A new song and a new film

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I hope your summer is going well! I’m keeping busy and my documentary about resurrecting a long lost opera will play at another slate of film festivals this fall. More specifics on that next month, but for now I wanted to share a quick update with you on two other fronts:

First, we discovered and performed a new song by Eustasio Rosales!

The song, handwritten on a scrap of sheet music in the early 20th century, is set for piano to the words of William Blake’s classic poem “The Tyger.” You can watch a video of a terrific performance of that piece on YouTube below:

Second, I have a new documentary premiering in Chicago next week!

There’s no opera singing in this film. Not even a little bit. Watch the trailer video above.

Blueprint for Bronzeville follows a group of ordinary people who are demanding a voice in the future of their historic African American neighborhood, which is marked by thousands of empty lots. This 40 minute documentary film explores personal stories, struggles, and work of the citizen-activist group Housing Bronzeville, as it fights to create opportunities for affordable homeownership and revitalize their community on the South Side of Chicago.

It’s screening as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival on Monday, August 28 and Wednesday August 30th. I’ll be there along with my co-director Tristan Hanson and participants from the film will do a Q&A session afterward. (It’s part of a double feature so you’ll get to see another Chicago related documentary too.)

Anyway, I wanted to invite everyone out to come watch this important film. You can get tickets here.

We won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary!

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Thank you for all the support you’ve given our project of resurrecting a long lost opera and making a funny documentary film about the adventure. We had a terrific series of hometown screenings at both the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival and also at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Local audiences laughed, cried, and tapped their feet to the music.

Oh, and by the way, we won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Chicago Latino Film Festival! Woohoo. Or as the film’s Associate Producer Mario Contreras would say, Orale!

So, what’s next?

Our next screening will be at the Chicago Caribbean Film Festival:

This Monday, June 12, 7PM
Oak Park Main Public Library, just off the Green Line (map)
834 Lake St, Oak Park, IL 60301
Veteran’s Room (2nd floor)
Free and open to the public

Watch our brand new trailer here below:

I’d love to see you at this Monday’s screening if you can make it! I’ll be doing a Q&A after the documentary. We’re in the process of submitting to more film festivals, yadda yadda yadda. Of course the movie will eventually be able to download as well, though not for a little while still.

Onward!
Arlen

Sometimes fortune cookies come true

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About three years ago I got a fortune cookie that promised “an interesting musical opportunity is in your near future.” For some reason I kept it instead of my usual ritual of balling it up and throwing it away with the rest of the Chinese takeout trash.

A few days later I found myself in a graveyard staring at the headstone belonging to my great grandfather, Eustasio Rosales, a man believed to be Chicago’s first Hispanic composer. An hour beforehand I had just laid eyes on an unperformed opera this ancestor of mine wrote decades ago. I decided to take a giant leap of faith and declared that I would put the opera on for a world premiere almost a century after it was written. Once and for all.

I had no experience with producing operas. That’s putting it mildly– I didn’t even know if I *liked* opera music to begin with. And there were probably a million other reasons NOT to try and do this Very Difficult Thing. But it wasn’t long before I found brilliant musical accomplices like Pablo Santiago Chin and Chris Ramaekers and the Chicago Composers Orchestra who decided to roll the dice with me on the hopes that this music that nobody had ever heard before might be good.

On that fall day in 2013 I left the fortune cookie prediction on the gravestone of my great grandfather as a kind of offering. Three years and one opera production later, we’ve answered the question that people in my family have been asking for generations: what does this music sound like? And because we made a documentary about this musical adventure, you can answer that question with us. I poured my heart and soul into this damn thing and I can’t wait for you to see the film. Watch the trailer below:

“A Mother to her Son” by Eustasio Rosales

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Three years ago I learned that my great grandfather wrote a long lost opera that’s never been performed. His name was Eustasio Rosales, and we believe he was Chicago’s first Hispanic composer. He came to the United States as an immigrant in the early 20th century, having been born in Bogota, Colombia. Despite not knowing anything about opera, I decided to try and put on his long lost work called Andina for a world premiere. Implausibly, the project was quite a success and we made an opera documentary film about the adventure and released the music.

