Jordan Jacinto is the director and producer of the short film El lavaplatos (The Dishwasher). We interviewed him as part of our coverage of the San Diego International Film Festival because his movie will be shown there. The film is described as a touching and impactful story of a family that is victimized by the cartel.
Please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from. Where are your parents from?
Hello! My name is Jordan Jacinto and I am originally from Long Island, New York. My mother’s side of the family is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, and my father’s side is of Portuguese and Greek descent. Because my mother was first-generation American, and because of the environment she grew up in (1960s and '70s Long Island) was quite hostile towards Latinos, my grandparents sought to Americanize and assimilate as much as possible. Unfortunately, this led to a lack of Latino traditions—apart from attending church.
I did however develop a profound interest in Chicano culture when I moved to Southern California 10 years ago. While I’m not Mexican by blood, discovering the Chicano community here has helped me learn about my Latino roots in a unique and impactful way.
We define Chicano as a self-ascribed identity for Americans of Mexican descent. What are your thoughts on Chicanos? How do you identify?
Between my girlfriend, Gabriela, who is Mexican and Guatemalan, and my experience working alongside many Chicanos in Mexican restaurants for years in Los Angeles, I always joke I am now Mexican by association. I have a decent understanding of the culture, food, slang, and other traditions. A lot of the material I was developing while at Chapman University was mostly Italian-American based, because that is what I grew up with as a kid on Long Island; however, that slowly transitioned into writing more about my immediate environment: Latinos—and more specifically, Chicanos. The culture is endlessly rich with passion and vibrancy, which is infectious to be around. And as a storyteller, the possibilities are endless.
Please tell us about El Lavaplatos or The Dishwasher.
Inspired by true events, The Dishwasher (El lavaplatos) is a short Spanish-language film that follows a little boy named Cristian. His father has recently been promoted from dishwasher to line-cook, and decides to take his family out for a celebratory dinner that evening. The happy family’s dinner is suddenly interrupted when they receive a message from El Pez, an underboss for the local cartel. And just like that... The celebration is over. El Pez orders his henchman, Soldado, to approach the family’s table where he gratuitously flexes his power. Forcing Cristian and his parents into a fight-or-flight situation, the walls continue to close in on the young family ultimately culminating with a plot for vengeance.
Where and when can we watch the film?
The Dishwasher (El lavaplatos) has been chosen as an Official Selection at both the San Diego International Film Festival in Southern California and the BendFilm Festival in Oregon this October. I’ll be appearing with the entire cast in San Diego next month. You can watch a teaser here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MBuReXbiY4
What would you like to accomplish with your film, both culturally and artistically?
As a filmmaker, creating a riveting narrative that draws viewers into the story is the number one goal. I really want to put the audience in the shoes of these characters—and have them question what they might do in that kind of a situation. This short is also what is referred to as a “proof of concept” film, which is a sample of a longer, feature-length movie. We’re hoping to use The Dishwasher (El lavaplatos) to garner funding for a full-length production, in which the story continues where the short film leaves off.
Culturally, representing the Latino community—specifically Chicanos as the entire cast is of Mexican descent—is certainly something I am striving to do. There is obviously an incredible underrepresentation of Latino actors (as is the case for many minorities) in Hollywood, and there is so much talent out there. Even in auditioning actors for this film, we found an abundance of Latino talent right here in Los Angeles.
Like any great piece of art, the ability to transcend language barriers and cultures, and connect with people on a more universal level is significant. Look at Coco last year. My girlfriend and I looked around the theater and remarked how amazing it was that little Mexican boys and girls get to see a major animated movie that represents their culture in a beautiful way. If I can continue to provide that for Latinos with my work, that will be very fulfilling to me.
Please tell us about the decision process to produce it in Spanish.
This is a great question because it is definitely something we debated during the writing process. From a commercial point of view, I suppose producing the film in English would have been more viable. I have always gone against the grain. While commercialism has always been a part of the film industry, it is certainly not what excites me as a filmmaker. I spoke to a lot of people around me about their opinion on shooting the film in English or Spanish. Most argued for English, but my close collaborators always knew it should be in Spanish, so we trusted our instincts. This was a constant challenge throughout creating the film because I am not fluent in Spanish. I worked very closely with a great friend of mine, Luis Gonzalo Soto Flores, who is from Monterrey, on the translations. We sat side by side and went through each line. My girlfriend and her family also helped me (and continue to help me) a great deal. I am very happy with our decision.
