Christian Mejía wins Story Forge competition

A few months ago, Eleven04 hosted Story Forge, a virtual storytelling contest showcasing some promising new filmmakers aspiring to have their scripts made into reality. 

Although there were many talented individuals, one person rose above the rest: Christian Mejía, writer and director of Semana Santa.

Christian Mejía BIO 

Christian Mejía is a filmmaker from Chicago whose work revolves around the themes of migration, family, memory, gender, and religion, within Latinx culture. He’s currently developing Born & Raised, an anthology web series exploring gentrification from the perspective of long-term residents, and Las Islas, a feature film about two cousins on a cross country road trip across Mexico in search of an abusive priest. 

ALSO READ: Eleven04 Story Forge online screenwriting competition

SEMANA SANTA (Director’s Statement)

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a short film that revolves around a young Catholic(ish) Mexican-American family, MOM [30s], DAD [30s], and their son JUNIOR [11], as they take home their parish’s communal crucifix for a week, under the pressure of the family’s devout matriarch, GRANDMA [60s]. The tradition of taking home the crucifix, which involves nightly (and lengthy) prayers, puts a strain on the mostly secular family as they grapple with how Catholicism fits into their lives and what it truly means to be a good person. Confused by the complicated adults in his life, the experience pushes Junior to start questioning things much larger than himself. A curious window display that he encounters on the walk to church provides a drop of clarity in an otherwise pool of uncertainty.

Contemplative and introspective, the film is a meditation on religiosity in Mexican cultural tradition and one boy’s quest to find his voice. At its core, these are questions of assimilation and tradition, which are central to the immigrant experience.

This film adds to a nascent, but growing genre of Latinx narratives created by and for this community. Catholicism is an especially underexplored facet of Latinx cultural expression. This subject matter centers the weight of tradition, (immigrant) sacrifice, and obedience that are central themes of the lives of the children of immigrants. The syncretic and symbolic features of Latinx Catholic expression provide opportunities to explore the literary genre of magical realism in the cinematography. This cinematic approach employs these notable traditions of Latinx artistic expression in a new medium, blending past and contemporary forms of expression in ways that parallel the film’s central themes.

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Q&A with the Director

REEL: How did you first learn about Story Forge?

CHRISTIAN: I’m always on the look out for calls for original scripts or grant opportunities. When I came across the social media posts from Eleven04, I knew I wanted to submit Semana Santa. 

REEL: What was the Story Forge process like from start to finish? 

CHRISTIAN: I had written Semana Santa about a year prior to submitting it to Story Forge, so it took a couple rounds of editing to get it in shape for the competition. Once I was selected as a finalist, I began preparing my pitch. I’m no fan of touting my accomplishments or talking about myself, so this was the most difficult task for me. As a humble person, I prefer my work to do most of the talking. I’m very thankful for the experience, because as an emerging director I had no prior experience pitching to a “room” of people. The voting process was a roller coaster ride! It was a tight race, so there were definitely moments where I felt like a politician on the phone, calling on old friends for support. 

REEL: What do you hope to accomplish with your film? 

CHRISTIAN: It is my hope that this film inspires others in my community to value their stories. Media requires a diverse voice because it is a mirror that reflects our society. When marginalized communities consume media told through a monocular perspective, and almost never see themselves on screen, it can have deep psychological effects that are difficult to quantify and articulate.

I also hope to develop a mutually supportive community of collaborators. Access is a major roadblock for a lot of folks, so I have made a commitment to collaborate with creators from underserved communities. I believe that by creating environments that prioritize equity, we can collectively work towards addressing pressing social issues.

REEL: I have always known you from camera department, or as Director of Photography. What made you make the move to directing? 

CHRISTIAN: As a Director of Photography, I’ve had the honor of working with some great directors. It was through these collaborations that I produced some of my best work, but I also felt like there was something I needed to say that I couldn’t through someone else’s film. Writing is a way for me to better understand and articulate the intricacies of my experience. Directing is a way for me to release all those stories that have always been brewing inside me, waiting to jump out.   

REEL: What advice would you give future Story Forge contestants? 

CHRISTIAN: Be prepared! Start working on your script/pitch now so that you have something ready when the opportunity presents itself. When I learned about Story Forge, I had been developing the ideas for Semana Santa for over two years.