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¡Luces, Cameras, Acción! Poco a Poco Productions Reclaims Latinx Film Stories, Founder Aims to Save the World

By Melanie Romero

 

Photo Credit: Elvia Susana Rubalcava


At the corner of Broadway and 2nd Street in Santa Ana sits a beloved community staple, The Den Cafe. Since its origins, it is best known for its mismatched mugs and a saloon for local artists to gather, chat, and create, fueling the surrounding area’s name of the Artist’s Village. And, who better to grace its community walls than Elvia Susana Rubalcava, Chicana non-fiction writer, poet, playwright, director, producer, artist, and chingona? When I walk inside the restaurant, although much changed from its original days, I glimpse Elvia perusing its laminated menu. At first glance, I notice that a cold drink, personal journals, and film knicknacks litter her wooden table. As she sees me, she smiles brightly, all teeth, sticking her hand out in my direction, her Lotería Diablita earrings dangling with any slight movement. Her rainbow-colored scarf accentuates her features, giving a pop of color to the dark-academia palette of the Den. Her tuna melt arrives just in time, but she’s let it run cold—she’s busy telling her story.


It doesn’t take long for us to bond over our Orange County roots: the communities, the hangouts, the racism, even the accents. In light of our conversation, I realize that Elvia does not mince words. She dives straight into who she is. She is the executive director of the Fullerton Museum Center, which partnered with LibroMobile for the Art & Literary Festival. Her roots are deep in Orange County, having lived just down the street from where The Orange County Register headquarters was until 2014; her dad was an aerospace engineer, working actively in Newport Beach, while her mother stayed at home with their six children. She reminisces about her middle-class upbringing, full of cinema excursions and parental encouragement, until she mentions her parents’ divorce during her senior year in high school. But, amid chaotic transitional life changes, Elvia notes that her teenage years, although now at the mercy of a single mother, are molded by her parents’ beliefs that their children had a right to belong everywhere. Even if it meant making space for themselves in conservative Orange County, once a smaller-minded place that historically segregated minorities. Her parents believed that their children should “not stay in Santa Ana just because it’s comfortable.” They made their children work part-time jobs at a Newport Beach tennis club and invited them out to eat in Irvine restaurants. Was it a choice of premature responsibility? Maybe. Was it more so a push for their children to break barriers? Absolutely.

Elvia notes that her teenage years, although now at the mercy of a single mother, are molded by her parents’ beliefs that their children had a right to belong everywhere.

And, here, at the Den, sits Elvia, unbothered and bubbly, talkative and self-assured. Her parents’ sacrifices appear to have molded her into the person she is today, one who knows her place—a place that knows no limits, no holdbacks. Although she attended rich, white, and Christian Chapman after transferring from community college back in the mid-nighties, she acknowledges that her environment—although culturally against her—further fueled her love for learning. Her original love for learning goes back to her childhood, a time in which she was shamelessly bullied and isolated by her peers. In her pain, she journaled endlessly. Journaling, then, forged a greater love for writing. But, with a father who staunchly believed in pursuing a higher education with a belief that writing was only a hobby, Elvia graduated with a degree in Legal Studies with emphasis in Peace Studies and Political Science. It wasn’t until afterward that she realized writing was more of her calling. In her words, she “took some workshops, did open mics, and got some poems and short stories published.” During one of those workshops, she was taught to write, direct, and produce her own pieces.


Again, she returns the conversation to film. She grew up with movies, making the trek to the big screen every Sunday with her dad. Her first dive into film began with the creation of her short, ‘Manitas, an abbreviation of the Spanish diminutive, “hermanitas.” With a budget of approximately $2,000, a small Sony camera, and the expertise of a director of photography (DP) and a sound editor, she made the project possible. And, in her element, she decided that, with every film project moving forward, she’d buy one piece of equipment to gradually build her future production company.


Photo Credit: Elvia Susana Rubalcava


She explains that Poco a Poco Productions is a film company, but she never wants to pigeonhole herself into one exclusive definition. Elvia also teaches creative writing. After her first experience in film, she describes how she got the “edge” to follow this career. As of now, she’s still submerging herself in film little by little (no pun intended!); she’s writing continuously and attempting to develop these scripts into being applicable for filmmaking Within three years of being a filmmaker, she’s written and directed four short films. Her segue into film was a natural transition from theater, her first foray into the creative artist world. And, although she loved her work in theater, she realized her opportunities in the field were limited due to most being based in Los Angeles; she drove an hour from Orange County into Los Angeles 5 to 6 days a week, figuring that, eventually, it would be time for her to move on. Once she left behind theater, Elvia dived headfirst into film. She notes that her reasoning behind calling her production company “Poco a Poco” is due to her belief in taking on projects little by little, not swallowing them whole.


Photo Credit: Elvia Susana Rubalcava

She notes that her reasoning behind calling her production company “Poco a Poco” is due to her belief in taking on projects little by little, not swallowing them whole.

