“El Camino” (The Road), an award-winning independent film by Costa Rican writer, director and producer Ishtar Yasin, debuted in major theaters around the country Aug. 21 following years of anticipation.
“The work on the film started in 2000 with my grants,” Yasin said. “In 2006, we filmed it. Post-production took two years.
I feel very emotional today. This is a longawaited movie.”
The film, centered around two Nicaraguan children’s experience with their parents’ immigration, has won awards at film festivals in Mexico, Germany and Switzerland.
“‘El Camino’ is the story of two kids who migrated from Nicaragua to Costa Rica in search of their mother,” Yasin said. “The majority of Nicaraguan mothers sacrifice for their children.”
Indeed, the female lead, 14-year-old Sherling Velásquez, could identify personally with the plight of her character, as she never got to know the mother who left her and her younger brother with their grandmothers more than a decade ago.
“It means a lot to me, because my mother moved to Costa Rica,” Velásquez said. “Ididn’t hear from her or my father for more than 10 years. I had only my brother.”
The idea behind the movie, viewing immigration from a child’s perspective, is a unique angle for the world to see.
“It is about the phenomenon of migration from the point of view of two kids who were left behind. I would like to see people more aware and conscious of the issues our population is facing,” said co-producer and financial backer Luis Castro, a businessman who was recommended by a friend to Yasin as a backer for her project because of his interest in the arts.
The issues of migration and immigration permeate Latin America, across borders and nationalities. The global economy creates pockets of employment opportunity that are simply too alluring for destitute people across the region.
“(Yasin) visited me three years ago with her project and I fell in love with the script – both how close we are to the problems of immigration and how far we put ourselves from it,” Castro said.
The film calls for regional togetherness and acceptance of common conditions and histories. The message resonates deeply to Yasin, herself an immigrant and the daughter of a Chilean immigrant and an Iraqi refugee.
“We need to unite as Central Americans,” she said.
Velásquez and fellow first-time film actor Juan Bordas, also 14, were members of a small acting group, Dos Generaciones, in the Acahualinca neighborhood of Managua, Nicaragua, when Yasin came looking for actors.
“Ishtar presented me with a fragment of the script and then I had to improvise,” Bordas said. “I was fine because I had had experience with auditions before.”
Both hope to parlay their experience with “El Camino” into big-time Hollywood careers. Both said they would like to play roles in fantasy films, but Bordas also would like to tackle action projects, while Velásquez hopes to work in romance movies.
The newfound fame, Velásquez said, is beautiful because people on the streets say, “Hey, it’s the girl from ‘El Camino.’”
“It was great, because it was my first time working on a film,” she said. “I worked very hard on the responsibilities that come with being a film’s star.”
The publicity of the film could benefit many more people than the young actors and Yasin. As Costa Rica and other Central American nations try to increase their film chops, every cinematic success increases the region’s credibility within the industry.
“Right now, a lot of doors are opening,” Yasin said. “I hope that this film will open them for a lot of other Central American filmmakers.”
Yasin financed her film without the help of a large studio budget thanks to her private-sector benefactor and a series of grants from immigrants’ rights and government agencies. This funding model provides a new option for Central American filmmakers who are unable to garner the support of large film studios.
“I’m not in the movie industry,” Castro said. “But I’ve felt for a long time that the business industry needs to be involved in arts and culture. I would like to see the government more willing to work with local artists, businesses willing to finance them and artists willing to follow their dreams.”