A few months after we performed Eustasio Rosales’ long lost opera “Andina”, a group of Colombian musicians here in Chicago got in touch with me. They wanted to know if my great grandfather had written any other music that might be performable. I was curious about the musical archives too, so we returned to my aunt’s basement and dug out the two boxes of Rosales’ music.

Among the memorabilia was a tattered piece of handwritten piano sheet music titled “A Mother to Her Son.” Here’s what it looked like when we found it:

The group of Colombian musicians, Mulati ensemble worked with Crossing Borders Music to perform this piece as part of a showcase of Colombian composers in spring 2016 at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was a terrific event and I was excited to hear this vintage song by Eustasio Rosales (my great grandfather), in English no less!

Up next: The Chicago Latino Film Festival!

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Our team had a great time at CIMMFest this past weekend showing our long lost opera film “The Way to Andina.” Nobody expects a documentary like this to be funny. People are surprised at just how much they laugh when they see it. And I think you’ll like it too.

Recently I’ve been hitting the local talk show circuit to promote our upcoming screenings at the Chicago Latino Film Festival this Saturday afternoon and Monday evening. Over the last several days our project has been featured on WGN and WCIU’s morning shows where viewers got a taste of what the documentary and the music is like. Doing these is fun but getting up super early for a live appearance is a little bit tough.

Upcoming screening information:

Saturday, April 29, 3:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
Buy Tickets – AMC River East

Monday, May 1, 5:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
Buy Tickets – AMC River East

These events will include our 70 minute music documentary, a Q&A session afterwards, plus 3 great docu-shorts directed by another local filmmaker, Esau Melendez.

See you soon!
Arlen

P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen the film, send me an email and we’ll make it happen 😉

Newsletter 14: What critics are saying

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This is a bit uncomfortable for me. Like most people I have a healthy allergy to self promotion. But this documentary we made about resurrecting my great grandfather’s long lost opera is apparently starting to get traction. So I have some stuff to share.

What people are saying…

Today’s edition of The Chicago Reader includes a long profile piece that has my mother blushing:

“…The Way to Andina is an upbeat experience. Parsa shows great affection for the people who supported the opera’s creation, including the singers, the conductor, and the public relations specialist who helped him promote it. His use of illustrations to visualize the opera’s research and transcription (inspired, he says, by Errol Morris’s documentaries) is witty and engaging. And the movie communicates the excitement of recovering history and of putting on a show.”

Third Coast Review writes about the mission to put on the opera:

“Parsa is clearly in over his head, and he’s charmingly not afraid to admit it. His endearing self-deprecation is probably what convinces singers, stagehands and an orchestra to pitch in on the production, and it’ll keep you cheering him on as well. Though clearly made on a budget (the film and the opera), Parsa’s generations-in-the-making mission is an underdog story with depth and sincerity, deserving of a bravo moment or two of its own.”

Remezcla calls the film a “must see”:

“Chronicling this ambitious tribute, this documentary may be the most touching gift a young great-grandson could come up with.”

So, can you make it to a screening?
The first local one here in Chicago is this Sunday, as part of Chicago International Movies & Music Festival’s Spring Fling. Buy tickets here.
Onward!
Arlen

P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen the film, just send me an email and we’ll make it happen 🙂

Newsletter 13: Come See Our Documentary’s World Premiere!

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I am pleased, happy, excited, OVER THE MOON to announce that my documentary about discovering a long lost opera and giving it a world premiere is finally finished. And not only is it done, we’ve got three film festival screening dates to announce in Chicago. Can you make it to any of these screenings? Tickets are super cheap and this will be a lot of fun!

Sunday April 23, 3PM – Chicago International Movies & Music Festival
Buy Tickets – First Ward/Chop Shop

Saturday, April 29, 3:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
Buy Tickets – AMC River East

Monday, May 1, 5:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
Buy Tickets – AMC River East

I recently showed the first 10 minutes of the film at an event called Doc Talk and I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much people enjoyed it. The documentary turned out to be quite funny! And sweet.

I’ll be at each screening event doing Q&As after the film and if you’re in Chicago I hope you can join me at one of these shows. We’ll try to gather as many people who were involved in making the film and putting on the opera together, so it’ll be like three parties.

I can’t wait to see you soon!
Arlen