We all have dreams and some of them become reality with both hard work and dedication. When dreams do become a reality, the hard work does not and should not stop there. This was the case for filmmaker, Bernardo Ruiz, born in Guanajuato, Mexico and raised in Brooklyn; he founded Quiet Pictures in 2007 where he produced independent documentaries. After producing many films and receiving awards, his newest project is The Graduates/Los Graduados.
This project is a bilingual series focusing on the diverse experiences of Latina/o youth in high school. Rather than have an outside narrator, in The Graduates, Gustavo, Stephanie, Eduardo, Chastity, Juan and Darlene, tell us about these and other challenges in their own words. The national broadcast on Independent Lens is October 28th and November 4th and in addition to the English-language broadcast, the Spanish version will air on Vme as well as online at PBS.org.
Ruiz was able to give LatinTRENDS insight on the inspiration for the show, his involvement with graduation rates in high schools, and the impact that it may have for future generations.
Latin Trends (LT): How did the idea or inspiration of the show come to you?
Bernardo Ruiz (BR): Many of us have heard the statement that Latinos are the youngest and fastest growing group of Americans. Yet all too often, this community is misrepresented—if represented at all.
Our past projects have focused on stories of racial discrimination, immigration, and freedom of the press, with a common thread of representing struggles to achieve dignity and justice. This project was an exciting opportunity to do something new for public television and to reach families and students across the country.
LT: Have you always wanted to produce your own show?
BR: For this series, I teamed up with producers Pamela Aguilar, Katia Maguire and editor Carla Gutierrez (who I worked with on my last documentary, Reportero).
As a team, we were interested in creating a series where Latina/o youth were at the center of the storytelling. In each hour of the series, we weave together three student narratives in which Latina/o youth themselves are the drivers of their own stories. Hour one deals with the experiences of three young Latinas and hour two examines the experiences of three young Latinos. The stories span six different school districts from across the country, in both urban and rural settings.
LT: What is your involvement with the show?
BR: I had the opportunity to create the series and act as its Executive Producer. I got to work with some really talented cinematographers, producers, all of whom had a personal connection (like me) to this subject matter.
LT: Why did you get involved in the issue of graduation rates and why are you so passionate about it?
BR: Though I had many supporters, I struggled academically. In high school, I bounced around until I finally found my passion, which is filmmaking. That experience made me aware of how students need supports throughout their education (from school districts, community groups, teachers & mentors.).
I really wanted to create a series where we would look at pressing issues in education, but through the lens of students themselves. In The Graduates, through each individual story, we get a glimpse at larger structural issues like poverty and inequality, or a more specific issue like zero tolerance policies in urban high schools or the banning of undocumented students from the most selective research universities in the state of Georgia.
LT: What kind of impact are you expecting from this kind of production?
BR: One key theme running throughout the series, is that students are at their most successful when they have the opportunity to become involved in their schools and communities. It is crucial both that they have a say in their own futures, and that they have community partners and supporters ready to listen to them. My big hope for the series is that we can spark a conversation about the ways in which we can empower Latino/a youth, who are unquestionably a key part of this country’s future.