Luis Guzman, Aristotle Torres, and Coral Pena from Story Ave

‘Story Ave’ Team Talks About How This Indie Film Forces Audiences to Challenge the World Around Them

Art by Stephany Torres

As a TV commercial and music video director for more than 10 years, Story Ave director Aristotle Torres has built an impressive resumé with corporate clients like Pepsi and Starbucks and artists like Ludacris and Nas.

In 2019, after pivoting into narrative filmmaking, Torres was given the opportunity to expand his short film, Story Ave, into a feature at the Sundance Labs, a program created to foster new and independent voices in filmmaking.

“I had to choose what I wanted to do for the next 20 years of my life,” Torres told Remezcla during an interview earlier this year. “Did I want to be doing commercials or movies? So, that forced me to buckle down and write the script [for Story Ave].”

Set in Torres’ hometown of The Bronx, Story Ave, which made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March, follows Kadir Grayson (Asante Blackk), a teenage graffiti artist who gets involved with a local street gang. Desperate to prove that he belongs in the gang, Kadir robs an MTA conductor named Luis (Luis Guzmán). However, when Luis invites Kadir to join him for a meal, the young man’s vision of his future drastically changes.

Torres said Story Ave was inspired by his experience growing up in The Bronx and its unique New York City subculture. “It’s like this amalgamation of all these people coming together,” he said. “My inspiration is to create art that forces the audience to challenge themselves and the world around them.”

So, what motivated Luis to help Kadir even after the young man pointed a gun at him on a subway platform? Guzmán believes the character Torres co-wrote was offering him a way out of a bad situation he didn’t want to dictate his life.

“[My character] was a caring person who was going through his own things and reflecting on his own life,” Guzmán told Remezcla. “He wanted to steer somebody in the right direction and present an opportunity to find the light because his life was dark enough.”

In the film, actress Coral Peña (The Post) plays Gloria, a waitress at the coffee shop where Luis and Kadir sit down to talk on the night of the robbery and on more than one occasion after. During his trips to the café, Kadir and Gloria have their own conversations about what they want out of life.

“I was excited to play a character who doesn’t have their s–t together in some ways,” Peña told Remezcla. “That allows [my character] to be a mentor to someone who is in the same position they were in only a few years ago. Aristotle shows audiences that anyone can be a mentor.”

Something else Torres conveys in his film is the power of an artistic vision. Although Kadir hasn’t chosen the right path in life, his passion as an artist was also motivation for him not to waste his talent.

“I think sometimes the struggle for artists is all the same, even if the media is different,” Peña said. “[Kadir] has to discover what his voice is. He has to have people who are going to push him to be successful. I think many artists can relate to that.”

Story Ave., which was the opening night screening at the New York Latino Film Festival last month, expands to Chicago and the Bronx on October 6, followed by Los Angeles and additional markets on October 13.

Remezlca’s interview with Aristotle Torres, Luis Guzmán, and Coral Peña took place earlier this year before the SAG-AFTRA strike.