Friday, August 21, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Writer, Producer and Director, Vagabond Beaumont on his Film 'Machetero'

I recently had the pleasure of catching up to Vagabond Beaumont, writer, producer and director of the movie 'Machetero'. A film which has won many awards and recently made its way onto the New York International Latino Film Festival. Here is my exclusive interview:

EC: Who is Vagabond?

Vagabond: I was born in the Peoples Republic of Brooklyn to a Jamaican father and Puerto Rican mother. I grew up all my life in NYC. Went to Music & Art High School in Harlem (and was there when the school moved to behind Lincoln Center) and studied Fine and Commercial Art. I did one year of college studying film and video at the School Of Visual Arts and dropped out to work with Spike Lee on Do The Right Thing. I've been working in the film and television industry ever since. Sometime around the end of the last century and the beginning of this one I became part of a collective of anarchist artists dedicated to the liberation of Puerto Rico. That collective would become the RICANSTRUCTION Netwerk.

EC: On your first feature film, how does it feel?

Vagabond: Making the film was a challenge because it was essentially a no-budget film and when you're in that situation you're dealing with a variety of constraints that are working against you. The thing for me is to try and find a way around those constraints by being resourceful. With Machetero i really had my work cut out for me, I set out to make a film that deals with the definitions of terrorism and terrorists in a post 9/11 world and i was trying to do it with extremely limited resources. It was difficult to pull off but I feel like I created something that I can be proud of.

EC: For someone who has never heard of Machetero, can you give a quick summary of the film?

Vagabond: Many people don't know that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US for over 112 years and was a colony of Spain before that for 400 years. Machetero is a film about the violent aspects of the Puerto Rican independence movement. The film follows a French journalist (played by Isaach De Bankolé) who comes to New York to interview a so-called "Puerto Rican terrorist" (played by Not4prophet) about his decision to use violence as a means to free his country from US colonialism. While they speak a ghetto youth (played by Kelvin Fernandez) is growing up in the streets of New York trying to survive the effects of colonialism but winds up becoming the next Machetero with the encouragement of a childhood mentor from Puerto Rico (played by Dylcia Pagan) who planted the seeds of rebellion in him when he was just a boy.

Well, there are several definitions or interpretations to the term Machetero in Puerto Rico. The literal translation from spanish is one who works with a machete. The Puerto Rican folkloric and cultural definition comes from the Puerto Rican sugar cane field workers who fought against Spanish colonial rule and extended that battle to the US when they invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish - American war.

In the late 1960's a staunch advocate for Puerto Rican independence Filiberto Ojeda Rios formed an underground Puerto Rican army that would fight US imperialism in Puerto Rico called Ejercito Popular Boricua (EPB) or the Popular Puerto Rican Army. Throughout the island of Puerto Rico they were also known as the Macheteros. The Macheteros were a controversial entity, they launched violent attacks against the US military in Puerto Rico and carried out operations like the 7 million dollar Wells Fargo robbery of Hartford Connecticut. They were labeled as "terrorists" by the US government and were tracked down and hunted as such. However the EPB was not just a military organization they were also a political one. They formed a political wing to their struggle and used that as a platform to advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico.

EC: Macheteros, why now? Or do you feel it is long overdue?

Vagabond: Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who was the founder of the Macheteros was a fugitive and living in clandestinity in Puerto Rico. Until September 11th of 2001 Filiberto was the most wanted man by the FBI. Although Filiberto was in hiding from the US and Puerto Rican colonial authorities he gave regular interviews on television and radio and wrote articles for newspapers and gave speeches in order to prove to the Puerto Rican people that just because he was on the run it didn't deter or change his views on the colonial relationship between the US and Puerto RIco.

While we were shooting the film in Puerto Rico in 2005 we heard Filiberto doing a radio interview and after the interview people were calling in and saying that Filiberto had a point and that Filiberto had made a strong argument. Two weeks later the FBI surrounded his home in Puerto Rico and on September 23rd during the Puerto Rican holiday of El Grito De Lares where Puerto Ricans celebrate the uprising of 1868 against Spanish colonial rule and the beginning of the end of slavery in Puerto Rico the FBI shot Filiberto with a non fatal wound but left him to bleed to death for over 24 hours. Filiberto's funeral was the largest in the history of Puerto Rico.

My film MACHETERO is not a documentary about the Machetero's. It's a fictional film that emanates from the ideas of the Machetero's. The Machetero's had a saying "¡Todo Boricua Machetero!" - "All Puerto Ricans Are Machetero!" for them Machetero was a state of mind, a way of looking at the world and creating a plan of action to shape that world into something that reflected your reality. I took that saying and used it to create this film.

Another one of the reasons I created this film was because these stories are long overdue. We have a rich culture of resistance to colonialism that dates back to the Tainos (the indigenous people of Puerto Rico) fighting the Spanish when they landed in 1493, to the African slaves who freed themselves and banded together with the Tainos to become the Cimmarone (Maroon) fighters. In 1868 the abolitionist and father of the Puerto Rican nation, Ramon Emeterio Betances led an uprising against Spain that would become known as El Grito de Lares. Don Pedro Albizu Campos who graduated Harvard University was a labor organizer, lawyer and founder of the Nationalist Party and spent 20 years in prison fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. In 1954 Lolita Lebron and three other men led an attack on the US congress. In the 1970's and 80's clandestine groups like the FALN (Fuerzas Armada de Liberacion Nacional - Armed Forces of National Liberation) formed to go toe to toe with the US government.

