Sadly, gentrification came to town. The developer had shut down all the businesses on the block where Starlight stood three days before we were to begin filming. Anybody who knows NYC, knows that you need to book a place well in advance and the cost...well, nothing in life is free.
I decided to roll with the punches and take footage that I intended as extras on a possible DVD release. The story that began to develop became more interesting. Keith called in every favor possible to try to complete a version of his one man show in comedy clubs around the city. We ran around NYC for close to two weeks where Keith's comedy colleagues allowed him a set during one of their productions. I had been couch diving with all my equipment so that made it even more exciting! Sadly most of the footage could not be used because of lighting, sound or release issues. In some cases I had only ten minutes to set-up.
Ever the optimist now even though investors pulled from the project, I was deterimined to return to Seattle (where I lived at the time) with a complete set of interviews and such. As for the investors I don't blame them. I would have been jittery too. What I didn't appreciate was the fact that I was told that my project would go nowhere. I began to believe it and that summer was about the hardest I had ever faced. There were a few months where Keith and I didn't speak. We had worn out that initial friendship that we developed when we first met. He had just started his gig at Sirius so his focus was now on making the best of a new situation.
I left the footage in the can for a few weeks and spent about two weeks with myself, thinking, reading but really grieving the fact that this project might never happen. After some downtime, I began to assemble the pieces I had to see if I had anything of value. I had footage that I had shot earlier that year with colleagues who I wanted to incorporate in the extras. I had Keith's home video from his workshop dates and I kept building the edit. After a two hour rough cut, I realized that my experience in NYC began to reflect in the conversations I was having with Keith. The difficulties we had in getting this off the ground started to reflect Keith's own difficulties in love and work. Keith is ever the optimist. He is definitely an unforgettable bright light and even though our relationship was strained, something needed to happen, either dump the project and try to resolve the friendship or try it again.
I made several copies of the rough cut and lent them out to friends who are either affiliated with or are either part of the industry and whose work has garnered prestigious awards. I gots nods and some good feedback. The person who I thought would be the most critical called me within 20 minutes of popping the video in the dvd player. When I saw his name on the caller ID, I froze and sat down. I answered. His voice boomed, " Mr. Renteria.... I am trying to find the words to tell you this."
My heart sank because I knew I was going to get a real tongue lashing; He does not hold back.
"Mr. Renteria.... You are a fricken genuis! Honestly, I wasn't really even interested in looking at it. I was just going to do you a favor. Genius, I say!"
I said, "Well you haven't seen all...."
"There is no need, if it speaks like what I see, I 'm certain you will get a call in twenty more minutes."
Indeed, I got a call and notes. I explained what I intended to do next with trying to get the show up and running to finish the project.
He said, "Dont f@#%^n touch it! That is your show. Don't you get it? You capture the process of how difficult reality is for people who don't walk off GQ magazine. I don;t want to get a ll mystical but it is as if life is teaching you a lesson in making this film. Listen! Don't underestimate you potential audience. They will be smart, you can count on that. Everyone else who doesn't have the intelligence to understand what you have just done can go f@&$*# themselves."
It took me a while for it to sink in because I really wanted to do what I initially intended. He was right. The time had passed and Keith's life had evolved and my experience and vision with it.
I eventually sent Keith a copy for his perusal. We decided on two pick up shots during the summer of 2007 and at this point two very dear friends, Yvonne Mojica and Seth Bedford offered their talent regardeless of where the film went.
We premiered the film at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in October 2007. We sold out the house. NO, It wasn't full of my friends. I actually kept the film on the DL. We ended up runner up for the audience award at the festival. My colleagues were right and Keith and I will not look back.
I am also proud to say that the film has touched the lives of many people who have been struggling with something difficult in life. Our audiences are not just gay we have found out. Keith and I have received e-mails from people who claim that the film helped them feel empowered. The comments range from getting right with how they look to finding a voice that doesn't cower over to coming out! AND the biggest shocker! Most of the people who have written us identify as Straight!
The biggest nod for us was to be invited to play the San Diego Black Film Festival 2009 and to be awarded Best Film in our category. This is significant because in the past many Afro-American film festivals shied away from showing LGBT content.
Thank you warmly,
Lonnie Tristan Renteria