Ravensbourne student Pablo Herrera has generated a lot of interest in his new short film Straight Jacket (We Can’t Stop) and has attracted attention across the industry.
Set to the music of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” it is a challenging film that questions why so many young gay men are struggling with major issues at a time when there is full equality under the law and the gay community in the UK is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.
After viewing it recently the best selling author and leading media commentator Matthew Todd tweeted that Herrera has an ‘exciting and bright future’ having made ‘a provocative and moving film’.
The 20-year-old was born in Madrid to Ecuadorian parents, moved to London with his mum when he was 16 and is being spoken about as an emerging young talent from within London’s Latin community.
With no budget available Pablo wrote and directed the five-minute film before editing it on his laptop and it was shown at Ravensbourne’s recent Degree Show and is now available to view on YouTube.
“London was an amazing city to move to in my teens as it has such an exciting and vibrant Latin community and also offers the opportunity for so many different cultural experiences. I love going to theatre and film festivals or dancing at clubs like Exilio and Walkabout but I have also become far more aware of the huge pressures that a place like this can put young people under.
The inspiration behind the film for my end of year project came when I read a book called ‘Straight Jacket’ by Matthew Todd, the former editor of Attitude. It had a massive influence on me. The book exposes the major self-destructive issues that affect many gay teenagers and provides analysis and information through stories that I could relate to.
I wanted to make a short film set to “We Can’t Stop” in an attempt to raise awareness about the way bullying, depression, suicide, bulimia, homelessness, drug abuse and Chemsex are very real problems for some young gay men.
They can lack the information or role models to help steer them through a period in their lives when they are often facing emotional turmoil and are vulnerable to be exploited, especially when Grindr, Tinder and all the other GPS linked dating apps make it easier and quicker than ever before to meet people.
I’ve had to deal with some of those issues myself and it can be very frightening, especially when you are 14 or 15 and have no idea where to find advice and support. I think we are encouraged to wear a mask. To pretend that, of course, everything is ok, but inside we are not. That is what I wanted to draw attention to although I hadn’t expected to also end up being the main performer.
I was planning to show a group of seven or eight gay friends who were happy and having a party in a place where they all felt safe and comfortable together and to then change the mood by introducing the various issues.
Through someone, I knew I arranged for a group of actors to help me and explained what I was trying to achieve. Then, just a few days before we began filming, the guy who was providing them started sending me messages insisting that I go and have sex with him and implying that I owed him as he had helped me out.
I was shocked and had no option but to cancel them and step into one of the roles myself. He just didn’t get the irony of the situation or the fact that his behaviour was an example of the very problem I wanted to draw attention to!
But I’ve been very happy with the reaction and the kind comments so far and am really pleased to have had messages from other young men saying they can empathise with it because I also like films I can relate to or that teach me something.
Life is Beautiful, for example, helped me to understand that in life you experience a lot of pain and chaos but it is your choice about how you behave and react and to ensure that something good and positive can come out of it.
A few months ago I saw Tangerine, a very raw and unusual comedy-drama about the life of a transsexual sex-worker in Hollywood. It was filmed on three iPhone 5 smart phones and proves that anyone now has the opportunity to make their own film and without needing a massive budget.
I wasn’t a big fan of Pedro Almodovar when I was younger but I recently saw Volver and loved the way he created strong female working class characters who survived tough lives in their small town. Those women are seen as independent and determined and that inspired me and made me think of my Mum as she is very strong and was incredibly mature at a young age.
She was just 16 when she became pregnant and her family threw her out of their home in Ecuador, leaving her to sleep in a park. She reacted by booking a flight to Spain where she had me and created a completely new life for herself so I feel a bond with Almodovar’s representation of characters like her.
Although passionate about film I had never thought of it as a career option until I took Media Studies at GCSE and won a prize for a charity video I filmed and edited. I realised this was what I wanted to do so I applied for the access course at Ravensbourne and have now been accepted onto their degree course.
I see film also as a form of therapy for me to express my feelings, frustrations and fears as well as my happiness and ideas and whilst I know I am young and have so much to learn I am currently planning my first feature and am looking forward to meeting and working with many interesting and creative people at university.
To be a filmmaker and storyteller is my dream and my ambition is simply to make more and make them better and to hope that people can connect with my films and be inspired by them, as I have by so many others.”
Straight Jacket (We Can’t Stop) by Pablo Herrera can be seen on YouTube
Writer and producer working in film, dance and theatre