Tony Vallés ’97 makes a Spanish-language teen film

When Tony Vallés ’97 and his brother, Jaime, decided to make a movie several years ago, they wanted to make one that they would have liked to watch growing up: a high school comedy set in their native Puerto Rico. As teenagers, they were fans of American films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, but there was nothing like that in Puerto Rican cinema.

With zero experience in the film business, the Vallés brothers wrote, directed, and edited Casi Casi — roughly translated “just barely” — a Spanish-language film that ran for four weeks in Puerto Rico earlier this year and is airing on HBO this fall. HBO held a screening in New York on Oct. 1 to kick off its Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, and also has released it on DVD. (The film has English subtitles in the HBO version.)

Casi Casi was a first for Puerto Rican cinema, which hadn’t produced films aimed at the teen market, says Tony Vallés, a classically trained singer and opera buff who is the director of communications for Prospect Theater, a New York theater company started by Vallés and other Princetonians in 1998. Tony and Jaime, a painter and sculptor, decided to set the film on their home island to “give something back” to the community — and because they could do it inexpensively.

Their choice of story, they freely admit, was dictated largely by their shoestring budget. They could convince their old high school in Puerto Rico to let them shoot there over the summer, they reasoned.

Tony and Jaime, a Cornell grad, also recruited family to help. Their aunt, Puerto Rican television actress Marian Pabón, played the stern principal, and their cousin, Mario Pabón, took on the role of Emilio, a love-struck junior who decides to run for class president to impress the most popular girl in school, only to learn that she intends to run herself. High jinks ensue.

They had some help from their friends, including composer Peter Mills ’95, a founder of Prospect Theater, who scored the film. Winner of an audience award at the 2006 San Diego Latino Film festival, Casi Casi also stars Irene Lucio ’08, a native of Puerto Rico, as the principal’s pet who agrees to help Emilio win the presidency.

The Vallés brothers already are working on their second script, a thriller, on nights and weekends. Says Tony: “We want to make lots more movies.”