Photos and Video
Reina will do anything to get into the United States. Marlon will do anything to get into Reina's pants. All-consuming desire-hers for the American Dream and his for her heart-will lead these teens on a harrowing odyssey from their middle-class homes in Colombia to the immigrant-thick neighborhoods of New York. Almost immediately upon their arrival at a ramshackle hostel for the dirt poor, Marlon loses his queen on the foreign streets of Queens. Penniless and paranoid about being there illegally, Marlon will have to make his way through a shocking new world on his own. As he searches for Reina, Paraiso Travel flashes back to the horrors they endured on the treacherous path from Medellín through Guatemala and Mexico and finally into the States. With the help of a few sympathetic Colombian immigrants, Marlon slowly builds a new life for himself. The stuttering, sadomasochistic lord of a dingy crash pad (the always brilliant John Leguizamo) takes him under his wing, and he even catches the eye of a ravishing songstress, but his old obsession with that bewitching Reina threatens to destroy every stride Marlon makes toward a new life. Based on the bestselling novel by Jorge Franco, Paraiso Travel is at once scorchingly sexy and brutally honest. Director Simon Brand shows the flipside of the romantic sail past Lady Liberty that is often depicted in film, but he never expects pity for his characters. New York City may be cast as "the monster you'll have to tame," but Brand and cinematographer Rafa Lluch make the battle an awfully gorgeous one.
Director's Statement Collapse
The noble intentions of a 21-year old male are always questionable when sex with a beautiful female is the sole motivation. Marlon, the kid in question and central character of Paraiso Travel, is hell-bent in his oblivion. His youthful naivety leads him to construe his lust for beautiful 18-year old Reina as love, a love for which he’ll leave everything, including his family and country, to pursue with all his vigor. A labyrinthine journey ensues for Marlon as he follows his beloved Reina on a clandestine voyage from Medellín to New York City and beyond—a journey at times mesmerizing, devastating, hilarious, sobering, and inspiring. Through Marlon, we experience a unique tale in the heart of the richly diverse Latin community of NYC, where self-discovery and salvation take place against insurmountable odds.
This film is the story of what it’s like to be young and alone—chasing the ghost of a better future that only time and experience can reveal. Marlon is a kid a lot of people will identify with. He’s certainly not the only one whose innocence and sincere, generous nature have led him to be blackmailed and manipulated. After all, at his age it’s easy to confuse strong emotions and sexual urges with love, and all it takes is another recognizing this ignorance to use it for their own agenda. Yet, it’s also true that you learn from mistakes, and this essential truth, the key to Marlon’s redemption, lies in the last place he could ever imagine.
With Paraiso Travel, I will take you from the middle-class residential/industrial boroughs of Medellín to a perceived American dream, which is brought into harsh perspective on the unforgiving streets of New York. It will happen through the eyes of Marlon and an amazing, colorful, and unforgettable ensemble of characters. I’ll show you how it is possible for a naïve, love-deluded young man, convinced he has escaped a world of social injustice devoid of opportunity, to experience a very real, life-affirming, and totally unexpected transformation. This is a story that indeed starts off on the wrong foot, but the first step is only the beginning….
Although not central, an important undercurrent of Paraiso Travel is the harsh reality experienced by illegal Latin American immigrants in the USA, and the ways they made it into the country. The story does not shy away from the details of the dangerous, unreliable underground network that facilitates such entry into America, and all depictions are rooted in factual experience. Jorge Franco, author of the book upon which the film is based, made the trip to the border twice, witnessing extremely tense and frightening moments, rubbing elbows with dangerous and ruthless people and even with death.
The similarly intense journey to and over the US border for Marlon and Reina, his embodiment of true love, will be captured on film in a very realistic manner. They depart from Rio Negro airport in Medellin, landing in Guatemala, and then make their way north to the Mexican border town of Reynosa. Here, men known as “coyotes” and “polleros” smuggle groups of people across in cargo trucks, in this case hidden amongst bundles of heavy logs driven over bumpy roads for extended periods of time. The trauma and tragedy of this uncertain journey fuel Marlon’s exhilaration when he finally arrives in NYC in one piece, but also his desperation as he soon becomes separated from Reina in a freak set of circumstances.
Once in New York, alone and without a penny to his name, Marlon begins his search for Reina on the unforgiving, mean streets of the city with nothing but the clothes on his back. He is forced to deal with culture shock, the language barrier, and the seedy life of the street people and bums around him, not to mention the fear of police who Marlon believes are after him for having thrown a cigarette butt into the middle of the cold streets.
