Mónica Esmeralda León founded Ave Fenix Pictures in Chicago, the first Latino film studio to come out of the windy city, a studio more likely to evolve out of New York or Los Angeles. The film business in Chicago is a minority, a serious business to only a few, often with major risk to those who finance film, accepting the high probability of unfavorable odds.
Providential, probabilities were in favor of Ave Fenix Pictures first feature film, the award-winning movie Adios Vaya Con Dios released domestically and internationally on January 19th. The film brought together groups often at odds with each other telling stories of everyday life in Chicago’s ganglands. The film generated such a stimulus that musicians from Mexico and the United Kingdom hurried to the soundtrack. The DVD Release Report hailed the film as “A powerful piece of Cinema.”
Chicago has continually been an artistic city centering around commercial and print, but not many film studios have popped up in the last decade. Most film productions in Chicago center on occasional television pilots from Los Angeles and short films handpicked into various film festival circuits. Ave Fenix Pictures stands uniquely solo and Latin for that matter, but Mónica Esmeralda León foresees plentiful diversity, “Chicago is a great city to make independent film, it always has been. I agree that homegrown feature films don’t really surface here. If they do for the most part they’re casted and based in California. Ave Fenix is Latino, but it’s everything else as well, I don’t like labels, we’re not limited to a genre of film. I don’t use my culture as an excuse for my shortcomings or to take advantage of success.”
León took an enormous risk as any filmmaker undertakes putting all their exertion and finances into a feature film, but the Ave Fenix vision would be a tough sell beyond Adios Vaya Con Dios. Most would deem the foresight as outrageous: to envision a slate of four films is nonsensical, it would be impractical going after admired musicians internationally for composition and unmanageable to keep the films contending with A-list Hollywood. Bel-Air Film Festival nominated actor, screenplay writer (Adios Vaya Con Dios) and producer at Ave Fenix Pictures, Zachary Laoutides fully-agrees, “It’s impractical. No one does it and I told my team we had a one percent chance. I believed we were that good, but more importantly I knew that we were that tough to see it through.”
The implausible in fact became a full-fledged reality, but could Ave Fenix Pictures be just lucky, a one-hit-film that expended all resources and whose studio becomes abandoned due to Chicago’s unaccustomed soil for growing film studios…? Well, it’s highly unlikely, as Ave Fenix Pictures has made three feature films in the last year and a half, all geared for large film festivals. So what is the secret to the film studios success? León believes it comes from inspiration, “We inspired a lot of people and a lot of people inspired us. Zachary Laoutides wrote the script as well as performed his role with authenticity and people united under the faithfulness that they were seeing. When I say ‘inspiration’ I don’t mean it generically. People who we work with genuinely believe we are united together see each other succeed. It takes certain people or a certain person to pull that movement together and when it does come together things like Ave Fenix Pictures happen.”
With artists from Mexico and the United Kingdom enthused and contributing to Ave Fenix Pictures, the talented European director and actor Marius Iliescu likewise took notice to the movement while playing the merciless Olemc gang leader Tiger De’Leon. Soon Iliescu merged helping build the Ave Fenix ship, setting up a Los Angeles branch, “The power of Cinema happens when people witness the screen and connect at an emotional level, they believe somehow they are part of the story they see. — Streets dictate cinema because ultimately what the studios produce returns to them. Studios must feel the street pulse. When that imagination has the right pulse, people live for it and are ready to believe.”
Chicago admired theater actor Joseph Mennella who played, Gio Angeli, opposite of Zachary Laoutides’ character Rory King, as the antagonist son of the Italian Angeli family, a fading Chicago dynasty trying to hold onto power, also devoted himself to developing Ave Fenix Pictures in Chicago. Mennella believed the studio offered an opportunity that seemed to only happen on the west coast, but yet remained true to the independent spirit of film, “The beauty of Ave Fenix pictures is that we have the artistic freedom to create the movies we want to create and tell the stories that we want to tell. Our slate of movies embodies all types of cultures, stories, and movie genres, that are not only commercially viable, but allows the artists to put their creative styles in every project.”
Ave Fenix Pictures following film based on real events, ‘When my Eyes Go Dark,’ shadows a psychic who was clinically declared dead five times and came back. In the process of trying to reconnect with his deceased daughter he discovers the man who killed her. With some already hailing the movie another defining film by Ave Fenix Pictures, León credits the project to the same principle that brought them to the forefront, “We kept the team together. We once again went for an international approach, we have awesome music globally which I’m sure will create buzz just like the Adios Vaya Con Dios soundtrack; we also stayed with our incredible audio designer Dan Pasare. Sound and music is such an important component in our films.” Likewise, director Timothy J. Aguado steps back into the director chair embellishing the film with musical montages and black and white juxtaposing of footage that has already been hailed an artistic achievement, “When My Eyes Go Dark shows the versatility in the storytelling that we at Ave Fenix have, we are definitely not a one trick pony. Although, set in Detroit, the film is not another gang movie, far from it. This time we see a loving father as he walks the perilous edge between the paranormal and what society calls reality.”
For more information, visit their website here. Watch Adios Vaya Con Dios on Itunes here.