Former OU in Puebla Faculty-in-Residence Carolina Rueda to Release Feature Film
Since it opened in 2015, the University of Oklahoma’s international study center in Mexico, OU in Puebla (OUP), has inspired many who have studied and taught there — and now, the OUP experience has even inspired a 70-minute feature film. Oklahoma Mon Amour, a new transnational film directed by OU Film and Media Studies Associate Professor and filmmaker Carolina Rueda, was conceived and partly filmed during Rueda’s year as OUP faculty-in-residence from 2015-2016.
Rueda, who is originally from Colombia, teaches film history, theory and production with a focus on Latin American cinema, and has worked in film and TV production for many years. When OU in Puebla launched its first year-long programs, she and her husband, Marcelo Rioseco, a professor and poet in the Department of Modern Languages, Literature and Linguistics at OU, were invited as the first faculty-in-residence. Thus began the journey of Oklahoma Mon Amour. “If it wasn’t for the city of Puebla, this film would not have been made,” Rueda says. “The city of Puebla is not too big, not to small, and is very safe. It’s easy and fun to walk around there; the city gives you a sense of freedom.” All of these qualities, plus Puebla’s people and cultural riches, sparked Rueda’s interest in making a film there.
Oklahoma Mon Amour tells the story of the Gaertners, a family separated by a brutal tragedy and leading solitary lives in the fictional town of Ava, Oklahoma (filmed in and around Norman), in Puebla and Mexico City, and in London, UK. Two central characters are Nico (Arthur Dixon), a journalist living in Puebla, and his brother, Sebastián (Richard Williams), who travels from Oklahoma to Mexico to reconnect with his estranged sibling.
Any film that focuses on the United States and Mexico is bound to have some political implications. Rueda stresses that, although the focus of the film is the rupture of a family, it can suggest an unusual dynamic between the two countries. “There is no border conflict in this film — it is a film about a family that ended up separated and living in different countries. But the film is set during the time of Trump (late 2016) and Sebastián travels south into Mexico. So it hints at a situation that is uncomfortable for many people — that for someone from the US, traveling into Mexico, even moving to Mexico, can be a good option,” she explains. At one point in the film, Sebastián says to his brother: “I can’t wait to get to Mexico. Have you seen what’s happening in the US? Maybe you can get me a job down there.” In this way, Rueda sees the film as providing some commentary on the accuracy of fixed perceptions of countries and cultures in this changing world.
The idea for the film came together for Rueda during her explorations of Puebla and Mexico City. “Walking around these cities gave me the idea for the character of Nico,” she says. “Nico is a young journalist, a walker, a thinker. There is so much visual information in Puebla, with so many colors, old and new architecture, objects — that everything inspires him to think of ideas to write.” The character of Sebastián, on the other hand, travels through Mexico by bus, an activity that Rueda and her students also got to know well during their year at OUP. “Many scenes happen in Oklahoma,” she explains, “but the original inspiration for the story in the film came from the experiences that we were having in Mexico.”
Filming began in Mexico in spring 2016, and continued later in Oklahoma, Texas and London. With help from OU in Puebla director Armando Garcia, Rueda met local creative professionals in Mexico who collaborated on the film. As faculty-in-residence at OUP, she also invited her film students to join the production, and they had the opportunity to contribute both behind the scenes and on camera. “We had such a diverse group of students, with different skills and different interests,” she says. “The OU students involved in the production had the opportunity to meet filmmakers from Mexico and Mexican talent for a unique and enriching multicultural experience.”
The participating students, who are now OU alumni — Amber Handy, Danny Martínez, Mitchell McCormick and Neira Kadić (who was CIS's OU in Puebla study abroad adviser from 2018-19) — enjoyed a nice balance, attending their classes and going about their usual lives in Puebla while joining Rueda and her crew every few weeks to film around the city. “Professor Rueda's film represents all the magic that happens at OUP when we work together with faculty,” reflects OUP director Armando Garcia. “This all happened in a spontaneous way, but in a controlled and safe environment — a very immersive experience. Carolina moved her magic wand and made everybody work and believe in a beautiful project that I can't wait to see. I like to think of OUP as a place that makes study abroad accessible, inclusive and diverse, and Carolina made all this possible in our first year of existence.”
Postproduction was completed in Norman. Rueda hopes for a spring release date, depending on the situation with the pandemic, and eventually a screening in Puebla. “All of us are still connected to the filming experience in Puebla and to each other,” she says, adding, “I would say that the Puebla program as well as the film have a characteristic: connection, diversity and multiculturalism. I never forget Puebla. That city and OU in Puebla are dear to me and to this film.”