The documentary film MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART is nearing completion, and you can help us finish it!
In 1987, my uncle Miguel gave up being gay as he was dying in a New York City hospital. After making history as the world’s first-ever Puerto Rican heart transplant recipient, he succumbed to AIDS, leaving behind a live-in partner, a devout Catholic mother, and a lot of unanswered questions. It all began in 2008, when my mother handed me a box of 8mm home movies that she’d found in the family garage. Spurred by this discovery and troubled by rumors about Miguel’s death, I began digging into my uncle’s mysterious past. Did he really repent of being gay on his deathbed? Did his devout Catholic mother push him into it? Did he really have AIDS? And what happened to his partner, who disappeared after Miguel died?
Aquin and Miguel before Miguel's historic heart transplant.
Miguel wearing his heartbeat; a gift from Aquin post-transplant.
After two years of false leads and dead ends,
Miguel’s partner resurfaced—25 years after he’d disappeared. But he wasn’t the
same man: he’d reinvented himself as ‘Father Aquin,’ a Franciscan monk. In the
film, I travel to California to hear his side of the story—and it is even more
heartbreaking than I imagined. Like many partners during the AIDS crisis, Aquin
was sidelined during Miguel’s illness, and effectively cut out of the grieving
process after a 12-year relationship. It was also a miracle: a second chance
for Aquin to put Miguel to rest, and an opportunity for me to get to know the
uncle I never really had.
Production stills from Puerto Rico. Top: The Old San Juan cemetery where Miguel is buried. Bottom: A San Juan street at night.
WHAT WE NEED
With production complete, we can see the finish line! We have over 60 hours of beautiful footage that we have shot across the country: California, where Aquin now lives; the San Juan haunts where Miguel spent his childhood; New York, where Miguel went in search of Broadway fame; and Orlando, where Aquin traveled to reconcile with Miguel’s surviving sister. Alongside a wealth of recently discovered archival material, the raw components of the story are in now in place, and the post-production team is ready to get to work. We just need to raise the dough to finish it!
Memories of a Penitent Heart is the first feature-length documentary to explore a very common occurrence during the crisis—faith-based discrimination against people with AIDS—from the perspective of a descendant reckoning with her family’s responsibility. Miguel’s mother Carmen was a loving but misguided woman, who was too blind to see the ways that she was failing her son. This film demonstrates what happens when well-meaning family members shut out their LGBT members, even when they don't know they're doing it. Most of the time, bigotry isn’t driven by hate—most of the time, bigotry is driven by 2 things: fear and ignorance. And a lot of the time, bigotry looks like love. Memories of a Penitent Heart explores what happens when that love goes blind.
Miguel’s story also narrates an under-explored chapter of AIDS history: the many gay Latinos who migrated to New York in search of freedom and acceptance, only to be caught up in the whirlwind of the crisis. These men are at risk of being forgotten by history; Memories helps to remind us that entire communities of color were devastated by the AIDS crisis, and continue to be disproportionately affected with AIDS in the US. This multi-layered personal story also refracts on cultural issues that continue to reverberate, such as machismo, exile and assimilation, and the influence of Catholicism on Latino family dynamics.
WHAT YOU GET
We can’t tell you how much your support means to us—so let us say it with goodies! For every contribution, you get a very special token of our appreciation. Exclusive access to footage and audio, one-on-one time with the director, even your name in the credits for all eternity—and of course, the film itself! So take a look—even $1 backers get a public thank you on the website.
OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP
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