Navajo actor Jeremiah Bitsui, most famous for his performance as Victor on Breaking Bad, will figure prominently in the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience (AFME), running June 1-8. He’ll be in the audience (as will director Sydney Freeland and co-star MorningStar Angeline) for the screening of the Sundance success Drunktown’s Finest; premiering his latest project A Man Named Paul; and moderating a panel on his next project, Johnny, a biopic of boxer Johnny Tapia inspired by the 2013 documentary Tapia (which is also screening at AFME). A complete list of the week’s events can be found at abqfilmexperience.com.
So, you’re coming back to ABQ, the city in which the super-phenomenon Breaking Bad was filmed, to screen Drunktown’s Finest. What’s going through your head?
It’s always an honor to be involved in a film festival. It’s a great accomplishment for our whole cast, producers, and the writer and director. I’m proud of everybody is the biggest feeling that I have right now.
Is this your first kind of film event in ABQ?
No, actually, last year we showed Blaze You Out here. I am good friends with Ivan Wiener, who runs the AFME. [The film] was making it’s run through Red Box and video-on-demand and he actually brought our film to the festival. We had premiered at the Miami Film Festival last year, then we had a follow up at AFME.
What’s the work-to-fun ratio when you’re attending these festivals?
All festivals are very, very busy. They take a lot of time and energy. You’re going from parties to red-carpet events to interviews, so there’s a lot of coordination. Some people think it’s all fun and games. A lot of time it’s fun, but it’s narrowly-coordinated fun, which sometimes is just like work. It’s always good to participate in festivals and meet other film-makers. That’s the biggest thing I try to do outside my responsibilities, is watch the other films. I’ll go to festivals and just watch films, even though I don’t have anything showing.
What’s happening with Drunktown? We heard it was sold after Sundance, so how does the process work from here? Will they putting it in theats or on video or what?
Usually, you make your festival run with these independent films, and then you get your distribution lined up. They like to get local critics and international critics involved during film festivals, as well as what kind of sales and film distribution. You probably won’t see anything in theaters until the end of the year or beginning of next year. Sometimes, they’ll do what’s called art-house screening, where they’ll gather feedback from test audiences.
What’s the scoop with A Man Named Paul? We understand the writer wanted your involvement, specifically.
Yes, because of my relationship with Ivan, who is the producer of the film. They reached out to me. They sought me out, directly. I met with Jordee Arvin Wester, the director, and he told me what he wanted to accomplish with the film, and I was all on-board. I think with this project, they had a singular purpose. And, that purpose was to tell this story. I think it’s a very powerful short.
What about this third film, Johnny?
Growing up in Albuquerque, I have an affinity for Johnny Tapia; all that he did for the community and the boxing world. He’s been such a great entertainer and boxer and fighter. I had a meeting with one of the producer-directors of Tapia, and he was telling me about the film as it was wrapping up. He showed me the movie and I just loved it. I just knew that Johnny would be a great success, and something that I should definitely be a part of. Over the past few months, we’ve been working together, now the project is coming to fruition.
What’s it like to be at the point your career where people are requesting you, rather than having your agent seek out roles for you?
For all of us, we’re always looking for that next good project. Sometimes you don’t know where it’ll come from, whether it’s an audition or something you get called for, directly. Or, even it’s something an independent film-maker like Jordee brings to the table. The big thing is to never look down on any opportunity. For me, it’s about the story. I’m in this business because I love it. So, I’m always open and looking for different projects. It has been a little more overwhelming reading multiple scripts, and trying to figure out which roles fit best for my next project.
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You recently participated in a fundraiser for Charity: Water. Could you can give a few more details about what you all are doing and how this whole concept came about?
I have a lot great friends who are involved with philanthropy. This particular fundraiser took place over Memorial Day Weekend. It was a race, starting in New Orleans and ending in Detroit. There were teams of two competing, in costume as their favorite superhero. And, basically, being the superhero for their charity. We couldn’t use our own money, could only rely upon traveling by the goodness and kindness of others; or donations by friends; or your sponsors. Every mile that you traveled equated to a dollar. My partner, Estrella Nouri (Two Broke Girls,) traveled around New Orleans by rickshaw, meeting our objectives. Our team was sponsored by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. We traveled through Missouri to Nashville to Detroit. We took second place, raising $3800, plus another $5000 bonus for Charity: Water. They provide drinking water for rural communities around the world. I believe [people] can still donate via crowdrise.com/fixinggood. They can also go on twitter and follow @CharityWater.
Finally, the question that everyone wants answered…the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul. What’s up with that? Any Victor cameos? Anything you can reveal?
They’re keeping everything, like, super, super tight. It’s even more secretive than [normal.] I couldn’t really say anything. I know everyone’s trying to find out as much as they can; as well me. I’m a huge fan of the show. I’m interested to find out what’s gonna happen as well.