translating a life of images into choice words and greater actions

Sin Ti/ Without You

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sin ti blog pic

A documentary short film about a Cuban American family. A grandson travels to Cuba to discover the countryside that served as the birthplace of his family’s lore described to him in vivid tales by his paternal grandfather, Abuelo Teodoro. With his Leica M6 strapped across his chest, his Sony PC1 in one hand and the PD150 in the other, the filmmaker travels back in time in search of answers to his many questions and some proof that his inheritance of memories had true value. What he comes to see and understand is that the roots of his family’s legacy in Pinar del Rio, Cuba are deep and still alive in the collective memory of the people who knew his grandfather when he lived in Cuba. At the same time, this film explores the personal consequences of the embargo on trade and open communication with the island nation in a sublime and apolitical manner.

Louis M. Rivera shot, directed, produced, financed and edited this film with the help of Jeanine Tasso, Chi Yoon Chung, Antonio Sanchez, Nan Bush and Bruce Weber. The original copies were submitted to film festivals and hand delivered to friends in DigiBeta and VHS format respectively as were the industry standards in 2001.

Sin Ti was a Finalist for the Jerome Foundation, New York Media Arts Grant, and the Roy W. Dean $100,000 Editing Grant. The film was screened domestically and internationally at the Three Continents Film Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa; Buzzcuts Showcase sponsored by Independent Feature Project & Sundance Channel in New York City; the Rooftop Film Series in Brooklyn, New York and at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island as a recipient of a Solomon Fellowship.

After sneaking into a private reception at the RISD President’s Mansion during the Providence Latin American Film Festival in 2001, he met and presented copies of the work in progress to Jose Rodriguez, a Cuban broadcast journalist, and Humberto Solas, the famed director of post-revolutionary Cuban Cinema who had traveled to the festival as part of a Cuban delegation to screen his new film that explored a similar theme.

As a result of that encounter, the weekly Cuban National Television program, Somos Cuba/ We are Cuba, broadcast the film and an interview with Mr. Rivera. He was personally invited by Mr. Solas to screen his film at his film festival in Cuba the following year. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, travel to the island was too complicated and risky.

In 2009, the Providence Latin American Film Festival honored Sin Ti / Without You with the distinction of being chosen as the final film to be screened as part of the Documentary Showcase of its 50th Anniversary Retrospective on post-revolutionary Cuban cinema. The timing of that screening also served to highlight the 10th Anniversary of the beginning of production of the film. For that occasion, Sin Ti was digitally remastered and end credits were added.

As a side note of special importance to the filmmaker: At the closing reception for the 2009 Providence Film Festival, Mr. Rivera was approached by a young Cuban Film Director, who had traveled to the United States as part of an official Cuban delegation from ICIAC (the Cuban Film Institute) and was also a finalist for Best Director and Best Narrative Film in the competitive segment of the Festival. After introducing himself, he complimented Mr. Rivera on his skill in capturing guajiros (Cuban country folk) in such a sincere light and gracious portrayal. But then he mentioned something that Louis was not aware of… “This is not the first time I have seen your film. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but your film is well known in Cuba. Copies of Sin Ti are available in neighborhoods across Cuba as the opening film in a VHS tape trilogy of Cuban American filmmakers. As you say here, it is bootlegged ”

When I set out to Cuba and decided to make my first film with the footage and the story that unfolded, I was not looking for commercial success. What started as a personal quest and guerilla filmmaking project soon became a race against time, hoping to deliver the ultimate gift to an ailing, octogenarian matriarch, mi Abuela Cora, before it was too late.

You are invited to visit my vimeo page for a downloadable version of the film:  https://vimeo.com/louismrivera/videos


Written by Louis

June 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Assignments

That was then, this is now: Ignacio Figueras y familia

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On the set of my last job with Bruce Weber, I developed a working relationship with Penelope Cruz and Ignacio (Nacho) Figueras.  She was dating Tom Cruise at the time and was just chosen as the face of the newest RL fragrance.  Nacho  was a handsome Argentine polo player looking for a break in the modeling business.

As a bilingual First Assistant Photographer and Protégé, it was my responsibility not only to orchestrate the movements of a small army of assistants but also to expose the film– yes this is BD (Before Digital).  Cognizant of the fact that Penelope and Nacho spoke very little English at the time and this was their first major commercial and print campaign, I chose to offer them valuable advice and direction in Spanish whenever the opportunity presented itself.  As I walked into the frame before each shot to take a light reading, I responded to their gazes asking for a quick translation… I relished the chance to serve as their advisor and interpretor.. I joked with them to loosen them up and gain their confidence.  Later in the day, Nacho would call to me: “Maestro, que…”

As he thanked me, as few often models do, for my interest in his performance and good standing, I explained to him that I was leaving the team to make a film about my family in Cuba.  He wished me luck and off we both went on our separate ways.

