Weightless

I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the feeling of being in the ocean – yesterday, I interviewed someone for my next documentary on using the ocean as a form of physical and mental therapy and he used the perfect word to describe it “weightless”. He went on to describe how he felt as being superman, as if he were flying on water – a sensation that he’s never experienced before.

It reminded me of the first time I went on the water – how weightless and at home I felt. As I was completely submerged in the ocean, I felt the earth hug me and kiss me. Nothing else has made me feel quite at home, or at peace – not even hiking excursions or dips in the rivers. It’s the ocean where I feel most at home.

Because of this feeling, as well as the feeling of rejuvenation that each beach trips leaves me with I started to wonder; how would this make a child with autism feel? How will a child with Down Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, and more – because I needed to ease my curiosity I went to see how kids with these ‘learning disabilities’ benefited from being in the ocean, even if it was for a day. The results were outstanding. I saw children who were incredibly anxious in the morning to tirelessly smiling, cheering and hugging as soon as the water kissed their toes.

According to CoralReefSystems.org “Creatures found in coral ecosystems are important sources of new medicines being developed to induce and ease labor; treat cancer, arthritis, asthma, ulcers, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases; as well as sources of nutritional supplements, enzymes, and cosmetics. The medicines and other potentially useful compounds identified to date have led to coral ecosystems being referred to as the medicine cabinets of the 21st century by some, and the list of approved and potential new drugs is ever growing.”

So, why aren’t more people looking towards the ocean as a form of therapy? Why aren’t we taking better care of our oceans, when we can benefit in so many more ways than just economically? These, and many other questions, I decided I was going to try to find answers to, by asking the right people in my next documentary. Yesterday I began filming the first interviews.

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Yesael Rivera says that being in the ocean makes him “feel like Superman”

Yesael Rivera, a kind, soft spoken student of biology and physical therapy agreed to be a part of the film – he spoke about his passion for swimming (he is a former Olympic-qualifying swimmer), helping others and how he balances his day job, studies and his volunteer work. His weightless feeling in the ocean, coupled with his love for nature and conservation is part of what keeps him motivated to work with children and people who suffer from any ailment. It has been his experience (which is similar to mine) that the ocean provides the necessary tools to open up a persons’ mind, heart and soul to be able to improve physically, mentally and emotionally.

These, and many other benefits of the ocean is what I will explore in this unique film that I’m sure you’ll all love.

In the meantime, I will go on filming and feeling weightless, and much like AquaWoman – because in the ocean is where I know life continues. Even while we, as humans, try our best to destroy it – it evolves, it heals itself, it thrives and is ever constant.

Film Festivals and more!

After 5 years of production to finally be able to hit “render film” brought tears of joy and an incredible sense of accomplishment, completion and pride for my determination to complete Forced into Silence and have sent it off to festivals!

As of today, Forced into Silence has been submitted to 10 international film festivals!!!!  (festival locations are: UK, EU, US and Mexico as well as virtual/online screening) – Although it was “disqualified” for one of the fests, I’m still really excited about this and hope that it gets picked up for at least 2 festivals!!! Furthermore, I’ve written a 32 page screenplay that I’ve sent out to 2 screenplay/film fests! So that’s even more excitement! Even if the film gets picked up by just 1 of these festivals, I’m confident that it will help many people – men and women alike when it comes to victimization and learning how to deal with the aftermath. 

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With that said, I’m starting this another and even more ambitious project to further explore the topic, while setting up a platform for those who feel ready they can speak about their experiences with boys and young men. The project (a 13 episode docu-series) will feature interviews with men who have been victimized and have turned these traumatic events into a tool that can help others. Example of which, is the amazing James Landrith – rape survivor turned speaker, writer and overnight manager for RAINN.  Landrith was raped by a woman when he was a young 19 year old Marine – this event was traumatic and, as any traumatic event should, left a lasting impression on him (you can learn more about it in this Huffington Post video).  After 18 years of the event, he decided it was time to speak about his rape and let others know that this does and can happen to men – more importantly, that women are capable of rape as much as men are.

