MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Carlos López Estrada credits the time he spent in Miami with influencing his career as a filmmaker. Born in Mexico, his debut film “Blindspotting,” premiered opening night at Sundance 2018 and then sold to major distribution house Lionsgate for a theatrical release.
On Friday, his very unusual and very original movie, “Summertime,” opened in Miami at O Cinema South Beach. The film is a spoken word poetry musical set in Los Angeles, which follows the lives of 27 people who intersect over the course of a single day.
Estrada moved to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was 12. He attended Immaculata-LaSalle High School in Coconut Grove and then went to Westminster in Miami.
“In Miami, I discovered art, taking painting classes, being involved in drama and music, so I feel like because of those experiences when it was time for me to make the decision about what I wanted to dedicate my next four years of college and what I was going to do with my life, film kind of combined it all,” Estrada says.
Then it was off to Chapman University in Orange County, California, to study film. He never left Southern California.
Los Angeles plays like a character in “Summertime” a la Damien Chazelle’s 2016 movie “La La Land.” In fact, there’s an homage to the movie with a 30-person dance sequence in the midst of “Summertime.”
Estrada happened upon the idea for his new film. He was taken to a showcase where there were 30 students reciting poetry in Koreatown. “I listened for about two hours and I was so moved by the experience, I came back two days later trying to figure out how to collaborate and adapt it into a movie project.”
Everyone who stars in “Summertime” came out of aa non-profit program called, Get Lit – Words Ignite. The program is meant to increase teen literacy.
“They work with a bunch of different high schools in L.A.,” Estrada says.
“Summertime” was developed with 27 of the youth poets, ranging in age from 17 to 26, all serving as co-writers and all of whom star in the film.
“We met every day for two-and-a half months, sometimes in a big group and sometimes in smaller groups. We workshopped every single day. We started with a group of poems and then we arranged them in a map of the city — what would take place where. It was this geographical path that the movie was going to follow. Then we found the connective tissue that would bring all of this together,” he says.
There’s Tyris Winter, a Black queer teen idol, and his quest throughout the film for a cheeseburger and Mila Cuda’s reaction to homophobia on a transit bus. And there are so many more. But the standout of the film is Marquesha Babers whose powerful spoken word “You Said,” which comes near the end of the movie, is full of gut-wrenching heart and soul.
Estrada calls the movie “very earnest.” He admits its unorthodox style may not be to everyone’s liking. “But the people who connect with it, or who are affected by it, will be affected by it on a very profound level.”
He says that’s what happened to him when he first saw the poets perform. “I was moved and changed and if I can offer that experience for one other person, that would be a successful run of this film for me.”
(The movie is rated R and has a running time of 95 minutes.)