I appreciate the opportunity to share my project with you. American Babylon is a complex narrative inspired by real people and events from recent history and my own experience. I spent my childhood amid revolutionary movements of the 1980s with my parents in South America and arrived in Oakland, California as a teenager. I left a world where our story made sense, and I came to a place where almost nobody my age knew what dictatorships, coups and dirty wars meant. The script grew out of the place in-between those contradictory realities where I now come from.
Today, Oakland is home, a place that inspires and troubles me simultanously. Its unique multicultural, multiracial and multilingual environment is the setting for the story. The actions and characters in the script are seen through the kind of lens with which I view the world, merging past and present, real and imaginary, places here and there.
American Babylon addresses how major historic events shape our lives and how people attempt to reshape reality and effect social change. It is also about the humanity that links us all, no matter where we’re from or what language we dream in.
This script has a lot to do with my life story, and neither one fits neatly in a box or genre. I’ve lived in the US since I was 15, and somehow I still feel like an immigrant. I’m the son of dreamers, with one foot here and one foot there. My mother left Maine in her early 20s and didn’t return to live in the US for years. My father is from Chile. He was exiled after the military coup of September 11, 1973, and came to San Francisco as a refugee. Like the main characters in the script, they come from very different places, geographically and culturally, and found love in their differences.
September 11, El Once (the 11th), is a branding I was born with. For all Chileans, especially those exiled by the regime, that date is a painful divider, the end of many dreams and the beginning of something terrible. Yet, it is also, in many ways, the reason I exist. So, you might imagine how eerie it felt that Tuesday morning in 2001. Exactly 28 years earlier, a Tuesday, airplanes flew over the Chilean capital, bombing the national palace as military men speaking English announced president Salvador Allende was dead. The US government’s involvement in overthrowing Allende is now openly documented, yet most people in the US do not know this history. Sharing the collective memory of two 9-11s motivated me to write American Babylon.
Oakland: American Babylon
The story takes place in Oakland, California in 2001. Bipolar, grimy and always on the grind, Oakland is also full of pride and creativity. Characters are shaped by this environment, pushed and pulled to confront the society they live in. I also draw inspiration from Oakland’s powerful history of social movements, connection with the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground, and strong influence on Hip Hop culture.
The main character, Anton, is very much like me but with a lot of my father’s anger and frustrations, and a heightened sense of loss. Sathia is a woman I have loved, a close friend, and the voice of a few literary characters. The relationship at the center of this story is an amalgamation of experiences and relationships in my life. I want to show cultural differences and emotional similarities, and because of the reality I wish to convey, I would prefer using relatively unknown actors.
All the characters are raw and unpolished, and reflect the multicultural, multilingual life in many U.S. cities. About a quarter of the script is in Spanish. Anton interacts with many different Latinos, with different accents and slang, showing that Latino is not a monolithic identity and that in cities like Oakland, all these flavors get stirred together.
Here and There
My writing has a strong foreign voice but speaks to a US audience. The script reflects an unusual immigrant experience and a unique bi-cultural mix. It has a point of view, especially regarding “The American Experience”, that isn’t being told.
I’ve done extensive research toward capturing time and place, and people forming groups with diverse agendas, principles, and tactics. The script also draws from literary sources, primarily Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The novel discusses how if we don’t actively participate in society and make our voices heard, we become invisible. Although it focuses on the Black experience in America, I find many similarities with my Latino experience, and I draw parallels with the forced “disappearance” of many people during the Pinochet dictatorship.
Both main characters bear histories of struggle and carry open wounds from past traumas. I think magic realism is an effective device for conveying subjective experience, so the script includes dream sequences and also blends the characters’ dreams and nightmares with the narrative, sometimes blurring the real with the surreal. The dreams are windows to the characters’ past, their unconscious and conscious memory.
Political discussions in the script address a need to portray intelligent, critical characters in film. We aren’t seeing scenes of cool young people discussing politics or violence, or trauma from violence, in a way that is entertaining. Finding a way to work those conversations and arguments into the script without becoming preachy or boring is a real challenge. I want arguments that have substance but convince with passion, cleverness, and wit. I strive to highlight those magical moments when profound thought is expressed in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
Love in times of cholera
At the core, American Babylon is a story about love, but not necessarily romantic love. The script has a lot of heart, addressing people’s love for their past, their dreams and ideals. The tone is fast-paced and dramatic with a heist-film quality. It builds up to a very tense and potentially shocking ending, but throughout the characters are filled with life and humor.
Visually I see a grainy, high contrast and mostly hand-held film. I’d love to work with Rodrigo Prieto, or a DP with his sensibilities whose images are intimate, unpolished and realistic. I want to show Oakland in that light, gritty and uneasy. I’d like the film to have the vérité feel that gives documentaries their perceived validity.
Making the impossible, a reality…
I’d like the audience to walk away thinking about the role each of us plays in society, about violence as a pervasive social problem, and the notion of love as a revolutionary idea. The ending has a strong shock factor that will inevitably trigger a lot of emotions and memories, so I expect it to strike a chord with many viewers, but I hope it also opens up introspection and dialogue.
I am passionate about creating art that sparks people’s imagination regarding our human condition and the way we actually live in society. I believe we need more high quality, entertaining films that motivate audiences to think for themselves and move them to action.