Rob Santana: Defining His Own Cinematic Take
A scene from Rob Santana’s latest film, “Heysoos”
By Bryan C. Kuriawa
At the dawn of the new millennium, a young woman believes that Jesus Christ will return to the Earth. Living alone with her daughter and her faith, she believes that one day he will answer her prayers and reveal himself.
One afternoon, her daughter, walking along a riverbed, sees a young bearded man in robes tending to his wounds. When the young man finds his way to their door, they believe that a miracle has come and Jesus has returned. Yet, in truth, their miraculous visitor is no heavenly saint and is in need of his own divine intervention.
Screening in November at the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival, Rob Santana’s “Heysoos” tells an unusual, yet humorously poignant story of faith and misunderstandings. For Santana, it represents another in a long line of film projects over the course of several decades.
“From the very beginning, I’ve loved making films, Santana said. “I’ve always wanted to make them on my own and not have to be dependent on investors. I fell in love with filmmaking ever since I was a kid; I set out to prove it can be done with a simple 5D Cannon camera.”
In 1979, Santana made his first film, “Air Waves,” about the 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast by Orson Welles on a New Jersey family. The film, shot entirely in 16MM, caught the notice of local television programmers.
“I had a heavy crew for that one,” Santana said. “It cost a lot of money to make, but it was shown on Channel 13 back in 1980. But I’m very proud of that and I still have the prints, but I want to get it digitized.”
Citing Stanley Kubrick, Luis Brunel and Mike Nichols as his influences, Santana was on his way into filmmaking. Yet for the next few years, he transferred from the world of cinema to that of theatre.
“I’ve had professionally produced plays by Míriam Colón who was in the Al Pacino movie, “Scarface,” Santana said. “She mounted my production; I got a nice little New York Times review which set me off, I had my 15 minutes. I was approached by a couple of independent movie companies, but that panned out, they wanted to look at other scripts and I just decided to go on my own.
Referencing “Heysoos,” Santana mentioned the film was nearly financed by a large production organization, but after several years of delays, he took it upon himself to complete the film.
After playwriting, Santana returned to filmmaking with several projects including “Spanglish Girls,” which became a crowd favorite at the Latino Nights Festival of the Anthology Film Archives in 2007.
With his latest film, Santana stated his idea was to ask what would happen if Jesus Christ actually appeared on New Year’s Day. After developing an early draft, he realized the idea wouldn’t progress as a straightforward drama. The resulting decision was to make the film as a satire.
Shooting the film on a budget of $6,000, Santana was shooting the project in a do-it -yourself fashion with a cast and small crew. Yet as mentioned in his director’s statement, once he acquired his actors, the filming was quite an enjoyable experience.
“The enthusiasm was contagious,” Santana said. “The readings were fun and the actors, convinced that no other film had a story quite like this one, couldn’t wait to get started.”
By the time filming had wrapped, Santana had succeeded in his goal of creating a quality low-budget film all on his own, with the most limited of tools and a small cast and crew.
Upon completion, “Heysoos” was selected for the Official Selections of the Hoboken International Film Festival and the Golden Door International Film Festival. Its most recent screening was at the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival, to which he was quite happy to have it featured.
With the current screenings for his latest film, Santana is interested in pursuing his latest project, entitled “Little Blue Eyes.”
“It’s about a black woman who finds a white baby and she’s been given a hard time by white people all her life,” Santana said. “Now she’s faced with a blue-eyed infant and she’s forced to take care of it and comes to terms with her racism. I’ve always been interested in something like that.”
While his ideal actor of choice for the ideal project would be Ethan Hawke, Satana has created his own filmography. As his career has shown, he has and will continue to carve a cinematic niche all his own.