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Opening doors

Grenfell alumnus creating film and theatre opportunities for minorities

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.

By Melanie Callahan

Since graduating from Grenfell Campus’s theatre program this spring, Santiago Guzmán has been making waves in Canadian film and theatre.

Mr. Guzmán is not satisfied with just focusing on his own career advancement in one of the toughest industries out there, however. He is also creating opportunities for people of colour, something historically limited in Newfoundland and Labrador – via his own filmmaking and his own theatre company.

Theatre graduate to producer

While still a student, Mr. Guzmán, who hails from Mexico City, sought an opportunity to work with Newfoundland and Labrador filmmaker and actor Ruth Lawrence on her short film, Snowstorm Roulette.

“She asked me to help as a production assistant,” said Mr. Guzmán. “Being on set, really, was the key factor in understanding the world of film. From that moment on, the secrets of how a film is shot and conceived were revealed, and the way I saw film changed my life: suddenly doors were opening.”

Through his connection with Ms. Lawrence, Mr. Guzmán became involved in the Nickel New Voices Project, sponsored by TELUS and The Nickel Independent Film Festival, which supports emerging and diverse filmmakers in the community to produce short films.

“At the time, I was talking to someone whom I was falling in love with. It struck me, though, that I had a bit of a challenge expressing love in my second language, and, boom! I realized that it would be interesting to explore that through film.”

Thanks to the New Voices funding, Mr. Guzmán’s resulting film, Te Quiero, was made and was selected for the an opening night screening of the 2019 Nickel Independent Film Festival. Mr. Guzmán wrote the screenplay, performed in the Spanish-speaking character role and Tamara Segura, a Cuban Spanish-speaking filmmaker who resides in St. John’s, came on as director.

Santiago Guzman at the 2019 St. John's International Women's Film Festival.
Santiago Guzmán’s film, Te Quiero, also screened at the 2019 St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.
Photo: Submitted

‘Token of diversity’

As an actor and filmmaker in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Guzmán has found the biggest challenge is accessing roles he’s suitable for.

“I’ve realized that the core of my disadvantage as an actor of colour relied on the fact that most of the projects that are being produced here are not diverse enough,” he said. “Sometimes my cultural background becomes a token of diversity, i.e. putting me in the background, wasting a lot of the talent that I’ve got to offer.

“So that’s when it hit me that I had to start writing my own material and find ways to produce it,” he continued. “Now, the real challenge then becomes accessing public funding. The problem is that I am not a permanent resident nor a Canadian citizen so I am not eligible to apply for it.”

Despite this, his career is picking up a lot of momentum. In the coming months, Mr. Guzmán will be part of the 2019-20 RBC Emerging Playwrights Program with Eastern Front Theatre in Halifax, N.S., developing a new play about a Basque sailor in Newfoundland and Labrador to be read during the Stages Theatre Festival in the spring of 2020. He’ll also direct a short film in St. John’s and will be teaching at George Brown College in Toronto.

“And while all of this is happening, I will be working on my recently launched company, TODOS Productions: Theatre and Film For All, which seeks to develop, produce, promote and support the work of LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, landed immigrants, disabled and artists of colour in these media.

“Our first goal is to create a platform for emerging, diverse writers to develop a script where the main character identifies as a minority. This will be possible through our winter 2020 Writing Mentoring program, led by me and award-winning playwright Robert Chafe.”

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