While this is a sensitive aspect of rape that many people still struggle with, and I fully understand why since women have been perceived for centuries as the “weaker sex”. Often portrayed as the victim, the defenseless person attacked by the mean man who wanted to violate her, take possession of her body and quite possibly kill her. Never, unless it’s in a Lifetime movie, is a woman seen in any other light. So speaking about men being abused, assaulted and/or raped by a woman has caused an incredible amount of backlash to me and my work. One thing I want to make clear is, I AM NOT BASHING MY OWN GENDER, I am being the feminist that is looking for equality – namely in the areas of the law that punishes perpetrators for their crimes and helps and protects victims.

With that said, my next project, Silent No More, has already begun filming!

The idea of this series is to further explore the issues presented in Forced into Silence and also serve as an outlet for victims, former victims, and their loved ones to seek help, solace and understand what’s happening.

Screenshot 2016-08-17 16.07.22Along with a great interview with James Landrith, the pilot episode will also feature a second interview with NYC tour-guide turned actor Bryant Mancebo, who appears in Forced into Silence. I wanted to bring him on the series to speak about his career, how being a survivor of partner abuse influences the choices he makes in roles and what he hopes he can do with his career as an actor to those men who are or have been abused by their partners and more. I believe this is a great choice for a pilot – once it’s completed it will be submitted to festivals for consideration and shopped around for producers, networks, financiers, etc.

For those of you who are wondering about it – I haven’t forgotten about my environmental projects! I’m working with a special group of people that are informing me on the best possible ways to film Beneath the Waves, location wise as well as another short documentary with some amazing people that are doing some incredible work. So, with all this, I have my work cut out for me.

I’ll keep you posted with the news about the festivals, and further project developments!

What’s in a SUP lesson?

Last Friday I was asked to tag along with for a SUP (stand up paddle boarding) lesson with the Puerto Rico Surf & Skate Club feat. the Sirenas Taínas (link leads to video of the events) and I was blown away by the magic that children with autism and down syndrome have when learning something. Anything.

There were about 20 children at the Vega Baja summer camp, all of which have been diagnosed with autism. I knew that they were going to do well, what I didn’t expect was the exceptional way these children took to water, the SUP boards and how easy being in the ocean came to them. There is no other way that I could describe it as incredibly special, motivating and breath taking. Here are some photos of the event, you can see more on my flickr account (see side bar to connect to it) and please watch the 8 minute video I’ve linked above, you’ll be sure to see what I mean by magical.

New Material released! (and coming soon)

I’ve been working on a few projects the last few weeks (almost a month now) and I’m happy to announce that they’re all ready for viewing!

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subscribe to the PR Surf and Skate Club’s YouTube Channel to stay up to date on their awesome work! (and also mine…lol)

Partnering up with the Puerto Rico Surf and Skate Club has been a great deal for me. I’ve seen how they work in the past, but I didn’t quite realize the impact they had on children in the neighborhood, until working with them in creating videos for their newly created YouTube Channel. The non-profit works with children who are interested in learning the sport and with parents whose children have been diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities – so they can gain the focus and social skills they need to lead productive and independent lives.

You can watch the 12 minute documentary about the club here. There are also a few interview videos you can watch if you know Spanish, you can see them here and here. They are fun and short videos about volunteer work, their motivation and the impact the children have from their clinics in the beach and the local park they learn how to skateboard.

Writing is an art best left to flourish

Besides working on these videos with the Club, I’ve written the script for a short film that I’m sure, will make a huge impact on the audience once I’m able to produce it.

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The Speaker, inspired by actual events (short film) written by me! 

Logline:

The story follows a girl who’s ready to give one of the most important talks of her life – She’s nervous and when she closes her eyes she’s reminded of all the events that brought her to where she’s standing. The gritty, the painful; the moment she realized she wasn’t alone and most importantly the moment she realized she wasn’t worthless because of these bad experiences.

