In the world of film, there are storytellers who possess a unique ability to transport us to places we've never been and make us feel things we've never felt. Aristotle Torres, a Bronx native with roots that blend Black and Puerto Rican heritage, is one such filmmaker, and his latest project, "Story Ave," has been making waves in select New York theaters and opens in Los Angeles today.
Aristotle's journey is a testament to his creative spirit and undeniable talent. Before conquering the world of cinema, he made a name for himself, by directing music videos for hip-hop heavyweights like J. Cole, Ludacris, and 2 Chainz. Now, as he takes the helm of his first feature-length film, we dive into the trajectory of this multi-talented director and explore his roots, his evolution from music videos to the silver screen, and his vision for "Story Ave."
BET: "Story Ave" is a powerful New York story. How has New York, especially as a Bronx native, shaped your love for film?
Aristotle Torres: The Bronx has shaped my love for just the arts. Dome of the most influential artists ever from the Bronx, you know, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert De Niro -- the birthplace of hip hop and hip hop raised me. I feel really privileged to be from such an epicenter of culture, such an innovator of culture. I like my art to feel authentic, raw, truthful, and honest, but still have that fine art approach. I feel like the Bronx gave me that balance.
BET: When did you first fall in love with filmmaking?
Aristotle Torres: Probably the first moment I fell in love with filmmaking was making J. Cole's first music videos. I was essentially putting myself through film school making these music videos. In terms of my love for actual filmmaking, it was probably those days because we had no money, we were just ambitious. We weren't doing it to be successful. We were doing it to learn and make mistakes and be young artists.
BET: "Story Ave" is your first feature-length film. What was your vision for tackling a feature-length film?
Aristotle Torres: This was definitely a labor of love. We're a small indie film. We shot this movie in 20 days; we averaged nine pages a day. It was a huge sacrifice, not only for myself but all the creative geniuses I had around me. The process is interesting, movies are really hard. Like I said earlier, representing the culture that shaped me as a man, as an artist, and wanting to have the utmost respect for not only the community of the Bronx, but also the subculture of graffiti. I'm really proud of the fact that you learn a little bit about the nuances of this subculture. It was those things, in terms of vision, that kept me going.
BET: The film tackles grief. As Black men, we don't often talk about grief enough. How has this film helped to heal you, as far as how to navigate grief?
Aristotle Torres: I'm a huge advocate of art as vulnerable art, and there was no exception with this movie. That's why I think this is my most important work because it's my most vulnerable work. It required me, not only from a creative standpoint but just even self-fortitude and self-motivation, it required me to look inward. This film was therapy for me. One of the characters is loosely based on my grandfather. Some of the film's disagreements directly reflect my experiences with my grandfather. We shot all the high school scenes at my high school, so just reflecting on the full circle moment of being young and lost, feeling like I was meant for something greater, but not knowing where to begin. It was all therapeutic. There were many days that I was crying because I was reenacting moments in my life. Thankfully, I was surrounded by amazing artists who protected me in the vision and helped me make the best movie I could.
BET: At the beginning of your career, you worked on music videos for several artists -- J. Cole, Ludacris, and more. Things have changed so much, artists rarely make music videos anymore -- what are your thoughts on that?
Aristotle Torres: It's weird, man. We're in this weird social age where everything is evolving so quickly. It's like anything else, even with digital art and AI, there are pros and cons to anything. I remember when I got into music videos, I got in right at that synapse of transitioning from the bigger cameras to DSLRs. Even that transition over a two or three-year timespan completely changed the complexion of music videos. In the label's defense, the lack of appreciation for videos, they don't really move the needle. I hope we go back to valuing music videos because it's such a great way to communicate. It's a great space for young storytellers to get their foot in the door and be experimental.
BET: We are all the directors of our own lives. What does the director's cut of your journey in the world of cinema look like thus far?
Aristotle Torres: My director's cut is preparation. I live by the code of better than yesterday. I want to hone my craft. I want to study the masters. I want to study people who've failed because sometimes you can learn more through failure than success.
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