Nearly a year ago, in our Plaza Classic Film Festival issue, I wrote about how I contemplated moving to LA or New York as a kid who aspired to be on the big screen. I went on to say that I became disenchanted by the idea of moving to bigger, “better” cities to pursue my dreams, and I highlighted some creative projects that formed thanks to people who invest in their city.
Well, it turns out that someone who wants to bring Hollywood to El Paso read my column, and his name is Joe Renteria.
Lately, he’s been acting on the USA Network show “Queen of the South,” and his movie and TV credits go back to the ’70s. He recently reached out to me to let me know that he’s looking for what I was writing about: people willing to put time and money into their hometown – specifically to cultivate a successful film industry in El Paso that especially caters to Latinos in front of and behind the camera.
Joe, along with Pepe Serna (who plays Angel in “Scarface”) and Edward James Olmos (think “Selena,” “Blade Runner” and “Stand and Deliver”) are teaming up to start El Paso Entertainment Company, a venture that will create mainstream Latino-themed films with the help of Hollywood talent. (Fun Hollywood connection: Olmos is acting in the “Sons of Anarchy” spinoff, “Mayans MC,” which El Paso actor Vincent “Rocco” Vargas is also acting in. Read more about him on page 10.)
An El Paso native who lives in LA, Joe has been talking to potential investors about supporting this endeavor, which he insists in starting here – not LA, not New York, Miami nor Albuquerque.
“Hollywood is ready to invest, but I want El Paso behind it. I want El Paso money behind it,” Joe told me when I met up with him and Pepe after a press conference they held at Hotel Indigo in late May. “This should be a community project. People who put in money for films – they dictate what happens to the production. If we can raise the money here, it’s totally in our control. We can decide what the story is, where we film it and how much money we’re putting in it – who’s acting in it, who’s directing, producing, etcetera.
“We’re trying to give the community and the El Paso people who can afford to make this a reality an opportunity to not only make money for themselves, but create these beautiful products that will be distributed worldwide and are basically promoting El Paso worldwide.”
While Latinos continue to be a growing population, Joe and other professionals in the industry don’t see that growth reflected in films. They also don’t think Latinos or border cities like El Paso are being portrayed in the positive light they deserve. This is the main drive behind wanting to start a company like this, but it doesn’t mean that the films will exclude other ethnicities.
“We don’t want to make the same mistakes that everybody else does,” Pepe said. “We know that people are just people and good people are hard to find.”
He went on to talk about the kind of career opportunities that can emerge from a mainstream movie company in El Paso.
“The camera man, light man, makeup, catering, craft service, drivers, the whole gamut – there are careers that can be made and lives that can be changed,” Pepe said. Regional talent, which includes musicians as well as actors from EP, Juarez and Las Cruces, would get to work alongside Hollywood talent.
To emphasize their fervor for this project, the group plans to throw an event called “Bringing Hollywood to El Paso.” They’ll screen the movie “Zoot Suit,” which stars Olmos, and there’ll be live performances, dancers, classic cars and people dressed up as pachucos (where you at, Lincoln Park Day peeps?). Dancers, take note: the crew will look for local talent for this event, so e-mail LA-based choreographer Emily Lavengood at email@example.com if you’re interested in auditioning.
There are three films the El Paso Entertainment Company crew want to shoot here, including one called “Medalla” that involves a shabby hotel haunted by La Llorona. They’re still working through logistics before they announce dates for their “Zoot Suit” event and any film production, but you can e-mail them at EPECfilms@gmail.com if you want to stay up-to-date about their next step.