A decade later, I  had the opportunity to see his home turf  in  Argentina at Candelaria, the ancestral home of his wife, Delfina, the mother of his three children. I was shooting the behind the scenes video for the global campaign for the fragrance Romance ( L’Oreal and Ralph Lauren).

Just a year earlier he had received the Sportsman of the year Award from ESPN.  More had seen him on The Oprah Winfrey show when he made the Queen of Jordan blush in his  presence.  In a royal frat boy stunt, Prince William spit champagne on him after defeating him on the Polo field in New York after a charity match between their two teams.

So much had changed, but he recognized and approached me at first sight to offer a brotherly hug, authentic and heartfelt.  “Maestro y que de tu familia en Cuba?”

Written by Louis

January 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I blog, therefore I am !

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Cogito ergo sum (FrenchJe pense donc je suisEnglish: “I think, therefore I am“) is a philosophical statement in Latin used by René Descartes, which became a foundational element of Western philosophy. The simple meaning of the phrase is that if someone is wondering whether or not they exist, that is in and of itself proof that they do exist (because, at the very least, there is an “I” who is doing the thinking).[2]

At the risk of sounding like a calculating professional who has embraced his blogspace as an opportunity to exhibit his critical analysis and wordplay skills, I would like to announce that blogging has provided me with a new lease on life– thus the title.    In order to be taken seriously as a communicator in our contemporary job market and workplace of ideas, goals, strategies and tactics, you must have a significant digital footprint that is easily accessible to the greater public while catering to your areas of professional interest and experience.

Considering that there are more blog entries than human beings inhabiting our palnet, with great humility and even greater respect for the academy of thought leaders and pioneers that opened the floodgates of the medium by empowering us with the self publishing venues and tools while encouraging the universe of willing participants to throw their words into the ring, I appreciated the wisdom and guidance of my social media mentor, Laurel Hart.  She provided the supportive framework and the academic moorings to guide me, and the rest of our NYU Graduate Class in Social Media into the great unknown of unlimited promise.  Without her weekly assignments and feedback, I think my blog entries would have suffered the fate of most– a rambling and unfocused journal entry.

Although it was challenging to stay focused on the theme of each entry, I was surprised how easy it was to write once I had a clear plan on what I wanted to cover.  I think it is extremely helpful to outline your editorial plan for the next month or two of entries so there is always a conducting thread of ideas through out even as you may digress when certain current events compel you to add your five cents of commentary and valuable perspective.

I enjoyed weaving in the various elements of my professional experiences and creative interests into the overall plan of the blog.  This exercise gave me a chance to truly reflect on what I bring to the discussion table and why I can claim some credibility on specific matters.  On another level, my entries and their subject matter provide a forum to engage potential clients and employers in the strength of my analysis and writing skills.  And given the non linear career path that I have pursued, I think it is necessary to explain myself to those who are unwilling to even consider me or hire me at first glance.

I will continue to blog after next week.   I will spend more time in certain areas of public relations, media production, multi-culturalism and social media weaving these specific areas of professional interest into academic and commercial projects.

They say luck is the convergence of preparation and coincidence.  Wish me luck!

Written by Louis

April 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Assignments

“And what did we (spectators) learn about ourselves?”

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Before the week is out, as it already is old news and as the next sport spectacle is underway with its own narratives, I just wanted to add the second part of my media monitoring exercise concerning the Masters Golf Tournament and Tiger’s timely return.

On April 9, 2010,  after the first day of competition, the Associated Press released a statement:  Nielsen: Overnight Masters Ratings Up 50 Percent . It announced that Tiger Woods’ return had increased television viewership of the Masters by 50 percent.

“The Nielsen Co. said that ESPN’s coverage of the Masters’ first round on Thursday had a 3.6 rating in an overnight measurement of the nation’s biggest markets. That’s 50 percent more than the similar measurement for last year’s opening day, and 80 percent more than it was in 2008.”

Then on Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 1:58 PM, just before the contenders’ tee times, STUART ELLIOTT posted  Update: Buzz on Woods Improves, Data Indicate on the NYTimes.com Media Decoder blog. Here are a few snippets:

“Zeta Interactive, a company that monitors message boards, blogs and social media posts, is finding an improvement in public perceptions of Tiger Woods, although he is nowhere near his pre-scandal levels of approval…  The data showed that the first day of the Masters golf tournament — Mr. Woods’s first day of public golf since the scandal — significantly helped his online reputation.”

