A Latino Filmmaker's View Of Puerto Rico's Economic Situation


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 Ana María Arellano

 Michael Aku Rodriguez is a musician and filmmaker whose latest film  “La Gran Falacia,”  (“The Great Fallacy” with English subtitles) was written and directed by Puerto Rican native Paco Vázquez.    The film was selected for the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival ,​ ​which took place in ​November in New York City, and ​ is about the worsening social, political and economic situation in Puerto Rico. 
Rodriquez, who is of Mexican and Native American heritage, has traveled throughout the world through his work, which has primarily covered Latino concerns and Latino Culture.  He produced and shot the “La Gran Falacia”.
His work is undoubtedly influenced by his unique upbringing.  His father is from Chiapas, Mexico, a Latino of Zapotec roots; his mother is an Apache. He grew up in the U.S.  His upbringing was unique. As an infant, his parents brought him to a reservation in New Mexico so that he could be taught Apache beliefs and traditions.
Michael Aku Rodriguez
The film  can still be viewed ​in New York at Quad Cinemas, and The New York Times is calling  “The Great Fallacy”​ a “dense, lively new film about economic and sociological issues in Puerto Rico [that] eschews the storytelling form of many contemporary documentaries in favor of an instructive crash course in radical politics.”  CTLatinoNews.com recently interviewed Aku Rodriquez . 
How did you get involved in “The Great Fallacy,” a film about the Puerto Rican people?
 A mutual friend introduced me to Paco Vázquez.  As a Puerto Rican, he was inspired to make a film about the socio-economic and political situation in Puerto Rico, and how the people themselves could make their lives better, even though the system was broken.  I had relevant experience with film and documentaries, so we agreed that I would provide support for putting the film together.
What was your role in the film?
I was producer and cinematographer.  We filmed all over the island, and did interviews, covered demonstrations, and showed the contrast between the beauty and overdevelopment of the island, and the corruption. Every aspect of how Puerto Rico was being taken advantage of by the government. As producer, I made sure everything was at the right place at the right time, through my production company, Sobeit Films. I did not finance the film – typically, that is the role of executive producers.  Also, I was behind the camera a good part of the time.
 Do you believe the people of Puerto Rico have resources to overcome the difficulties they face?
 The first people on the Island were the Taínos.  They were Native American, with important values.  I could feel that.  My personal belief is that this heritage was being lost, and the people of Puerto Rico need to get back to their Taíno roots.  “The Great Fallacy” itself demonstrates a number of ways that Puerto Ricans can overcome the deterioration of society and economics without relying on the government.
What did you learn from Apache beliefs and tradition?
 The Apache teachers – the Elders – taught me respect for the earth. The Earth is our Mother, and I was taught to revere her.  The idea is, before I take an apple from a tree, I ask the tree permission.  Mountains, lakes, and the ocean – all land​, sky​ and water– these are sacred to us. I learned from the Elders that our ancestors are still with us, whatever our heritage. They are part of who we are, right now, and at all times.  And that means we are part of something greater than ourselves alone. Through this, I learned respect for all traditions, especially my own roots in Latino, Native American, and American culture.
Did you face discrimination?
 I faced double discrimination, as a Latino and as a Native American.  This is why the guidance of the Elders was so important to me as a youth – how they taught me to rely on the importance of my own beliefs and this was how I knew my own worth.
 I was shown how to feel rather than hear what was being said, helping me understand that much more was going on that meets the ears and eyes.  The Elders taught me that people produce certain kinds of energy, good and bad, and I try to understand that energy, which may exist beyond what an individual seems to be.
 I also dealt with discrimination by becoming involved in music, since when I was in school this was the most inclusive group. I continued with music as an adult – playing in bands that became very successful. The first band was Spoonfed Tribe.  Then I was part of JointMethod.  We toured all over the country with the Lollapalooza Film Festival.  JointMethod also toured in Europe.
What led you to filmmaking?
In the beginning, I was an actor, because people in the entertainment industry noticed my typical Native American appearance.  Then, in one film, the technical crew needed help, and they asked me if I wanted to learn. My skills traveling as a musician helped me. I already had skills by touring.  I had been a stage tech, lighting tech, and a backline technician [who helps set up and maintain equipment for live productions]. I knew how to put up a stage, and soon I was building backdrops and sets for films and videos, providing sound and lighting support –anything backstage.
 The first documentary I was involved with was called “The Rose, a Sense of Place” and I was both the composer and producer.  ​This documentary​ is about The Rose Theater, the first Spanish language movie theater in Texas, ​which ​opened in the 1920’s.  Actors would come and visit, attracting big crowds.  One of the actors most easily recognized today is Dolores Del Rio​.​
 Who inspires you now? Someone whose footsteps you might want to follow?
 The ancestors and what they did to survive. Even the impossible is possible. Their traditions, especially to respect the land, the earth, and all that it gives us.
 What’s next for you?
 I just filmed a short documentary, a “Dia de los Muertos” parade in New Haven. And I plan to expand my production company, Sobeit Films. I am involved in a several projects – a feature film and a couple of short films, in New Haven, Louisiana, and New Mexico. I am hoping to find a venue for “The Great Fallacy” in Connecticut, now that I am living in New Haven thanks to a relationship I formed while in Puerto Rico.