Arts - Local filmmakersFilm at first sight 

Dora Peña couldn't forget 'Crazy Love,' so she made it her debut movie

When she was 11, San Antonio filmmaker Dora Peña stumbled across Lou Mathews' short story, "Crazy Life," in the 1980 Pushcart Prize XV Collection. Peña was immediately drawn to the tale of Dulcie, a strong-willed Latina in love with Chuey, a young man she cannot change. "It was strange because I was a very mature 11-year-old," says Peña. "So I think a different person at that age might not have been ready for that type of story. But to me it became very significant because I think I was going through a time where I was starting to feel that my emotions were becoming a lot stronger, so it really hit me as a great love story." And it would continue to weave in and out of her life.

Last March, the 25-year-old Peña traveled to Spain where she screened her first film, Crazy Life, based on Mathews' story, at the Solo Para Cortos festival in Barcelona. The film recently made its Texas debut at the Cine Las Americas festival in Austin.

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A scene from Crazy Life, based on Lou Matthews' prize-winning short story.

Set in the ganglands of East Los Angeles, the story follows the couple as Chuey struggles through incarceration and a debilitating drug addiction with Dulcie faithfully at his side. Despite its somewhat bleak tone, when the time came for Peña to choose a subject for her first film, "Crazy Life" came immediately to mind.

"As I got older, I had already experienced love and stronger emotion for another person in that sense, so I had a hard time understanding girls that were stuck with guys that to me were losers. For me, it helped me understand a lot: the girls that do stay, and the girls that try to change them, and why they continue to be there."

Her perspective on the story has changed since she first read it, says Peña, but she still saw many compelling themes in it. "Then it became more like, let me give the audience a chance to see this story and make up their own endings for these characters and explore the love that `Dulcie` has for Chuey."

In 2002, Peña contacted Mathews, who she says was taken by her passion for the story and agreed to sell her the film rights for the grand sum of one dollar. She completed the film's script in a month and in 2003 was selected for the National Association of Latino Independent Producers prestigious Latino Producers Academy. In true indie fashion, she and Manuel J. Peña, her longtime husband and co-producer, raised the funds for the film's trailer by selling barbecue plates to friends and family. In 2004, she received the Director's Award from the San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs and used the funds to complete the short film. The final budget for Crazy Life came to a little more than $15,000, plus a substantial amount of in-kind donations.

The film opens with a stylish credits sequence that contains eerily poetic images of young brown men sipping on beer and puffing smoke. At 24 minutes, the film contains strong production values, a solid script, and exceptional cinematography considering that it was shot entirely on digital video. Crazy Life also benefits from inspired performances by Grisel Rodriguez and Christopher M. Campos in the leads, and Joseph T. Campos as the troubled Sleepy Chavez.

Peña remains optimistic that Crazy Life will be chosen for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's upcoming CineFestival where it would make its official San Antonio debut.

"I know I'm running the risk," says Peña. "Are they going to say, This director, she's going to do all the gang stuff like usual? But I still had faith that the audience would find that this was more than a story just about gangs. It was about the love, about this relationship, about the consequences, with a lot of realism in it, and that's the kind of feedback that I've gotten so far. The stuff that I normally write contains totally different characters. I want to be the kind of artist that opens up new stories and puts our people in new roles and really shows the different lives that we lead. And, here, in my first piece, it's something that deals with Latinos in gangs. But I had faith because I love the story so much and I risked it."

By M. Solis

More by M. Solis



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