Filmmaker Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza received a phone call from an old friend.
It was Paul Griffin, founder of the Possibility Project in NYC,a nonprofit organization that works to empower youth. Each year, a group of young people who have experienced foster care come together to write and create original musicals, in which they bravely recount their lives. But this time, the two dreamed of telling each youth’s story through a completely different medium.
“We thought it would be an amazing moment to make a movie,” said Juan Carlos. “We wanted to create a film with voices that are rarely heard…we tend to look at people and talk about them in film, but the person behind the writing may not have actually been through it. There are very few times where the people who have it the hardest are given a platform to speak for themselves.”
From that moment on, he began what he calls “the most triumphant and difficult experience I’ve ever had in my life,” as director of the film “Know How,” a musical based on real events, written and acted by foster youth.
In order to create the script, Juan Carlos sat down with each main actor, asking them to describe stand-out moments in their lives. What came out of this process, he says, was pure authenticity. Every word and circumstance was based on true events. This wasn’t just a script, it was a chronicle of real heartbreak and loss, success and progress.
“They described their world, and then I made scenes out of their stories,” he said. “The stories start to meld into one another, so two or three people’s scenes are a mixture of different storylines. We wanted to find the raw moments and tell them exactly how they happened.”
Once the stories were pieced together, it was time to bring those ideas to life.
The crew traveled all throughout New York City to over 20 locations, choosing places that would most closely resemble where the actual stories took place. It was a labor of love, with many roadblocks along the way. There were times, he says, when the project seemed nearly impossible to finish.
“It felt like a war to get these scenes created. As dedicated as everyone was, it was still hard. Their lives can be quite turbulent, and there was so much happening every single day. Some still had caseworkers, and issues with their parents…that was all happening at the same time.”
Each scene was incredibly personal for the actors, particularly for main actors Niquana Clark (Addie), Gabrielle Garcia (Eva), Ebonee Simpson (Marie), Claribelle Pagan (Megan), and Gilbert Howard (Austin).
“They were willing to go to places that were very dark. Sometimes they’re talking about abuse, and the places they’d have to go mentally… that was hard,” he said. “As difficult as it is there is beauty in those moments and there is hope to be found after confronting those types of difficult things again.”
Juan Carlos says he hopes the film sheds light on the foster care system in a way that’s never been done before.
“The film is social change. We’re looking at folks who have been neglected by our social structures. I would love for people to come out of the theater saying, ‘I want to change foster care, I want to make a difference’.”
The film has been nominated for several prestigious awards, including the Broader Vision Award at the Garden State Film Festival and the Award of Excellence at the Canada International Film festival. It will be screening in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 5, and at the Arizona International Film Festival from April 11-17. To find a screening near you, or to find out how to host a screening of the film, visit www.knowhowmovie.com/watch_the_film.