The film kicks off in New York with a series of intense chases on foot through gritty alleys and tomb-like subterranean corridors. Marlon doesn’t have a clue where he is or where he is going and handouts are unlikely in the derelict and sketchy places he’s somehow run himself blindly into. Eventually, someone points him in the direction of a Spanish-speaking area.
After starving, freezing, and stumbling down streets in conditions that would kill a less driven man, Marlon literally falls (painfully) into the basement of Tierras Colombianas, a restaurant owned by Patricia and Don Pastor, a kindly Colombian couple. At least, Patricia is kind enough. Don Pastor is less than enthusiastic about having this street urchin on his premises, and thus it quickly becomes necessary for Marlon to prove his worth, not only for the sake of finding his beloved Reina, but for his own survival.
On Roosevelt Street in NYC, Colombian culture is thriving and Marlon finds a kindred community where he feels less like an outsider. Through Patricia’s friends and connections, Marlon’s quest for Reina continues as he takes a job cleaning the washrooms at Tierras Colombianas to support himself.
The middle of the film depicts Marlon’s uneasy rise to borderline stability in New York City, no mean feat for anyone of humble origins, let alone a 21-year-old with a heavy heart and intense feelings of displacement. Charity is short-lived and Marlon must learn to stand on his own two feet—we’ll follow his experiences in situations most viewers know nothing about (and that most would never want to know about, other than as a voyeur). Marlon makes his way through skuzzy rehabs, halfway houses, squats, strip joints, backbreaking migrant work, “hot beds,” and more. He engages with some of the craziest souls you can find in the underbelly of New York: weirdos, junkies, ghettoized born-agains, lunatics, killers, prostitutes and drag queens. This is subterranean New York in true Midnight Cowboy style, no holds barred, a world from which one can only hope a likeable protagonist like Marlon will escape.
And, as in real life, perhaps the worst reality of all lies in our own perception, which is something we’ll learn from Marlon. Not everyone who is down on their luck is there by choice. Marlon bonds with some truly compelling characters from the underground, people whose personalities and caring nature deserve a better hand than the one they have been tragically dealt.
Enter Milagros, a pretty girl who works in a record store across from Tierras Colombianas. She spots Marlon and takes a shine to him immediately. Soon she makes her move and makes her feelings known, a difficult gesture for Marlon to respond to in his lovelorn state. Unlike the typical love story, this is not an instant happy ending or a rainbow after the storm—Marlon’s stubborn persistence is equaled by Milagros’ in her hopes that Marlon will eventually come around. After all, over time, Marlon’s search for Reina proves increasingly fruitless. Milagros attempts to seduce Marlon through her love of all things Salsa, and we are drawn into a complex narrative conflict set against a tapestry of authentic Latin music and culture. It will all be as real as it actually is, but at the same time, it will be as beautiful as life itself can sometimes be as a quietly poetic backdrop in times of personal struggle.
As for the rest , this film will be a musical and cultural event that is grounded and totally authentic. After the darker corners of Marlon’s journey, one night explodes into a New York Latin fiesta, a brightly lit street party where music and the festive spirit breathe new symbolic life into a situation with so many questions remaining. From here, we will be torn in support, be it for Marlon in his indecision, or for Milagros in her kindness and inner beauty that Marlon is as yet blind to. And this is no Hollywood love story where all is wrapped up neatly and quickly—the truth is of utmost importance here, much more so than a simple gift ending. Each character’s motivation is equally compelling and many of them have dark and mysterious secrets that emerge throughout Paraiso Travel. I will strive to work in all angles of this incredible story to make a cinematic presentation like no other to date.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Aldemar Correa, Angelica Blandon, John Leguizamo, Ana de la Reguera, Margarita Rosa de Fransico, Pedro Capo
Producers Alex Pereira, Santigo Diaz, Juan Rendoo, Isaac Lee
Screenwriter Simon Brand
Executive Producers Jonathan Sanger, Jorge Perez
About the Director(s)Collapse
Simon Brand (b. Colombia) started his career at age 17 by directing a music video for a local band. He moved to Miami in the late '80s, where he continued directing music videos and commercials. He has directed more than 200 commercials for clients including Pepsi, Nabisco, BMW, and Coca-Cola. He founded Kree8 Productions and has worked with artists such as Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Celia Cruz. In 2003, he moved from Miami to Los Angeles to make his first feature film, Unknown. Most recently, Brand has been written up in Variety as "one of the 40 most influential Latin people who has positively influenced and impacted Hollywood."