Local movie plays in local theater

Mary Atkinson · Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Independent film lovers in the area had an opportunity to view showings of a movie that hits close to home last week.

"My Sister's Quinceanera" played at the New Strand Theatre, starting with private screenings held Jan. 16 and 17, and continued on through the weekend.

The film had its world premiere at the 2013 Independent Film Festival Rotterdam and won the Special Jury Prize at the New York No Limits Film Series and the 20th annual Someone To Watch Award.

However, this marked the first time the film, made in Muscatine with Muscatine actors, actually played in Muscatine County.

The film, directed by Muscatine native Aaron Douglas Johnston, is a coming of age film about Silas Garcia who faces a weighty decision to leave his hometown after high school or stay and help his mom take care of his poverty-stricken family.

Shot entirely in Muscatine, "My Sister's Quinceanera" is the first independent film presented at the New Strand Theatre and stars inexperienced actors, who use their real names in this fictionalized account of a Hispanic, single-parent family preparing for a quinceanera as they also struggle with day-to-day life in Iowa.

Owner of the New Strand, Todd Leach, said he wanted to show the movie because it brought a Hispanic family to life as well as helped promote independent films made locally.

"It kind of piqued my interest because that doesn't happen often," Leach said, "I thought was good. It was done professionally and the actors did a really good job for not having experience. It was well put together."

Leach said the actors attended a two-week acting workshop by Johnston, who now lives in Amsterdam, before filming.

Johnston said he enjoys using inexperienced actors on multiple levels.

"First, making a film is a great excuse to dive into a community you're unfamiliar with and get to know some incredible people," he said.

"Second, there's a research aspect to it that speaks to the sociologist in me. Diving into a community and working with non-professionals forces me to discard my preconceived notions, to be open and to ask myself what kind of story should be told about this community. Finally, working with non-professionals is particularly rewarding because film making is new to them and their enthusiasm and ambition to learn is incredibly strong - it's a huge motivator to make a film."

Johnston, who majored in Latin-American studies in college, said he wanted to film in his hometown of Muscatine because he grew up not having much contact with its Hispanic population, even though the city contains a cultural basis important for telling stories.

"I've always wanted to go back and get to know the Hispanic community of my childhood home," Johnston said.

Johnston added that he likes to take elements from documentary film making and combine them with fictionalized film making in order to creating something unique.

"I want the authenticity of documentary, but I want the control of fiction so I can tell the story I wish to tell," he said.

Johnston plans to return to Iowa and make a third film here with unprofessional actors as well.
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