Patricia Vidal Delgado’s “La Leyenda Negra” is headed to the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place Jan. 23-Feb. 2. Created as her thesis project while she was an M.F.A. student at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, it is her first feature film, shot in black and white, and the first full-length UCLA TFT thesis project to screen at Sundance. Delgado, who graduated in 2018, is a native of Portugal. She received her bachelor’s degree in fine art media from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, and has had her short films debut in a number of international film festivals. She wrote, directed and produced “La Leyenda Negra,” a coming-of-age story about an immigrant teenage girl whose protected status is at risk, filming it in 18 days around greater Los Angeles with the help of a number of UCLA TFT students, faculty and staff, including producer M.F.A. alumni Alicia Herder, cinematographer Matt Maio and first assistant director Cecilia Albertini, among others.
The filmmaker recently took a break from her Sundance preparations to chat about “La Leyenda Negra,” screening in the festival’s NEXT section, which she considers to be a commentary on the political actions of the current White House administration.
Congratulations on your film getting into Sundance!
Thank you. It’s definitely exciting and terrifying all at the same time. It’s such a big opportunity.
How did you find out that your film was accepted?
I got a phone call from a programmer. To be honest, my first reaction was that it was a cruel prank. It was a reaction of shock, really.
What was the genesis of “La Leyenda Negra”?
I previously shot a short film in Compton called “The Hood,” during my first year at TFT. I really loved the experience, the stories and the talent there. I had a friend who was a teacher and head of the media department at Compton High School. [After the shoot], he said to me, “You know, a lot of my kids are really interested in acting. Do you want to come down and chat with them?” I met and fell in love with his kids. A lot of them were Latino and they’re going through what every other American teenager goes through but a lot of them also have immigration statuses that are currently under attack because of this administration. That’s where the idea for “La Leyenda Negra” was born.
Tell me the story.
“La Leyenda Negra” take place in Compton. Aleteia is an El Salvadorian teenager fighting for her right to stay in America through activism. She’s a member of an underground political organization called the Compton Black Bloc. She’s very intelligent and feisty, and she stands up for what she believes in but she’s a little bit lonely because she hasn’t really made any friends at Compton High School, where she is newly arrived. When she stands up for herself in class, she is noticed by Rosarito and the film documents the burgeoning friendship — and maybe a little bit more — between the two girls.
Why is this story an important one to tell?
There were several people who inspired me to write “La Leyenda Negra”: My boyfriend, David Aguilar, who experienced the alienation of living as an undocumented immigrant in America for many years; the teachers at Compton High School, because some of their brightest Temporary Protected Status-eligible or DACA-eligible students have financial aid or scholarships revoked because of the uncertainty of their immigration status; and the TPS-eligible students at Compton High School themselves, who have said to me, “I’m about to graduate but I can’t make any long-term plans because TPS, DACA, they’re not permanent statuses and no one knows when they might end.” So, do they stay here and risk deportation or do they go back to a country they don’t even remember? “La Leyenda Negra” is for them.
Editor’s note: DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
What is the significance of the title?
“La Leyenda Negra” refers to the demonization of Spanish conquistadores by Protestant settlers and essentially reflects a historical bias. Aleteia challenges all bias in her fight for truth and this is reflected in her involvement with the Compton Black Bloc. The film explores themes of imperialism, both old and new, and so “La Leyenda Negra” refers to that but also, if you consider the English translation, “The Black Legend,” is a nod to Aleteia’s involvement in anarchist circles.
Why is the film shot in black and white?
Because the film touches on themes of globalization, imperialism, the persecution of the other, intolerance and the idea that history repeats itself. It collates down to the same question, which is essentially one of tradition or change. The black and white setting is an aesthetic representation [of that].
Tell me about your filmmaking style.
A rough, raw, edgy, indie style is the one that makes my heart beat faster; that’s definitely the energy I like to create in my films. Emotional intensity is something that I’m always working with my actors to achieve, too.
In general, what kinds of stories do you want to tell as a filmmaker?
YA [young adult] stories resonate with me. I’m also very interested in female-driven stories. Latino content interests me a lot because there is still a lack of representation. Those are what spark my creative drive.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
When I was in art school, I was making video art, performance art and sound art, so I was already in the new media space. After I graduated, I started working as a camera assistant; I saw, from the shorts and features that I worked on, that there was a lack of representation of the female perspective, the immigrant experience, the people of color experience. I thought, “I want to see a change. Maybe the best way to implement that change is to start making it.”
Why did you want to come to UCLA TFT?
What really resonated with me was the humanistic storytelling ethos at UCLA TFT. That’s really what made me think, at UCLA, they’re fostering and nurturing filmmakers who want to make some kind of positive change, in the overwhelming narrative, with their work.
Did you consider any other schools?
To be honest, no.
What is your favorite memory of your time at UCLA TFT?
In the first year of the M.F.A. production/directing program, you’re in class 12 hours a day, six days a week; you’re put through a filmmaking boot camp — there’s no other way to describe it: You’re basically living, eating, sleeping and drinking with your peers [because of the workload]. You really feel like they’re your family, and it’s unique because then you graduate and to a certain extent, that intimacy and camaraderie is unfortunately dissipated because everybody goes on their own professional path.
Was there a professor who was instrumental to your growth as a filmmaker?
Nancy Richardson, absolutely. She is so passionate and cares so much. She always makes herself available despite the fact that she works professionally as an editor on really big Hollywood productions. I’m sure that she’s so busy and that technically speaking, she doesn’t have time for anyone, but she always makes time for her students.
Delgado isn’t the only UCLA TFT alumnus going to Sundance this year. In the U.S. dramatic competition, Jorma Taccone, who graduated in 2002, is a producer of Max Barbakow’s “Palm Springs” and alumna Quyen Tran is the film’s cinematographer; Alex O’Flinn, who graduated in 2009, is the editor on Tara Miele’s “Wander Darkly”; and Michael Stuhlbarg stars in Josephine Decker’s “Shirley.” Garrett Bradley, who graduated in 2012, is the director and producer of “Time,” one of the U.S. documentary competition entries. In the Midnight section, alumnus Joe Russo is an executive producer on Natalie Erika James’ “Relic” and alumnus Topher Osborn is the director of photography for Justin Simien’s “Bad Hair.”