Growing Up, Hispanics & "My Sister's Quinceañera" Film: Filmmaker Aaron Johnston

Posted: Apr 21 2014

What’s in a quinceañera? More than a party, for filmmaker Aaron Douglas Johnston, the quinceañera is a centerpiece around which to discuss the many real-life issues faced by Hispanics in the community of Muscatine, Iowa. Muscatine is smack in the Midwest and yes it does have a Latino population. Hispanics make up 10-15% of the city of Muscatine.

Both a sociologist and filmmaker, Johnston grew up in Muscatine and wanted to make a movie in his hometown to better understand those living there. While Johnston is not Hispanic, he chose to focus on the Hispanic community as he’d obtained an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies – and by doing the film he’d be able to get to know the Latino community in his hometown.  

Johnston focuses on the –workshop method- where he gives an acting/filmmaking workshop and at the end the goal is to make a film. Johnston contacted Hispanic leaders in the area and asked them to suggest individuals to attend his acting/filmmaking workshop. The individuals who attended the workshop starred in “My Sister’s Quinceañera”. So the movie’s actors are not professional actors

The movie is loosely based around the main story of a quiceañeara. Becky, the mother in the movie gives dance classes to prepare for the all-important quinceañera event. Johnston says: “I liked the craziness and the love surrounding the event. I could see that this was a very important event for the family.” The deeper dilemma in the movie surrounds its main protagonist, Silas, who is a 20-something trying to decide whether to stay in the small town of Muscatine, or to leave to pursue his dreams. Johnston says “These are real-life themes in the movie that came up in the workshop. In fact the theme about whether to stay and help the family or leave to pursue dreams is especially prevalent in many families not just Hispanics, and I wanted to explore the emotions surrounding this decision.”

The world premiere for the movie was January 2013 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the North American premiere was held June 2013 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Johnston says “I was wondering what the Latino audience response would be – and I got some great feedback. I sat in the theater – and there were lots of giggles.”

And for those who are wondering what happened to Silas – well for the fictional Silas we’ll never know, but the real-life Silas did end up leaving Muscatine to go college, and he hopes to become an engineer.

To learn more the movie visit: staff



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