Pedro Bermudez wants to tell realistic stories from Hartford’s Puerto Rican community. Bermudez’s latest film, “Hasta Mañana,” is set in the world of cockfighting, which is legal in Puerto Rico but illegal here, Susan Dunne reports for The Hartford Courant.
The embattled roosters in Bermudez’s story are more than just a reflection of reality. They’re also symbolic.
“People feel displaced coming to America, to a place where they don’t speak the language. They have to assimilate to a completely foreign culture,” Bermudez said. “At one point in the story, Victor is completely unsure of what he is going to do next. He is disoriented, feeling like everything is very much a struggle.”
The short Spanish-language drama will be shown in a one-time-only screening on Thursday, Jan. 14, at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Bermudez used to work there, and Real Art Ways helped him get a $12,500 grant that funded half the budget of his movie. The other half was funded by donations from community members, whose names are listed in the film’s closing credits.
Bermudez, 31, of Hartford, teaches film at the University of Hartford. He attended that school, as well as the American Film Institute. The cast was largely made up of Hartford-area residents, most of them untrained actors.
The idea for the film had been “laying dormant” in his mind for a few years, Bermudez said. While visiting Puerto Rico at age 18, he saw a gallera, where roosters fought.
“I was on break from the University of Hartford. I brought a camera with me and I was filming all of this. A gentleman came up to me from Rochester. He said, ‘In Rochester, they have an underground circuit.’ I thought, if it’s true of Rochester, it has to be true of Hartford’.”
A few years back, Bermudez and his friend, Luca Del Puppo, who became his cinematographer, turned this germ of an idea into a story. The script tells a tale of an alcoholic man raising his grandson. The man’s only valuable possession is a well-trained fighting rooster.
Bermudez understands that cockfighting can be a repellent subject to many people, and he wanted to explore this in his narrative.
“I understand culturally the history behind all of this fighting of the animals. At the same time, there’s that wild contradiction, where the sport is a brutal sport. Clearly, it’s something that feels so rooted in a time so long ago that you can’t help but wonder, why does this continue,” he said. “But I also can understand how you’re going to hold on to the culture that ties you to your homeland, whatever that may be. … It’s clearly rooted in the Puerto Rican masculine identity.”
Bermudez said no animals were harmed in the making of the film. The realism of the footage was achieved using technical and editing tricks and taxidermied animals for stand-ins when needed. Animal welfare officials were on-set whenever animal action took place, Bermudez said.
“It was complicated in terms of logistics. … We hired an expert animal wrangler from Miami, a former police officer. He did all of the fight sequences in ‘The Rum Diary’ with Johnny Depp,” Bermudez said. “He was outstanding. He created a special harness using his wife’s bras and microfilament wire tucked under the wings of the animals. It pulled them just far away enough from each other to not actually hurt each other. Their talons were covered with padding. Their beaks were covered with rubber. They never actually made full contact.”
The film was shot in locations throughout Hartford, including Park Street, the Federal Cafe and the Spanish American Merchants Association offices. People familiar with Hartford will recognize that it is Hartford, but audiences from outside the city will find no identifying markers to place the action.
“We wanted it to have a feeling that you’re almost lost in this context. For sure you know you’re in an American city, but you’re not certain which one. It could be Springfield, it could be Holyoke,” he said.
The film’s title, which means “until tomorrow,” is intended to strike a hopeful note, despite the sadness of much of the narrative. “If we have tomorrow, at least we have that. Even though the grandfather and grandson don’t have anything, they live in poverty, one thing they do have is their relationship,” Bermudez said. “As dysfunctional as it may be, they have each other. From that they can then build. The future is uncertain but their love for one another is assured.”
“HASTA MAÑANA” will be shown on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford. realartways.org.