How did you research for the film? And how does the film compare to the reality of Mexicans living near the American border?
The true events that the film is based on were told to me by my girlfriend’s mother one night at dinner. It shook me to my core as soon as I heard it, and I began writing a script based on the events that night. I really wanted to create a “what would you do?” situation for the viewers. My favorite films are the ones where you’re either arguing for or against the characters because you’re so invested in the story. With that said, I knew I would be taking liberties as a writer and director of a film. This was not done to undermine the Latino community, or because I was lazy, but rather to create a narrative that audiences would connect with. As far as how it compares to the reality of Mexicans living near the American border? That is hard to say. I can remark that I recently sent the film to the last dishwasher I worked with here in Los Angeles. He immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico, and he told me that he was very invested while watching the film, because these types of events are commonplace all throughout the states with a heavy cartel presence.
Is your film American, Mexican, both, or neither? Is this a relevant question?
This is an incredibly relevant question. The short answer is definitely both.
It is interesting because many film festivals here in the States are striving to be more inclusive and program more diverse filmmakers, which is fantastic. This leads to incredible representation from artists all over the world. However, this has proved difficult for me because I am an American that made a Spanish-language film. That means I cannot check the box “foreign” or “international” filmmaker, and because the film is in Spanish it does not always play well among the films produced in English.
Because I am an American and the film was produced here, it is obviously American; however, I would be honored and proud for the Mexican community to consider this a Mexican film. It is as much—or even more—theirs than it is mine.
Please tell us about the Mexican actors in your film. Where in Mexico are they from and what did you learn about those particular regions?
I would love to! I love bragging about them as if I am a proud parent, especially because they are all so humble. Everyone’s background stemmed from all different regions in Mexico and they all informed the film. Every single person had an incredible suggestion or thought, and they all taught me so much throughout the process. It is definitely because of them I feel I portrayed their culture in an authentic way:
Sean Burgos (Javier) and I went to Chapman together. His parents are from Sinaloa but he has grown up here in Southern California. Sean has had a fascinating, difficult life--but he's the happiest person in the room--and that's Javier (the character he plays).
Mariana Flores (Felipita) is from Los Cabos, another seaside town, so her input was incredibly helpful with regards to the setting. She was absolutely ferocious in the audition. Mariana is such a strong young woman--and incredibly curious as an actor.
Ian Inigo (Cristian) was born here in Los Angeles but his parents are from Mexico City and Mazatlan, another seaside town—located in Sinaloa. Ian is going to be a star very soon. He's so funny because he behaves like he’s super cool, but I would watch him on the monitor, prepping very seriously before his takes. He is incredibly talented.
Juan Carlos (Soldado), “J,” and I used to share agents. He is from Monterrey, which is funny because he understood the translation choices perfectly (because of my aforementioned friend, Soto). Our agents sent me a tape J made, and it was bone-chilling--totally different from what I had written--in the best way possible. He was the riskier of the choices, but one of my producers and best friends from Chapman, Amir Malaklou, reminded me, “Jordan, we’ve always taken risks. Why stop now?”
The rest of the cast were either friends or actors I've known over the years, and they were all so loving and supportive of this endeavor.
Why is the film based in Puerto Pensasco, Sonora, Mexico? Why another film about Mexican drug-cartel violence?
The true event that inspired the film took place in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico. After researching about it—the realization of it being a seaside resort town but still hiding a cartel presence—was incredibly intriguing to me. Growing up near the water on Long Island, I’ve always been very fascinated by the ocean. The idea of juxtaposing such a tragic story in a beautiful setting was definitely appealing to me as a filmmaker.
This is not a film about Mexican drug-cartel violence. It is a film about what it means to be a family—and the lengths we will go to protect each other in a dangerous situation. Obviously there has been an over-saturation and even exploitation of drug cartels in Hollywood—mostly because it’s an easy device as a storyteller. For me however, focusing on the family dynamic was more interesting. While the feature-length script certainly deals with elements of the cartel, I decided to do further research on the area of Puerto Penasco, and discovered another trade that funds most of the crime families there. Nevertheless, that is all just backdrop for the heart of the story, which is what I also consider to be the case for this short film.
I understand your film was not filmed in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico. Where was it filmed? How was your film received in Sonora?
Due to limited amounts of money and other resources, it was not possible to film in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico. Instead, we used all of our connections and knowledge of Los Angeles to produce the film here. We shot the exterior scenes on a secluded beach in Malibu and the restaurant part of the film at Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood. We have not yet screened publicly in Sonora. I suppose that will be some sort of test in authenticity; however, like I mentioned I am aware I have created a verisimilitude with this film.
