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The Reel Queens: Woodside doorman stars in immigration tale he wrote

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For the past 14 years, Woodside’s Julian Pimiento has been opening doors for other people, but an opportunity he took three years ago got his creative juices flowing and now he has his own foot in the door.

Pimiento, 38, who was born in Bucaramanga, Colombia, and moved with his family to Jackson Heights at age 2, has worked since 1995 as a doorman at New York University’s 14 Washington Place building. He spent most of his childhood and youth in Greenpoint before he, his wife and two daughters moved to Woodside nine years ago.

In 2006, Pimiento’s union, 32SEIU, sponsored a creative writing class through its Thomas Shortman Training Fund during which attendees were called upon to complete a short story, poem or song by its culmination.

His stories “Grace” and “Kelly & Freddy” were among several chosen to be published in an collection of short stories and poems called “Kindred Voices: The Workers Project Vol. I & II.” Now, “Grace” has been adapted into an eight-minute short by a filmmaker who previously lived in the building at which Pimiento works. The film is making the rounds at a number of local and national film festivals.

“It helped loosen the blue-collar grip that almost strangled my creativity,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a conducive atmosphere for writing or acting. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have stories to tell.”

Both the short story and altered film version of “Grace” tell a personal story plucked from Pimiento’s own life.

“It’s an immigration story about a woman who gets caught up in a raid,” he said. “My mother sewed in a clothing factory when immigration officers came in and she was busted.”

The story, which is set in the late 1970s, follows the story of the immigrant woman (Debbie Nunez), who is taken to a detention center and processed after being swept up in the factory raid. She explains to agent Angel Cardona, who is played by Pimiento in the film, that she has a lawyer assisting her in obtaining her work papers.

But it turns out that this attorney is being investigated by Cardona for exploiting immigrants and the woman agrees to testify as a federal witness in exchange for being allowed to remain with her family in the United States.

“The story has a full range of emotions,” he said. “She thought she’d never see her only son again, but she got an opportunity.”

The middle name of the actual agent who arrested Pimiento’s mother was Angel, but the writer decided to use it as his fictional immigration officer’s first name.

“He was my mother’s guardian angel,” he said.

A former NYU graduate student, Alrick Brown, befriended Pimiento and the writer ended up acting in one of his short films. After “Grace” was published, he approached Brown to direct “Grace” as a short.

The film has already screened at the Bronx International Film Festival and, earlier this month, at the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival. It has been accepted to show at BET’s Urban World Film Festival, the Seattle Latino Film Festival and the Montezuma Film Festival in Costa Rica. The duo also plans to send the film to Sundance and Tribeca.

“This was a project of passion — there was no money,” he said of the $500 film, which was shot in one day. “I called up my union and told them I needed locations. They gave me everything I wanted and have been wonderful.”

The film’s script changed slightly from the short story due to its tight running time. In the film, the woman and the agent have an existing relationship, of sorts, that could aid the outcome of her residency status.

“The film puts a face on illegal immigrants — the people who watch your kids, cut your lawn and clean your kitchen,” he said. “As a doorman, I see illegal immigrants come in and out of the building for work. I wonder if they kids they helped raise will remember them when they grow up.”

Brown is currently in Rwanda shooting a feature film and Pimiento, who also directed a short film called “Recurrence,” has continued to write. The Queens-based writer said he plans to collaborate with the director on a feature film about blue-collar iron workers called “High Rise,” on which he is currently working.

For more information about Brown and Pimiento’s short film, visit gracethefilm.wordpress.com.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at criticalconditions.net.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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