Sunday, August 7, 2011

Movie with Abe: Gun Hill Road

Gun Hill Road
Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green
Released August 5, 2011

Harmony Santana stars in the film

There are prison movies, and then there are post-prison movies. Both represent important periods in someone’s life, and very often a film shows only one or the other, not both. In the case of “Gun Hill Road,” it’s not so important what Enrique’s crime was that landed him in jail, but rather the effect being in prison has on him once he’s returned to real life. Enrique (Esai Morales) arrives home after several years in prison and gradually learns that his son Michael (Harmony Santana) often dresses up as a woman who calls herself Vanessa. This unusual and uncommon circumstance, coupled with Enrique’s experiences in prison, creates enormous tension on the home front and the basis for this stirring, strong drama.

Esai Morales and Rashaad Ernesto Green discuss the film

“Gun Hill Road” is a film laced with authenticity. Much of the cast is from the Bronx, and the culture of Gun Hill Road is a familiar place. Most meaningful, Enrique’s son Michael is played by Harmony Santana, who herself is undergoing gender reassignment. Over the course of shooting, Harmony would arrive on set dressed as a man and then later came back dressed as a woman, asking to be referred to as “she.” It lends a considerable honesty to the film to have Harmony relate entirely to the experiences of Michael, or Vanessa, as he’s known when in female garb. Director Rashaad Ernesto Green was extremely committed to finding the perfect person for the role, ultimately locating Harmony on the street at a gay pride event in Queens, describing the success of finding her as an “accidental miracle.” If nothing else, Harmony’s performance is heartfelt and serves as the emotional core of the film.

Harmony Santana and Judy Reyes discuss the film

“Gun Hill Road” is an exploration of the interaction between the LGBT world and the Latino community in the Bronx. The actors, including Harmony, bring with them a sense of their own cultures and backgrounds, creating complex characters and lived-in roles. Esai Morales does double duty as star and executive producer, while Green makes his feature film debut as director and writer, telling a story inspired by his own family. Judy Reyes, who stars as Ernesto’s wife Angela, marks her first film role since her tenure on “Scrubs,” transitioning from comedy television to drama film. The disjointed family unit feels real, and it’s easy to recognize this broken family from any culture. “Gun Hill Road” may have a very specific story to tell, but its message is far more universal and important.


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