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We talk a lot about the creative team behind movies, TV shows, and webisodes. We got the opportunity to actually interview someone who’s a part of that team: film editor and director Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez. As mentioned on the R’s main blog, she’s edited the work of director Byron Hurt and actor/director Vin Diesel. And, as a director, she told the stories of stickball players in Bragging Rights: Stickball Stories. And she was gracious enough to chat with the R about racism in the industry, the representations of people of color in documentaries, and the fillmmaker’s responsibility.
In editing documentaries, what have you noticed about the representations of people of color in them? Is that something an editor has a hand in shaping?
The editor of color definitely brings their consciousness to editing decisions. I’ve never been asked tomake questionable decisions regarding people of color in any of my work, thank goodness, because every filmmaker I worked for was conscious and political. On “Passionate Politics: The Work and Life of Charlotte Bunch,” filmmaker Tami Gold, who is white and Jewish, was VERY conscious about the inclusion of women of color in her film about a white feminist. Her number one priority was to unpack the race issue of this white feminist who traveled to Africa and Latin America so that she wasn’t seen as a ”missionary” in the negative way because that is not who Charlotte Bunch is. As an editor, I do bring my lens of being a woman of color to every project I work on to make sure the shaping of the footage is as respectful to whatever subject matter we are dealing with.
You’re also a director. Why did you make that transition? And, again, how have –isms and –phobias impacted/still impact your work?
As a young person, I was an activist involved in anti-police brutality campaigns, in media literacy work, and in deconstructing images for the Latino community so that we, as a whole, can betterunderstand how imagery shapes perception. And filmmakers of color are sometimes guilty of stereotyping too. I was very entrenched in political work and because of that felt an obligation to make “political” media.
However, the genre that got me most excited was/is comedy. I finally gave myself permission a few years back to feed this muse and understand that this is my way of still being political, by taking life situations and viewing them with a comical lens. Activists wanna laugh too. As in my editing work, I haven’t experienced the isms - just my own fears and hesitation holding me back. Self-doubt is less of a struggle these days. With my partners Tammi Cubilette and Angelo Lozada, we make short comedies under the name T&A. This year, we’re developing longer content. I still edit docs because shaping documentary storytelling helps invaluably with narrative filmmaking. I recommend every editor to edit at least one of their own films; it becomes glaringly apparent what a director needs to make a film when that director has to struggle with putting the pieces together themselves in the edit room. The director, for example, is forced to think about transitions from scene to scene and even within a scene.
What stories about people of color would you like to see in a documentary? And, what stories about people of color do you think are overrepresented in documentaries?
I can’t really say that there are certain topics that are overrepresented because if they’re constantly being represented, then obviously that issue is not resolved, such as police brutality, rape, poverty and racism. How we tell these stories is where the true creativity comes in. As a Puerto Rican, I do get tired of docs on Puerto Rico that give the historical chronology of PR’s colonial relationship with the U.S.; it’s hard to get around because it’s such an integral part of Puerto Rico’s story and as often as it’s been told, for some reason, Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rican relationship to the U.S. isstill misunderstood. I would like to see a doc on Puerto Rico across class and political ideology about life IN Puerto Rico. In narrative, I’m impressed by smart and funny comedies such as Black Dynamite, which takes a genre that could both be stereotypical and empowering, and through the intelligent wit of the “author,” the director be a incredibly sharp commentary about the genre, about race politics that’s very engaging, funny and thought-provoking.
It behooves all of us as filmmakers & craftspeople behind the scenes to know our cinematic history, as well as our people’s history. Know the pioneers such as Oscar Micheux, Gordon Parks, Lourdes Portillo, Christine Choy, among many others so that we know the struggles that they faced as filmmakers and the topics they tackled, which often are still the same issues we’re dealing with today. Also to state the obvious, know your craft, the history, the trends, what’s coming next. As an editor, I meticulously study narrative and docs, watching and studying every aspect of that particular film. I read interviews on the making of, I watch films closely to study the mise en scene, the edits, the structure. I even study the work of my peers, like T. Woody Richman, Carla Gutierrez and Geeta Ghandbir—not just to bask in pride for them but to appreciate and learn from their mastery, since we all came up together as young filmmakers. It’s exciting to watch us all make our imprint in this industry with as much love, dedication, and consciousness as we do.
Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez will talk about her work as a film editor and filmmaker at Maysles Cinema in Harlem, NY, on Tuesday, April 2, at 7:30PM. Check here for tickets and more information about the event.