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Directed, Written, Produced & Edited by Israel Rodriguez
Dancer keeps 'teacher's' legacy alive
Diane Hubbard Burns | Special to the Sentinel December 7, 2008
Late in The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones, dancer Israel Rodriguez is fleetingly seen in footage of Bujones rehearsing the Orlando Ballet. He's in the background in a scene of Bujones blowing out candles at his 50th and final birthday party. Rodriguez is but a peripheral character in the feature-length documentary that makes its TV debut today on WMFE-TV. It's a dramatic, shooting-star portrayal of Bujones, one of America's finest 20th century dancers who became an inspirational director. Behind the scenes, however, Rodriguez has the starring role as writer/producer/director of this film biography about a man he often addressed simply as "teacher."
"I wanted to make this film because there is a lot to say about Fernando Bujones' story," says Rodriguez, who danced for Bujones first in Monterrey, Mexico, then Orlando, where Bujones led the Orlando Ballet into a new century before his 2005 death from cancer. "When he passed away, I believed it was my duty, my dream, my goal to not just tell what everyone already knew, but tell the inside story of Fernando Bujones... I wanted to make sure his legacy stayed alive."
Telling Bujones' story In his first feature-length film, Rodriguez has succeeded in telling both. There's the well-known story of Bujones' catapult to fame at the 1974 Varna (Bulgaria) International Ballet Competition and his stellar career at American Ballet Theatre and beyond. Rodriguez touches on Bujones' famous rivalry with Baryshnikov — two such gifted dancers are a rarity in a single generation, let alone a single New York stage.But he also paints Bujones' less-known life. Early years come alive with archival photos from Cuba and Miami and interviews with his mother and beloved teacher Zeida Mendez. We see two very determined women bringing up a talented boy with a pressured love that pushed him to excel. Later, we see that love and pressure transferred through him to the dancers at Orlando Ballet in the final chapter of a life that helped shape the art he loved. Rodriguez had been dabbling in filmmaking for years when, in 2003, he picked up his camera and began shooting the Orlando Ballet, envisioning a sort of reality TV program about the company. It was never to be.
When Bujones fell ill and quickly died, the footage Rodriguez had - of Bujones talking, teaching and creating ballets - became the end of a story for which Rodriguez had to find the beginning. Telling it changed the dancer, who had not always seen eye-to-eye with his director during his life."I'm not the same man I was five years ago," Rodriguez says. "Every time I watch the movie I understand Fernando more as a director. ... I regret not knowing what I now know about Fernando Bujones when I was working for him." A labor of love Rodriguez had financial help from some friends of the ballet and the Orlando Hispanic Film Festival, which premiered the film to an overflow Orlando crowd in November. But most of the cost of making the film was borne by Rodriguez and his wife, ballerina Katia Garza.
Their big break was connecting with Orlando-based producer Kim Dawson (Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies). A ballet and Bujones fan, Dawson became producer of the film after seeing a rough cut. "What a labor of love," he says. He was won over by the interweaving of "these interviews, dance footage - and the fact that it was self-funded and from his heart. "Dawson linked Rodriguez with Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange and, more recently, The Company, in which he played a ballet artistic director. McDowell volunteered to narrate the film. "I thought he was kidding," Rodriguez says. The next thing he knew, he was in Los Angeles, overseeing the narration."
Fulfilling a dream José Fajardo, president of WMFE, Orlando's public broadcasting station, also jumped on the bandwagon at the rough cut stage. "It was just a beautifully done product with rough edges," he recalls. Station executives helped Rodriguez polish the film and contracted to broadcast it. Fernando was admired and loved by many, and people didn't really have a chance to pay tribute to him. That is what this film does beautifully."
The PBS affiliate will rebroadcast the film in February and is marketing it to other Florida stations. Talks also are under way with national Spanish-language station V-me. The DVD will go on sale early next year. 'The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones' When: 7 p.m. tonight on WMFE-TV (with interruptions for a WMFE fund-raising drive; limited edition copies of the DVD available for donations of $75 or more).
Roger Moore film review - Dancer turned filmmaker Israel Rodriguez has been talking about and working on his documentary tribute to his mentor, Fernando Bujones, every since the famed dancer and Orlando Ballet's artistic director died suddenly, at age 50, in 2005. Sunday afternoon, an emotional Israel R. premiered the film, shot on video, to a standing-room-only crowd at the Premiere Fashion Square 14, a premiere arranged by the Orlando Hispanic Film Festival. WMFE had a hand in the film and will present it on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., and will package it for broadcast throughout Florida and perhaps elsewhere.
Private Screening Of "The Extraordinary Journey Of Fernando Bujones"
Orlando, FL 11/10/08 - IRG Productions is launching its latest film “The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones”, a passionate and impressive documentary that explores the life of a wonderful human being that became one of world’s greatest male ballet dancers. Through his passion to reach perfection he successfully confronted many obstacles in life, until death cut his life short when he was only 50 years old. Israel Rodríguez, who is also a ballet dancer and film maker, started this project in 2003, with the idea in mind of documenting the work of Fernando Bujones, who was then Orlando Ballet’s Artistic Director, during the choreographic works of “Spartacus” and “Camelot”. Bujones became so interested in the project, that he suggested taping his work for a future biographical piece. No one imagined that two years later, he would pass away victim of cancer. This episode changed the entire focus of this project. “The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones” is masterfully narrated by internationally acclaimed actor, Malcolm McDowell. This moving project by Israel Rodríguez will undoubtedly be embraced by movie and ballet lovers alike. Fernando Bujones (March 9, 1955 November 10, 2005) was a Cuban-American ballet dancer. Born in Miami, Florida to Cuban parents, Bujones is regarded as one of the finest male dancers of the 20th century and hailed as the greatest American male dancer of his generation
Documentary that Malcolm narrates off camera.
Premiered in Florida 11/16/08
Credits with Malcolm listed
Archived 2008 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net