JOLIET – The 95-minute experimental film “Adios Vaya Con Dios” – which became available Jan. 19 through On Demand and some rental outlets – just might be the little film that could.
Filmed by indie studio Ave Fenix in Joliet and Aurora, this movie about a young man trying to leave a Chicago Latino gang already has more than 41,000 likes on Facebook.
In an email, Monica Leon of Aurora, co-owner of Ave Fenix, said the film – called “Goodbye and Go With God” in English – premiered in West Hollywood and “was an official selection and up for nominations at the Bel-Air Film Festival in California.”
“It’s like a movement,” Leon said. “We never thought it would get this crazy.”
“Adios Vaya Con Dios” – which is in English with Spanish subtitles – has a cast of about 100 people, a mix of professional actors and community members, most of whom were unpaid, said former Joliet resident Zachary Laoutides of Chicago – co-owner of Ave Fenix, as well as the screenplay’s writer and the film’s star.
As part of the experiment, the movie was directed in the style of “La Raza” or “The People,” Laoutides said. This means no one person served as director, although some of the more accomplished actors, as well as Leon, coached the cast and provided informal direction.
“We gave the locals the opportunity to make it come alive,” Laoutides said. “We said, ‘Here’s the script. Let’s see what you can do with it.’”
Mentoring through art
The entire project, Laoutides and Leon said, had two goals: to inspire young people and to give Laoutides, an aspiring actor and screenwriter, an artistic outlet.
Several years ago, a mutual friend introduced Laoutides and Leon because they both engaged in grassroots outreach to young people on the streets.
Laoutides and Leon discussed the possibility of starting a nonprofit where mentors would work one-on-one with kids and help them leave gangs – until they realized the effort required in running and fundraising for a nonprofit.
In the meantime, Laoutides had written a script based on events that happen on the streets. He and Leon shared ideas, formed Ave Fenix in 2013, and then approached members of the Latino community who lived and worked near the location sites about taking part in the project.
In addition to actors, this also included community musicians and other artists, Leon said. For instance, the makeup artist for the film is actually a street artist.
“I just feel like artists live in the shadows. No one pays attention to them,” Leon said. “I wanted to show not just the violence, but that there is actually art, and that they’re very hungry and passionate about what they do.”
Laoutides said Joliet locations included areas around Collins and Columbia streets, as they both reflect Hispanic culture.
“There’s a lot of cool graffiti art by Columbia Street that has a nice urban look, so we shot down there,” Laoutides said.
Supporting the project in a small role and as a location consultant was Angel Guzman of Joliet, an actor. Guzman, who previously ran for Joliet City Council in District 4, said he spent two days in film production.
One day was in Joliet, where Guzman watched filming outside the former Joliet Correctional Center and then showed other exterior filming options to Laoutides. The second was in Aurora, where Guzman played a member of the antagonist’s family, even getting pistol-whipped at one point.
“Our dream is to get it screened at the Rialto,” Guzman said.
Filming began in 2013 and continued into early 2014, Laoutides said. After the film festival, Indican Pictures purchased international rights, he said. “Adios Vaya Con Dios” should be available on DVD this summer.
A sequel called “And May God Forgive Us” is being planned, Leon said.
In the meantime, Laoutides said he has completed two more movies, both written by and starring himself. One is “When My Eyes Go Dark,” about bruja psychics; this film is ready to enter film festivals, Laoutides said. The other, “Love You to the Moon and Back,” is about jazz musicians.
And the outreach?
Leon said that goal was already in motion even before “Adios Vaya Con Dios” was released, as the actors are excited about their roles in the film. They are encouraging others to see it and have asked about additional acting opportunities.
She hopes these young people will continue to seek out other opportunities and experiences that may lead them to success.
“I want them to know all their hard work was not in vain and that they can do whatever they want to do,” Leon said.