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Filmmaker Raising Cash for 'Romeo and Juliet' Tale in Washington Heights

By Lindsay Armstrong | September 17, 2014 5:27pm
Mari en Marana
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INWOOD — A local writer is trying to raise money online to shoot a short film about a young Washington Heights couple whose blossoming romance is challenged by a deep-rooted cultural conflict.

Ian Jackson, 32, is the writer and would-be director behind “Mari en Maraña,” which he describes as a love letter to the Uptown community. The story, which is based on "Romeo and Juliet," follows a young Dominican woman as she explores the possibility of first love with a Haitian man.

Jackson is trying to raise $25,000 through the site Indiegogo to help cover the costs of shooting and producing the 15-minute bilingual film.

Jackson moved to Washington Heights about a decade ago and quickly came to love the neighborhood.

“I found an apartment here accidentally,” Jackson said. “Shortly thereafter, I met a woman and fell in love with her and then with her family and through them with the culture.”

In the story, the film’s lead, Mari, is a book-smart college freshman with a sharp sense of humor. When she returns from school for her first winter break, she quickly finds out that rumors have spread about her love life — or lack thereof — in her absence.

On the day of her grandmother’s 90th birthday party, Mari meets a mysterious stranger. As the two explore a possible romance, complications that touch on family, culture and ethnicity arise, creating a “maraña,” Spanish for a tangle or a mess.

The film touches on the long history of conflict between the Dominican and Haitian communities, as well as other issues.

“There’s a very loaded history there. We tackle that,” Jackson said. “We don’t shy away from racism within the community."

Jackson, who has worked as a musician and a theater director, started to write the script four years ago. He wanted to modernize the story of the Shakespearean classic in part by telling it from Juliet’s perspective.

“Dominicans are great storytellers. I was exposed to so many stories both from my girlfriend and just living up here. Many of them were coming from either women or the perspective of women,” Jackson said of his choice to write in the voice of an 18-year-old Dominican woman.

Jackson said that he and his producer, Lourdes Carrasco who grew up in the neighborhood, have worked hard to make sure that the film is “Heights-certified.” In other words, not only will it be shot in Washington Heights, but the cast, crew and artists working on the project will also largely be from the community.

So far, they have raised $2,195 of their overall goal with three weeks left in the online campaign. The money will go toward shooting costs such as equipment, location rental and small stipends for the actors. It will also help to cover post-production costs.

Jackson and Carrasco have already cast 11 of the 14 roles and plan to start shooting this winter. They will then submit the film to several festivals, and also plan to arrange a showing in the neighborhood that inspired the film.

“We’d love to get it at United Palace, but any venue here would be great,” Jackson said. “This is art for the people who live here, so we want to make sure that they can see it.”