By Nicole Muj
THE industry is taking notice of Filipino-Italian American actor/director Angelo Reyes, who is currently taking his short “21st & Colonial” out on the festival circuit.
The film, which he wrote, directed and stars in, was screened recently at the San Diego Filipino International Film Festival and names an official selection of the Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles. He also recently took part in the fourth annual Production Without Borders Showcase during the American Film Market, alongside some of the top names in the entertainment industry. Following is an exclusive interview with this rising star of the indie film scene.
You are quite an accomplished actor. Why made you decide to pursue directing as well?
AR: Directing was a role that I knew eventually I was going to get to do. I wanted to train as an actor first and fulfill my goals. When I felt comfortable and had the opportunity to direct, I decided to take the challenge. I thought that having experience directing and running a production would make me a better actor as well, and vice versa. Then I wrote 21st & Colonial. I had a vision for the story and it had to be a certain way. Since we were going to make a short film concept prior to the feature film, I thought that this was a perfect time for me.
What inspired you to make 21st & Colonial?
AR: I began a journey and mission when I started writing screenplays. I wanted to produce true human impact stories that ignite the heart. Give a voice to stories of people that sometimes we don’t hear of or maybe we forget about. My last production Groomed was based on a true story about domestic human trafficking in Virginia. It went behind the scenes of what human traffickers do and what it looked like and followed the character throughout the process.
21st & Colonial was no different. I was inspired to write this story back when I was watching the news, where an African American male named Omar was shot 14 times by police while sitting in his car, unarmed at a bank drive-through. He cashed a fraudulent check, which would have been a misdemeanor if convicted.
I was introduced to the family by a close friend. I spent the day with the family, and I was deeply moved. As I researched Omar’s death further and the details surrounding this fatal encounter, it grew to be more complex.
The story plays out a 24-hour period in the characters of Omar and Carlos, both the victim and the police officer. I wanted to write an unbiased story. You will see this in a parallel narrative as it builds up to where they have a fatal encounter. No money will ever bring back their son or heal the wound of this tragedy. Telling Omar’s story is one way we can honor him.
What has been the response to the film so far?
AR: It has been interesting. After screenings, the audience were quiet, which was worrisome at the time. But when the theatre lights came on and it was time for the Q&A sessions, I had a tremendous number of compliments. I had touched on subjects in the short concept that I didn’t even mean to, such as trauma, PTSD, etc. I then realized this film became much bigger and tells a much larger story. This was good to know as I get ready to turn this concept into a feature film.
You star in 21st & Colonial as well as directed (and wrote) the film. What were the challenges you faced having to wear so many hats?
AR: This was a big task but with the right team it made my job a lot easier. I was more prepared with 21st & Colonial because my last film, Groomed, as I had the same roles to fill. I believe that was my trial run. I learned a lot from that production. Even though 21st & Colonial was a short film concept, my team and I spent six months prepping every scene. I worked closely with my Director of Photography, Leah Anova. I learned that the DP is my best friend. If I was going to pull this off being in front and behind the camera, we both needed to have the same vision and chemistry. In the end it worked out. It prepared me for the feature film.
How have your international roots helped you in your career in the entertainment industry?
AR: Absolutely! Being able to speak other languages fluently gave me an upper hand. I can immerse myself in many characters and backgrounds. It’s very challenging but that’s what acting is all about. I love learning about different cultures, languages, and people’s stories. This has helped me a lot throughout my career.
Specifically, what are you doing to promote diversity within the Asian-American entertainment community?
AR: The best way for me to help my Filipino and Asian community is to include them in every aspect of my productions. This includes cast and crew. I do my best to search for writers, producers, actors, etc. in the Asian community to create a good balance and give opportunities or a start to their careers. It’s a small step but a step that is necessary. What is also important is to create human impact stories that ignite the heart. I do this by creating a broad story that every audience can relate to and write around Filipino characters. And last but not least, provide guidance and mentorship.
Who has been the greatest mentor to you (in the industry)?
The one person that really helped me and especially getting 21st & Colonial off the ground is Mr. Michael Goi. He gave me advice with my acting career choices and introduced me to people. He introduced me to who is now my ‘Ate’ (means older sister in Tagalog), Leah Anova, a talented and amazing cinematographer. He told me to just do the work and get this film under my belt, and everything else will fall in place. He has been a great mentor to me and I’m grateful for him. The little things he has done for me has made me a better artist and human being. Passing down his knowledge and expertise has made me realize I have a bigger purpose now. I want to be able to return the favor and help other artists, especially in the Asian and Filipino communities. So, thank you Michael!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
AR: Next up is the 21st & Colonial feature film. I am hoping to have everything ready to film in 2022. I’m still working as an actor and training constantly. I have written four scripts, so once 21st & Colonial is done, I have others ready right behind it. I can’t wait to show you what I have in store.