“I’m looking for María Sánchez”

Exclusive Interview with Bruno Irizarry, director of the film 200 Cartas

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“200 Cartas helped me find my way. To remember that I love Puerto Rico and I am proud to be a Puerto Rican.” – Bruno Irizarry

“Uh… hello. I’m looking for María Sánchez” is what you will probably hear more often than none when you see the movie 200 Cartas, a romantic-comedy about a Nuyorican named Raúl (played by famed playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda) who gets struck by love at the first site of María Sánchez (played by Mayra Matos Pérez). But during his evening encounter with María, something horribly goes wrong and they both get separated.

In a crazy, desperate attempt to find the love of his life, he travels to Puerto Rico, but when he arrives, he discovers that there are 200 María Sánchez’s in the country. Undeterred, he writes 200 letters, embarking on a cultural adventure of his life.

While this may be a heart-warming story, its actually a glimpse into the real life of the film’s director, Bruno Irizarry.

Irizarry moved to New York City at the age of seventeen, where he actually met a beautiful woman named María, “falling head over heels for her.” Unfortunately, he had to move back to Puerto Rico. Unable to forget about her, however, he traveled again to New York City. When he arrived at her apartment he instead discovered an older man and thought “is that her sugar-daddy?”, Fortunately for Irizarry, he was not. But María did indeed move away.

“Of course, having no cell phones accessible at the time” he began his quest for María with bare minimum. After two years he finally gave up, spending the remainder of his life looking for gigs – from trying to become an aspiring opera singer, to doing commercials, to then becoming an actor.

He then found himself in the middle of nowhere in the state of Wisconsin, having not set foot in Puerto Rico for twenty-years. “Walking on the street in four layers of clothing, three feet of snow and fourteen degrees below zero, I wanted to know ‘what the hell was I doing here?’”.

Being away from his homeland, he “didn’t realize how out-of-touch I was with my own home, culture, and myself”. This was the context that the film 200 Cartas was conceived.

Irizarry described going back to Puerto Rico as a mission for him to get in-touch with his roots.

“[What] I figured out was that I didn’t lose anything, I just forgot”. Renting a car, he revisited all the wonderful areas of Puerto Rico from his childhood. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have his film shown at the Festival de la Palabra this upcoming Friday at El Museo del Barrio.

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Film director Bruno Irizarry

According to Irizarry, 200 Cartas speaks to the realities of how so many Puerto Ricans living in the United States face assimilation and hopes this film can support young Boricuas trying to discover their own cultural identities, as well that of others across the globe. The project also seeks to correct the wrongs of mainstream cinema. “Too many Latinos in the film industry are misinterpreted and stereotyped”, says Irizarry.

This new way of doing films seems to be catching on. 200 Cartas was sponsored by the Puerto Rico Film Commision and became one of the highest grossing movies in the archipelago.

And whatever happened to his dear María? He bumped into her in New York twenty-six years later –  married and with a kid. But, they are still best of friends.

So as Irizarry said to me, I will say to you: go watch the film and you’ll find out all the crazy stuff that happened to him!

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Gabriel José Maldonado

Poet, Gabriel José Maldonado (also known as Neo-Literato) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate student at Bank Street College of Education, where he majors in Museum Education. In his spare time, he loves writing poetry and taking photos throughout his travels. In the future, he intends to pursue a career in preserving Hispanic and Latina/o cultures, because being Puerto Rican has made him proud to spread our culture through the arts. 

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