Taking Back Our Story
By Kirby Tello
By: Kirby Tello Photos by: Lillian Reitz
Amid the bustling bayside hub of port comings and goings, a booming medical mecca, and refineries running at full steam, there is the network of creatives who are building their brands into thriving business ventures. If you are a downtown regular, you’re likely already privy to the art scene, along with its growing community of eclectic minds all banding together to put the Coastal Bend on the map for film and art education. One such group mastering the craft of turning raw creative energy into works of on-screen art is Pomegranate Studios.
The studio began its independent filmmaking journey in January 2017. Over the course of one year, founder and owner Taylor Carmona was able to harness a collaborative team of creatives to create Pomegranate’s first ever short musical film. Right off the bat, Carmona’s team shared her love for “integrating a collective of artists, designers, crew techs, and filmmakers to create a visual representation of a world [she’s] created in [her] head.” Carmona and her team have continued to nurture their shared vision of increasing creative content that is influenced by the local community and culture.
“Independent filmmaking is about building a network within your community,” says Carmona. “We are excited to have local actresses, Josianne Salcido and Victoria Aguilar, as leads in our cast, depicting an original story told from the mind of a South Texas Mexican-American.”
The studio is currently working on a short film titled LAS VIRGENES. Its themes revolve around feminism, individuality, and empowerment. Ultimately, “it gives voice to underrepresented groups to know your own worth and speak up for yourself in the face of adversity,” explains Jennifer Bracy, Executive Producer and Production Manager of Pomegranate Studios.
Bracy sees LAS VIRGENES as a powerful and unique creation that showcases the importance in celebrating our differences and acknowledging each individual’s impacts on the world, both on and off screen. “While it is a dramatized narrative short, the themes will resonate in one way or another with all viewers,” says Bracy.
The story’s origin is largely based around the overwhelming lack of representation in film with respect to women and people of color. “The most effective way to showcase the community is to write stories about your personal experiences or interpretations of your environment,” Carmona explains. She believes that by taking back the narrative, Mexican and Latino-Americans can tell their own interpretations of their cultural backgrounds. Seeing her stories go from pen and paper to full production is cathartic for Carmona; she sees this process as a departure from the stereotypical archetypes within which people of color are usually placed.
However, getting the necessary funding to produce these unique stories is very rare. With a bootstrapped effort and a highly dedicated band of artists, the Pomegranate Studios crew remains motivated to find creative ways to keep their projects going.
Having the support of the overall community helps this effort to remain a part of the “creative ecosystem” within the city, according to Bracy. Generating the right buzz not only gives voice to underrepresented minorities of all types, but also puts Corpus Christi on the map as a film-friendly city.
The Corpus Christian independent film community has been steadily developing for some time now – mostly devoid of funder backing. Those making it happen may be students at Del Mar College or Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi actively studying the arts, or people who are not formally trained actors or producers or camera techs, but who are seizing the opportunity to contribute to small-scale local projects to learn how film is done.
But as seen in the film industry at as high a level as Hollywood, rarely is a cast and crew inclusive of a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. In fact, Ava DuVernay, African-American writer, director, and producer of award-winning films such as Selma, 13th, and When They See Us, was recently praised for curating her production teams to employ a majority of minority talent. Much like DuVernay, Carmona recognizes that so many roles in entertainment are simply not made for or offered to minorities. Often, stories of ethnic origin are written and depicted by non-minorities, and when those works are presented to the larger audience, they don’t always get the story right. Carmona shares in DuVernay’s mission to create the roles for which minorities tend to be overlooked, and produce content using the lens of people who have actually experienced firsthand the material presented.
“The impact of having a diverse and inclusive crew and cast of local Coastal Bend creatives, who are dedicated and steady in their craft, helps solidify that we can provide a network of individuals capable of extending their talents to a new industry,” says Carmona.
In the long-term trajectory, Pomegranate Studios is striving to make a name for South Texas and essentially put us on the map for prospective productions to see our landscape, resources, and community support systems as a viable and desirable resource in creating independent film and keeping the craft of the filmmaking industry alive.
And alive it is. Jonathan Swindle, President of Hi-Res Media Group, is Carmona’s longtime friend and creative partner. “Taylor and I went to high school together in a small town of 3,000 people,” says Swindle. “As such, we know the importance of taking responsibility to be the drivers of change. We recognize that we cannot sit back and expect others to bring opportunities to us.” Swindle is an essential player in assembling each piece of the production elements, to see a story go from idea to full-fledged film.
“It is vital in this day and age that we create opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Swindle says. Because of the solidarity and diversity of the cast, the Pomegranate team is “capable and effective in producing some really beautiful work.”
In their third and latest production, LAS VIRGENES, their goal is to increase the creative content influenced by the community and the culture. The film explores the story of four Latina girlfriends in their late teens, who have all pledged to devote themselves to a higher power by avoiding any sexual activity, and who pride themselves on their chastity. Each character represents and interprets the unique facets of the female psyche through exploring themes such as heartache, grief, sexuality, faith, and pride.
This highly relatable and timely story aims to “visually showcase the collaborative capability of our city's developing creative class,” according to Swindle, who is an executive producer of the film. Hopefully, sharing this narrative – with a key emphasis on giving voice to real-life experiences that are not often explored using such intimate, but exceptionally relatable, humanity and emotional themes – will elevate this group’s overall potential when it comes to the national film festival circuit.
A community-wide casting call is currently underway for LAS VIRGENES. No prior experience is necessary to submit an inquiry to audition. Production is scheduled to take place in April of this year.
One thing clearly seen among each member of every production Pomegranate has been behind is the devotion to seeing that important stories are given life on-screen, and that minority South Texans are able to experience film that accurately depicts their histories and narratives. “We are proud of the crew we have assembled here,” says Carmona, “and [we] cannot wait to represent a unified example of independent film production.”