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With an estimated 41 million Spanish speakers living in the U.S., director Julio Quintana told Fox News Latino he can’t understand why more filmmakers aren’t doing what he did – shooting their movies in English and Spanish, and essentially doubling their potential audience.
Quintana’s new film “The Vessel,” which premieres tonight in Los Angeles and opens in limited release September 16, is produced by his Colombia-born wife, Marla, stars Martin Sheen and was filmed entirely in Puerto Rico.
“We originally wanted to do the film in Spanish, but we got a lot of pushback, saying that Americans don’t like films with subtitles,” Marla Quintana tells Fox News Latino.
"So we opted to shoot the scenes in both languages and hire bilingual actors," Quintana says.
In “The Vessel,” Sheen plays an American priest in a primarily Latino town where a tsunami has wiped out a school — while the town's entire population of children was attending classes.
The film was shot for less than $5 million, and the Quintanas say shooting every scene in two languages only added about 5 percent to their cost. Marla notes things added up in post-production, and extra time for shooting was needed.
The idea for the film arose from Julio’s University of Texas religious studies classes. His parents are both Cuban, and he was born in Downey, California.
“I’ve always been fascinated with surreal stories and I became particularly interested in near- death experiences. I decided to create a character who had been through that and explore how it affects the people around him,” Julio told FNL.
Julio says he and his wife worked with Terrence Malick on “Tree of Life,” and mentioned to him that he had a project that would be perfect for Martin Sheen (Sheen had a near-death experience, a heart attack, while shooting "Apocalypse Now") – Malick worked with Sheen on the film "Badlands."
“I essentially wrote “The Vessel” with Martin Sheen in mind. I sent the script to him on a Friday, and he called and accepted the role two days later,” Julio says.
“Then I told him we’d be shooting all his scenes in Spanish. He said he was up for the challenge. And it was a challenge, but he muscled through it.”
Quintana says that Sheen is about 5 percent bilingual.
The film was shot almost exclusively in Puerto Rico. The Quintanas say they searched for the perfect location, and ended up shooting in a poor neighborhood called “La Perla” in the center of San Juan.
“A lot of Puerto Rican people don’t want to go in there," Julio says. "We didn’t know any better. I went in with Marla and my two brothers, we stayed there without AC, and there were lots of mosquitos. The people in the neighborhood became the extras and security guards, and we used their garages to build sets."
Julio says he can’t believe no one has done this kind of bilingual production before.
“It opens up huge opportunities for bilingual actors and directors," Julio says. "Maybe it’s hard for producers to cast Latinos as the leads, but this film can be a model for people to see that it’s not too difficult to do. We’re going do it again in the future."
AMC theater has agreed to show both versions of the film in theaters.