GENARO MOLINA / Los Angeles Times
Jesus Nebot's encounter with a woman with a video camera and a mission led to his on-the-run film "No Turning Back."
Angel With A Key
Los Angeles Times
July 21, 2001
By Maria Elena Fernandez, Times Staff Writer
The angel, as he has now come to call her, appeared to Jesus
right after a workout as he was walking to his car outside a health
club in Santa Monica. She had no halo or shiny aura around her. Instead
she was carrying a mini digital video camera.
She had a mission, as angels do: to show the actor and founder of Zokalo Innovative Entertainment footage she had taped for 10 days while on the run from the Tijuana border to Los Angeles with a troubled father and daughter.
"I'm a little adventurous, I have to admit. I want to make sure I don't miss opportunities. So I told her I'd take a look," said Nebot, who launched Zokalo, a Santa Monica-based independent production company, in 1999. "What she said really caught my attention. ... But I had to guarantee that she would be protected because she could be charged with breaking the law."
Nebot and his angel met three times in his Santa Monica office; he never knew her real name (she called herself Soid) or where she lived. She told Nebot that she fell in love with the camera as a teenage runaway when a documentarian filmed her for his story about Hollywood street kids. She had found Zokalo while surfing on the Internet for production companies. After showing Nebot the tapes and relaying the heart-wrenching events, she vanished, leaving the aspiring director and producer with the kernel for his first project: "No Turning Back."
"I knew very quickly that this was a story I wanted to tell," Nebot said. "We immediately started working on the script and looking for financing. This journalist, Soid, told me what she knew, but I didn't concern myself too much with proving every element of the story. The movie is based on actual events, but it's a contemporary story that I think most people can relate to."
"No Turning Back," an English-language movie, won the Best Audience Award last month in the Malaga Film Festival, Spain's most prestigious national competition. It will be featured at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, which starts Friday. "No Turning Back" will be shown next Thursday. Nebot, who co-wrote, co-directed and produced the movie, also plays the protagonist, a Honduran English literature professor who migrates illegally to Southern California with his 6-year-old daughter after his wife is killed in Hurricane Mitch. Months after beginning their new life, Pablo, the father, accidentally kills a girl with his car and flees, refusing to abandon his own daughter.
The movie is based on real events that Soid relayed to Nebot and follows the father and daughter as they try to make it to Canada with the help of a mysterious amateur documentarian named Soid, who convinces Pablo that videotaping them will help detract attention from them. The story ends unpredictably for both the father and the daughter.
"For Jesus to pull this movie together against all odds and to showcase a story that shows a different image of immigrants that is not the usual Hollywood image is something I admire a lot," said Marlene Dermer, executive director and co-founder of the Los Angeles Latino film festival.
The story of the conflicted father who is ruled by his love for his daughter touched Nebot's sense of compassion and matched the message of tolerance he wants to promote with his company and films. Nebot, who moved to Los Angeles five years ago after a successful acting career in Spain and Latin America, says he turned to production to broaden his skills and marketability. He has guest-starred on such series as "NYPD Blue" and "The Sentinel" and has had roles in several films.
"I'm blessed that I've always had work and never had to do anything else," Nebot said. "But I'm also quite happy that my career didn't take off immediately like I expected. I expected to be the next Antonio Banderas. But this motivated me to push myself and write, produce and direct."
Through Zokalo, Nebot hopes to tell character-driven stories about Latinos that Hollywood would not ordinarily embrace or portray. The film was co-produced by Cartel, a Spanish production company, and co-written and co-directed by Julia Montejo, a screenwriter who has developed scripts and worked on television series in Spain and Venezuela.
As Nebot sought financing for "No Turning Back," he was repeatedly nagged with the same question: How do you expect an audience to sympathize with a protagonist who had killed a child and run away?
"My belief is that we're all good in our essence," Nebot said. "It's very easy for us to jump into judgment and call him a criminal. He has no credibility because he's illegal. But for this guy, facing the consequences could mean losing his daughter. In the media here, we always have good people and bad people ... but I don't see it that way. Sometimes people make poor decisions based on their circumstances. It's not about condoning people and their actions. It's about having a greater understanding."
It is an attitude Nebot developed as a child in Santander, Spain, when he dreamed of becoming a missionary. Later, he wanted to become a diplomat but refused to join the military for a year, as the government required. Instead, Nebot discovered acting.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and performing in Madrid, Nebot moved to Venezuela, where he starred in two popular telenovelas, "La Loba Herida" and "Divina Obsesion." In 1995, he moved to New York City to study acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre. "Acting is my first love," Nebot said. "But this movie has empowered me so much and it has changed my life. Independent films are usually about the gritty, the edgy and lots of camera tricks. My film pushes the limits
Actress Susan Haskell, who won an Emmy for her work on ABC's "One Life to Live," plays the mother whose daughter is killed.
"The whole story just really draws you in," Haskell said. "It was refreshing and something I didn't expect at all. It just made me cry." The movie was shot in three weeks in 22 locations for less than $1 million.
Although he enjoyed the triple challenge, Nebot has concluded that it's "crazy" to simultaneously play the lead role, direct and produce, because one job was always sacrificed for another.
"He likes to take control of everything and know what's going on everywhere," says Chris Sablan, the movie's associate producer and director of development for Zokalo. "One of his main concerns was that the extras ate at the same time as the other actors. He's that type of guy. He will listen to anything anybody has to say, and he takes it into account when making decisions."
Jon Mercedes, a film production consultant who began his career in Hollywood in 1968 and guided Nebot during the production process, called Nebot a pioneer in Latino storytelling and filmmaking.
"We haven't heard those stories and we haven't seen them, but they're universal," Mercedes said. "People have a lot of prejudice toward people of other cultures, but there's no difference in how we live as human beings."
Accepting the humanity in others is the lesson Nebot hopes his audience derives from his first film.
"What I want most is for my films to have social relevance," he said. "This story came to me almost like a miracle. She was like an angel who had a message, and I embraced it. I really felt for Pablo and his love for his daughter. The only way to help people heal is to love, forgive them and understand them. That is what I want my filmmaking to be about."
The fifth annual Los Angeles Latino International
Film Festival runs Friday through July 29 at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712
Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 469-9066 or http://www.latinofilm.org.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times