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Monday, January 24, 2022

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Martha Rodriguez Martha Rodriguez

Finding Her Passion

Martha Rodriguez found her passion for filmmaking at SDSU.
By Aaron Burgin

“...I kept thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I just made a movie about this?’”

Clarification: The short film "Chips and Salsa" described in this article was written and co-directed by SDSU student Jonathan Richard Sotelo.

Growing up, Martha Rodriguez wanted to be an astronaut. But a trip with her Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement club to San Diego State University during her junior year of high school made her realize her real passion laid elsewhere.

“I came to San Diego State and we were working on a prosthetic arm, and the only thing I wanted to do...I had a camera in my hands, and I kept thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I just made a movie about this?’” said Rodriguez, now a junior film major at the SDSU School of Theatre, Television, and Film. 

“It was after that when I started thinking, what if I can actually tell stories with this tool, and I started to think I want to actually stay on the ground, and maybe tell the stories of other people being up there,” she said. 

Rodriguez, a San Diego native, has made her mark as a burgeoning star in the film industry over the past year, notching a pair of impressive wins in prestigious film contests. 

Her short film “Chips and Salsa,” a film about a Latinx college student coming out as pansexual to his parents during the holidays, received the AT&T Film Award for best Spanish language short by a student. 

For her prize, Rodriguez received a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts Summer 2019 program, a six-week session where students learned production, directing, screenwriting, animation and business from some of the university’s top faculty both at USC and on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot in Burbank. 

WATCH: "Chips and Salsa"

Rodriguez worked on three projects during the session, including a short comedy (which she rarely does) about a piñata going crazy and attacking a human. 

At the conclusion of the program, Rodriguez participated in the “El Pitch” contest, which gives filmmakers a chance to pitch their next short film idea to an expert jury. Rodriguez won, taking home $1,500.

Using her “El Pitch” winnings as seed money, Rodriguez is now organizing a Latinx film festival on campus tentatively slated for March 12-22 – to coincide with the San Diego Latino Film Festival

Rodriguez said her goal with the festival is to display both film and artwork from the SDSU community that displays Latinx culture.

The 20-year-old third-year student said her passion for filmmaking – and impetus to create the festival – stems from her desire to see the Latinx community better represented in film, both in the stories told and people who tell them.

“I really wanted to share stories that are untold and make my parents feel more comfortable in their own place, because this is their home,” Rodriguez said. “And it’s not just my parents, there’s a whole community that feels that loss of connection. And bringing that to them is fulfilling.”

Shortly after her epiphany at the SDSU campus, Rodriguez said she started doing short films for her MESA club and creating highlight reels for her friends on the San Diego High School baseball team.

Now, she has started to delve into much more substantive filmmaking, dealing with topics that resonate from her personal experience and heritage and exposing the vulnerability of her characters. 

“Chips and Salsa,” Rodriguez said, was based off of the experience of one of her close friends. “Identification,” – her second film – is centered on a father-daughter driving lesson, is based on her experience with her father. Both, she said, rely heavily on the emotional weight of the protagonist. 

“In film, being vulnerable is a weapon that helps you level with your audience,” she said. “Sometimes we see being vulnerable as a weakness, but within film, it is a power that not many people know how to control. I’m learning how to do it.”

Rodriguez credits her growth in filmmaking to her support system of professors and advisers at SDSU, calling out TFM professors Stuart Voytilla, Peter Cirino and Timothy Powell by name. 

“I always tell my friends and family that the USC program was a great opportunity for me, however it was also a great opportunity for me to represent SDSU and TFM, because we do have an amazing film program that I feel sometimes gets overlooked,” Rodriguez said. “Which makes it even more gratifying to come back to SDSU and work on my second project with so many great people.”

Rodriguez’s support network at SDSU reciprocated her sentiments.

“Martha is a very talented student, I am very proud of Martha,” said Michelle Cadena, Rodriguez’s counselor in the Office of Educational Opportunities Program and Ethnic Affairs. “It's a privilege and honor to witness Martha's growth for the past two years, and to see her advocacy in the TFM department as well as a student at SDSU. I look forward to continue seeing her grow as a student and professionally."