Jose Marquez On the Challenges of Making ‘ISA,’ a Latino Sci-Fi Film About an Undocumented Teenager

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Latino sci-fi isn’t the norm, so brown nerd that I am, I’m excited for ISA, the new film from director Jose Marquez debuting June 11 on the Syfy channel. The lead actress is Latina, the storyline deals with immigration and is set in Los Angeles; I can’t wait. Ahead of the broadcast premiere, I sat down with Marquez to talk about the challenges of making a Latino science fiction movie, his favorite genre films, and Carla Morrison.

So what’s ISA about?

It is a sci-fi thriller about immigration and the unconscious. SPOILER: At its core, it’s about a young woman learning to accept why she was given up by her father in Mexico so that she could live a better life in the U.S.

Was it hard to get a sci-fi movie made with a Mexican-American protagonist?

The movie was made by a new studio inside Telemundo Media called Fluency. Telemundo Media understands that Latinos are a very important part of the present and future of this country. In that way, it was not hard.

That said, when I spoke to outside parties about the project, early on, I was asked, “Does the lead have to be Hispanic? You’re going to limit your audience.” Another person said: “As a white man, I just can’t relate to this character.” There are certainly some lingering misconceptions about who audiences find to be relatable or even important characters.

The lead in ISA is an undocumented teenager, fleeing from a shady Wall Street institution that literally steals children’s dreams. Do you consider ISA a message movie?

I can see how it would be taken that way.


What are the advantages of dealing with real world issues in a science fiction setting instead of a hyper-realistic one?

I don’t know if there are advantages but it does offer up some interesting possibilities. The more complex an issue is, the harder it is to dramatize it in a way that we find relatable to our everyday lives. Sci-fi allows you take ideas and make them personal: so, for example, the concept of cultural or intergenerational change becomes literal in the form of mutants with new powers.

Tell us about the hunt for your lead, and how you landed on Jeanette Samano.

Because of our budget, we were limited in our ability to do a talent search. I have no doubt there are thousands of actors out there – some of whom are not even acting right now – who could play a role like this one. We were lucky to find Jeanette. She is an incredibly energetic, open and hard-working actor.

Do you think there’s a built in audience for more Latino genre stories?

I think I am one of many people who think that, yes, there is a built-in audience. What I don’t think exists is a built-in mechanism for reaching this audience. I think, as a people – if Latinos are indeed one people and not many – we are just beginning to find our voice in the big, raucous conversation that is U.S. pop culture. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that Remezcla is doing some of that work.


What’s your favorite Latino sci-fi movie?

There are not many and I love them all for different reasons. Obviously, Alex Rivera‘s Sleep Dealer is a great achievement. But if you stretch the definition to include my favorite sci-fi movie by a Latino director, and we further stretch the definition of the latter to include foreign nationals, perhaps then Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón. But, again, I don’t know that I can really answer this question.

What non-Latino sci-fi movie do you think would be better with an all-Latino cast?

Brother From Another Planet. I don’t think that movie gets enough love. I don’t think this is exactly your question but I would love to remake some version of Blade Runner which, on the one hand, is such a beautiful movie and on the other is so incredibly pessimistic about what a multicultural Los Angeles will look like. I don’t think that was its intent – i.e., that diversity leads to dystopia – but it is the effect. At least for me.

Jose Nestor Marquez
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You get to choose one Latino musician or band to score your next project. Who is it and why?

We are – knock on wood, dear God, please – going to work with Carla Morrison on our next project. She is wonderful.

What’s next?

The mid-term elections? 🙂 No, seriously, please see my movie on June 11th on Syfy and also please register to vote this Fall.

ISA premieres on Syfy on June 11, 2014 at 11:30 pm and plays on Chiller June 17 at 8:00 pm and mun2 on June 27 at 7:00 pm.