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Looking at Dalia Tapia

August 24, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Part of “Best of Chicago DIY Film Magazine,” originally published February 12, 2011.

Jay Nolan

Tapia's 'Silent Shame'

Tapia's 'Silent Shame'

Dalia Tapia is not your typical filmmaker. She is not seeking Oscar glory and is not caught up in a fight for mass distribution. She is a teacher first, a filmmaker second. She is a woman in a male-dominated industry. She is Hispanic and telling stories from her experiences and sense of culture. The stories she tells are not held back by producers fearing MPAA ratings and sales (she produces her own work), but by the viewer themselves; are viewers willing to admit how close to home and real her stories feel? Anyone breaking this many rules needs to be seen.

Tapia is a Chicago based filmmaker who has filled the roles of writer, director, producer, and editor in 8 years of television and film work. The success of her first short ‘Buscando A Leti – In Search of Leti’ allowed her to create a feature-length version of the story in 2006. She went on to write, produce, and edit the feature ‘Silent Shame’ in 2009. Like many of us ‘underground’ filmmakers, (read; creatively daring, lacking distribution, broke, ect.), it can be hard to find Ms. Tapia’s work. Trailers for ‘Buscando A Leti’ and ‘Silent Shame’ can be found online, but you would have to attend one of the film festivals or university screenings to see the features.

Hispanic filmmakers have been scarce in mainstream cinema, and the characters and stories that do reach a large consumer market are despairingly stereotypical. So the rich characters of Tapia’s films, and the palpable culture that makes up the setting, are a refreshing shock of reality.

Tapia shows us the beauty and heart-ache life is; ‘Silent Shame’ is a multi-generational story following an HIV infection through a family. In Hispanic culture, the issue of AIDS, HIV, and Homosexuality are taboo. In fact, they are issues that tear apart families and individuals, and can cause physical harm. This silence turns tragedy to horror, and it frankly exists – un-talked about and unexplored. Tapia’s role as a teacher and member of the Hispanic community plays a strong role in her films. She wants to show us the beauty and love she feels for the Hispanic culture.

Dalia Tapia

Dalia Tapia

In addition to her two film trailers, Ms. Tapia has created a fun series of shorts called ‘Pancho Claus’. The shorts feel like children’s Christmas movies. They are heavy with themes of giving, graceful receiving, fantasy, and fun found in the imagination. The cultural backdrop, a Hispanic community in Chicago, is an important step towards an awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and respect. It is interesting to see how different generations are represented and interact. Children do not reply in the Spanish the adults use to converse. The younger children believe in the reality of ‘Pancho Claus’, but the cynical teen who despises his Mexican heritage cannot let himself join in the fun. The character Pancho Claus is not just a symbol of willing belief in joyful imagination, but also a willing acceptance for history and culture. The story shows understanding of children in a way only a teacher can come to.

The importance and respect for the Hispanic Culture comes across best in her short, ‘Creating Pancho Claus’. With few shots, a simple soundtrack made by tools, and no dialogue, we are shown an artisan’s workplace somewhere South of the Border. The shots are still and simple, the workers silent in their tasks as they create indigenous art and craft. It is voyeuristic, and one feels as though they were there, looking over the shoulder of the woman weaving a patterned blanket. This viewer searched desperately for more of Tapia’s documentary work, but to no avail. On her website she promises more travel, so… soon, Ms. Tapia?

Dalia Tapia

Dalia Tapia

Hollywood today is a barren wasteland if one goes there looking for creativity, new ideas and stories, or a place to break boundaries and reach new heights. The rawness and realness of her films will make it difficult for them to find wide release; such is the way of independent film today.

We hope she continues to tell personal stories inspired by real people in real situations, because that is what we are. Too often we sit down in a dark theater and are told to believe there are aliens invading, out of control computers, or that thugs come a dime-a-dozen and shooting them is easy and fun. Tapia’s films are about people that you can believe in, dealing with situations that we might all face. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia are issues that as individuals we will deal with on a daily basis. Not talking about them will not make them go away. Examining them thoroughly through the lens gives viewers a chance to think of their own actions and reactions and meditate on how they might act. It is far more likely that a loved one will contact HIV than a bunch of interstellar robots that can also look like cars battle in your neighborhood. Really, which experience makes you a wiser, better person?

In the strategically safe, creatively barren Hollywood system, her films will not find a foothold. But in the underground world of filmmakers who care about film, Tapia will have a willing audience, and those viewers might be ready to confront the issues in Tapia’s films. It is about time we did.

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