It’s a powerful script, with very jarring scenes. The sort of jarring scenes you only see in real life, which is apt, because it is based on real events. I’m really happy with the script and will be soon submitting to screenplay festivals to gain some funding to be able to produce it.

Skype is seeking talent

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still shot from my proposal video to Skype

With all that’s been happening (submitting Forced into Silence to festivals along with the aforementioned work) I’ve submitted a grant application to Skype Shoot the Future with hopes they select my docu-series project proposal.  The proposal is to produce a series of short documentaries further exploring the issue I present in FiS in a pragmatic and inclusive way to be able to find a solution to a problem that only continues to increase as the years go by, a problem that affects us all as people, as partners, as a beloved to anyone.

So, plenty has been happening with my professional life! I’ve been working really hard to be able to continue to produce content – even without any funding. Because not all filmmakers get to have donors, or financiers; even if they have pages like Patreon up and running – which you can see with mine there’s not one donor signed up to it. Oh well. Still, I’ll continue to make my work happen the best that I can without the money – I won’t let that stop me.

Production Starting Soon!

For the past few weeks I’ve been getting ready to start production on my next documentary – finally it’s going to happen!

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early b-day gift, can’t wait to start using it!

Last week I got a new Vivitar Action Camera from my Dad as an early birthday gift. According to the online reviews the picture/film quality is just as good as a GoPro, so I’m really excited to start snorkeling this week as production starts to roll for Beneath the Waves – I’ll soon be posting still shots from my adventures in the sea!

Today, I decided that after failed attempts at Crowd-Funding I would launch a “monthly donations” page. Inspired by a musician who I donate to, I thought that if a modern day troubadour can get monthly donations from his fans, why can’t I? It’s hard making it in this business, but with your help, it can be that much easier! I think this way, people can take take control of what they see, and what’s released in film – bringing in the audience as participants in the makings of the films that they see is something exciting, innovating and possibly game changing for the industry.

Hopefully, this donation set up (which doesn’t expire) will be successful and I would be able to complete the next three films I have in mind; three wonderful documentaries – here is a little bit more about them:

Beneath the waves: (est. length: 50minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: Focusing on the health of coral reefs around Puerto Rico, the film will feature both healthy and at risk areas in the Atlantic and Caribbean Seas that surround the smaller of the Greater Antilles. Focusing on how the combinations of over-fishing, climate change, along with human contamination have negatively affected the health of the islands coast – while presenting a possible solution for same.

Ocean Therapy: (est. length: 25minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: A short film about how the ocean and water sports (e.g. surfing, body boarding, SUP) has been proven effective to treat autism, multiple sclerosis and depression.

Forced into Silence (est. length 60minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: A film set to focus on men who have been sexually assaulted and victims of domestic violence at any point of their lives. With a look at the emerging centers that care for their specific needs in The Netherlands, Sweden, and the newer centers for men’s care in Australia, and the U.S., Additionally it will look at the current laws that protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and what makes it so hard for men to be recognized under these laws, furthering the struggle of men to find a voice in a (increasingly extreme) feminist world.

These films are incredibly complex and diverse in nature, but the subject matter is one that needs to be discussed and explored by a greater audience. Beneath the Waves and Ocean Therapy are incredibly relevant for today’s climate change affected world – how we are affecting the planet beyond the surface and how it affects us in return (Ocean Therapy).  Whereas with Forced into Silence will (continue) to explore the complex topic of male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The production on FiS has begun, but was halted because of lack of funding – this is a huge disservice to the men AND women who are struggling.

I kindly ask you, to check out my new monthly donation page on Patreon and sign up for as low as $1.00 a month to help me make these films. Who knows, one day you’ll be able to be say you ‘produced an award-winning film’!

At the corner of happy and positive influence

Today, as part of my monthly crave-satisfying run I went to Walgreens to get me some chocolate (Lindt Dark Chocolate w/Coconut ) and some kettle popped corn.  As I usually do, I walked in, took a shopping cart and proceeded to walk through the isles – because that’s what I do when I have time to waste. I grabbed some dog food, and proceed to go to the snack isle and get me the pop corn, chocolate and added Tazo English breakfast tea.

