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Hey all, weíve just had the pleasure of speaking to Alfredo de Villa, the director behind the documentary Harlistas. Mr. de Villa told us the origins of this unusual look at four families of recent immigrant descent all bound by their love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Dig it!



Director Alfredo de Villa


The Lady Miz Diva: Where did the inspiration for Harlistas come from?

Alfredo de Villa:  The inspiration for Harlistas came from a very simple place; I am very interested in family.  I think all great works of art that I love have to do with family, the life of a happy or unhappy family.  In my fiction work, I had explored that sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously.  All my kids are young, the eldest is seven years old, but I very consciously started a family.  I think itís just been very much in my realm of consciousness.  A fiction movie I did, Nothing Like the Holidays {2008} allowed me to go into a lot of houses, and really get the flavour of different families and how different families lived.  In that case, there were a lot of Puerto Rican families or Mexican-American families from the Chicago area.  I started to think it would be really interesting to see real families across the US; Latino families that had a point of connection, whether they were people that moved here recently and kind of see how they lived.  I started looking for points of connection; they needed something that linked them together, something that would be different from any other families and thatís how I came up with motorcycles.  I wasnít a motorcyclist, but I knew enough about that world to know you donít come to it lightly, thereís always a lot of obstacles.  You donít get up in the morning and youíre like ĎWhoa, Iím gonna learn how to be a motorcyclist, then Iím gonna buy a motorcycle.í From that fact, I knew families who had a motorcycle, there was gonna be drama.  So I came up with letís just make them all motorcyclists, then I came up with the Harley-Davidson brand. Itís such a part of Americana and itís such an American animal that I thought itíd be really interesting if they all rode Harleys.


LMD:  How did you choose your subjects?

AdV:  Well, the shortest part of the process was the actual shooting, it took about six months.  Finding the subjects took eight or nine months.  I interviewed maybe around eight hundred different families, it was a very long process.  You kind of have to address so many things.  I knew the movie was going to be as strong as the characters, thatís why I wanted to choose the right people.


LMD:  We are living in a moment in the US where itís not so great to be an immigrant, particularly a Latino one.  Was there a political motivation by you as a Latino filmmaker who is also an immigrant to show this side of life? That these people face the same issues as anyone else in this country?

AdV:  Thatís a great question. I would say maybe not consciously for political motivation, but I think there is.  The thing I love about documentary is that itís about real people and I think thereís some engagement with the world that in fiction doesnít always happen, but in documentary always happens.  Itís a document of reality; these are real people, theyíre not acting.  Iím accepting the story.  So I think you engage with the world and in that I think thereís a political connection.  Whether you do it consciously and say, ĎWell, Iím going to tell this story about a supremacist in Arizona,í for example, people who you might ignore because theyíre complex or offensive, whatever it is.  What I thought was kind of cool is that Iím using a typical American icon and Iím using families who are immigrants or subjects who are immigrants.  


LMD:  Was there ever a thought to making the focus more on the actual motorcycles and the immediate connection the families had to the Harley-Davidson bikes? I wasnít entirely sure why that brand was important to the families as opposed to Yamaha, Indian or any other?

AdV:  You know, itís funny, I did capture part of that and I shot it.  I didnít think it was going to be an issue when I was cutting it, but now that the movieís doneÖ.  Different journalists have pointed it out in a good way.  I guess I wanted a softer connection. I did get help from Harley-Davidson; two of their executives are our executive producers.  They approved it very much and they represented the company.  We said letís be up front about that because we didnít want when the movie comes out on TV, somebody writes an expose!


LMD:  I wondered about that because early on, we see a photo of one characterís dad riding a Suzuki.

AdV:  Thatís whatís great about it, Harley didnít impose.  Thatís what his father was riding at the time.  They told me as a company most of our riders that are Hispanic Harley riders start with Japanese bikes simply because they donít have the money to buy a Harley, but they are enthusiasts.  They often buy a Japanese bike that they trick out like a Harley and after a few years they get enough money and go to Harley.  They were a great company in that regard; they had spent a lot of money studying it and they supported reality in that regard.  But there are two or three quotes where the characters talk about what it means to ride a Harley-Davidson and maybe itís an inherent flaw of the piece in hindsight, but I decided to not to necessarily deal with it, too much of the connection with the brand.  Maybe I was little bit oversensitive as a filmmaker that it was going to be too obvious, so I think maybe I went away too far on the other side in hindsight.

