‘Water & Power’ Film is a Gritty Love Letter to East Los Angeles

Culture Clash co-founder makes film debut with darkly humorous tale of two Latino brothers who appeared to have achieved the dream.

By Paul Aranda Jr., EGP Staff Writer

Water & Power is a film that looks and feels like a dark crime drama but aims to ultimately portray a message of love and family in Latino culture. Adapted from the award-winning play of the same name, Writer-Director Richard Montoya is unapologetic for his film’s gritty depictions of corruption in city politics and law enforcement in order to present a world that is very real to the people living in East Los Angeles, but is in many ways an American story.

Montoya, a co-founder of the famed Chicano performance troupe Culture Clash, has served as a writer, director and actor on stage and television. Water & Power is his feature film debut.

The film centers on two brothers nicknamed Water and Power by their father, a hardworking irrigation field man for, naturally, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The father utilizes unconventional methods to instill a bond between his sons to always look out for one another as they pursue their own life ambitions.

You can’t have power without water and you can’t have water without power, is the father’s message to his sons.

 Nicholas Gonzalez, right, stars as Power a top cop in the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department in the film “Water & Power.” (Photo by Rafael Cardenas)

Nicholas Gonzalez, right, stars as Power a top cop in the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department in the film “Water & Power.” (Photo by Rafael Cardenas)

Water is now a rising political star as a California State Senator with plans for federal office. Power is a top cop in an elite LAPD unit. One brother’s ill fated attempt to save the other leads the two of them to a seedy motel room on the eastern edge of Sunset Boulevard on a rare stormy night in Los Angeles. Through a series of tense emotional confrontations, the brothers must decide how to survive the night without destroying the legacy of their father, or betraying each other.

Filmed in just 12 days, Water & Power does not hold back on the visuals. Landmarks familiar to anyone who has spent time in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights or downtown L.A. are seen throughout. Images of uniformed cops using drugs, guns and gangsters dominate the film. In this world with no clearly labeled good and evil, the central characters must make decisions that will lead to serious consequences for everyone.

Nicholas Gonzalez who portrays Power, says the film’s story goes beyond the darkness.

“For me it was about portraying the character’s love and intent behind his actions,” Gonzalez said. “Everything that happens afterwards is for the preservation of his brother’s life without much care for his own.

“For me it’s more the love, and through that there is a lot of darkness we are willing to do for family and out of love for another person.”

Montoya began the process to adapt the stage drama for the silver screen as a Sundance Film Institute fellow in 2007. Over the course of four years he was confronted with the reality that what works on stage doesn’t always transfer to film.

“Pretty much what we have done is beat the play out of the movie,” Montoya said. “The language of cinema is completely visual and we kinda had to start from scratch.”

“To me the story of the brothers resonates in more quieter ways in the film. When they are not yelling, when it’s not intense, when they are just kinda looking at each other, remembering something, or holding each other in an intimate way.”

One of the noticeable differences between the stage production and the film is the heavy presence of gang culture, highlighted by the film’s paralyzed homeboy narrator, Norte/Sur, played by Emilio Rivera of Sons of Anarchy fame.

“I have heard the point of view of ‘here comes the gangs’, ‘the cholos,’” said Montoya. “But no one films it right. No one gets it right.”

“We have to be honest about this story at least. Lo and behold in the end the moral compass of the story is a guy in a wheelchair? That’s what Father Boyle [Homeboy Industries] believes. I believe it’s a possibility.”

Montoya says it is important to confront the truth, even in all its discomfort, before you can move forward to a better outcome.

“From the Rampart cops, to the Catholic Archdiocese, who do you trust in L.A.? Who do you trust? A cop? I don’t know. A Latino mayor? I don’t know. The bishop?” Montoya asked. “I don’t know. It’s just an incredible institution.”

Enrique Mauricio stars as Water, in the film WATER & POWER. (Photo by  Rafael Cardenas)

Enrique Mauricio stars as Water, in the film WATER & POWER. (Photo by Rafael Cardenas)

“I am not saying everything is corrupt. In a world of the ‘Godfather’ and ‘Chinatown’ everything was corrupt, except for these little glimmers of hope. I am just trying to be honest about that.”

“The brothers switch from good guys to bad guys throughout the night. I’m not saying the cholo has angel wings around him because he is a flawed guy too. But in the end he kinda holds the two brothers together.”

One person who is enthusiastically on board with Montoya’s vision is none other than Edwards James Olmos. As a result, the top of the promotional posters for the film state, “Presented by Edwards James Olmos.”

“I want you to know I’ve never done this before,” Olmos said. “It’s a very, very, incredible thing Richard has done,” Olmos said about the film.

The iconic Chicano actor provides a valuable platform for the independent film and with starring roles in Stand and Deliver, American Me, Mi Familia and Selena, a direct connection to the Latino film audience.

“The writing of this piece, nothing compares to this. I have been involved in great pieces of work that have happened to be of Latino base and nothing compares to this writing.”

For Olmos, it is humor that holds the dark cautionary story together. “This writing is so deep inside the psychology of what it’s talking about, that it is funny. It’s a tragedy but it’s funny.”

Olmos, a fan of the play, was moved when he saw the film version at the L.A. Film Institute. He approached the AMC theater chain to release the film according to a report published in Variety magazine. The film is scheduled for a limited run in selected AMC theaters in Los Angeles and other cities on May 2.

“I’m very proud and honored to be a part of this, to bring this out to life,” Olmos said. “And I pray to God that people see this movie.”

When Water & Power concludes its long journey into theaters, Montoya hopes audiences will connect with the realism in the film.

“I want to see the beautification of East Los Angeles. But I gotta go through the dark before I get there. I have to be honest with myself before I can get there.”

“Having just recently moved to City Terrace I am finding areas in the barrio that are just beautiful,” Montoya said. “The little shops where they make furniture, the churches, the people that struggle daily just to make it, and the people that are doing quite well there thank you very much.

“That part of East L.A., those streets are just beautiful over there. And I tried to show that in the movie, but it was shot with a critical eye, a critical eye that sharpened over the years through Culture Clash.”

Water & Power opens May 2nd in 10 AMC theaters throughout Los Angeles County area. For a list of showtimes see  http://www.imdb.com/showtimes/title/tt2052015/2014-05-02

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April 24, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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