Brother's Keeper: Film director Peter Bratt consults his screenplay for "La Mission" while younger brother Benjamin, who stars in the film, keeps a watchful eye on the set of the film which is set and shot entirely in the Mission District of San Francisco. "La Mission" world premieres at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival on January 19. (Photo courtesy: 15 Minutes)
THE POPCORN REEL FILM FOCUS - THE 2009 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
The Mission Of Peter Bratt
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
January 12, 2009
Peter Bratt has been big brother to actor Benjamin Bratt from day one and as the elder Mr. Bratt prepared for his appearance at Sundance next week, he talked via telephone last week to The Popcorn Reel about the new feature film in which he directs his younger famous brother entitled "La Mission", a family drama set in the Mission District of San Francisco, where he and Benjamin were born and raised. The film, about a crisis that develops between a father and son, has its world premiere on January 19 in Utah in Park City, the principal stage for Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, the largest showcase of independent films in the world.
Despite what you might expect when hearing of a filmmaker directing a close relative, on the set of "La Mission" it was plain sailing almost all the way through. "With Benjamin, you know, we're brothers and best friends, so I know a lot about his interior, emotional background and present state . . . and there's always a built-in trust between us . . . I can just say one word [to Benjamin] and it'll conjure up different things from the past, childhood, from teenage years [in the Mission district] when we were running around as kids," said Mr. Bratt, who did not provide his age, but is married and has a fourteen-month old son, Lucas, who was just three weeks old when Mr. Bratt began pre-production on "La Mission", which was shot entirely on location in San Francisco.
For those thinking that tranquility reigns in a sibling working relationship -- don't get Big Brother Bratt wrong.
"Sometimes it can be like World War Three, too!"
"La Mission" is Peter Bratt's second feature film after "Follow Me Home", which also starred his younger brother and Alfre Woodard among others, and had its premiere at Sundance several years ago.
Mr. Bratt freely admitted that he called upon his more experienced younger sibling, who's had 25 years of acting under his belt, to give him guidance and direction, including he said, directing a couple of scenes from "Follow Me Home". While Peter said that he would be more demanding and stricter with Benjamin (and vice versa) than he would with someone whom he had solely a professional relationship on the set, the older Mr. Bratt, who was raised by a single mother who still lives in San Francisco, knew when to say when.
"Whenever the days got really tense, we also knew when we had to kind of step back, regroup, look at each other, 'what's the original intention here?, why are we even do' . . . then we would put ourselves in check and then go forward again," said the director.
Those moments, said Mr. Bratt, were few and far between, who spoke of his younger brother as "the consummate professional".
"In order to make a film, it's such a monumental task. We called on so many favors from friends and relatives . . . called on literally hundreds of favors. The ["La Mission"] story's actually based on a young man that we went to school with, who we consider family," said Mr. Bratt, who added that he intended to have a special San Francisco premiere of La Mission" to salute the Mission community and all of those who worked on the film. Aggie Guerard Rodgers, one of Hollywood's most prominent costume designers and a San Francisco local, was among those working on "La Mission", and Mr. Bratt was grateful for hers and others' valuable contributions.
Benjamin Bratt stars in the film as Che, a tough guy with a lot of pride. The character of Che is based on the same young man the elder Mr. Bratt spoke of. "He was a kid who started one of the first Lowrider car clubs in the Mission District back in the seventies. And he was very charismatic, he was definitely a bad boy, riding up and down the streets in the Mission District. He was clearly somebody that me and so many other young men revered and respected. He's a template for a character that I thought would be a fascinating vehicle to tell the story from. So, who he is and how he views life in many ways, that was the template."
The Lowrider car culture explained the director, "is uniquely an Mexican-American experience that was born in the United States and developed in the 1940's in Texas, where you had Mexican immigrants who made just pennies to the dollar compared to their white counterparts. There was a certain amount of oppression that was going on at that time and it was just after World War Two and the country was experiencing economic prosperity, [people buying factory cars like Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, Chryslers."
Mr. Bratt elaborated on the genesis of Lowrider and its burgeoning appeal.
