Director Gary Terracino will introduce a screening of his film Elliot Loves at 7:45 p.m. June 27 at the Tivoli, as part of the Kansas City Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. The new comedy-drama was picked as this year’s Director’s Showcase for the festival.

Terracino, 41, a New Yorker who is openly gay, will also be honored at a pre-screening reception at 6:30 that evening at Californos in Westport.

Terracino has managed to make a comedy and a drama in one movie, without one taking away from the other. Elliot Loves is a fantastic film about Latino culture and relationships.

It is centered on the story of 9-year-old Elliot Ayende and his rocky relationship with his struggling young mother, Ma. This part of the movie is paralleled to a now-21-year-old Elliot as a gay man as he struggles with love, life and rejection. The movie is hilarious and lighthearted, while somehow achieving certain scenes of great intensity. Not a simple feat.

Terracino, who is Dominican and Italian, said he wanted to make a film specifically about Latino culture. His passion to do so was largely driven by the racism he encountered while writing in Hollywood.

“I got a big agent,” he said. “I was living in Hollywood and I was doing some TV writing, and it was really just disastrous. Hollywood is very, very racist, especially 10 or 12 years ago. And, you know, I’m half-Italian and my last name is Terracino. And people would call me in to meetings for TV shows and a Latino like me would show up, and they would panic.”

One incident occurred when he was called in for an interview for a staff writing position.

“I went in and they looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you’re Terracino. Do you speak English?’”

On another occasion, Terracino said, “There was another writing job, and I was just in the waiting room and the producer kept walking by me. And finally the producer said, ‘Did you drive that guy Terracino here?’ Because, you know, I’m Latino, so their assumption was that I was a driver and that I couldn’t be Terracino because that’s a white thing.”

Terracino made a decision. “After what I went through in Hollywood, I was like, I’m going to write something that is just so Latino, Hollywood will have a heart attack.”

Elliot Loves was filmed over the course of year. Initially, though, Terracino had a different plan.

“Elliot Loves was green-lit by two small production companies in L.A. back in 2006, and we had a $1.1 million budget and we were going to do 20 shoot days, 4 five-day weeks,” he said.

Unfortunately for Terracino, those companies went under, right in the middle of casting. Terracino was too invested to quit.

“So then I got the rights back, via my amazing lawyer. Obviously we didn’t have $1.1 million. I just took a deep breath and I talked with my producing partners, who also run the New York Latino Film Festival, and we just said we’ll shoot incrementally.”

As the year went on, Terracino said, “We started to raise more and more money. And then we went on Kickstarter when we had about half a film, when we had been shooting for seven or eight months. Our goal was $5,000; we raised over $9,000. But Kickstarter keeps the videos up, so even after the campaign ended, people were contacting us to invest or donate. And that’s how we completed the film.”

One unusual thing in this film is its clever use of animation. Most of the film is not animated, but it is definitely a part of the storyline.

Terracino explains that the animations are crucial to Elliot’s character.
“These fantasy sequences are all showing what’s in the fantasy in his head,” he said. “Which I think is good and positive, but it’s also getting a little out of control. Because in the end you have to deal with reality. Not in a brutal, ugly way, but you have to deal with reality in a basic, practical way.

“All the animation and the visual effects are to show that there is this element of fantasy in how he looks at things and how he goes about things.”

In the end, asked what inspires him as a director, Terracino chooses some powerful themes and keeps it simple: “Life and love, seriously.”

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