SxSW 2021 Interview – NUEVO RICO director Kristian Mercado Figueroa

NUEVO RICO is a story about a brother and sister who stumble on a celestial secret that propels them into fame, where they have to navigate staying a family and not be torn apart by the music industry. We used boundary pushing visuals to show how systemic capitalism can devour all bonds. The root of the film is really about lack of autonomy as it looks at the effects of commercialization & colonial status of the island. A story that explores the identity of Puerto Ricans as diaspora & islanders, constantly moving between worlds, yet never fitting perfectly into either. Drawn by the seductive power of fame, this is a rags to riches story of talented young artists propelled to stardom, then torn apart by the spotlight. 

Having its World Premiere in the Animated Shorts Competition at SxSW Online 2021, we speak with filmmaker Kristian Mercado Figueroa. 

I hear you are back this year! Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and what you showed.

SXSW is a festival that helped define me as a filmmaker and has empowered me. I’ve been at SXSW for our Jury Award winning music video PA’LANTE, our Music Video BLACK PUMAS COLORS, and HANNIBAL BURESS: MIAMI NIGHTS. NUEVO RICO  marks my fouth project with them, a world premiere animated short that’s just wild. I love SXSW, Austin, just the vibe, and the films that come here, it’s really special. 

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?

I remember SXSW just from indie film circles. People would tell me it’s where indie cinema thrives and discovery of new films happens. I really was into the tone of the work I was seeing coming out of SXSW, so it was just something I always heard about. It took me a while to really engage, because I was kind of unsure where to start. Eventually someone from a label submitted us, and after that I have been hooked. 

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

NUEVO RICO is really unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that was really the point I think. I was just trying to tell a story that’s truthful to my experiences and the things I want to see more of in the world. BIPOC stories told through the lens of genre bending innovative visions. It’s a bummer when you see that so often we are boxed in, limited by external forces about the stories we can tell. I wanted to shatter expectations.

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

It sounds funny, but Sidney Lumet is like my spiritual filmmaking father. Not the filmmaker you would expect for a cyberpunk infused speculative fiction, but you gotta keep in mind that Sidney Lumet directed THE WIZ. That was futurism as hell, visually genre bending, musical, challenging, and cool. So I guess this is my THE WIZ. More so than that though, I really build stories around the difficulties of keeping family together. How hard that is when you feel pressure or society pushes families apart. 

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? And did you have any creative challenges in making it?

Pure animation insanity. We really had a great international team of animators who pushed the techniques and elevated what we were making. It was a dynamic mix of cel, 3d, draw overs, analog compositing, just really going all in on mix media. Using every program we wanted, breaking between different programs, and just going nuts on layering and approach. We wanted psychedelic feelings to emerge from viewing. 

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?

We kind of embrace the idea of the virtual fest as a means of accessibility. It’s the silver lining to it all. The price is the lowest it’s ever been for SXSW, and it’s never been easier to see shorts, so we really are feeling hyper blessed and lucky that we get to share our work with the world. As far as what’s next, I would keep a very close eye on Nuevo Rico. We’re definitely going to be making our way toward a feature. 

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

I think creating platforms and pushing to audiences the visuals of those shorts to get them hyped on short experiences. It’s important for audiences to know and understand that shorts are the seeds to the films they love. It’s the starting point, and there is something exciting about seeing filmmakers vernacular start somewhere. 

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

Jump in. Make stuff. Embrace limits, because it’ll force you to develop style, and narrative strengths you otherwise wouldn’t have. Submit to festivals as early as you can, don’t hesitate and wait, just do it the first chance you get, and embrace being part of a bigger film community. This goes double as a BIPOC person, your voice matters and is needed in these spaces more than ever. 

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

Tough question. There are so many good shorts. Denis Villeneuve’s 120 SECONDS TO GET ELECTED might take the crown. I’m torn between that and Mark Duplass’ THIS IS JOHN. Reinaldo Marcus Green STONE CARS as well. Sorry I couldn’t pick just one.

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to!

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