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In a heavily Latino working class neighborhood of Los Angeles, Magdalena (Emily Rios) prepares for her Quinceañera—the Mexican celebration of a girl's 15th birthday. But just before it arrives she discovers she is pregnant. Forced out of her home by her religious father, Magdalena moves in with uncle Tomas (Chalo González) and her estranged cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), a tough young cholo thrown out by his parents for being gay. When Tomas' rental house is purchased by an affluent white couple, this newly-formed family struggles to stay together. Grand Jury Prize winner and Audience Award winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
 

 Immaculate Conception

Inspiration often comes to us from a combination of two elements: what’s happening in our lives and what’s going in our DVD player. Often, the relation between the two isn’t directly obvious.

About two years ago, we found our Netflix queue dominated by British Kitchen Sink dramas from the early ’60s. Seen by some as drab, depressing, and—even worse—antique, the movies connected to us with surprising immediacy. They told their stories with political acuity, and sardonic humor. Set in the cobbled streets of the industrial North of England, films like This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and, most significantly for us, A Taste of Honey, suddenly seemed fresh and modern. We started to wonder: What would a Kitchen Sink drama look like today?

Meanwhile...

We were invited to be the official photographers for our next-door neighbors’ Quinceañera—the Latino 15th birthday event for girls. We were asked to do this in January even though the celebration itself was not until June. Sunday after Sunday in our Echo Park neighborhood, as a dozen or so of the girl’s school friends turned up to practice waltzing in the backyard, we gradually recognized the importance of the Quinceañera for the girl concerned and her whole extended family.

On the big day, in a storefront church on Sunset Boulevard, the ceremony was breathtaking. All the girls were dressed in pink, the church was decorated with pink, garlands of pink flowers were everywhere. Our neighbor, suddenly revealed as a luminous beauty in a tiara and silken dress, paraded down the aisle to the march from Aida. The court of young men, sporting tuxedos and number-1 cholo fades, stood by with masculine detachment; this day belonged to the girls. It was an undisguised celebration of the bloom of youth, of girlhood, of purity—bottom line, of virginity.

Although taking place in an Evangelical church, the event felt intrinsically Catholic, many images recalling the Virgin Mary. In fact, a little Googling revealed that the Quinceañera predates Christianity by almost 500 years, dating back to Aztec civilization, where 15 was considered the transitional age between girlhood and womanhood. It is still alive and kicking in 21st century Los Angeles.

In a neighborhood reception hall a few tequilas later, the formalities melted and the teenage energy harnessed by the Quinceañera broke loose. Reggaeton music replaced the Straussian waltzes and the dance floor was taken over by freak dancing, which looks to the untrained eye like intercourse. Four generations of an immigrant family went wild: uncles, cousins, grannies, podgy ex-gang guys dancing with toddlers, soused old Aunties flirting with young bucks. We thought—this was a movie!

On January 1, 2005 we started the year with a plan to make a film about our neighborhood. The Echo Park of Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca has changed a great deal in 12 years; the front line of gentrification—gays and artists—has moved in. Increasing real estate prices create conflict with the existing community, and a coded racial distinction emerges, never acknowledged by realtors when they tout “an up and coming area.”

The idea of the Quinceañera movie now had a context—the ancient ritual would take place in a newly gentrifying neighborhood, and it would have an antecedent; it would be like A Taste of Honey. We wanted a film that had a sense of place, that showed how small things gradually grow large; a film that had politics that were oblique, humor that was unexpected; a film that gave a voice to people who aren’t usually heard. With this in mind, we attempted to recreate the Kitchen Sink drama in Echo Park, L.A. After nine months—with the support of our neighbors and of some venturesome executive producers—Quinceañera (the movie) was born.

These days, our Netflix queue consists mostly of zombie movies and our life of Hollywood meetings. We are trying not to see the connection.