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Bay Area filmmaker is using his art to help Puerto Rico rebuild
Bay Area filmmaker Eli Jacob-Fantauzzi is a co-founder “Defend Puerto Rico,” a multimedia project created not only to celebrate Puerto Rican creativity, but to document resilience and resistance. Photo: George Barahona

Over the last two years filmmaker and Bay Area native Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi has lived in Puerto Rico and documented the aftermath of hurricanes Maria and Irma, volunteering his time on the island while co-founding a multimedia project “Defend Puerto Rico.”

On Feb. 6, Jacobs-Fantauzzi showcased several trailers, photos, and snippets of his work at the Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square, and spoke of his experiences in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Before Jacobs-Fantauzzi moved to Puerto Rico in 2017, he had helped raise money for the victims of Hurricane Irma, which hit the island on Sept. 6, 2017.

“My friend Michael Cordero and I went back and forth at this time,” said Jacobs-Fantauzzi. “We had already started ‘Defend Puerto Rico’ and were doing a ‘Defend Puerto Rico’ exhibit at the E14 Gallery in Oakland. We turned that exhibit into a donation drive. People came and donated.”

At this point Jacobs-Fantauzzi had successfully raised money for victims, but he felt he could do more, so he started a campaign collect donated supplies.

“I also opened up my house to drop supplies off and I gathered 36 boxes full of solar lights, batteries, foods, snacks, water filters and everything you could imagine,” he said.

Filmmaker Eli Jacob-Fantauzzi poses for a portrait before displaying his latest multimedia projects, which include “Bokoso,” “Defend Puerto Rico,” and “Tengo Talento,” at the Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square, Feb.6, 2019. Photo: George Barahona

After making his house a location for locals to help the victims of Hurricane Irma, Jacobs-Fantauzzi was inclined to keep helping Puertorriqueños affected by the hurricane. Then Hurricane Maria hit, which was even more destructive than Irma, claiming more than 2,975 lives, according to BBC, and leaving 1.4 million customers without power for 11 months.

“At first they told me not to come, because I would’ve been another mouth to feed,” he said. “After I [finally] got the green light, I went with a group of journalists. We waited a few weeks because we didn’t want to use their gas and be part of the problem.”

Jacobs-Fantauzzi had planned to return to the Bay Area to attend the 10th anniversary of the “Life is Living Festival” in Oakland in October 2017, but something told him to return to the island.

“When I landed at JFK Airport, I got a text about the festival being canceled due to the Northern California fires,” he said. “I took that as a sign and took a plane back to Puerto Rico, and I’ve been living there ever since.”

While spending his time helping others in need, Jacobs-Fantauzzi saw the effects of Puerto Rico’s crisis within his own family.

“I experienced it firsthand,” he said. “My tia and tio are elders and they needed their medication from the refrigerator and they could’t [get it]. And this is a reason why there was a huge amount of people leaving.”

Jacobs-Fantauzzi also spoke about the lack of support people were getting from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the islanders who were placed in the mainland until the situation in Puerto Rico was better.

“It was also because FEMA said, ‘We will put you up in a hotel if you leave the island but we won’t necessarily pay for your housing.’ So people left the island then got kicked out of the hotel after the time was up so many people had to stay in the states and start life out of the island,” he said. “With this happening, people’s houses were abandoned and corporations came in and try to buy the seaside views and try to make Puerto Rico like Hawaii.”

Jacobs-Fantauzzi said he was excited to showcase the work he had been doing to audiences in the Bay Area, especially having a platform like Apple.

“Tonight is about being able to share these stories and uplift the stories in the people in Puerto Rico. That’s what the project is about in photography and video,” he said. “This is my first time at an Apple store, I’ll be showing my ‘Defend Puerto Rico’ work but I’m also going to be showing  some of my other projects to show the bigger story: Cuba.”

Jacobs-Fantauzzi started his presentation by sharing a trailer of his film “Bakosó,” which was filmed in Cuba. The main idea of “Bakosó” is celebrating Cuba’s African roots and Afro-Latino culture.

After the “Bakosó” trailer, Jacobs-Fantauzzi showed parts of his film “Tengo Talento,” which focuses on  Afro Cuban Folkloric and Ballet teacher, Jennyselt Galata and her mission to find a successor and keep the tradition of Afro Cuban Folkloric dancing alive by teaching dance to young children. He emphasized Afro-Latino culture in this film because in his eyes, Afro-Latino culture is undercovered by mass media and in pop culture.

Lastly, he screened “Rebuild Comerío,” a video showing how people from Puerto Rico gathered to help rebuild a part of the island that was heavily impacted by Maria. For this video, Fantauzzi said that he crowdfunded money to open up popup kitchens for locals in the Puerto Rican town of Comerío, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“I’m of the belief that you have to find out what you’re passionate about in life and use that to help people, like writing in the newspaper or me doing films or telling stories, we have to use that to educate people on how to make this world a better place,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “That’s our responsibility, and so all of us in the collective ‘Defend Puerto Rico,’ that’s what we do.”

“And how do we change what’s currently happening?” he asked. “One: information, and two: telling it in a way that people want to do something about it.”

Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s film “Bakosó”  premiered at the Pan African Film & Arts fest in Los Angeles. To find out more information on how to help victims of hurricane Maria visit Defendpr.com.

Story by: George Barahona