Walking towards the register, I noticed my favorite cashier was working today. A young girl with auburn hair, a raspy voice and a lively smile that sort of reminds me of Punky Brewster (since I don’t know her name I’ll call her that from here on) – she always greets me with big smile. Today she was more enthusiastic than usual to see me, I guess it’s because I haven’t been there in a while. As she scans my items she already knows not to use plastic bags. I always refuse to use them because they’re non-recyclable items here and I don’t want any of the bags I toss out to end up in the ocean and subsequently in a sea turtles tummy when the poor thing confuses it for a jelly fish and starts chomping.

Punky, starts putting my items in my cloth tote bag and stops to see my tea, she enthusiastically tells me that she loves that tea and if it can be made iced, I tell her yes and proceed to give her instructions on how to make an ice black tea and she nods and grins wider. Then, she tells me that she “started using cloth bags like you [me]” and I smile. I congratulate her on the progress of thinking about the environment, the convenience and suggest she keeps a few of these tote bags in her car, just in case she needs to run an errand last minute – just so she never has to use a plastic bag.

I always keep a tote bag with me
I always keep a tote bag with me and sometimes, I even match it

After paying and exiting the store I realized what I had done the last six months: I had positively influenced a person to make smarter choices for the environment just by making smarter choices myself. I felt good. I was also reminded that people often forget how their actions influence others, be it positively or even negatively. I was glad I was in the former group of influence.

Although the Puerto Rican Senate recently approved a law that will prohibit the use and distribution of plastic bags throughout the island – after the agency of waste management along with a group of private citizens requested the ban, I have been taking my tote bags everywhere and promoting their use. All in the hopes to minimize waste; promote recycling and maintain the health of sea creatures that are primarily affected by this specific type of trash.

Many local people are confused as to how they are going to deal with the new law. Wondering how they’re going to carry their groceries, since they’re so accustomed to using the plastic bags. As I walk buy with my bag of totes, I hope to continue to be the positive influence that I already have been for Punky. Who so happily let me know that she’s doing what she’s seen be do for months – and that she feels good about it.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this post is that: while you think that you’re only doing things that will affect you personally, it will undoubtedly influence others – you have the choice of what kind of influence you want to be in the world. All I know is that I’m really happy with being a positive one….I also have to ask Punky’s name…dang

If you like to know about the good things some local surfers are doing for the community, watch my docu-short Forever Boogies, if fitness is more your thing, watch this awesome clip featuring Olympic Trainer Francisco “Capu” Ocasio and Bodyboarding champs Galdo Gomez and Fran Castro.

Open Heart

So, being that I live in a tropical island (for now) there’s something I realized when I recently went to New York City: I really love wearing flip flops and tennis shoes with light socks. With that said…my recent visit to NYC was busy, invigorating and inspiring. While I do miss the diversity in people and food, as well as missing that I don’t have to drive everywhere. I feel violently stripped of my independence because I can’t just jump into my car and go anywhere my heart yearns for.

Mr. & Mrs. Marijanski!
Mr. & Mrs. Marijanski!

The past two weeks I spent it helping one of my best friends organize her wedding. As her maid of honor I helped her with flowers, selecting gifts for the bridesmaids and everything else that would entail being not only a maid of honor, but a wedding planner…and three assistants. Even though I have family in the City, I didn’t really tell anyone I was there until the day after the wedding because I knew I wasn’t going to have time to spend with them – harsh I know, but I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to breathe, much less travel anywhere to see anyone.

I also wanted to make sure that I had hours to be able to talk, laugh and enjoy my family without having to worry about needed to go back and deal with wedding stuff. So, as my friend was planning the celebration of the journey she’s going to take with the love of her life, I made sure she had my undivided attention – to ensure the process was easier. That was the first week, and the wedding went off beautifully.

