Smuggled: Latino-American Filmmaker Ramon Hamilton's Story

Creator of film festival favorite also supports arts education work program, prepares documentary and second feature film

By Jennifer Fischer
Published on LatinoLA: September 26, 2012

Smuggled: Latino-American Filmmaker Ramon Hamilton's Story

Smuggled, the latest film from Think Ten Media Group and Latino-American director Ramon Hamilton, tells the story of 9-year-old Miguel Rodriguez and his mother Hilaria Rodriguz, as the pair are smuggled into the U.S. in a small, hidden compartment of a tourist bus. Most of the film takes place in the tiny compartment.

Hamilton's own Latino heritage and relationship with his mother informed the film, even though her story and journey to the U.S. differ from the mother in the film. Hamilton's mother came to the U.S. legally from the Dominican Republic as a student. She married an African-American man and remained in the U.S. and had a career as a beloved teacher in Boston, MA, where Hamilton grew up.

Raised speaking Spanish, Hamilton is completely bilingual. While his latest film tells a story of illegal immigration, it also draws on his personal relationship with his mother, which is one of the strengths of the film that audience members of pick up on. "I highly recommend it [the film]. The film is not only dominated by the harsh reality of human trafficking but also focuses on the loving relationship between a mother and her son," said a viewer.

Hamilton agrees. "One of the greatest compliments to me about the film is when people speak of how moved they are by the mother-son relationship and when people tell me that the story helps them have empathy for the journeys and risks many immigrants take to be in this country."

The film recently received its fourth award: Best Narrative Feature at the Third World Independent Film Festival. Additional awards include: Best Dramatic Feature (Mexico International Film Festival), Best Feature (Reel Rasquache Art & Film Festival) and the Founders' Award (Riverside International Film Festival).

It currently has received 15 official selections, with screenings coming up at the Kansas International Film Festival, Washington West Film Festival in Washington D.C., and the London Latin American Film Festival.

Additionally, the film is currently screening online through two different festivals: through the SoCal Independent Film Festival and the Great Lakes International Film Festival.

Hamilton wrote, shot, directed and edited the feature-length film, which is primarily Spanish-language, and made the film with a very small crew and budget. Its cast and crew also reflect the diversity of U.S. Latinos. For example, the film's first A.C. is a 3rd generation American/Texan with parents that are Mexican and Native American.

The lead actor, Ramsess Letrado, who speaks only Spanish in the film, is a 2nd generation bilingual 12 year-old whose parents are from Mexico and El Salvador, and lead actress Denisse Bon, who also only speaks Spanish in the film as well, is bilingual and traces her roots to Mexico. A U.S. citizen born in the U.S., she lived in Tijuana until 1988 and has been in the U.S. (San Diego and now L.A.) since then.

The diversity of Latinos involved with Hamilton's production company goes beyond the making of the film. Think Ten Media Group also has an arts education division called Generation Arts. Generation Arts teaches filmmaking, photography, Photoshop, graphic design and more to youth throughout the greater Los Angeles Area.

"A large number of the students we teach and mentor are Latino with families coming from many countries, including students who are first generation, second generation and third generation ÔÇô empowering them to think creatively, giving them tools and opportunities to increase their knowledge of cutting-edge technology and expanding their worldview of career possibilities is so important," states Hamilton. Additionally, the majority of Gen Arts instructors are Latino-Americans. "We did not plan that," he adds.. "It just happened, but I think it is great that youth have these individuals as role models."

A new key partnership for Generation Arts this past school year included pilot media arts education programs with LA's Best, the nation's largest after school program serving over 28,000 youth in Los Angeles.

While SMUGGLED is Think Ten Media Group's first feature film to hit the festival circuit, the company has a lot going on besides this successful film and their arts education work, including a documentary film that profiles a successful, low-income school outside of Los Angeles. UNDERDOGS: THE STORY OF A SUCCESSFUL PUBLIC SCHOOL should wrap on production this September, after following students and staff over the course of two school years.

Dr. J. Michael McGrath Elementary School in Newhall, CA is considered a classic "school of poverty": more than 80% of students are qualify for free or reduced lunch; approximately 57% are English Language Learners, and roughly 90% of the students are minorities, primarily Latino. Located in a suburb of Los Angeles, this Title 1 school is not like the other schools in the district because of its large number of ELL and low-income students.

The school's successes include receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award for the 2010-2011 school year, a prestigious award only five Los Angeles County school's received that year.

Hamilton shares his passion for this project: "We believe this film and school can contribute something positive to the ongoing discussions about public schools and education reform. We're proud to be highlighting a school that is getting it right and demonstrating that ALL students can succeed."

What's next for Hamilton? "I'm eager to continue sharing SMUGGLED through additional festival events and am open to other screening opportunities for the film because I believe in its message," states Hamilton. "Plus, we're in development on our next film project, which will also addresses the issue of immigration, but from a different angle."

He recently spoke in more detail about this upcoming project, SEEKERS, in an interview he did with NBCLatino.

Of his background, Hamilton says: "I'm proud of my Latino heritage and of my African-American heritage and feel that my heritage reflects what it means to be American."

To stay updated about future screenings of Hamilton's latest film, go to Facebook and like SMUGGLED, or follow the director, @ramon_hamilton, or producer, @IndieJenFischer, on Twitter.

About Jennifer Fischer:
Jennifer Fischer produced SMUGGLED, the latest film from Latin-American writer/director Ramon Hamilton. She also co-founded (with Hamilton) of Think Ten Media Group, Fischer also writes about her experiences as a mom through her blog, The Good Long Road.
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