Interdisciplinary Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Folklore Student Completes Film on Puerto Rican Festival

In July 2009, folklore graduate student Paulina Guerrero met a group of Puerto Rican musicians as part of her internship with the Festival of American Folklife. Intrigued by their music and stories, Guerrero decided she would make the group, Viento de Agua, and their performances in San Juan’s Las Fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastian (The Saint Sebastian Street Festival) the focus of the capstone project for her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies (MAIS).

The festival is a four-day event that was revived by a group of friends and neighbors in Old San Juan 48 years ago. The festival consists of music and dance that are a combination of various Caribbean and Latin American aesthetics.  While it began as a traditional festival, the street parties that constitute the festival are now completely run and sponsored by American and European beer and beverage companies. There is a small group of local musicians who resist the commercial aspects of the festival, though, and they use the event specifically to play a Puerto Rican music medium known as plena.  Plena is a form of Puerto Rican folk music typically associated with the coastal regions of the island. Like the corrido (ballad) in Mexico, the plena is a narrative song that details the pains and ironies of people and life in their communities.

Although she had never made a film before, Guerrero was convinced that a film was the best way to document the festival and its traditional music.  Her final product, a 45-minute film “A Story of Plena” documents live music, the festival, and interviews with notable Plena musicians.  Reflecting on her fieldwork and the film that is the capstone project for her degree, Guerrero says, “the experience in this process has been difficult and profound, as I had never made a film before. However I do not regret undertaking this project, and am thankful that the Folklore Program has given me such an amazing opportunity to do this work.”  This week, Guerrero receives her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in folklore.

“A Story of Plena” premieres on Tuesday May 11 at 7:30 PM in the Johnson Center, Room F.

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