"So you had a people who, under the yolk of oppression, went to junkyards and body built their own cars and, you might say, made their own Cadillacs, made their own Oldsmobiles. So the Lowrider was, kind of emerged as that experience. It became a point, I think, of cultural pride for a lot of Mexican-Americans. And the Lowrider developed. I think it became an international phenomenon, because today the biggest Lowrider [club] is in Japan. And I think the second biggest one is in Sweden. You have white kids who built Lowriders. Black folks built Lowriders. Asians -- I think one of the biggest clubs is in Hawaii.
The Lowrider car is one of the biggest characters in "La Mission", declared Mr. Bratt, who mentioned that "it's where the character [Che] finds his beauty." In some of the close-knit traditions of Lowrider culture, when a close relative passed away, a small mural or painting of the person would appear on the hood of the car or on the sides as a tribute, just as one might see on a wall in a neighborhood in East Los Angeles or other distinct and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods in the United States or internationally. The Lowrider is also in the Smithsonian Institute, cited the director, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz and dropped out of New York University Film School after the first semester. (Mr. Bratt reveals this latter information with a slight chuckle, either out of nervousness or as irony, seeing that now that he is making films that are reaching larger audiences than he may have ever dreamed. "I read every how to write a screenplay book there is," he said, mentioning that he never really wanted to be a screenwriter, but that directing was his ideal passion.)
"My film school experience was making ["Follow Me Home"]," said Mr. Bratt, who revealed that he was inspired by Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi". Mr. Rodriguez had made the film for about $7,000 and has gone on to become an established and world-renowned filmmaker. "I'm in love with the process of making film", said Mr. Bratt, who hoped that he has more chances to make films in the City By The Bay that he loves so dearly.
Along with performers Talisa Soto Bratt and Jesse Borrego, actors Jeremy Ray Valdez, who plays Che's son Jesse, and Erika Alexander who plays Lena, a neighbor, also star in "La Mission". Ms. Alexander and Mr. Valdez are from Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco in advance of the film's shoot to acclimatize to the rich traditions and heritage of the Mission District, where they spent a lot of time and which they fell in love with, according to the filmmaker.
Still, one of the great initial dilemmas, according to the cheerful, verbose Mr. Bratt, was whether to shoot "La Mission" in San Francisco or a substitute location.
"San Francisco is probably the most expensive city that you can film in in the country," Mr. Bratt said, pointing perhaps with a little desire to shoot in the state of New Mexico, where he said rebates were offered to filmmakers to film their movies there. Unsurprisingly, there were waiting lists of filmmakers waiting to take advantage of what New Mexico had to offer in their statewide incentives program. Despite such enticements, Mr. Bratt decided to stay close to home base. Speaking of New Mexico, the director conceded that "we could make the film there for about half the budget [that we did]."
But the Mission District was too authentic for Mr. Bratt to pass up. "In my mind it's one of the most unique American neighborhoods in the country and it has a dynamic that I don't think you can duplicate anywhere else. And the character of the neighborhood kind of informs the story."
"La Mission" was shot in just 26 days, including days where Mr. Bratt and his film crew shot nine pages of script in a single twelve or thirteen-hour day. The filming began last year, in early March, and finished in early April.
"I really want to do right by the neighborhood, by the City and certainly by my brother," said Mr. Bratt, whose "La Mission" begins showing at Sundance next week.
With the San Francisco skyline in the background, Peter's younger brother, actor Benjamin Bratt, is flanked by two Lowrider cars. Mr. Bratt is pictured here as Che, a father who deals with a family crisis in Peter Bratt's new film "La Mission", which has its world premiere at Sundance next week. (Photos courtesy of 15 Mintues)
Showtimes and locations for "La Mission" at the Sundance Film Festival:
Monday, January 19, 8:30pm Prospector Square Theatre, Park City, Utah
Wednesday, January 21, 2:30pm Library Center Theatre, Park City, Utah
Friday, January 23, Midnight Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah
Saturday, January 24, 9:45pm Broadway Centre Cinemas V, Salt
Lake City, Utah
For more information or for tickets visit http://www.sundance.org/festival
Copyright The Popcorn Reel. PopcornReel.com. 2009. All Rights Reserved.