December 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm EST | by Brian T. Carney
‘What It Was’ has D.C. screening
What It Was, Daniel Armado, gay news, Washington Blade

Filmmaker Daniel Armando will be in Washington next week for a screening of his film ‘What It Was.” (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

Writer and director Daniel Armando stumbled into the final script of his first feature film “What It Was.”

Early drafts of the script focused on the character of Mondi, a gay student at New York’s Fordham University. “But then,” he says, “the focus started shifting to the character of Adina and I kept developing her story more and more. … By the end of it, I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote a lesbian film.’”

Though initially pursuing a career in theater, the California native who settled in New York eventually pursued his first love, film. Several of his friends were working on web series and independent films, and when the time was right he approached them with an idea for a script. The result was the 2012 short film “Boys Like You.”

Armando’s successful partnership with producer Dane Joseph and director of photography Ryan Balas led to their second project together, “What It Was,” which will be shown as part of D.C.’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival next week. Once the film found its center in the character of Adina J. Spencer, a successful Latina Hollywood actress who returns to her family in New York after a series of personal crises, things developed quickly and the film was shot over a two-week period of 17-hour “exhausting” days in New York.

Once the film was completed, Armando and his team submitted the movie to indie film festivals “with a DVD and a prayer.” So far, the response has been positive. The film has won praise at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the Underworld Film Festival in New York City and Outfest Fusion. Now they are trying to line up a distributor.

Next up for him is “When I’m With You,” about a woman who tries to bring together her homophobic brother and her gay best friend, slated for a 2015 release.

‘What It Was’ film review

Writer and director Daniel Armando brings an amazing sense of confidence and style to his first feature film, “What It Was.”

Arlene Chico-Lugo plays Adina J. Spencer, a successful Latina actress who flees Hollywood following the death of her sister and the collapse of her marriage. She returns to the streets of New York City where she grew up. As she works through her relationship with her mother and her husband, she also rekindles an old romance with Toni (an excellent performance by Deirdre Herlihy) and kindles new affairs with Hilary (Melissa Navia) and Mondi (Brandon Smalls).

Armando tells this interesting story in a non-linear, almost surrealistic fashion. Scenes from the past and present blur together as Adina gets lost in her relationships. Her growing confusion is nicely captured by Armando’s firm sense of pacing; Ryan Balas’ editing and camera work, which deftly uses both quick jumps and long takes; and Sean Balas’ score, which subtly combines lyrical melodies and the sharp sounds of percussion instruments and hand claps.

The weakest element of the film may be Armando’s script. While the dialogue is strong and the silences eloquent, some more information would help the audience understand Adina’s dilemma more fully and the secondary characters are underwritten.

Arlene Chico-Lugo, What It Was, gay news, Washington Blade

Arlene Chico-Lugo in ‘What It Was.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

“What It Was” is the final film in the 2014 slate from D.C.’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. The movie will be screened on Dec. 12 at 7 and 9:15 PM at the HRC Equality Center. Filmmaker Daniel Armando will attend a VIP reception after the 7 p.m. screening. For tickets and more information, go to reelaffirmations.org.

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