Meet Rommel Villa
I grew up in the beautiful land of Bolivia. Mythology, traditions, poverty, corruption, and family values were part of my everyday life. My interest in storytelling started when I was a kid, creating fictional stories about my family having superpowers, fighting poverty, and corruption in a world populated by magical dinosaurs and llamas. I grew up writing/directing award-winning plays based on social issues I learned at PASCAR, a social organization that educates young adults in HIV/AIDS misconceptions, and LGBTQ+ advocacy. At 18, I served in the military for a year in Bolivia, which was one of the most traumatizing experiences in my life due to the sexist and discriminatory environment.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Systems Engineering, and an MFA in Film/TV Production at USC with an emphasis in Writing/Directing. In the last few years, I won a Directing stipend from Lionsgate-Televisa’s Latinx filmmaker program, received a USC filmmaker grant which funded my award-winning LGBTQ+ thesis film Teddy Mate, which was an official selection at many Oscar Qualifying festivals, and last year I won a Writing/Directing Grant from the Sloan Foundation which funded Sweet Potatoes, my historical film which is a Winner at the 2020 Student Academy Awards.
I’m currently working in the Post Production department at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where I also teach Motion Picture Editing while working on my own independent projects on the side.
It’s been a roller coaster. First of all, there are unfortunately very few specialized film schools in Bolivia, and applying for film schools abroad was a long and expensive process, so I had to work overtime to save enough to submit my paperwork praying that the mail wouldn’t get lost in a different destination.
Once here in Los Angeles and Hollywood, I had to first adapt to the people, lifestyle, and social interactions in such a diverse and enormous city. I remember the first time I took a taxi, the driver asked me where I was from, and after I said I was from Bolivia, he asked me if I had cocaine in my luggage. That was my greeting to the Land of Dreams. Learning about minorities, discrimination and racism was a challenge but it also encouraged me to prove to myself that there is more to the shallow misconceptions people have about misrepresented communities.
Finally, when it comes to the vast world of film, I would say one of the biggest challenges has been to find support and funding for independent international projects that can hopefully provide enough exposure to finally “make it” to the industry. There is such an incredibly vast creative network in and outside of Hollywood where there is a lot of original content developed by a great number of filmmakers, but unfortunately, many of those projects are left on hold or not selected because there is only a limited amount of projects that can be developed at a time. This situation narrows down the chances of getting grants, contracts, and opportunities to bring stories to life. I remember that to make my thesis film, Teddy Mate, it took me a few pitches each semester to finally get it selected for development.
These struggles have done nothing but encourage me to put even more passion and love into every project I write. At the end of the day, you never know when you’ll get the opportunity to shine, and when that time comes, you’d better be ready.
I’m a filmmaker. I write and direct funny, strange, dramatic, and dark stories based on real-life situations. People say that I’m known for combining faith and sexual interactions in a lot of the work that I do… I guess I can’t argue that. My biggest influences are Alfonso Cuaron, Taika Waititi, Yorgos Lanthimos, Gaspar Noe, Tim Burton, Spike Jonze, and Kathryn Bigelow. In addition, I love collaborating with other directors editing their projects. I am currently editing a documentary about engineering students trying to come up with innovative solutions for the harsh and inhuman living conditions in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, which hit close to home.
I get my biggest joy from projects that I get to shoot in Latin America. I am proud of my roots, and whenever there is a chance for me to make something different that includes complex Latinx characters in situations that go beyond the common stereotypes, I take the job without hesitating. My latest project Sweet Potatoes was shot in Mexico, with a stellar Mexican cast, and that has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences of my life.
I would say that my life experiences, as well as my background, have shaped the unique vision that I have developed as a filmmaker. On the one hand, I have experienced both the challenging dark experiences in a military context, and on the other hand, I have grown in an environment surrounded by spiritual, and mystical values that go beyond religious statues and symbols. Those two are my yin and yang and have always been part of the work I do.
I think success is measured based on the contribution we give in to the world in order to make a better place out of it. The more supportive, loving, grateful, helpful, and kinder we are, the more successful we will be in life. I think real success comes from the actions we do from the bottom of our hearts, and not from our financial situation.