And… Action!

Young POC filmmaker successfully navigates the industry

Hari Emani

Photo by Camille Mak

Passion is a rare discovery that few people make so early in their lives, yet senior Emilio Vazquez Reyes found his in film. His childhood was spent with his dad’s camcorder, recording random objects and moments. As he grew and his storytelling matured, film had become an essential part of his life. 

Film fulfilled Reyes in a way nothing else did as it’s the voice he uses to share stories and experiences that relate to his Mexican heritage that he holds close to his heart. Reyes is dedicated to this art of storytelling and is willing to fight to make his name in the industry.

“Film always just kind of stuck just because it seemed like such an easy thing to do, it’s something that I’m really passionate about. And with every camera, it seemed like the quality started to increase. Also, my storytelling matured over the years, and I started to get more into topics that were personal to me, instead of what I thought was entertaining for others,” Reyes said. 

Film acts as a vessel for the story the filmmaker wants to share to an audience. For Reyes, the type of film he is interested in reflects his inner beliefs and in such a diverse industry he has found his place in independent film. 

“With independent film, things that have a moderate to low budget, things that are more personal to the filmmaker itself, and not just to executives and suits in a big office somewhere, I find that to be more fulfilling,” Reyes said. 

Reyes’s first successful adventure in filmmaking was a personal one. He tells a familiar but impactful story that relates to his Mexican heritage he can relate to as the son of immigrants. 

“My first film was called ‘Honeybee,’” Reyes said. “Essentially what it’s about is about immigration, it’s about illegal immigration more specifically. And it was made to raise awareness about violence towards Hispanic immigrants. [It’s] told through the story of a Hispanic immigrant.” 

The creation of “Honeybee” was not so simple. In making the film, Reyes was taking the leap from turning a dream into reality, and to him it had to accurately reflect his vision. 

I see film as something that really cements myself in history. So [I] need to think really hard about what I’m going to put out there.” Reyes said. 

Hard work does pay off, however. “Honeybee” had won multiple awards at local and international festivals despite it being Reyes’ first official published project. 

“I would say that that success has lasted almost a year now, the success that I assume is like film festivals and film competitions,” Reyes said. “It’s just like a big snowball effect, you know? You make the film, get invited to a big festival, then another big festival sees that, and another big festival sees that. Soon you have three of them that you put on your resume, [and] now more people are reaching out to you.”

The importance of Reyes’ work goes beyond just films and storytelling. To him, film is a means to deeper connect with his culture. 

“I feel like with film, I’m sort of in a weird way, reclaiming that I want to explore Mexican [and] Latin American topics,” Reyes said. “I see it as a way of me exploring these topics, I suppose [I’m] getting closer with my heritage” 

Reyes is aware of the stigmatization he might face as a POC artist. Especially one whose work focuses on his Mexican heritage due to the possibility of being written off as a “one trick pony”. 

Not to mention this battle often feels like a lonely one, as the representation is drastically lacking in the behind the scenes of the movie industry. 

“It’s hard to really express your heritage, especially in Hollywood,” Reyes said. “I was doing independent research [and] I found that there is a really short percentage [6%] of directors in Hollywood who are Latino. That’s something that can be very heartbreaking, but also somewhat motivating for me to hear how. I felt like a minority growing up. I felt like a minority here. I’m definitely a minority in the arts. That’s a very big factor in what I create and how I navigate the industry.”

Despite all adversities, film is what Reyes wants to do. He plans on going to film school after graduation and is already managing a production company, LLC, with his brother. At only 17, he’s managed to achieve more than most.