By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
There is something about the old black and white films that not only whisk you into a different era, but also expand your imagination and attention span. Add dark shadows, complex characters and a good crime story, you might find yourself in the middle of an exciting film noir.
Film noir movies, or crime dramas focused on corruption, were popular in 40s and 50s, often filmed using dramatic lighting techniques.
“It’s all about shadows, working with shadows of the black and white,” said Valente, a producer and casting director for major television networks who has developed four television shows: Throttle Junkies, Got 2 Go, and Cat Fight Club. “It’s a genre also where there are no cursing words, there are no visual scenes of violence, which means people die but you don’t see it. It’s all left to people’s imagination… Right now, everything is in your face, very violent, very sexual. People forget to think.”
Filmmaker Cleo Valente is working to bring back the film noir to the Harbor Area. She is writing, producing and directing a series in the film noir spirit called, The Port of San Pedro. The story takes place in 1952 San Pedro.
“I love the San Pedro and the history of San Pedro,” Valente said. “I wanted to involve what San Pedro was in the 50s and what LA is today, which multicultural. This is LA. In the 50s, in San Pedro, we had people, a lot of Latino and Asian(s) were here and they were in the canneries. They were working here.”
Actor Jesús Guevara likes the diversity of on the set.
“It’s really important to have diversity on screen as we see it on the streets,” Guevara said. “We see accents, we see people from all over the world. I love that…. We need to evolve to that because it’s what is happening in the world. We cannot deny it.
Guevara plays Augustine Quintero, a morally ambiguous man who stands in the way of an investigation. Undercover detective Nick de Salvo, and corruptible police Capt. Sebastian Montenero team up to investigate the beautiful, and mysterious Luli-May Tang, a Chinese woman running an illegal currency forgery operation in Macau, China.
She comes to the port because her uncle is in San Pedro and decides to start another business doing same thing did she did in Macau. But the rules are different.
“I thought a femme fatale from China…. She is beautiful and mysterious and she’s going to attract a lot of interest by men,” Valente said. “She does what the godfather does and in the 50s. It’s very daring. No woman was the godfather. It was a man’s job to be the head of illegal activity.”
Valente said the port at San Pedro was a perfect setting for her storyline because it is the entry to many seeking fame and fortune, and often a hub of illegal activity.
“I wrote it with a lot of humor,” she said. “Everybody is crooked. No one is really what (he or she) seems to be.”
Augustine Quintero is one of those characters.
“He would do anything for a buck,” Guevara said. “He will always be the friendly guy…. He’s a charmer.”
Guevara said his character’s motivations are rooted in a rough childhood.
“So, he is determined to have a good life,” Guevara said. “Everyone is always serious and he is always having fun…. He’s also sleazy and … you know he’s going to pay for it sooner or later.”
For the Guevara the character development and film style made the script even more attractive.
“It’s an amazing gift,” he said. “It’s going to the basis of cinema, how everything was not so in your face.”
That’s the beauty of black and white film noir, Valente said.
“It’s real cinema for me… You focus on the character not on the scene,” she said. “So everything is based on the character: facial expression, body languages, noises, shadows on the wall. You are not distracted by anything in color.”
But good cinema takes good money. After all, people don’t work for free. She estimates that each episode will cost between $150,000 and $250,000. Networks these day don’t buy a show on specs. She has to produce the pilot before it airs anywhere.
With six episodes written, she has already started rehearsals and is fundraising to get the ball rolling.
Valente is planning to do in San Pedro a pre-party, where she wants to cast some extras, provide information and raise funds for the project to make the community part of the process.
“I love a good story,” she said. “I’m a storyteller.”