The day after, I slept. Like a baby. The following week I went to the scheduled appointment to donate platelets at the New York City Blood Center, after a little over an hour and almost an entire IV bag filled with my white matter, I gathered my strength and went uptown to see my grandfather on his birthday. He was so surprised he gave me a tight hug and his eyes filled with tears. At 89 years young, the only man I’ve known in a grandparent position was emotional, smaller than what I remembered him being when I was a child, but still as loud and enthusiastic about his Mets.

don't be fooled by his grumpy look - Grandpa is a total sweetheart
don’t be fooled by his grumpy look – Grandpa is a total sweetheart

We spoke about all things Puerto Rico, New York, and my work. Although he doesn’t quite understand what it means to make movies – well, independent movies on hardly any budget, he’s very supportive of my work. He’s seen my documentary Forever Boogies and loves it. Of course, that’s something I’m extremely happy about. Leaving late, I realized how much I missed him, and my grandmother. While she and I didn’t always have the best of relationships – she actually was extremely abusive towards me when I was a child – I now enjoy the benefits of having a relationship with the only grandparents I have left in this life.

That second week I was able to enjoy a great Friday. As a ‘thank you’ for all my efforts as a maid of honor, I was given tickets to see Joel and Victoria Osteen at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Arriving early, I wanted to make sure I skipped the long lines that I was sure were going to take over the block. At 11:30am I was within the first 15 people in my line (there were six lines). I was behind two Colombian ladies who were talking about their families back home (gossip) and a Dominican lady and her friend were behind me – both of which were complaining when two elderly and disabled African American women skipped the line before us. Silently I listened to all the harsh comments in Spanish whispered behind me, as I watched these two women struggle in the cold air with their wheelchair and walker respectively. At one moment I felt compelled to look behind me and I saw that the clearly defined six lines merged into a giant single line as it wrapped around the block – obstructing the entry for the subway. Everyone was eager to see the Pastor Osteen.

A night of hope with Joel & Victoria Osteen
A night of hope with Joel & Victoria Osteen

As soon as I walked in and got my ticket stub, I saw a table for World Vision, and immediately felt bad that I couldn’t afford to sponsor a child right then and there. Then I tried to excuse my lack of finances with the fact that earlier that week I donated an insane amount of platelets that will undoubtedly help children with Cancer “you still helped someone!” I said to myself as I walked away from the photo of the child that captured my attention. His beautiful hazel eyes against his dark skin asking for some type of help from anyone…his frame a little too thin for his height and age. “I’ll help you soon, I promise” I repeated to myself as if he were in my brain and could hear my thoughts.

Further walking towards my section I stopped by a table and purchased a book for $10 and a t-shirt for $20 (also a gift from my friend), joyfully I walked to my seat and prepared to personally hear the message I’d only been able to watch on television. The Osteen children came out signing with the band and wowed me. I’m not being biased – not at all, but I have to say, they both sing beautifully, although my favorite is Alexandra, her voice is so clear, strong, and with a perfect degree of rasp that is completely delightful. Their rendition of the classic Amazing Grace is simply moving. October 16 is a day I will never forget.

I felt every word, ever emotion went running through me and my mind was clear of every decision that was eating at me. I had been considering so many things, so many huge decisions. Do I stay, do I go? What if my father gets really ill again? What if I don’t make it? What if I can’t make it back if he gets sick again? Extremely depressing decisions to make all whilst aggressively attempting to make my career take off – then I heard the message that gave me hope…the message that cleared the clouds from the sky and opened my heart – the message that changed my life.

“Let the wind blow you toward the right direction,
quit fighting what He has in store for you…
Sometimes God will deliver you from the fire, other times,
He will make you fireproof and deliver you through the fire”

While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are changes that are coming. My life has been revived; my spirit has been freed from the chains of guilt and fear that crippled me for so long. My heart has been opened and I welcomed my destiny fully.

I will complete two films, even if that means I have to finance everything myself and make the production scale smaller than what I wanted to – it’s not something I’m foreign to, I mean I did it with my debut docu-short. The world will know my work, and will be positively influenced by it. That’s what really matters to me: getting the message out there.