High hopes for locally concieved and shot indie film

High hopes for locally concieved and shot indie film

A locally filmed indie flick about a recluse history teacher and
his equally anti-social love interest has a humble budget, but a
big heart.
A locally filmed indie flick about a recluse history teacher and his equally anti-social love interest has a humble budget, but a big heart.

“I had my old man savings,” said writer/director/actor Ruben Gonzales, 43, of the reserve piggy bank he’s dipped into in order to help the endeavor. “I said screw it, I’m just gonna let it ride.”

“Oscar” is the brainchild of Gonzales, a Gavilan College instructor of three years who teaches acting for television and film, screen writing and the history of El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista. Gonzales is a regular thespian of El Teatro, which was founded in 1965. The company created “actos,” or short skits, on flatbed trucks and in union halls that dramatized the plight and cause of Latino farmworkers, according to the theater’s website.

Gonzales has also has acted alongside Jet Li in “The Master,” Jennifer Lopez in “Selena” and Benjamin Bratt in “La Mission.”

Scenes for his feature-length movie are staged at recognizable venues such as Gavilan College, Vertigo Coffee and McAlpine Lake & Park in San Juan Bautista, with production slated to wrap around Sept. 2. Gonzales plans to enter “Oscar” in at least three film festivals, including Sundance, Cinequest and Poppy Jasper.

The deadline for Sundance Film Festival – the premier showcase for independent films held each January in Park City, Utah – is Sept. 26. Gonzales admits making the cut at Sundance alongside thousands of other creative hopefuls is kind of a longshot, although it makes underdog success for a first-time filmmaker all the sweeter.

San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival, “one of the last big festival bastions for the discovery of new and emerging film artists,” according to the event’s website, takes place Feb. 28 through March 11. Submissions are currently open for the local Poppy Jasper Film Fest, which is scheduled Oct. 14-16 in Morgan Hill.

In light of its lofty cinematic aspirations, Gonzales will show “Oscar” first at Gavilan College on a date yet to be announced. The cast and extras include Gavilan College staff, students and alumni familiar to South Bay and El Teatro Campesino theatergoers. Director of Photography is Ryan Wood, freelance videographer for the Dispatch and Gavilan graduate who studied under Gonzales.

As the creative ringleader whose purpose is to bequeath the world with “stories of love and healing,” Gonzales dreamed up the plot for “Oscar,” wrote the script and brings the starring role to life.

“The idea of human connection – we’re all afraid in our own little ways; we all have a reclusiveness about us,” he said, divulging the basis for his film’s fictional characters. “We’re afraid to connect to people. We’re afraid somebody’s gonna take something from us.”

The story line revolves around Oscar Sanchez, a middle-aged history professor whose been dating the same girl named Mel since the second-grade. Spontaneous and outgoing, Mel is Oscar’s personality antithesis.

“He’s always been the kinda guy she’s had to pull out of the sandbox and get him out from behind his books,” says Gonzales about his role in the movie. “She likes to play on the swing set, throw rocks at cats…”

After graduating from the fictitious “Barely University” – a feat following Oscar’s four attempts to get his dissertation accepted, or, in actuality, “gifted” to him by a professor who just felt sorry for his pupil – Oscar reluctantly agrees to embark with Mel on a mobile home adventure across America.

Three months and 49 states later, Mel is weary of her peculiar, introverted counterpart. She dumps Oscar for the burley biker who sold them their motorhome at the start of the trip.

Nine years down the road, Oscar is still reeling from the split. Slowly losing his grip on life, he’s at “the end of his rope” when he becomes intrigued with Misha – a new biology teacher who finds solace in her private world of twigs and bugs. Orphaned as young child and raised by two hippies, Gonzales paints Misha as weird and withdrawn.

“Everybody in the script – they all want human connection. They all need human connection in one way, and they don’t know how to go about it, and they’re pushed into a situation where they have to,” he said.

Gonzales said his film’s tone is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, the director behind “Royal Tenenbaums” and “Life Aquatic.” There’s also trace influences of the Coen brothers, a pair of filmmaker siblings famous for morose, ironic comedies such as “Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski.”

Through a “multicultural cast” not traditionally seen in the stereotypical Hollywood profile, Gonzales says he aims to spin a tale that nurtures change and “helps humanize those we don’t understand.”

He can’t praise enough the communities of Gilroy and San Juan Bautista for allowing him to shoot around town. From a couple who lent their mobile home as Oscar’s fictional dwelling, to Galaxy Self Storage in Hollister.

“All of my stories have something to do with forgiveness or redemption, but it’s always about love, I always return everything to that,” he says. “If you’re not gonna change the world as an artist, then why do it?”

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