A Cuban actor, a Jewish director, and a Syrian producer walk into a storage room in Portland, Oregon and ask, “Who is America?” The answer is a powerful, new short film entitled “The Janitor,” penned by Los Angeles based writer and producer Rick Najera. To be released on 911, the filmmakers produced the short as a protest, attempting to humanize the face of immigration in a social and political climate poisoned by white nationalism and racial scapegoating.
“I wrote the piece more than ten years ago,” says Najera from his home in Los Angeles, “and it was relevant then. In today’s climate, it’s seems like a manifesto.” Najera, a Mexican American, blessed using the monologue for the film version when approached by Joseph Perez Bertot, who performed it in the Los Angeles presentation of Latinologues, which later moved to Broadway under the guidance of Najera and director Cheech Marin.
“After that, it became a signature piece for me as an actor,” Bertot says proudly. “I did it everywhere and anywhere I could. As a first generation Cuban American, I really resonated with it. I always dreamed of filming it one day.”
Enter Adam Klugman, son of actor Jack Klugman and former radio show host of Mad as Hell in America. “Adam is a gifted director and facilitator,” declares Bertot. “But he’s also a political animal. As soon as I met him, I knew he was the one I’d been looking for.”
“After I read it,” Klugman recalls, “The first thing I did was pick myself up off the floor. Then I told Joe I’d be honored to direct it. He’s an amazing actor and the piece is so powerful. And very relevant to this political moment. I believe artists have the power, and the responsibility, to redirect the culture away from hatred and remind the world of what it means to be human.The goal was to have ‘The Janitor’ accomplish this beautifully and simply.”
But there was still the matter of finding a producer. The Janitor was a labor of love and full-blown production days are expensive. Bertot and Klugman wanted to produce the piece at the very highest level.
“’Yes’ is a very powerful thing sometimes” Klugman muses, “because about a week after Joe and I agreed to do The Janitor, I was introduced to Nidal and Edward by colleague David Kamens, Los Angeles based writer and producer, who just happened to own a high end film production company and a store room where we could shoot it.”
Klugman is referring to Nidal and Edward Kahl, two brothers who own Bolt Films based in Portland. “Adam and I have lived within fifteen miles of each other for almost twenty years,” Nidal says ironically, “and even worked in the same business. But we just happened to meet at this moment. It was meant to be.”
Like Bertot, Nidal and Edward are first generation American. Their parents immigrated from Syria over forty-five years ago. “This piece just blew my mind,” declares Nidal. “I knew it had to be produced. Especially right now.”
Klugman agrees: “Who better to come together and make a short film about immigration in America than a Mexican writer, a Cuban actor, a Jewish Director and a Syrian producer? Who is America? It’s us. All of us.”