Film and TV

"New Community Cinema" in the Making: Pepe Kid Houston Premier

Austin filmmaker Sergio Carvajal wants to revolutionize film production by finding alternatives to the intertwining roles of financing, distribution and storytelling as a whole -- pushing a movement he calls "new community cinema" -- while broadening the independent multichannel experience. El Gallo is the first step in that process.

The stand-alone special film Pepe Kid, being screened today at Boheme in Houston, tells the origin of El Gallo -- the whimsical story of how a young Pepe "El Gallo" Aguilar's life is turned around after finding the magical rooster, Sietecuros, who can grant the wishes of whoever owns him.

The ultimate goal, Carvajal tells Art Attack, is to create a story-world where many seeds are cultivated that can tell the story independently -- TV and Internet miniseries, interactive local screenings, music, print magazines and mobile applications, among many others -- and completely satisfy whoever engages with each one of them. For now, though, audiences are getting acquainted with the El Gallo project through 13 one-hour episodes that will be released in Texas and via the Internet on a monthly basis.

Featuring a mixture of nonprofessional actors and a few professionals, the project gathers and shoots stories locally -- allowing the audience itself to play a large role in the experience of the El Gallo universe.

"We collect stories from our locality," Carvajal says. "Five hundred stories, door-to-door, in the Eastside of Austin, plus we work really tight with the non-actors, so we grab the stories and infuse them into the story-world of El the audience becomes part of the storytelling, they themselves become characters, and if somebody has a very interesting story, and they want to become part of the actual film, then they become part of it their self...and once we get into events, then they play an even more interesting role...because they are there representing their stories."

It was very hard to finance and distribute, he says, so keeping it local, though at first out of necessity, turned out to create the impact he wanted. Crowdfunding, he says, is the only way to keep his artistic freedom and keep the project super-specific to the cultures he is trying to depict. It lets him tell a deeper, truer story about Mexico-America than Hollywood artifice would allow.

"Hollywood tries to make films that appeal to all Hispanics, and that has proven to be impossible," he says. "So for us, it was a matter of doing something super-specific, knowing and understanding where somebody's from...then, non-victimizing, you don't show minorities as minorities...then once you add a little bit of comedy, magical-realism and drama, it becomes something different."

Every release of an episode is a special local event and a chance to interact with the story -- Austin musician Juan Diaz, who played a character in the episode El Charro, performed live at the last screening in Austin, bringing the story and the character to life.

"We're educating people regarding the importance of the role of the audience," Carvajal says. "To support projects they believe in...they have to rethink the idea that in order to definitely have a change in the storytelling they usually see, they have to take a more active role."

The screening of Pepe Kid tonight is on the last leg of the series' Kickstarter campaign, which has shows in New Orleans Saturday and the final stop, Dallas, on Monday.

The aim, he says, is to show that there is potential for change -- locally based entertainment, that can take more risks, and that you yourself can be part of -- an alternative to the Hollywood route.

If it doesn't get funded through Kickstarter, Carvajal says, he and his executive producer will probably put the project on standby.

"There's a lot of suggestion to go through investors, but it goes against the nature of what we wanted to do, so we'd rather focus on the education of new community cinema and perhaps push a couple of other multichannel experiences that we have... regardless with what happens with El Gallo, this is something that we are very passionate about."

Pepe Kid will screen tonight at Boheme Cafe and Wine Bar, 307 Fairview, at 7:30 pm, followed by a Q&A with Director Sergio Carvajal, Executive Producer Alejandro Yrausquin and Associate Producer Romina Olson.

For more information about El Gallo, visit

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