Last Letter Films Presents ‘Rooted’


Courtesy of Last Letter Films

Last Letter Films is a student-run production company.

Keely Dumouchel, Staff Writer

The University’s award-winning Social Justice Documentary program is continuing its legacy this year with its student-run production company, Last Letter Films. 

For two weeks in October, Last Letter Films brought a crew of 15 undergraduate students, one graduate student, and four faculty to Puerto Rico to film its documentary. The crew members immersed themselves in the beautiful world of Loiza, where the community graciously shared their Afro-Puerto Rican music, dances and culture with the team. 

The program has flourished under the leadership of film producer and professor Dr. Hezekiah Lewis, who insists that Social Justice Documentary is not a class but an opportunity to change lives. Under his leadership, this year’s crew members intend to create authentic lines of communication through intentionality and honesty, mirroring the depth of the relationships they formed during their immersive trip to Loíza, Puerto Rico. They hope to not only send a message, but also to amplify voices, celebrate resilience and break cycles of inaction through their short documentary, “Rooted,” premiering April 28. 

“Rooted” embodies the spirit of Loíza, a predominantly Black municipality in Puerto Rico, within the larger context of colonialism and colorism. Puerto Rican identity reflects a history of colonialism, consisting of native Taínos, enslaved Africans and white colonizers. This mixture of races has led to a system of power and oppression based upon one’s proximity to whiteness. This colorism has shown itself in Loíza, causing disproportionate resource allocation and internal violence. However, familial matriarchs and female community leaders have nurtured Loíceño’s connection to their African roots, serving as a form of self-acceptance, unity and prevention for the youth. Twenty-nine-year-old Jomar Abrante expresses his roots through Bomba music as he copes with the struggles resulting from erasure and embraces the values of peace and forgiveness his mother Judith instilled in him. Female community leaders, like Modesta Irizarry and Maricruz Rivera Clemente, mirror Judith’s passion for connecting Loíceños to their roots. It is through identifying with the African cultures that make up Loíza that Loíceños can find pride in their Blackness and resist erasure. 

While sharing the experiences of its collaborators is exciting, the program goes beyond making an impactful film. This year, Last Letter Films is partnering with Centro Comunal La 23, a community center in Loíza, to build a “Park of Life.” This park will be located across the street from a cemetery where 90% of the graves contain adolescents who died due to issues of generational violence. This “Park of Life” will consist of a basketball court, a chicken coop, a community garden and more to help the community become self-sufficient and provide alternative paths for the youth. Last Letter Films intends to maintain its connection with Centro Comunal La 23 beyond the construction of the “Park of Life” and hopes audiences share their passion for the initiative. 

The Social Justice Documentary Program has been transformative not only for the communities of Loíza, but for the students involved. 

“Traveling to Puerto Rico gave us a different perspective on what it means to make a documentary,” senior and producer Kristen Garvey said. 

Co-Director Freddy Kwak agreed. 

“This experience definitely allows you to understand what is outside of the privileged bubble that is Villanova, and this inspired me to take a deeper look at my life and who I am,” Kwak said. 

Although this program is technically a class and will end in May, Last Letter Films will continue to stay involved in the building of the “Park of Life” and will continue to spread the message of its documentary. 

Last Letter Films is currently in the editing phase of the documentary process, as the documentary is set to premiere on Thursday, April 28 at the John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts. It will also be hosting a benefit concert on Friday, April 29 at Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philadelphia, a Puerto Rican community center, to showcase the power of Bomba music and raise money for its initiative.