To date, US Air Force veteran and FilAm filmmaker, Project Involve alum and Film Independent Producing Lab Fellow Valerie Castillo Martinez has spent about half of her life in the United States. The other half was spent in the Philippines, where she grew up on a steady diet of Betamax and VHS tapes.
Using her childhood as inspiration, Martinez has now written and produced Death of Nintendo, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age dramedy set in 1990s Manila. Directed by Raya Martin, the film premiered at this year’s (pre-COVID) Berlinale Film Festival and is currently making the rounds at festivals worldwide, continuing this weekend with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, running September 25-October 30.
Centered around teenage friendship and burgeoning self-exploration—the beginnings of romantic relationships, family drama, videogame obsessions, etc.—Death of Nintendo comes from a deeply personal place for Martinez, who currently serves as an Artist Development Manager at Film Independent, who first came up with the idea while attending Columbia University in New York.
“I was starting to feel a little nostalgic, thinking about how kids nowadays are so inundated with their phones and technology. I thought about romanticizing the last generation of kids who were actually able to go out and play.” At the same time, she was thinking about “being part of a family and what that really means—where is home and what is home,” she says.
Of the Nintendo’s impressive traction on the festival circuit: “There was something about its cultural specificity combined with its universality in themes that pulled on the heartstrings of audiences from all over. And Raya (Martin), Ante (Cheng), DP and Cyril (Aris), editor were all wonderful collaborators who made the film truly special.”
Making short films that consistently made it to top-tier film festivals, Martinez quickly learned how to navigate the festival space. As a result of her shorts being accepted into notable film festivals, she says: “I was expanding my network slowly and keeping in touch with these industry contacts that I could later reach out to.” Critically, she says, after repeated encounters, “The network of programmers I was meeting were starting to remember me.”
“Because it’s a foreign language film, I did think that Berlinale Generation was the perfect place to premiere [the film],” Martinez says, “to play to a sort of a world cinema and youth-oriented type of audience.”
In the meantime, the film boasts scheduled screenings at festivals including the Calgary (Sep 24-Oct 4), Urbanworld Film Festival (September 27), Nashville (October 1-7), New York Asian American Film Festival (October 1-11), San Diego Asian American Film Festival (October 23-31), Busan (October 27) and Hawaii (November 5-29).
Martinez said that it’s been difficult to be taken seriously in the industry as a female and as a writer and producer of color. “It was really hard for me to find support for this film in the US, but there are glimpses of hope,” she says, mentioning Parasite’s Best Picture and Foreign Language Film victory at the Oscars.
“It’s definitely a glimmer of hope that the industry is starting to look at foreign films as an equal player,” Martinez says, hoping that such victories encourage US investors and distribution companies to expand their criteria for what they choose to finance and support stories that “are a little different than the usual fare.”
Project Involve was the first fellowship Martinez received after leaving grad school, and she credits the program for jump-starting her career. Speaking to Project Involve’s role in helping her realize her goals, she says her mission as a filmmaker is to “lift up stories of [people] from underrepresented communities or people like myself: Filipina, US veteran, first generation immigrant”—and to make sure such stories are actually seen.
In addition, Martinez said that the Producing Lab provided “tangible investment, such as the mentorships, valid connections to different players in the industry, and education,” adding: “Having a network of people to reach out to when searching for crew, post vendors, a publicist or a sales agent, along with attaining the fiscal support and equipment needed for shooting, was all fostered through Film Independent.”
So! What can we learn from Martinez’s continuing journey and creative success? To stay persistent and diligent in pursuit of your filmmaking goals. No matter how many times you apply to your dream festival and get rejected, keep going. When funding falls through, keep going. You’ll be glad that you did.
To learn more about Death of Nintendo and Valerie Castillo Martinez, check out our Fiscally Sponsored Projects page. Applications for Project Involve 2021 are open. Film Independent Members have until September 28 to apply.
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