From what I know they all come to Harley because itís this larger-than-life brand.  They all see it as the way.  They see it as rebellious and they consider themselves rebellious.  I thought that comes through in the way they dress, that fact that theyíre riding a motorcycle instead of an SUV.


LMD: This is your first documentary after a career directing feature films. What made you decide to do this documentary?  What challenges were different for you versus making a narrative film?

AdV:  Wow, thatís a good question.  I love the genre.  I love documentary, itís a passion of love.  I have nothing but respect for documentarians, because you have to be very much engaged and live in this world for a while, which is good.  I think itís such a cinematic medium because you shape the material with what you have, not with what you wrote.  You write a concept, you shoot it and it changes completely and then in the editing room, you totally reinvent it.  Itís an amazing process.  Itís truly such a natural visual medium, even though theyíre a lot of talking heads, but you have a relationship to the visuals telling the story in their own individual way.  And also because you have to be engaged with what is real, you canít make stuff up.  For example in a fiction {film} if I say, ĎOh go throw yourself off of the Empire State Building, weíll have a cool scene,í like Spiderman or Hulk and you go, ĎOh, I know itís not real, but itís cool.í  In a documentary, it doesnít work.


LMD:  Well, you can only get one take and itís a little messy.

AdV:  {Laughs} So, yes you learn to shape reality in a way that is as real as can be. There is always an element of manipulation.  The minute you cut, youíre manipulating.  You cannot avoid manipulation.  There are great documentaries from the sixties by the Maysles Brothers, or one of my favourites, Frederick Wiseman.  Itís all about cinema vťritť, which is little to no manipulation.  But even in a great Frederick Wiseman documentary, even the way heís shaping the material by cutting, but it feels very close to what I think reality is.  So you always play with perceptions and I think it changes you in those ways as a filmmaker.


LMD:  You are known for casting Latinos in your films or making films that include Latino characters and situations.  Why is that important to you?  Is that something you intend when you create a story?

AdV:  Yeah, absolutely. The more I do it, the more conscious it becomes.  Itís a people and milieu that I know well as a filmmaker, as a person, so I end up doing that.  Even if theyíre not the main point of the movie, I just do and I think I will continue do that.


LMD:  What do you hope viewers will take away from Harlistas?

AdV:  I donít know, I think every audience member should deal with it on their own terms.  I like to come into any film and kind of make up my own mind or a book or essays.  Iím one of those people who reads two or three articles about the same subject and thatís how I make my own conclusions.  Thatís how I understand how the world works.  Iím obsessive, I drive my wife crazy.  That said, I would never prescribe anything.  I can tell you what I learned and it was really beautiful: In simple terms itís that in many ways, that even when itís dysfunctional, family is an anchor.  In the stories that I shot and pursued it was very evident that the minute you shun away your family or your family shuns you away, in time your issues become a social problem.  We as individuals do not live alone and we as families do not live alone; we live in a society, and as such the more you can do to make a safety net for a family or for a family to deal with a lot of issues.  Like for example {Harlistaís subjects} Jerryís and Lonnieís; itís incredibly clear that Jerry would not have become a drug dealer and he was in an out of Orange County prisons.  This guy Ė he says it in the movie - ĎThree years ago, you wouldíve seen me, you would have totally walked away from me.  If Iíd have seen you and you looked at me mean, I would have come and fucked you up.Ē  The guy had no qualms about destroying peopleís lives.  He was very conscious of the fact that he destroyed peopleís lives with crystal meth and that he himself was a user.  And the minute he came out of prison with nothing, and his stepfather took him under his wing -- even though the stepfather is very flawed, as well -- all of a sudden the guy stopped selling drugs.  Not only did he marry his girlfriend, but they have a child and they bought a house.  Heís working with his stepfather in the motorcycle shop and theyíre not doing great, theyíre surviving, but theyíre staying together.  Thatís why our tax dollars are not paying for Jerry to be in jail, heís not destroying other peopleís lives and heís not going to grab you on the street and kick you.  Heís just not; that lifestyle is clearly behind him.  And for him to be able to say that, for me, thatís the most compelling story, personally.  Because that statement of purpose takes so much strength, and yet is so small that to me I find that change momentous and dramatic.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 24th, 2011



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