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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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CROSSTOWN World Premiere in Santa Barbara, Directed by Miriam Kruishoop


Some movies are important. Some movies are really good. Miriam Kruishoop’s Crosstown is both. Last week the film had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It is the story of an illegal immigrant family in LA. I sighed in exasperation, I got the chills, I cried. I have not been this moved by a film since seeing Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere last summer.

"Crosstown is a story about two marginalized families dealing with the brutal realities about what it is to bring up their teenage children in LA," producer Bronwyn Cornelius succinctly sums it up.

Crosstown tells the story of two families in LA: a black family trying to protect their teenage daughter from a romance with a boy just initiated into the El Salvadorian street gang, and an El Salvadorian family living in LA illegally.

Crosstown feels so authentically LA. If it’s true that people tell the best stories about what they know, then Kruishoop must be from LA and the world of her movie, right? Nope, Kruishoop grew up in Amsterdam. Another way to capture a great story is to come in as an outsider, honestly with an unbiased view, and that’s what Kruishoop did. “It almost takes an outsider’s perspective to understand something that is so simple to us here in America.  To have a European director give her perspective on something that in a way doesn’t really relate to her…makes it very colorful and artistic,” says actress Christianne Christensen who plays Rosie, a mother in the movie.

But in a way Kruishoop does know this world. An immigrant herself, she says her movie is about being an outsider. “...About making it and all the obstacles you have to tackle as an immigrant. Also about the diversity of Los Angeles and the problems that are there.. and showing that everyone at the end of the day wants to achieve the same thing for their family.”

She first got the inspiration to write the story when she read some articles about “green card warriors.” She was shocked to read that families were getting deported while their loved ones were serving in the war. “It really started with living in Los Angeles and really being in love with this city and the people, and reading about green card warriors…which are actually really hard to find when you try to do some research online.”

In the world of Crosstown, the El Salvadorian family is told that if their 17 year-old son Beto serves in the war, he can save his whole family and get green cards for all of them, just by being a soldier. It appears that Beto is involved in a gang. “Don’t waste your time getting a new tattoo every week. That’s NOT why we came here,” Jesus, the father of the El Salvadorian family, played excellently by Manny Perez, tells Beto, played so well by Mario Ardila Jr.. Soon enough a silver lining arises in the face of two older uniformed military men who visit the family’s home. Beto wants nothing to do with it.  That night Rosie and Jesus lie in bed awake.

“What do you think we should do?”

“No se.”

“Maybe it’s a sign of God,” says Rosie.

“I know war is not a good thing,” Jesus tells his son the next day, “but getting a green card you’ll be changing your family’s fate forever.” Beto signs up to serve, and before much time passes, the family finds out he is dead.

“There’s a part of the story that talks about how the system abuses certain people,” says Kruishoop. "At the end of the day the movie is about faith. I tried to sort of write the parallels…All these characters go through the same problems.”

If I could only use one word to describe Crosstown, It’s perspective. I have read about illegal immigrants, I know of gangs, but I’ve never quite felt the story in my soul until this movie. That’s what great art does is give us perspective into a world we never knew, make us appreciate it, then sometimes even change how we act. The night before I saw the 8am showing at the SBIFF, actress Jennifer Lawrence was honored with the “Outstanding Performer of the Year” award, presented to her by David O. Russell. Russell talked about his film, Silver Linings Playbook about a bi-polar man, and how now people come up to him all the time and tell him how his movie has changed their perspective on bipolar people, that now they are open to them rather than being afraid, maybe smile at them, and think about the world from their view, rather than making judgments right away. Crosstown does the same for people unfamiliar with the perspective of undocumented immigrants and minorities in poverty. And Russell wrote Silver Linings Playbook for his son who is bipolar. An immigrant, Kruishoop wrote Crosstown as an outsider. If filmmakers all keep making films close to their heart, we will all be more rounded…

Kruishoop achieves perspective with a unique approach to filmmaking. We learn part of the story from one person’s perspective, and then time stops, sometimes rewinds, and the story fills out a little more as we see it from another character’s perspective. This style achieves a phenomenal job of telling a story, reminding us that as we go through life we often only experience one view. This style could work well as a miniseries too. Q&A moderator asked Kruishoop why she didn’t write a linear narrative. “It’s a multi-character piece and I thought it would be interesting to give everyone’s perspective... it sort of also gives insights into how these characters behave, and why they make certain choices, and the underlying pressures and manipulations that’s going on. They all have the best intentions but it doesn’t always come out that way…If you do something linear, you have so many characters, you really have to stick to one character to tell the story from their perspective, and I thought it was a missed opportunity not to bring in the other’s characters’ perspectives more.”

I almost cried numerous times just purely out of how unfair this world is. Unfortunate situation leads to unfortunate situation. When Jesus criticizes his son for making money on the street, “At least I don’t have to do a stupid day job with some shitty ass pay,” he says. We see Jesus painting walls and sweeping floors in a restaurant.  

When younger brother Angel, played by Angel Amaral, wants to see his girlfriend, “My brother just died I need to talk to someone,” he says to her step-father.

“Get the hell off my front porch!” the step-dad retorts. Not long before, the news was on. “…The homicide rate is up, one reason is violence among latinos…”

“We loved your brother just like you did,” the gang members approach Angel after his brother dies. “Are you with us, or are you against us? Are you blood or are you not?” Later, Rosie cries as Angel shaves his head in the bathroom.

At one point after being involved in an unfortunate situation, Jesus is running for his life from helicopters, police cars... we feel his adrenaline it's like we're in a video game. The one place he feels safe is on a bus. “I just wanna ride with you for a bit if you don’t mind,” he tells the driver after the last stop.

“I don’t want any trouble. Alright?”

The topic is serious. After getting out of the theatre I felt lucky to be able to soak up the sun and reflect. Crosstown is not so much heart breaking as it is gut-wrenching, because you know it’s real, and it’s happening now outside the theatre, just across town.

Crosstown was made with a mostly female crew. “It was terrific to support so many women in the film industry,” says producer Bronwyn Cornelius. 

"With movies like this you really need all the best exposure and support because distributors are afraid of this because it's so controversial, but it's so important," says Kruishoop.

“How hard is it to get an independent film from an idea, to a screenplay, to the screen?” asked an audience member.

“It’s very hard. But, I’m so passionate and I fight every battle, so here we are,” says Kruishoop.


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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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