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Indie film Aguruphobia touches upon sticky subject, Latinos and mental health

Latino filmmakers will debut their indie films in New York City this weekend.
Latino filmmakers will debut their indie films in New York City this weekend.

Latino filmmakers Puga and Montes will screen their indie film, Aguraphobia, at the Viva Latino film fest in NYC. (Photo courtesy of Safada y Sano Productions )

Los Angeles filmmakers, Jade Puga and Richard Montes, screened their original Indie film, Aguruphobia, at four-day event Viva Latino Film Festival NYC International  in the Big Apple. The concept for the production of Aguruphobia was to break away from stereotypical images of Latinos often found in mainstream films and to shed light on an issue most Latinos avoid talking about: mental health.

Both Puga and Montes acted in, produced and directed the film and also co-founded its production company Safada Y Sano Productions.

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“Making this film was important to us because we feel that American Latinos are invisible in the media,” said Montes, who started Safada Y Sano Productions with the goal of expanding the way Latinos are represented in film and the hope of telling more stories involving Latinos born in the U.S.


Left to Right: Director/Richard Montes, Producer/Actress,Jade Puga and Actor/Carlos Ramzey Ramirez (Sandra) at the opening night of Viva Latino Film Festival NYC International

“Once you’re fed the same images of Latinos cast only as gangsters, immigrant workers, maids or other types of hired help over and over again it affects the psyche,” added Puga.”That’s why films like ours and other Indie films which offer a different perspective are so refreshing and worth watching.”

The film’s protagonist “Crystal Luna”, played by Puga,  is a schoolteacher terrified to leave her home.  In an attempt to overcome agoraphobia, she discovers spiritual guru Nanak on the internet. At first Nanak seems to be heaven sent but after an unexpected series of events Crystal develops a set of brand new phobias.

Catering to the generation of Latinos born and raised in the U.S., Aguruphobia was shot in English and includes only a few lines in Spanish. Puga and Montes want audiences to relate to the characters, get a good laugh and leave the theater with a better understanding of a few issues which are taboo in Latino culture, mainly mental health.

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, fewer than 1 in 11 Latinos contact mental health care specialists, while fewer than 1 in 5 contact general health care providers. Puga and Montes’ wish is that Aguruphobia, despite being a comedy, can serve as a gateway for dialogue concerning this issue.

“It’s bigger than just entertainment,” said Puga. “It’s about this next generation and how we can shape the way we look at ourselves, what we strive to be, how we feel about ourselves and how we talk about issues that affect us, personally and culturally as is the case with mental health problems.”

Actor Pepe Serna is Guru Nanak in Aguruphobia.

Seasoned actor Pepe Serna brings guru Nanak to life in Aguruphobia. (Photo Courtesy of Safada y Sano Productions)


“The title is a play on words and really wraps up what the film is about,” said Puga. “Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your home, which the lead character is afraid of doing, and later she becomes afraid of her guru so the title really made sense.”

Actor Carlos Ramzey Ramirez plays Sandra, a transgender character friends with Crystal and seasoned actor Pepe Serna, whose been in more than 100 feature films including Scar Face and Silverado, plays spiritual guru, Nanak.

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The film Aguruphobia has already provoked strong reactions from viewers.

“After one of our film screenings, a family approached us to talk about their transgender son,” said Puga. The family told Puga that their son had been alienated in his community and decided to moved away to live his life as a woman.

While the filmmakers’ main goal is to make people laugh, its precious moments like the one described by Puga in which the filmmakers realize the true impact of Agoraphobia. Montes jokes that after watching the film people have approached him to tell him that all the characters in Agurphobia reminded them of their own family members, “even the guru!”

Puga and Montes will screen their film in Texas and California.  Other films produced by them include Lost Angeles Ward, Pass The Mic, Toci: A Mexican Tale and Liberation.  To watch the films and trailers please visit Safada y Sano.

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Erica Robinson is a bilingual (English and Spanish) Multimedia journalist in New York City. She received her Masters in Journalism from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked abroad in Guatemala and was a production assistant for Canal 15 in San Jose, Costa Rica. She loves reporting on the Latino community and specializes in immigration issues.

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