Close “Encounters” of the Brief Kind

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Review by: Roberto Leal

My father died this past June. Sadly, we had a difficult relationship and never communicated on a meaningful level. Even during his decline, when I spent a lot of time with him, we did not become closer. However, towards the end of his life, he revealed a long-kept family secret. He off-handedly remarked in a moment of weakness, that he had fathered a daughter out-of-wedlock. A daughter whose existence had been swept under the family carpet for sixty years. I had a half-sister!

I found my half-sister a few days before Dad passed away. Unfortunately, I was not at his bedside when he died quietly in his sleep, in his home with family and friends around him. But he left us with so many unanswered questions. So many things I wanted to find out from a father, who I apparently, didn’t know at all.

I wonder how one last conversation with my father might have gone after he had passed to the other side.  My situation is not unique. As a matter of fact, I’ve found out that it is more common than people like to acknowledge.

Miguel Torres, the creator of the award-winning web series Encounters, has fashioned a powerful, dramatic storytelling platform to explore those haunting questions. Actor Miguel Najera, like a latter-day Hispanic Rod Sterling of Twilight Zone classic TV fame, outlines the premise of Encounters in the series trailer, as well at the beginning of each episode.

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The Encounters episodes, produced by Torres’ Angel Flight Media and Mauricio Mendoza and Yeniffer Behrens-Mendoza’s True Form Films, are short teleplays, vignettes, snapshots, beautifully composed in a cinéma vérité style. The acting is understated and restrained. And despite the supernatural theme of the stories in Encounters (conversations with the dearly departed) the productions are totally devoid of eerie special effects or CGI magic. This conscience decision to shun artifice in favor of strong storytelling is the emotional foundation of Encounters. All these elements come together nicely in my favorite episode to date titled: The Moment Between the Lights.

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 In this story of guilt following a night of drinking and driving, director Chris Banda masterfully uses the natural, nighttime, film noir atmospherics of LA to frame this dark, moody meditation. Two young friends drive around at night, talking. One of them is responsible for the death of the other. During the course of this 11-minute play, the dialog shifts from wistful, boyhood nostalgia, personal regrets, anger, accusations and finally, forgiveness.

I identified so much with this particular episode, I sent the link to my best friend. We had spent many a night in our long ago youth driving around downtown San Jose. Luckily for us, without the same tragic results.

Encounters is an almost entirely Hispanic enterprise; production, writers, directors, cast, crew. All the brief teleplays take place within the context of the Latino community. However, the Latino culture and occasional use of Spanish in the dialog, is just the backdrop for the universally recognizable themes that resonate in every culture.  Encounters examines tough subject matter like sexual abuse, suicide and a mother’s guilt over the death of her child, without lapsing into melodrama or arch, soap opera theatrics.

Encounters has opened up a personal Pandora’s Box of possible conversations with the people involved in the family secret of my half-sister; my father, my sister’s mother, our grandmother, and other family elders who managed to keep secrets better than the US government. They’re all gone. They have so much ‘splaining to do.

Watching Encounters can sometimes be a disturbing experience, but ultimately, it’s a cathartic one because the compelling stories help us realize we are not alone.

You can encounter Encounters, as well as other fascinating web streaming features, on LatinHeatCinema.com

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