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Alumnus written and directed short film ‘Enamorado’ touches on queer Latino love

Sebastian Betancur (left) and Jayel Marques (right) play Damian and Izan in “Enamorado.” Written and directed by alumnus Eduardo Salas, the short film shares a love story between a pair of Latino youth. (Courtesy of Eduardo Salas)

By Emma Mieszala

Oct. 31, 2023 11:47 a.m.

This post was updated Nov. 2 at 7:15 p.m.

In “Enamorado,” alumnus Eduardo Salas explores the innocence and bittersweet heartaches of queer love.

This year, “Enamorado” premiered at the Outfest Fusion Film Festival in Los Angeles and went on to win the Best Long-Format Short Film category at the LA LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Since then, the short film had showings at festivals across the nation. Writer and director Salas said the inspiration for the production was drawn from his own experiences growing up queer in Mexico. As a recent alumnus from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Salas said inspiration for the project was born from a memorable encounter he had with a cashier in his youth.

“I felt like I had locked eyes in a way that was very intriguing, … imagining a thousand years with someone that you just met for a second,” Salas said.

[Related: ‘Riley’: A UCLA alumnus’ love letter to community and queer youth]

In “Enamorado,” a fateful encounter between a pair of Latino youths causes both characters to explore their sexualities and personal identities. Salas said the story emerged because he wanted to create a cinematic space to portray the innocence and heartache of his own fantasies.

Growing up within a creative family helped foster Salas’ artistic tendencies in childhood, he said. Although he experimented with photography and took film classes in high school, Salas said he often found himself working on stories that he couldn’t connect with. The spaces he found himself in were typically heteronormative, and he struggled to feel like he could express his own personal identity, he added.

Furthermore, having grown up Catholic, Salas said his peers were not always accepting of his queerness, and there were many times when he felt that his identity was outright opposed. He said he wanted his characters to reflect this inner tension between knowing oneself and feeling pressured by the community to conform.

“I thought that both my characters in my film should very much reflect that,” Salas said. “That layered perception of ‘This is who I am. … At the same time, this is what my environment is allowing me to be.’”

Salas said he grew up listening to artists from older generations, such as the songs of Dinah Washington, and that this timeless music was on repeat as he was writing his short film. According to Salas, these older songs tend to deal with themes of innocence and longing, and they reflect love in its most bittersweet form. By listening to the genre as he was developing the story, Salas said he wanted to translate these musical themes into a visual format.

Alumnus Jayel Marques played Izan, one of the two leads in “Enamorado,” and said he first heard about the project through the UCLA Latinx Film and Theatre Association network. Marques said he was excited to work on the project after performing a plethora of stereotyped roles that didn’t fit his personal identity as a gay Mexican man. He was inspired by Salas’s vision of portraying the kind of story that isn’t always told in mainstream media, and he connected with the film’s exploration of heartache in queer love, Marques added.

“That sadness that comes from having a partner or a lover that is not really meant to be, for whatever reason, resonated with me,” Marques said.

Sebastian Betancur, who played Damian, the second of the film’s lead roles, said it was the raw and authentic tone of the script that first caught his attention. Betancur said “Enamorado” has a storyline that can speak to people and help them feel accepted and seen. Creating a film that can impact audiences in a positive way is something that Betancur said he loves most about acting and about “Enamorado” in particular.

“Filmmaking is storytelling,” Betancur said. “It really helps stories get out there so people can understand, ‘Hey, we’re all just human at the end of the day.’”

The film’s production took four days, Salas said, and it was his first time being on a large, full-scale film set. He said it was difficult and humbling to be entrusted with the responsibility over not only expensive film equipment, but a cast and crew of hard-working people as well. Despite this, Salas described the production process as a beautiful experience, and he said he is incredibly grateful for the people he met throughout it.

Reflecting on the project’s post-production success, Salas said winning a film festival award was not even in his scope when he initially set out to make the film. Salas said when he heard that “Enamorado” had won a category at the LA LGBTQ+ Film Festival, he was amazed at the extent to which people resonated with his film. Despite the existence of pillars of support for LGBTQ+ film projects nowadays, it is still difficult to have them be accepted into the mainstream, Salas said.

“Making a film to begin with is a miracle,” Salas said. “Having a queer film go that far is a whole other thing.”

[Related: Alumni-founded production company Highball Media offers members artistic freedom]

Salas describes himself as a hopeless romantic and said he wanted ”Enamorado” to present a storyline in which his two characters could have a genuine connection. According to Salas, queer people and people of color often aren’t permitted to be in spaces where they can connect in such a way. Salas said there is a tendency in film for queer love to be portrayed as something bitter, but that capturing an essence of innocence in his own film was important to him.

“I think every artist has that one story they want to tell,” Salas said. “To say, ‘This is who you are, this is your identity, and this is how you can move forward with your life.’ I think the story of ‘Enamorado’ … was just one story I had to tell myself and towards the whole community.”

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