Miami Director Jorge “Jokes” Yanes On the Similarities Between Filmmaking and Graffiti

The work of Jokes (aka Jorge Yanes) feels fueled with an irrepressible 90s energy. There’s the pulsating rhythms of hip hop and the colorful power of graffiti. There’s a sleek grittiness that runs through it that makes it feel like a throwback, a nostalgia that’s as fascinated with the glittering Miami nightlife as with the darker underbelly of the Florida city. It’s an energy that comes through in the already extensive canon of work that Jokes has amassed, proof that he’s as driven as they come. He’s directed music videos (including “Groundhog Day” for MAYDAY! which broke YouTube records upon its release), operated cameras for documentaries, edited television shows, and pretty much racked up enough credits on IMDb to make you feel lazy in comparison. He even raised enough money to fund his first independent feature film, Eenie Meenie Miney Moe

His latest short film follows Kerst, a young Miami graffiti artist in the early 90s. Co-written with his friend J. Bishop, Toyed finds Kerst navigating his desire to see his art respected while fending off his concerned if irascible father who worries he’ll find himself in jail like his brother, and competing against a mysterious rival who may have undermined his latest artwork. Putting you in the mindset of a young man who lives for his passion and who puts himself at risk for it, Toyed fits right alongside Jokes’ earlier work chronicling Miami Latino youth.

Ahead of the Latino Lens Showcase 2016, where Toyed will screen as part of the day’s “Short Films Presentation,” we chatted with the Miami-born director about his artistic interests and the Salma Hayek project he wishes he could direct.

How did you get involved with filmmaking? 

My first exposure to filmmaking was in my early teens making little scrappy homemade productions, but it wasn’t until later in life I got obsessed with telling stories. I grew up a hip-hop fanatic, started breakdancing at 5, doing graffiti at 9, even making music at 15. Being part of that movement is what kept my mind growing and being creative at all times. I realized I wanted to direct when I took a screenwriting class and the professor told me I had written in all the shots, I just put the script together almost like an instructional manual. That’s when I fell in love with film directing, it became my passion like hip-hop was growing up.

Photo: Eduardo Valdes
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Toyed is set in the 90s and tells a story very much of that era, though, in its portrayal of these interactions between police and people of color and of the rift between different minority groups, it also feels rather timely.

Toyed was inspired by my youth and what my co-writer J. Bishop and I experienced as kids in that era when we were very much caught up in the Miami Hip-Hop scene and the street culture, and to me all these issues are timeless. The only difference was back then it was just barely breaking out into mainstream consciousness while now it’s in finally in everybody’s face and you can keep track of it in real time with a device in your pocket.

I think all people one point can understand what it’s like to be disrespected and feel like everything is working against them, yet have enough grit inside themselves to do something about it. All I hope that audiences will love the characters and see themselves in it.

What inspires you about graffiti artists, which are so central to your work?

Many of things I love about filmmaking mirrors from all the trials and errors of being a graffiti artist. From designing a vision to scouting locations, planning and gathering supplies to executing in a timely fashion, I still get to do that just with a different tool.

Given your work on music videos and editing, I was curious to hear what specific filmmaking influences run through your films. What are directors or films you admire and get inspiration from?

“If you are not influenced by masters like Fincher, Scorsese, Tarantino, Spielberg, you are not a modern filmmaker.”

I’m influenced by too many movies and filmmakers. I mean if you are not influenced by masters like Fincher, Scorsese, Tarantino, Spielberg (they should be on the side of Mt. Rushmore), you are not a modern filmmaker. If I narrow it down, though, the filmmakers I am most inspired by are Oliver Stone and Coen brothers. Oliver Stone, because I’ve always been drawn into the themes and subject matter explored in his scripts and the style of the visuals, and the Coen Brothers because of the way they seamlessly work with comedy and drama.

If you could make a movie with any actor (living or dead) who would it be and what would the plot be?

For fun: I would want to work with Salma Hayek and create with her a prestige drama about a veteran local Spanish TV reporter that goes unhinged while working on the biggest story of her career. Like Telemundo Black Swan. [Laughter] Real talk, though, I want to see her in a film taking charge, making mistakes, and being the character we live through like she was in Frida.

NALIP’s 2nd annual Latino Lens Festival and Showcase takes place October 30, 2016 at the Avalon Hollywood. Grab your ticket here.