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N.Y. SOCIAL CLUB

By Peter Bowen

Tomas Milian

LIKE MANY FOREIGN filmmakers, Alfredo De Villa decided to focus his first feature on his new homeland – only for him it was not mainstream America, but the Dominican community found in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, which is also the name of his debut feature. Mexican-born De Villa came to New York 10 years ago and quickly found a second home in the tight-knit Dominican community in upper Manhattan. De Villa set an earlier short, Neto’s Run, in the Dominican community, and this film brought him the attention of Junot Diaz, whose first collection of short stories, Drown, won remarkable critical attention for its portrait of Domincan-American life. De Villa explains, "Somehow Junot got a copy of the film, and contacted the main actor, Manny Perez. We all got together, and then we started hanging out socially and decided to come up with a story at a low-budget level that would reflect the reality of that region."

DeVilla, Diaz, and De Villa’s writing partner Nat Moss, worked on the script on and off for over two years. The final story follows Carlos Ramirez, a comic-book illustrator, who lives in Washington Heights along with his father (Tomas Milian), a local bodega owner, who is attacked and paralyzed in a stick-up robbery, an accident that bonds the two generations in unexpected ways. While the film focuses on the Dominican community, it also demonstrates the solidarity of the Latino community, with a Mexican director and Cuban lead. According to Diaz, "Over the last 10 years or so, I know a few directors coming from Mexico or Cuba or Panama. Working in America, they either give way to this country, telling stories that feel a little flat in terms of voice. Or they tell stories that seem contrived in the U.S. because they feel like they take place in their own countries. I felt much more at home in Washington Heights than looking at other, more American stories." The half-million dollar film is currently in postproduction.

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