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INTERVIEW: COM grad student uses Puerto Rican background as film inspiration

Ramón Torres Santa, a first-year graduate student in Boston University’s College of Communication, screened his 2015 short film, “Panorama,” at the Rincón International Film Festival in Puerto Rico on Friday. PHOTO COURTESY RAMON TORRES
Ramón Torres Santa, a first-year graduate student in Boston University’s College of Communication, screened his 2015 short film, “Panorama,” at the Rincón International Film Festival in Puerto Rico on Friday. PHOTO COURTESY RAMON TORRES

For seven days each April, movie enthusiasts gather in Puerto Rico to watch comedies, documentaries and short films at the Rincón International Film Festival. Ramón Torres Santa, a filmmaker, first-year graduate student in Boston University’s College of Communication and native Puerto Rican, showed his 2015 short film “Panorama” Friday at the festival.

“It’s a story about two guys talking at the top of a house looking over the city skyline,” Torres Santa said. “They’re just talking about how bad the financial crisis is there right now. They’re talking smack about religion, how money is being [poorly] used.”

In an ironic and comical twist, Torres Santa said the two men actually turn out to be burglars. As someone who enjoys “smart comedies,” Torres Santa said great comics are the ones who “think about comedy as a way of being reflective — how to focus on bad things and make them better.”

Torres Santa is one of 12 students in COM’s Master of Fine Arts program in Cinema and Media Production. The one-year intensive program, a new addition to COM, has students brainstorm ideas for a short film of their own creation.

Torres Santa, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, said he was hesitant about immediately starting a master’s program following graduation.

“I wanted to wait a while and get more professional and then pursue the master’s degree,” he said. “But my mom pushed me, [saying], ‘You should do it now. You don’t know what’s going to happen.’ And it’s true, so I started looking up great master’s programs.”

As founder and lead songwriter of the alternative rock band La otra media, Torres Santa had to make the difficult decision of leaving his band members behind in Puerto Rico.

“It was hard for me,” he said. “I only applied for this program. It’s very competitive … I accepted, but at the same time, my band had a gig. We were opening for a big band from Venezuela [and] played for a crowd of 2,000. That was a big moment … People wanted to take pictures with us … We did all the rock star-type things.”

Ultimately, Torres Santa decided that moving to Boston and learning about filmmaking in an academic environment would be a great experience.

Torres Santa wrapped production Sunday on a film titled “Over His Dead Body,” his final project for COM’s MFA program. In the project, students combine their talents to direct, film and produce six short films. Each of the six student directors is allotted a budget and week for production, Torres Santa said.

The film, he explained, is based off his grandmother’s experience living in Puerto Rico during the 1950s.

“She always wanted to be a singer, but her parents never let her,” Torres Santa said. “The cool thing was, even though she was never able to fulfill her dreams, all of her children [and] grandchildren became musicians.”

The tragicomedy, which includes an original song written by Torres Santa, follows the story of 20-year-old musician Carla, who has been estranged from her family. When her dad dies, Carla must decide if she will attend his funeral. If she attends, she has to choose if she will sing.

Torres Santa said that as he was brainstorming ideas for the film, he knew he wanted to involve the Puerto Rican community in Boston. When he wrote a Facebook post calling for actors and extras in February, he said he didn’t get much of a response. When his father posted a similar Facebook post, however, the response was immediate.

“It got viral overnight,” Torres Santa said. “All of those people that weren’t listening to me in a way started saying, ‘Whoa, everyone is tagging me in this. I think I have to help him.’ So I got help from very important sources in the Puerto Rican community.”

Torres Santa said he was pleasantly surprised by the sudden response and support. He ended up with a 60 percent Puerto Rican cast, which he said helped make his movie more authentic.

When casting a film, Torres Santa said he tries to find people that may have gone through similar situations to the characters.

“It’s more of a fusion,” he said. “I don’t want actors to become the character I wrote. I want the character to mold with the human.”

Aside from his latest works, Torres has worked on film projects for the Puerto Rico Department of Education, Johnson & Johnson and Carolina Isabel, a YouTube user with more than 17,000 subscribers. As a growing filmmaker himself, Torres Santa said the best advice is to practice.

“Every artist or filmmaker is self-conscious about their craft,” he said. “They think, ‘This thing is so bad. I can’t show it to anyone.’ Well, I disagree. You should show it to people. Part of the approach of the [COM] program is strong critique. That’s the way you get better. It’s not harsh critique, but strong critique. You know, tough love. Work on what you want to do and what people want to see.”

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  1. Felicidades, orgullo de Puerto Rico