GIFF interviews Cati and Mike Gonzales, filmmakers behind the edgy street drama, “EKAJ”. (Screening Friday, November 18, at 2:00PM. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION)
GIFF: Thank you for taking the time for this GIFF interview and congratulations on your official selection. Well done! With as many accolades the film has already received, how does this add to the purpose and value of the film?
CATI: EKAJ has been selected by 24 Festivals so far. Four of them International Festivals in the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece so far. The Film has also won “Best Film” three times and “Best New Director” and “Best Actor”. It has also been a Finalist at two Festivals, and Nominated for Best Director and Best actor twice.
Every Festival Selection is special to us and it adds value to the film since more people get to see it at Screenings prior to distribution. As filmmakers it means a lot to meet people all over the world on social media that have seen it at a Festival and comments about it. It’s definitely an honor to be selected in Guam too since it’s such an exotic place and the furthest that the film has traveled so far. We love when a University is involved with a Festival since young College kids seem to become the biggest fans of EKAJ.
GIFF: “EKAJ” is such a powerfully directed film, just balancing perfectly between a narrative and documentary production style. Cati, given your past work as a celebrity photographer, how difficult was it to make the transition from the set life of photography to a run-and-gun style of indie filmmaking?
CATI: Actually my work in photography has always had a lot of action in it. I rarely shot in a studio, and even when the job was in a set I would end up on the street with the subject. I never changed the style with EKAJ it was more of the same. You can see some of my photography work here: www.catiandmikegonzalezfilms.com
GIFF: We love the authenticity of your characters, especially that of Ekaj and Mecca. In a film that pulls no punches and is extremely intimate, talk to us about the process of casting Jake and Badd Idea in their respective roles. What were the obstacles, if any?
CATI: Casting is something that I have been blessed with and have a lot of experience doing it. I worked for 20 years as a Fashion Photographer all over the world.
It was more of a feeling than a strategy to put them together, I just thought they would like each other and in some instances, I was even surprised of the friendship they developed.
I found Jake on Facebook on friends of friends pages. I wasn’t looking to cast yet, When I saw him I thought he was so beautiful and that he should be a model. I took him to some Agency’s, but he would shave his eyebrows, or shave his hair, show up late, he just wasn’t reliable and I should have dropped him a long time ago back then but instead I decided to cast him in the film. Jake is like a son to me, I just love him and I’ve seen him grow since I met him.
Normally, if I was not making a film I would be taking pictures of someone like Mecca and Jake, they are my type of subject. The entire film was casted with a lot of love for the characters. I picked all the cast knowing they would understand the characters well, as many of them had lived similar stories themselves. Their relationships backstage I believe reflected the fact that they had a lot in common.
The obstacles was getting them to show up on time, and show up sometimes. I guess I already knew this going in. In some instances I’d film one and the next day the other for the same scene. We had a family environment on the set. We genuinely liked each other.
GIFF: Guam has a strong and active LGBTQ community. As a filmmaker, what was the most challenging aspect of producing a film that dealt heavily with social and human rights issues within the LGBTQ community?
CATI: I am Spanish and a woman, half of my country is gay, no kidding! I didn’t have a challenge because the subject was LGBT. I could identified with their feelings and emotions. As I mentioned before I worked in Fashion and the entire business is gay, with the exception of a few women maybe, Think about it Runway! Attitude! Beauty! Fashion! I lived in a gay movie before I made EKAJ the movie.
I had a couple of friends, Agents, Stylists that died of AIDS in the early 90s. It was Maddonna’s era, I had just started my career and I used to stay at my Agent’s place when I would go to NYC from Philly to do a shoot, it was more than friends that I lost since we all lived to make it big in the industry and spent all the time immersed in the lifestyle of the business. It was a horrifying experience back then, the Fashion Industry lost tons of talented people. If you were a part of it you would hear on a weekly basis of someone you perhaps admired or had met and suddenly they were dead.
For me writing it’s all about the emotions. I didn’t worry about the issues, though I wanted straight people and parents to see the film to understand what they have in common not what separates us. What these kids go through, what they feel, what they suffer, not the image that is often portrayed in the media that being Gay is partying and wearing pink shades in a happy world.
GIFF: Mike, the flow of the film seems very fluid. Given the style of production, one with a very organic feel, as the editor, what was the most challenging issue for you within the editing process?
MIKE: Cati was the main one picking the sequence of the scenes, but I did all the hard work. I really wanted to keep the flow as close as possible to Cati’s original style of filming which is very organic in nature like her photography. The biggest challenge I had was having to edit 100+ hours (9 Terabytes) of footage from 5 different cameras all with different formats and frame rates, then having to transcode the files to work smoothly inside of a ProRes422 project timeline, and during the editing there would be times where the system would freeze up or crash on me several times prompting me to restart which was very frustrating. In terms of the actual editing, it wasn’t easy. We had put together an edit that was in the 2nd pass stage and one of the actors dropped out of the Film near the end. So Cati had to recast and rewrite the script a bit and this totally affected the editing process and set us back a few months. But at the end of it all, it was worth the blood, sweat and tears.
GIFF: Random question: What did you two know about Guam before hearing about GIFF?
CATI: Not much honestly only that the Spanish were there for many years and gave it to the US during the Spanish-American war. Mike knew that it was invaded by Japan after Pearl Harbor from school being that he was born and raised in the US. One thing we do know for sure is that Guam is an exotic island that we would love to visit one day and have some bunelos by the beach. 🙂
GIFF: What do you hope GIFF audiences will get from “EKAJ”?
CATI: I really hope that EKAJ can help the youth whether LGBT or straight to take a change through Art and to follow their dreams just as the actors of the film did. They all came from difficult backgrounds in life and took on roles which they had never done before. I also hope that this Film can reach as many people as possible in Guam and the world.