“On Wednesday, the day before the Masters began, Mr. Woods’s online reputation stood at 51 percent positive and 49 percent negative, Zeta reported. On Friday, the positive figure had soared to 69 percent and the negative had fallen to 31 percent.  The 69 percent is still a far cry from the 91 percent positive rating that Mr. Woods enjoyed in the Zeta data before the scandal.”

“Looking at words or terms used online to describe Mr. Woods, Zeta found that those in use a month ago, like “lie/lied/liar,” “cheat” and “scandal,” had given way by Friday to “win,” “performance” and “dominant/dominate.”  As for the Nike commercial, it helped the Nike brand online, the Zeta data indicated. The company’s positive ratings, which had recently hovered in the range of 68  to 73 percent, soared to 83 percent after the spot began running.  And as of Friday morning, the volume of posts online about Nike had increased by more than 270 percent, the data showed, making Nike more buzzed-about than any retailer.”

In the end, the best golfer that weekend won, Phil Mickelson.  His personal and family story also served as the moral counterpoint to TIger’s infidelity and recklessness.  Phil,  always a fan favorite even when he was the perennial runner-up had recently taken time off from golf to spend time with his wife and mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  This idea of a better “moral” man theme was picked ny one of his sponsors in a full page advertisement in an international newspaper that shall remain nameless as I only read about it and it was unavailable online.

As consumers in an age of tabloids, we are led to watch car wrecks and the fall from grace of modern athletes and heroes.  On this occasion, I believe we were tricked in the best way possible.  Tiger stumbled and cursed on live TV even if he did come in fourth after not competing for so long.  But Phil, his brilliant strategy and execution of his golf game and personal triumph for his family stole the show.  I am glad that his good behavior was rewarded in such grand fashion–even if the broadcasters and sponsors were pleased with their numbers as well.

Written by Louis

April 16, 2010 at 2:39 am

Posted in Assignments

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“And did you learn anything?” Tiger, Nike and the Masters

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As a student of Public Relations, I was interested in Tiger’s return from his image crisis and brand free fall under the lights and pressure of the sports biggest stage, the Masters Golf Tournament

I watched a live streaming of the press conference/ Q&A and was relieved to see a human being behind the dais.  He seemed at ease with himself.  His exchanges with the media on tough questions seemed to be sincere in admitting his faults and bad judgments while respectfully declining to answer certain questions that crossed the line of personal details.  As he admitted his lawyers were in control at the beginning of this crisis, but it appeared that his Public Relations media trainers seemed to win over his favor on this occasion.  Many journalists were encouraged by his demeanor and willingness to acknowledge his mistakes. Others were more cynical believing this was just a well-orchestrated media junket in order to deliver key messages early and often.

Seizing upon the  great opportunity to showcase Tiger’s loyal brand on the eve of the Masters, Nike released a limited run 30 second advertisement that consisted of a tight, black and white image of Tiger framed by his father’s voice emphasizing his interest in understanding his son better while questioning his motives.  In the end of the audio clip, his father Earl asks:  “And did you learn anything?”

In the NyTimes.com Media Decoder Blog, Update: Madison Avenue Responds to New Nike Woods Spot, By STUART ELLIOTT AND STEPHANIE CLIFFORD on April 8, 2010, 11:51 AM, it is clear that the concept and the timing of the Nike Ad polarized professional opinion.  Here are a few opinions posted on the blog:

Jay Lenstrom, chief executive of Red Peak Group, a global marketing services company, said the spot was strategically sound.

“They want buzz, they want to be provocative, they want to get the talk value,” he said. “It’s probably much better to be out now, ahead of it, not knowing what’s going to unfold over the next four days. They kind of steal the spotlight today.” Nike’s loyalty to Mr. Woods, Mr. Lenstrom said, might appeal to fans. “They stood behind him from right when the incidents came out — they were very bold to stand by him,” he said. “It demonstrates a consistent loyalty.”

Megan Hakes, co-founder and senior vice president at Reputation Partners in Chicago, a corporate communications and crisis-management agency, disagreed.

“I can only sum up this latest attempt at redemption as ’crass,’” she wrote in an e-mail message. “Team Tiger’s response to this entire crisis has been a disaster, so really this latest misstep shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.”

Ms. Hakes described herself as “dumbfounded by the timing” of the commercial as well as how it looks, the message and “the shameful manipulation of his dead father in the voice-over.”