Is your film a critique of Mexican society? Is it a celebration of its people? What does your film say about Mexico?
This film is definitely not a critique of Mexican society—I mean it certainly does not condone the actions of the cartel. With that said, as a filmmaker, I did try to rationalize why the cartel may operate the way they do; their thought process, how the environment influences the way they behave, etc. In one way, I would like to consider this film a celebration of the resiliency and bravery of the Mexican people and their honor. On the other hand, I do propose the idea of how we choose to treat each other as humans can be met with tragic consequences later.
El Mercado restaurant in Los Angeles and El Adobe Café in Hollywood were both important for the production of the film. How and why? What should we order at each? What beverage should accompany the meals?
I worked at Mercado Los Angeles for four years while I was struggling to be an actor. Not only did it help me pay my bills every month, but it also introduced me the Chicano culture I mentioned earlier. This is where I really began to identify with the role of a dishwasher in a restaurant, and where all of my brainstorming for ideas in that environment took place. Unfortunately while I prioritized this project over my work at the restaurant, and other misunderstandings, I was let go from Mercado. I understand the decision but I was very hurt at the time. Nevertheless, I can definitely say you must try Chef Jose’s carnitas, paired with the Spicy-Cucumber Margarita!
Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe came to the rescue for me. When I was let go from Mercado I lost my location for filming, as well as some investment money in the project. This was all six weeks before shooting. I scouted about half a dozen restaurants after that to no avail. Luckily, my friends' band, Purple Jacket, had been playing at Lucy's for a few months and they recommended I shoot there. They introduced me to the owner, Frank Casado, who is an amazing, eccentric, and kind man. I pitched him the project--told him we had no money for a location--and by the end of the night he agreed to the shoot. Four weeks later, we were filming. Lucy’s is an old-school spot, so just grab a Victoria or Modelo and enjoy the live entertainment on the patio!
We started this company because we believe Chicanos in particular and Latinos in general are underrepresented in American media. When we do appear in media, it seems we are often portrayed negatively. What are your thoughts on the topic regarding the movie industry?
As I mentioned earlier there is obviously an incredible amount of underrepresentation of Latinos in Hollywood. In 2016, there was only 2.7% of Latinos in top movies of the year—and how many of those top movies represented the community authentically? I believe and hope this has changed even in the past few years. Often times, traditional American audiences don’t realize that they can in fact be moved by a foreign-language film. I have shown The Dishwasher (El lavaplatos) to many friends who have no relationship with the Spanish language and they did not even realize they were reading subtitles the whole time. They were just invested in the story. As artists we must continue to create from authenticity because the stories will rise above things like racism, vitriol, and plain ignorance—and thus, touch people in a very human way.
Who in the American or Mexican film industries are you most inspired and influenced by?
Obviously the great Latino actors and filmmakers of our generation are incredibly inspiring to me. Everyone from Antonio Banderas to Gael Garcia Bernal, to Guiellermo del Toro, Pedro Almodovar and Alejandro Inarritu. I also love Demian Bichir and Oscar Isaac. Ponder this however: I loved the film, Sicario (2015), which was directed by French-Canadian, Denis Villenueve, and stars British actress, Emily Blunt, American actor, Josh Brolin, and Puerto Rican actor, Benicio Del Toro. To top it off, it was written by Texan-raised, Taylor Sheridan. That is quite a diverse film that deals with the cartel in Mexico. Because of this diversity however, I believe they were able to create such a unique and riveting narrative that has connected with audiences worldwide. I especially admire Taylor Sheridan because he came out with his directorial debut last year, Wind River. It deals with Native American reservations in Wyoming. While Sheridan is not a native, he has certainly acclimated himself into their culture. This has led to his ability to tell their stories in an authentic way. I hope I have begun and continue to do the same with the Chicano community.
Would you like to share anything with us that we did not ask about?
I just want to thank you so much for the opportunity, and the incredibly thought-provoking questions. It’s important to me the film is discussed in this way because it obligates us to remain truthful with our creative intentions. Hopefully The Dishwasher (El lavaplatos) inspires further conversations which will in turn continue to share the Chicano culture with audiences worldwide.
Gracias Jordan Jacinto! We hope you create many opportunities for yourself and your team with your film. For more information on Jordan Jacinto and El Lavaplatos visit www.iamthedishwasher.com