The award winning short film, Mano, is set to be made into a feature film as early as the summer of 2015 according to the films Director and Co-Writer, Anthony Nardolillo.
It tells the story of two childhood friends (Victor and Machito) who are separated as teenagers after the death of Victor’s father, and reunite years later under less than auspicious circumstances. Upon returning to New York and the underground Salsa scene, Victor finds that his friend has followed in his fathers fatal footsteps.
In 2008 it won the Sol Award for best cinematography.
It also starred a few current Hollywood notables including Laz Alonso (Avatar), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), and the late Lee T. Young (Rizzoli & Isles, The Famous Jett Jackson). Anthony stars as Victor in the film.
Mano is not a Salsa film or a musical in the sense that the plot revolves around its presence, but music and dance certainly play a role in character development, and the overall vibe.
The script has been rewritten for length and content purposes and will be renamed TOCA – Our Latin Thing. The revised script reached the finals of the prestigious Sundance script writing competition. Anthony indicated that as soon as financing is confirmed the film will begin shooting, which could happen later this year.
Hollywood heavyweight Andy Garcia as well as Zulay Henao have committed to participating in the film. Zulay is best known for her role as Channing Tatum’s girlfriend in the movie Fighting. The musical director for the film will be Bryant Siono. His impressive resume includes working with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Marc Anthony.
Mano was completed in 2007, but Anthony has continued to strive towards the goal of turning the it into a full-length feature. He has a significant financial commitment from a financier in Los Angeles, and he recently traveled to New York to screen the film for potential investors there. His good friend and superstar Salsera Magna Gopal tagged along for the screening. The movie was shown using Dolby Digital sound. On the surface that may seem like a small accomplishment, but it’s a big step considering Dolby Digital is the audio technology used by the majority of big budget studio films. Dolby Labs (the creators of the technology) have agreed to provide this feature for TOCA.
A self-professed ‘drama fiend’, Anthony wanted to capture elements of emotional intensity and surprise in his film. Tragedy strikes during the latter stages of Mano and the pivotal final scene (I won’t give away the ending) speaks cryptically about the main message of the movie. Anthony talked about the films message and the role of Salsa in the short film.
“You never want to live with regret. Choose your words carefully because you never know when your last moment will be…it’s not necessarily a Salsa message. The characters were connected through Salsa when they were young. Salsa is the through line, but even in Salsa we’re all still human.”
Anthony was born in Brooklyn, but moved quite a bit as a youth due to his fathers involvement in the military. He comes from a family with a deep appreciation for Salsa music. His mother was a big fan of the legendary Salsa musical ensemable, the Fania All-Stars, and other relatives formed connections to the group. Anthony admits that acting and directing were not on his radar growing up, and he focused on sports. He played college football at Virginia Tech. At age 16-17 he became immersed in the music and dance, and eventually became a Salsa instructor teaching across the globe. He credits Salsa for leading him into the entertainment industry as an adult.
“A lot of salsa lyrics deal with politics, love, pride, who we are and where we come from…and what the streets smell like. You know, those kinds of things. I love that. If it wasn’t for the music, I wouldn’t have danced, and if it wasn’t for the dance I wouldn’t have become a film maker.”
The short film featured an impressive list of Salsa professionals that helped give the dance scenes an air of authenticity. Salsa sensation Kimberly Flores and LA Salsa legend Francisco Vasquez (of the famed Vasquez brothers, pictured left ) choreographed the film. Magna Gopal and Gordon Neil served as assistant choreographers. Cristian Oviedo also danced in the short. Hopefully dancers with similar skill will be able to participate in TOCA, if needed.
Although Anthony played one of the lead roles in Mano, he says that directing definitely gives him more of a thrill.
“I love the acting side, but I really love directing. To be able to take something in your mind, create structure, art, characters, and make a visual out of it is amazing. Then to sit back and watch the audience react is the ultimate reward.”
Anthony had no prior directing or acting experience before making Mano. His initial training came from the back stage access to movie making techniques he observed while working on Stomp The Yard. There he met and formed a friendship with fellow actor Colombus Short (pictured below, right), and the seeds for making Mano began to be planted.
“I saw all the love that was going into the film, and I told Colombus that it would be great to do something like that for the Salsa world. He told me I was a business man and had access to money…and that all I had to do was write the script.”
In addition to gaining inspiration for future projects, Anthony was surprised how uncomplicated the process appeared to be.
“I noticed that movies aren’t as big as we think. When we think of movies we think of millions of dollars, and cameras, and crew, and an almost untouchable world. (On Stomp The Yard) There were two camera operators, about 40 extras, and a lighting setup. I was like, ‘This is it’?”
He took a job in finance, but kept his mind focused on the film industry. A short term assignment to the Netherlands proved beneficial as it afforded him the opportunity to write in his spare time. Fortune smiled upon him when he returned home.
“I told my uncle about my project and he had a friend who knew a producer. When I came back from the Netherlands I met the producer. I told the producer I had an idea to shoot a trailer for the film that would serve as a concept to the film. He said if we were going to shoot the trailer, we might as well shoot a short film.”
This epiphany on Stomp The Yard gave Anthony the confidence and experience he needed to produce his own projects, and the shoots he directed proved more complicated than any of his previous gigs. Mano was filmed over the course of three days with each day requiring 16 hours of shooting. The interior scenes of the film were shot in Los Angeles, while the broader establishing shots were filmed in New York.
“When I walked on to my own set it was bigger than Stomp The Yard! We had a crew of 35, trailers, and two panoramic cameras.”
Anthony cut his teeth on the set of Mano and he gained experience on not only how to be an effective director and actor, but also expanding his knowledge of production techniques and terminology.
We at Dance Planet Daily are excited to see a talent from the Salsa world grow and bring exposure to a dance community that is very underrepresented in today’s mainstream culture.
Stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming film TOCA – Our Latin Thing. A movie created and directed by one of our own dancers in the Salsa community!