Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Home Girl Does Good!

Noemi Figueroa Soulet; Producer, Director, Writer of THE BORINQUENEERS!

The Borinqueneers is a powerful documentary about the all-Puerto Rican 65 Infantry Regiment who participated in the Korean War. This is a chapter in Puerto Rican History no one often talks about, as the press release states: “Their toughest fight was not on the battlefield! What does that mean; just see this documentary!" The film nationally premiered on PBS this past August. Noemi and the f elm crew spent nearly 9 years producing the film for no salary. As she stated: “Our goal was to tell the story of these unique soldiers from their previously unheard point of view. The research we did was viewing military records, personal collections and dozens of oral histories. We identified our interview subjects and went to work."

This past November 7, the documentary was shown at the Wechsler Theater, the same building which is the home of El Museo Del Barrio.’

Noemi gave CALL ME ISMAEL five minutes of her time to talk about the documentary.

CALL ME ISMAEL-“You’re a home-girl from the neighborhood. True?

NOEMI-“Yes! I was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in East Harlem. I used to live on 103rd Street, then on 117 Street, and lastly on 123 street-all on the East Side. My fondest memories are of going to the Cosmo Theater on weekends which was on 116 street between Lexington/Third Avenue. I would go see Spanish films from the Golden Era of Mexican films starring Pedro Infante, Cantinflas, Etc and going to La Marqueta on Park Avenue to shop. I still smell the odors from that market of spices and fish!

CALL ME ISMAEL -Showing this film to the people who grew up with you in the neighborhood. How did you feel?

NOEMI-“Coming back to my roots is a wonderful feeling. If I can inspire others from the old neighborhood to work hard to make their dreams come true, then that’s great!

CALL ME ISMAEL-Ken Burns! Are you critical of his new documentary which does not show any Latinos?

NOEMI-“The segment that I saw of the Ken Burns series “The War” did have some interviews of Latino veterans. But I do think that overall not enough of our Latinos stories have been told. That is the main reason I produced “The Borinqueneers” because noting had been visually documented in a feature-length format of this famous unit the 65 Infantry Regiment and I thought it was long overdue.”

CALL ME ISMAEL-In hearing some of the things these individuals went through was there ever any emotion from the crew.

NOEMI-“Some of the crew I hired did not even speak Spanish so they did not understand what the veterans were saying but, or course, you could hear the emotion in the voices of the veterans and know that something emotional was happening to them. For the crew that did not understand Spanish. I am sure they were moved by the interviews but, as professionals, they could not disrupt the interviews.”

CALL ME ISMAEL-You state that it’s about time we look out for ourselves when doing documentaries which profile us. What did you mean by that?

NOEMI-“Well I feel if others will not tell our stories then it’s our responsibility to tell our own stories-from our own unique perspective!

CALL ME ISMAEL-The documentary has been getting good feedback. True?

NOEMI-“We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone who has seen the film. Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans, civilians, military, 65 veterans, and their continental officers! It really has made a powerful impact for many and we receive many, many, letters and phone calls from people thanking us for making the film.”

CALL ME ISMAEL- How much was the whole budget for the movie?

NOEMI-It is really hard to determine the exact budget because I spent nine years of my life working on this for no salary. We made four versions of the film. English/Spanish feature-length versions and English/Spanish one hour versions for PBS. There were many people who either gave us discounts or volunteered their time. So how much money was raised and actual worth of the films are two different things.”

CALL ME ISMAEL-Finally a three part question! Has Hollywood seen the film, do you see this documentary being a featured film, any Latino Actor past/present that you like to be casted.

NOEMI-“I think the story of the 65 Infantry Regiment has great potential to be a wonderful feature film. Some future prospects exist but there is nothing definite yet. The film was aired in Los Angeles, California but I don’t know how many people saw it who could make a film happen. Of course we have some wonderful actors who would be perfect to play Borinqueneers! Benicio Del Toro, John Leguizamo, Esai Morales, Jimmy Smits and many others. Let’s see what the future holds. Meantime, everyone can enjoy the documentary and visit our website at for more information on the film.

By the way you can also purchase a copy of the documentary at “El Museo Del Barrio” located at 104 street and Fifth Avenue.

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