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
THE POPCORN REEL FILM FOCUS - THE 2009 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
The Mission Of Peter Bratt
Omar P.L. Moore/The
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
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
"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
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
"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
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:
19, 8:30pm Prospector Square Theatre, Park City, Utah
Wednesday, January 21, 2:30pm Library Center Theatre, Park City,
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
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