Hollywood  

We Have the Power

Successful release of Empire bodes well for Santiago Pozo, Latino filmmakers

By Jose Mayorquin
Published on LatinoLA: December 5, 2002


We Have the Power


On the brink of perhaps the most significant premiere weekend for the Latino filmmaking community, we sat down with Santiago Pozo, founder and CEO of Arenas Entertainment to discuss the upcoming release of his company?s debut film, "Empire."

Q: The Premiere Weekend Club has street teams across the country promoting "Empire" and we?re hearing that there is a lot of genuine buzz out there. Are you excited about the prospects for "Empire"?

A: I am very confident and we have done everything possible, but in this business you never know. So I hope that the Latino community shows up in big numbers. I am hoping that Latinos realize that this is not only about supporting a Latino film, but about supporting the first Latino company in Hollywood that can really make a difference for many movies to come.

Q: What has been your strategy for marketing the film?

A: Our strategy has been going after Latinos. We are also going after a crossover into the African-American community and after what we call "the wannabe's," the middle-class Anglo-Saxon boys who want to be as cool as some of the characters who are from the cities. So the strategy has been breaking in through some of the traditional forms of media, and also through community grassroots, through media promotions, screenings, and very targeted advertisement, such as our trailer being attached to the front of "8-Mile" (Eminem's film debut). That was fantastic.

Q: How did you discover this film?

A: I think we were one of the first companies in Hollywood to see it, and I immediately showed my interest in distributing the film. But they were asking for an amount of money that I was not ready to pay. So I was biting my fingers for a couple months because I really wanted the film. And then they came back and that?s when I stepped in and bought the film. I started showing the film at Universal, to my partners there and little by little got people enthusiastic about the film. Finally, Universal adopted the film and embraced it completely, and that?s why now we are going to 900 prints, which is a very large number for an independent film. The important thing about this is exactly what I mentioned earlier about the importance of having a Latino company in town. Without a Latino company in town, this film would go directly to television. And in some three years we?d be back in New York struggling to make a film, but instead right now Franc. Reyes (the film?s director) has a deal with Universal for his next film and John Leguizamo has a deal with Universal for his next film. If this film hadn?t been picked up nurtured, embraced and supported by us originally and then by Universal, we wouldn?t have the chance today to have a new force in Latino filmmaking, and to have another force of a star, that is John Leguizamo. Even though John's a wonderful actor, he has never opened a film by himself. So if this film does well, it opens doors for all Latinos in this industry.

Q: How did your partnership with Universal come about?

A: Well, I was an executive in Universal sixteen years ago before I started Arenas. I left Universal to start Arenas actually, because the regime at the studio changed at that time, in around 1987. The new people that came in to run the studio didn?t really care that much about the Latino market, and I didn?t want to be a ?burro-crat.? So I turned in my resignation and I opened Arenas. But Universal has been an Arenas client for many, many years, so it was natural for me to go back, especially since I still have many friends there. It?s also a studio that I know well, and among other things, in Hollywood, it?s the most proactive and open to ideas on how to target and reach the Latino community, especially since Marc Shmuger took over marketing. So I went there with a substantial amount of money that I had already raised in Spain, through Marco Polo Investments. I presented the plan to Marc Shmuger and he jumped immediately. In a matter of a couple months, we were in business together. The relationship so far is going wonderfully. They are a big company, but in the end, it?s not about big companies or small companies, it?s about people.

Q: Do you think that a partnership model, such as the one that you?ve forged with

A: Universal is the route that other Latino entrepreneurs should be seeking?
I think if Arenas is successful, it will create, in this incarnation or in different incarnations, opportunities for other Latino entrepreneurs to finance companies or start companies or just to get things in production. There?s no question about that. Since we created this Arenas Entertainment and Universal partnership, back in January of this year, the temperature of how hot Latinos are in Hollywood has multiplied exponentially compared to five or ten years before. And if Arenas is successful, imagine what would happen. People will really pay attention and start putting their money where their mouth is and start giving opportunities to Latinos in Hollywood.

Q: What is your vision for Arenas Entertainment?

A: Well, I?d like Arenas to make films for many years to come. To help Latino filmmakers and Latino film professionals to advance in Hollywood. Right now we are almost thirty-five people in Arenas, all but two people are Latinos. It?s a young team. Very enthusiastic and passionate, and in every area of the company from development to production, marketing, distribution, public relations, finance, business affairs these are Latinos that are getting the opportunity to develop themselves as professionals. And I believe that if you open doors for people to work and to gain experience, you are setting the stage for the future. That will translate into more access for our culture and our voices to the screen. That will resolve a problem that we have been having for a long, long time, that we are not in charge of telling our own stories. Somebody else has told and defined who we are, instead of us defining who we are and sharing with the rest of America our own point of view.

Q: What?s next on Arena?s plate? What should we be looking forward to?

A: The next project is something called ?Imagining Argentina? with Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Ruben Blades, Maria Canals, and Kuno Becker, a huge star from Mexico. It?s about los desaparecidos (those made to disappear). It?s a story of a government and a military dictatorship taking control of people?s lives during adversities. And that story has happened in Argentina, it has happened in Chile, in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba? It?s a story that needs to be told. I don?t know if the Holocaust will ever happen again, because the Jewish community have had a special interest in telling that story so that that story will never happen again. I think that in Latin American countries we have suffered military dictatorships over and over again. And nobody has paid for it. Very few people have gone to jail. And I think it?s time that this story was told so it also does not happen again. And if the story is not told and it?s not in the memory, then it can happen again. . We already finished shooting, we?re in post-production, and I hope that it will be released in mid-2003.

Q: What?s the future of Latinos in Hollywood?

A: The future of Latinos in Hollywood depends only and exclusively on Latinos. We have the power. And we don?t need the permission of somebody else to have a future. What we need is not to ask for charity, but to ask for the proper place at the table. So the future depends on our young directors, and young filmmakers, and young writers, and young publicists, etc. It also depends on the veteranos to be generous with the new generations. It also depends on the will that we have to unite ourselves and to support each other, instead of trying to put down every single Latino that has some success. And the future I think is bright because we have in our veins a culture that is very wise and very old. Between the Indian blood and the Spanish blood there?s 7,000 years of culture. In the Indian part, you have the blood of the people that built pyramids when most of humanity was in caves. In the Spanish part, you have an amazing variety of blood, from the Greeks, Venicians, Romans, Barbarians?Spain was a little cul de sac for Europe. But those two bloods, mixed together, have something to say that is not only for us but for the rest of humanity because we carry knowledge about what being human is about. And I think it?s time that we define what being Latino is and not let others define it for us. If we define for ourselves what being Latino is, we will be bringing to this country a tremendous injection of energy because young America is Latino. If we don?t define who we are, and we don?t see ourselves on the big screen and on television, the message that we are sending young America is that we are not good enough.

Empire opens December 6.


About Jose Mayorquin:
Originally published by Premiere Weekend Club at http://www.premiereweekend.org




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