So yes in a way, it's long overdue that we begin to tell these stories. It's long overdue that we recognize that we are a people that have been locked into a struggle that has been going on for over 500 years. And that that struggle is a valid struggle for liberation. If we don't tell these stories and the information is not passed on then we become a people who are doomed to making the same mistakes because we don't know our history. The US government doesn't want us to know our history, that's why they teach American history in Puerto Rican schools to Puerto Rican children. If they don't know their history then they can be more easily control the destiny of a people. It's up to us to tell these stories. It's up to us to tell our story.

EC: What obstacles did you have to face while making the film?

Vagabond: I think the first and greatest obstacle was believing that I could make a film, and once I got over that it was believing that could make the film that I wanted to make. Once I got over those initial fears, once came to terms with the fact that I have the ability to do what I want, other obstacles presented themselves. There was always an ongoing struggle of trying to create within the limited resources I had, and being able to come as close as possible to turning the vision that i had of this film in my head into a reality. I think I did a pretty good job with that. I don't think there is anything about MACHETERO that I would change.

The other ongoing challenge that was always hovering around me was that I wanted to create an art film for people who don't even know what an art film was or who after seeing the film don't really realize that they've just seen an art film. I wanted to create a film that some kid from off the street would be able to relate to and at the same time create a film that would be studied by film scholars for years to come. The film is very layered in such a way that if people saw the film again and again there would always be something new that would be revealed to them. There would always be something that they didn't notice or realize when they first saw it.

But the greatest obstacles that I faced were the artistic ones that I placed on myself. I don't believe that obstacles or limitations are always a bad thing. I think that obstacles or limitations or challenges are opportunities to exercise imagination and resourcefulness. With MACHETERO there were a lot of obstacles that I had to overcome to make the film like hiding from the cops in order to shoot or being arrested several times during the shooting or running out of money. However these pale in comparison to the artistic struggles that I had to get through to make the film.

There were a lot of different elements that I was juggling in the making of MACHETERO. I incorporated Punk Rock songs into the film from a Puerto Rican punk band called RICANSTRUCTION that acted as a modern day Greek chorus for the film and added another layer of narration to the film. I used poems streaming across the screen to illuminate some of the thoughts and ideology of the characters in the film. I used voice over dialogue juxtaposed against images in the film as a device to create a more three dimensional story. And I used silence as an element to create an emotional impact. Balancing all these elements to tell this story was probably the greatest challenge that I faced while trying to make MACHETERO.

EC: Dylcia Pagan, how did she come to be a part of this film? How was it to work with her?

Vagabond: For those who don't know, Dylcia Pagan was a member of the clandestine armed organization the FALN (Armed Forces for National Liberation) and on April 4th of 1980 she was arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy and sentenced to 63 years. In 1999 after serving 20 years of that sentence President Clinton pardoned her and she was released into freedom.

While I was working on the film I spoke to the famous Puerto Rican painter Juan Sanchez and he suggested using Dylcia Pagan for the role of the mentor. It was a perfect idea, however I was afraid that having Dylcia in the film could jeopardize her freedom. Not because I think so highly of myself or the film but because Dylcia was still on parole and the slightest excuse to put her back inside to serve the more time was something that I wouldn't put past the Bureau Of Prisons, since they weren't very happy to see her out in the first place.

Dylcia was living in Puerto Rico and I got Dylcia's number from one of the original Nuyorican poets Jesus "Papoleto" Melendez through Not4prophet who plays the role of Pedro Taino in the film. When I called Dylcia I wanted to make it abundantly clear if she would accept the role that I would not want her to do the role if it meant risking violating her parole. When I asked her to be in the film and she agreed i immediately launched into the issue of her parole but she stopped me dead in my tracks and said "The universe is conspiring with you, I just got a call from my lawyer ten minutes ago and she told me that I was released from parole and am now a completely free woman. It was a huge relief and Dylcia was incredibly generous with her time, talents and energy and continues to be...

EC: Are there any final thoughts you would like to share with the readers about Machetero?

Vagabond: Machetero has been on a world tour this past year playing in diverse places and before diverse audiences such as Beverly Hills California, Dargle South Africa, Cairo Egypt, Swansea Bay Wales, Tamworth England, Phuket Thailand and back home here in NYC where we just played at the NY International Latino Film Festival. The film has also been winning awards at these festivals taking awards in South Africa, Wales, England and Thailand. In September we are playing at a festival in Ireland where we the film is nominated once again for an award. In October MACHETERO will be back in the US and back in NYC for a screening in late October that will be announced soon. If you get an opportunity to see the film please come out and introduce yourself.

EC: Finally, what's next for Vagabond? What else would you like to put on film?

Vagabond: Right now I'm trying to raise money for my next film project which is called FREEDOM ON LAYAWAY. (You can donate to the cause by going to It stars Dylcia Pagan as herself. It's a one woman show that i'm developing with Dylcia that will focus on the 20 years she served in US prisons. It will be a very different film from MACHETERO. It'll be a comedy... A comedy of seditious proportions...

A few awards:

I would like to thank Vagabond Beaumont for taking the time out of his busy schedule and allowing this interview. Best wishes and continued success.


  1. Vagabond is an amazing film maker. I hope he continues to embrace us with his great work.

  2. Efrain, I linked this article at Puerto Rico Sun:

    Have a great vacation.

  3. I am very excited about getting my hands on this and I loved that Dylcia Pagan is in it....very fitting. I wish Vagabond continued success!

    Efrain, exceptional interview!

  4. Gracias Morena...always look forward to your visits here and just the same always look forward to your posts.