Abe Felix, a local director and producer, wants to make films that tackle real-world issues. His friend Catherine Miguez acted in a few short films in college but longed to do something more personal.
One evening, Miguez, who is of European and Vietnamese descent, was talking to Felix about growing up while feeling pulled between two worlds. They realized her experiences could form the basis of a film.
The result is "Jane," a short film directed by Felix starring Miguez. It’s the story of a young woman traveling from her small Louisiana hometown to a new city in hopes of reinventing her life on her own terms.
Miguez hopes the film encourages other mixed-race Americans who struggle with identity to shrug off the labels others apply to them.
“Live for yourself,” she said. “You are the one in control of defining who you are.”
Miguez's grandfather worked at the U.S. embassy during the Vietnam War. He fled to America with his pregnant wife and 12 children after the fall of Saigon, settling first in Arkansas before moving to Louisiana.
Her grandfather wasn’t thrilled when her mother married a white man. Miguez didn’t meet her mother’s side of the family until she was about 8 years old.
Miguez and her sister were taller than the other girls, didn’t speak Vietnamese, and were often ostracized by their cousins for being “too Western” or “too American.” She recalled at one point hiding in a closet, crying and plucking her eyebrows in frustration at not fitting in with the Vietnamese side of her family.
Attending a mostly white private high school had its own pitfalls. She was frequently asked “What are you?” as if she was some sort of alien.
“I always thought that being mixed-race meant you got the best of both worlds,” Felix said. But for many people, “it’s the opposite.”
“In Cat’s case, you’re not white enough, and you’re not Vietnamese enough, so you’re left somewhere in the middle by yourself,” he said.
Felix studied broadcast journalism at LSU, which didn’t have a film program at the time. He had a few job offers in journalism after college, he said, but turned them all down because he found the format “creatively constraining.”
“You’re supposed to be unbiased,” he said. “I guess I wanted to be biased. I wanted to not have any limitations put on the way I wanted to tell the story.”
He went to work editing and shooting for a wedding film company, which was challenging but helped him refine his visual storytelling skills. He moved on to Launch Media, a Baton Rouge video production company, where he met Miguez, a post-production coordinator for the firm.
Felix and Miguez collaborated on the script, which tells a fictional story informed by Miguez’s experiences. With help from a team that included producer/production coordinator Deirdre Peterson, producer/locations manager Aquiles Montalvo and director of photography Shannon Palmer, they secured locations and shot the film over two days with the cane fields near Gramercy as a backdrop.
Felix didn't give away much about the story, except to say it captures a turning point in the title character’s life as she moves from one place to another. Now in post-production, the film is a couple months from being finished.
Felix left Launch Media last year to become a freelancer, in hopes of carving out time for his own endeavors. "Jane" is the first project that represents what he’d really like to do going forward, and he hopes to get it into some film festivals next year.
“The point is not to make one movie, and then never make another one,” he said. “It’s easier (to make more) if people know who I am.”
Miguez is more secure in her identity than she used to be, but she found it therapeutic to revisit those fears through a character. Growing up, she wanted to act but didn’t really pursue it — she wasn’t a “dramatic” person and didn’t see many people in the media that looked like her — but she’d like to do more acting in the future.
She doesn’t rule out moving to Hollywood one day. But for now, she wants to keep telling authentic stories here in Louisiana.