As I read these opinions, I chose to detach myself from my rational moral mind and look at Tiger’s Q&A and Nike’s commercial  as a prologue and a gamble respectively.

Give the enormity of the moment, Nike needed to seize the moment and remind the viewers that they are loyal to Tiger, their other sponsored athletes, their consumer market and their investors.   As part of an integrated marketing communications strategy, they leveraged the moment to highlight the strength and conviction of their brand.  I don’t know how many people took note of this detail, however in the early stages of the coverage on ESPN and the Golf Channel, the Nike swoosh appeared next to the names of their sponsored athletes on the leader board.

Tiger was not the only one Nike Golfer in the hunt for the green jacket.

Written by Louis

April 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Teachers Ask. You Choose. Students Learn. Donorschoose.org

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“Some see DonorsChoose.org as the future of philanthropy.”

—The New York Times

Donorschoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need.

As they describe in their informational page of their website:

“Here’s how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class.

Then, you can browse project requests and give any amount to the one that inspires you. Once a project reaches its funding goal, we deliver the materials to the school.

You’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students.

At DonorsChoose.org, you can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. We call it citizen philanthropy.”

At root, this model for citizen philanthropy is timely and takes into account the desire of people to make individual contributions that will directly affect the lives of students by providing their teachers with specific supplies or cash that will have an immediate impact on their lesson plans and their students’ intellectual and creative development. Their digital footprint is well established.  And they have expanded their efforts beyond the website to reach the blogging community and other potential online contributors.

Their DonorsChoose.org blog provides an outlet for organizational news as well as a forum for folks to tell their success stories or promote the organization and the diversity of opportunities across the nation.  Their  twitter updates (@DonorsChoose) are also posted on the blog site with direct link to their twitter page .

I was particularly impressed by their emphasis on social media in the classroom as witnessed by their 2009 Social Media Challenge that is generously sponsored by HP with a $250,000 contribution that will be utilized to fund school projects that employ social media platforms.  The Social Media Challenge (aka the Philanthropic Throwdown for Public Schools) has a page that lists the top Giving Pages in the competition.

As they explain: “Last year, bloggers big and small raised $270,000 to provide 65,000 students with the resources needed to learn. This year, Twitter has joined the fray, and we aim to help even more public schools.”

The list of top bloggers can be see from a link from their website (http://www.donorschoose.org/social-media-challenge-2009) and additional how to guides are provided in order to facilitate getting involved.

I decided to “throw my hat into the ring” as they suggest and will follow-up this post with a review of the process.

Written by Louis

March 30, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Assignments

Redneck Round Up in the Digital Age

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I started working on my next documentary film project this month. In it I will try to tell the story of Hunter Barnes, a traditionalist photographer whose subjects are people outside of normal life and on the fringe of American society. Despite the mainstream culture’s misrepresentation of most of these folks, Hunter’s portraits  honor them with dignity and humanity framed within the environment they inhabit.  He shoots medium format (6×7) film cameras and Polaroid– all his photos are in black and white.  He personally prints his images in his darkroom in his studio in the wilderness of Oregon.

I bring all of this up because I am in the process of also devising a plan on how to promote the artist and his brand utilizing social media to drive information and interest on his work and to the future retrospective at Milk Gallery in New York City that will also premiere the documentary film.

In my mind’s eye, I had envisioned a multi-dimensional roll out that relied on a comprehensive digital footprint as a foundation and then added additional updates of video content.    The pieces to the puzzle are standard fair and could, or rather should be embraced and employed by anyone who is trying to stand out from the crowd and distinguish themselves from the sea of applicants vying for eye time on the internet.

The plan is as follows:

Wikipedia profile developed and populated from a core group of friends, funders, collectors, subjects and colleagues. It is vital that one assemble this core group of individuals to work on this writing project together because if you post a wikipedia entry alone without the input of others, you run the very serious risk of having it taken down by their editors.

Website must be up and running at the same time or before as the wikipedia page and should be linked to ensure access to images and other valuable contact information for his gallery and his agent.  More than anything the website should be his virtual gallery– a place where people can go to view the breadth of his work, his inspirations and his associations.

You Tube Channel will be the place where there will be weekly posting of clips from the film that are supported by targeted emails and twitter postings.

Facebook Fan Club will also drive traffic to all of the sites and to the events.

Although simple, this model is a basic interpretation of the trans media storytelling strategy that is described by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture.  The basic structure of this plan will serve as an exemplary digital presence for Hunter and my rebranding as filmmaker, PR practitioner and social media strategist.  I think it will work for me and it should work for you too.  So get started.