Adrian Manzano Talks Indie Filmmaking While Latino & Film About Dominican College Graduate in Crisis
Photo Credit: S & A

Adrian Manzano Talks Indie Filmmaking While Latino & Film About Dominican College Graduate in Crisis


Adrian Manzano is interested in making films in the same vein as Woody Allen’s, but only the Latino-American-experience-in-New-York-City-version of such. “Do you know Ava Duvernay?” asks the Colombian American filmmaker, to which I obviously replied “of course.” “She’s killing it; I’ve met her [Duvernay] twice. She says ‘cast those who you love,’” Manzano explains, “when you’re on a string budget, it’s extremely hard and you have to work as a team.”

The filmmaker hired Dominican actress Sofia Rodriguez – who had a prominent role in his first film “Sex, Love and Salsa” – as the lead of his sophomore film “La Gradua” (The Graduate), about a young woman, living in NYC’s Uptown, having a post-collegiate crisis of sorts in trying to come to terms with her identity and adulthood, amidst dealing with her old-fashioned, first generation Dominican family.

“We’re still shooting and editing [the film] as we go. It’s 75% complete right now. I have an editor (Justin Ferrato) who’s organizing it very well and setting the pace” says Manzano, whose first film “Sex, Love and Salsa” – a mockumentary style experimental film about a salsa-dancing playboy juggling three casual relationships at once – won several awards during its festival run.

Manzano took time out of his shooting schedule to talk about his experience as an independent filmmaker of color, and “La Gradua,” which he hopes to debut at Tribeca Film Festival next year.





VM: What inspired you to write this particular story?

AM: I was inspired by a specific film titled “Tiny Furniture” with Lena Dunham from the HBO show Girls. Tiny Furniture was sort of the girl out of college story. I saw a sort of genre at that point, like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” or Winona Ryder in “Reality Bites,” Every generation has this story. We’ve never seen the Latino or the immigrant version.

VM: How did you come up with the leading character?

AM: I started writing about this girl called Miosotis, and the character revealed itself over the course of two years. It’s a tough, tricky character to write because first of all I’m a man, a Colombian man, writing about a Dominican woman, so I had to take my time to make sure I did it right. I know her; it’s an amalgamation of myself, my friends, ex-girlfriends. It was just a matter of figuring out her journey and what she needs to learn.

I don’t do a lot of structure and planning when I write; I just start writing, then I go back and start structuring. The story started morphing into this sort of tragic comedy, a surreal reality. The comedy I like is sort of absurd and dark, so what started of as a coming of age story, little by little developed into this dark comedy.

She’s the first of her family to graduate college and she feels above her Dominican family. She doesn’t want to be “Dominican” anymore. She’s American, born here. She doesn’t like to speak Spanish very much in contrast to grandma, who’s an old school Catholic, racist, from an old world. Miosotis dates this guy who’s a white hipster that has gentrified the neighborhood.

VM: How did you find the actress for the lead?

AM: On the set of “Salsa,” Sofia was always on my team, always supportive and she understood that this is hard, but the support goes a long way. When I started to write the character, I said, “Sofia can play this.” She has a very every woman quality that I like. When she read the story, she said, “I know this story.”

VM: It is very complex when we talk about Latinos and race. How does race and/or culture affect her character?

AM: In this film, Miosotis really likes the white “gringo” hipster, and her grandmother likes him too, because she says it will “mejorar la raza” (better the race”). I’m shedding a light on this issue in a comedic and absurd way. Overall, it’s a complex film, but it is definitely a tragedy/comedy. There’s also a scene in which she gets confused for African American.

Race and class are definitely there in a subtle way. I’m not trying to make a political film, although I understand the issues in those types of movies. I’ve always been a fan of Mexican cinema, like “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” If you watch that movie, there are multiple layers that you’ll notice, on the 2nd or 3rd viewing, on issues of race and class in Mexico, but it’s not over the top.

VM: That could have more of an impact.

AM: I think so. Robert Rodriguez did it with “Spy Kids”. He casted a Latino family, but he doesn’t hit over the head with it. I’m trying to do something authentic, from my experience in New York, and with a more personal approach.





VM: What’s your directing style?

AM: I would say it’s a controlled chaos kind of approach.

VM: Do you let your actors improvise?

AM: Yes, I’m big on improvisation. I don’t have a casting agent. I cast really well. I’m really good at reading actors.

VM: What do you hope for this film as far of distribution and what did you learn from your first film?

AM: With “Sex, Love & Salsa,” I got a lot of distributors who thought they knew what Latino audiences want, like you know “Machete,” Latino zombies and gangsters, because they want to make a quick buck. I understand, but there’s also an educated, 2nd generation market that is looking for something more personal and a little different. I’ve had people who told me “I loved Sex, Love & Salsa, but unfortunately our audience won’t like it.“

VM: Do you have most of the same crew as your first film?

AM: The last film I didn’t have a DP. I have 2 investors involved. It’s not a lot of money, but we can pay people this time; do a little bit more. The first film right out of school, I made a lot of mistakes, but I also made a lot of happy mistakes. We’re shooting it handheld, and that’s actually the aesthetic we’re going for. The DP now (Jorel Odell) is giving me ideas; this film is more collaborative in a way. I’m getting a lot of amazingly good will from the cast and crew. People really want to be part of this project. I don’t know why. [Laughs]


“La Gradua” will premiere at tonight’s screening of Manzano’s first film “Sex, Love & Salsa” today Thursday 10/23 at 9pm at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in NYC. For more information on this event, go to its facebook page HERE.

Manzano recently sold a spec script to Jacobo Silvera Productions in Panama. Its his first sale as a writer in Spanish and is up for possibly directing the film that would then be a Colombian-Panamanian Co-production.


*Adrian Manzano would like to thank his cast and crew, which includes Sofia Rodriguez, Zahaira Curiel, Jason Grimste, Jaime Fernandez, Jorel Odell (Cinematographer), Rosie Berridos (Acting Coach, Justin Ferrato (Editor) and Pablo Echegaray (Associate Producer).

Follow @granmanzanafilm on twitter and @adrianmanzano on instagram.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2022 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.