She proclaims that Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme (CCC) and Casa 0101 Theater aided her in her journeys of filmmaking and playwriting, but also elucidates that it was time for her to walk away from the organization. During this time, Elvia openly reveals that she was grappling with her father’s ailing health, and later his death. At a time when she wanted to excel in her career, becoming unstoppable in her feats, she found herself acting as her father’s medical decisionmaker, dealing with painful considerations of DNR and hospice care. Her father died in 2019, surrounded by his children and ex-wife, in El Paso. Elvia speaks on how the grief and guilt before and after her father’s death served as a way to write—not for her art, but for herself. Apa’s Girl, one of her short films produced in 2023, is a creative undertaking of Elvia’s own relationship with her father; the film’s logline reveals that “Mari struggles with familial relationships as she is forced to confront the gravity of her father’s health.” Again, Elvia’s very love for creative non-fiction is apparent in her own film work, often bringing to life her narratives in a visually-telling sphere. In her director’s statement, Elvia mentions that the film is “based on a late-night conversation with [her] ailing father.” During our meeting, Elvia discloses that, one day, she received a phone call from her father around two or three in the morning; he asked for a favor. Knowing that his usual ramblings involved asking Elvia for help regarding technology, Elvia was blown away that her father admitted the following:

“I need your help changing the world.” 


A simple, blunt statement. But it spoke volumes. There’s no doubt that Elvia’s father’s statement came at a time when Elvia was reeling from her newfound occupation of being his caretaker and decisionmaker. Yet, in a way, his statement manifests the idea that, when he no longer roamed the earth, Elvia would take it upon herself to offer her craft to an art-greedy world that, little by little, needed creativity to sustain itself. Who better to designate the role of a superhero than Elvia, an unstoppable force with a creative agenda to encourage the greater good?


Photo Credit: Elvia Susana Rubalcava


Every year, she supports fellow filmmakers with a grant of $1,000 to continue forward with their passion project. She admits that she knows that money can be reinvested in her production company or can be used toward travel, but she waves that notion away. She knows that she has never been handed a check or given a handout while in this field, but that doesn’t mean she turns a blind eye. She believes that, simultaneously, she can cherish her own stories while also supporting filmmakers with their own narratives. She is aware that she wasn’t a product of film school; she has always been self-taught. But, she knows that education isn’t everything when it comes to telling a story; the film world is all about filmmakers supporting filmmakers, and she can make her contribution by continuing to teach classes and provide resources and backing where and when she can. And, to make it more personal, Elvia walks a mile in her father’s shoes; the same way he encouraged his children to create their own space in a place that was meant to reduce, to frighten, to isolate, Elvia’s superpower is to embolden filmmaker & storytellers to share a bit about themselves in the art they create. The film industry is open to everyone—they shouldn’t stay behind the scenes because it’s comfortable.


Photo Credit: Elvia Susana Rubalcava


Little by little, Elvia is changing the theater and film industries. Her love for them both is apparent in how she easily flows in and out of conversation talking about the powers they hold. However, Elvia needs to give herself more credit: she’s the one feeding all her creative juices in these fields while encouraging others that they too have the power to write their own stories.


Truly, Elvia may not have yet saved the world, but she’s coming damn close to it—one stage, one set at a time.


ELVIA’S BIO:

Elvia Susana Rubalcava is a writer, director, producer, award-winning playwright and filmmaker, as well as the Executive Director of the Fullerton Museum Center. Recently, she was named Orange Coast Magazine’s 2024 Kickass Women in the Arts. Elvia’s multidisciplinary artistic skills have shaped her storytelling and contributions through arts leadership throughout Orange County and Los Angeles. Fullerton Museum was named 2023 Nonprofit of the Year and was awarded $4.5 million in state funding under her leadership. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Mujeres de Maiz Flor y Canto Zines, Seeds of Resistance Flor y Canto, Sunday Jump anthology, and others. Her short films and plays have been staged and screened throughout the United States. Rubalcava is the founder of Poco a Poco Productions, dedicated to teaching creators of all levels how to write, develop, and share their stories. She is currently working on her collection of poetry and plays and is in pre-development for her web series, Letters to My Dead Lovers. For more visit elviasusana.com and follow her at @chicanachingona / @poco_a_poco_prod on Instagram.


POCO A POCO BUSINESS BIO:

A small production company with big dreams, and achieving them little by little. 


ELVIA’S FILMOGRAPHY:

La Wija (2021): Assistant Director

‘Manitas (2021): Writer / Director / Producer 

Stranger in the Mirror (2022): Director / Producer

Apa’s Girl (2023): Writer / Director / Producer

Fluffy Homegirls (2023): Writer / Director / Producer

Letters to My Dead Lovers (in post-production): Writer / Director / Producer

Sala de Amor y Guerra (in pre-production)


ELVIA’S STAGED PLAYS:

Sala de Amor y Guerra (2013)

Porfas, Porfas, Please (2016)

Homegirls from el Otro Lado (2017)

November 8th (2018)

Not Another Rape Play (2019)

 

Melanie Romero is a trilingual writer born and raised in Orange, CA. It was during childhood weekend trips to Randy’s $1-a-book stall at the OC Market Place that she discovered a passion for reading and, eventually, writing. Today, she serves as Editor at Lil’ Libros and has written two children’s books, Amor de colores and J is for Janucá under the publisher. In her free time, she can be found indulging in challah and getting lost among the shelves of independent bookstores.

 

Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!

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