By Thomas Gillen
Assistant A&E Editor
“REBEL” is the new film by Maria Agui Carter; a faculty member of Emerson College and writer/director/producer of the documentary mini-series “Culture Shock” and multiple films for PBS, including “Tango Duel Dance” and “The Devil’s Music.” “REBEL” was screened at the Tilles Center on March 15 as part of the On Screen/In Person film series, to “bring some of the best new independent American films and their respective filmmakers to communities across the mid-Atlantic region,” according to tillescenter.org.
“REBEL” is a documentary about a Cuban immigrant named Loreta Velazquez, one of the 1,000 women who fought in the American Civil War disguised as a man. According to RebelDocumentary.com, Loreta Velazquez served as Harry T. Buford and fought at First Bull Run before being wounded at Shiloh. After working for the Confederacy as a spy, she revealed her true identity in her memoir, the Woman in Battle. According to TexasEscapes.com, it was discovered that Loreta was impersonating as a man after receiving medical care from her wound at Shiloh.
Maria Agui Carter, the writer and director of “REBEL,” described her inspiration behind the film. “I came across Loreta Velazquez’ story in 2000 and read her memoir. But in many of the references to her over the years, there had been accusations that she was a liar, a prostitute, or the figment of her white editor’s imagination. It wasn’t until I read a series of articles about the over 1,000 women soldiers of the American Civil War by a senior military archivist, who wrote about Loreta as a real person, that I began to dig deeper into her story: She had been deliberately erased.”
When audiences view this documentary, Agui Carter hopes they have a greater understanding of themes revolving around identity. “I want people to come away with a deeper understanding of the politics of nation-building and the way our history is crafted and constructed by those in power. There are many themes running through this film – the politics of identity including gender, sexuality, ethnicity in a sweeping adventure tale that is a great way to invite deeper conversations about all these themes through a film about this one woman.”
Agui Carter decided to focus her film on Loreta Velazquez because she is an immigrant herself. “I arrived in the U.S. from my native Ecuador and felt I could tell that immigrant story. Loreta deeply identified with this country and she wanted to prove her loyalty and citizenry through her involvement in the Civil War – we see generation after generation of immigrants doing that.” Agui Carter added, “I also felt her story would resonate deeply with women. She was also an incredibly daring and brave woman who dared to go beyond the restrictive boundaries of her time, and I was fascinated by her personality and drive, and felt others would be too.”
To compile research for “REBEL,” Agui Carter was able to join the Harvard History Department by winning a Warren Center Fellowship. According to the website warrencenter.fas.harvard.edu, “Since its found ing in 1965, the Warren Center has annually hosted 6-12 visiting scholars, thus enriching Harvard’s Americanist community, and benefiting the fellows with access to Harvard’s resources at a critical point in their scholarship.” Agui Carter also conducted research in New Orleans at Tulane’s Latin American Studies Department by winning a Rockefeller Fellowship. During the 12 years she spent to complete the film and acquire funding, Agui Carter was able to complete 10 other films.
Besides being shown at the Tilles Center, “REBEL” will be shown at the Paramount Theater in Boston when Agui Carter returns to teaching in the media arts department at Emerson College. Agui Carter has been screening “REBEL” on a tour since 2013 and the film has played at venues like the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C. and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in California.
As for the future, Agui Carter is involved in a number of projects. Besides being a producer on the upcoming PBS series “Latina SciGirls” and writing a script for a video for the American Museum of Natural History, she is also working on a new film called “Secret Life of La Mariposa.” “It has received support from a number of screenwriter’s labs and I am now polishing the script, it is about an undocumented Mexican teen girl who escapes abuse through magic realism, until the fantasy threatens her life,” Agui Carter said.
Sharon Marier-Kennelly, the General Manager and Director of Programming Initiatives at the Tilles Center, stated that all students should see “REBEL,” because “It is a remarkable portrayal of an individual completely modifying her own identity, which is a story that will resonate for anyone interested in gender and identity issues. The film’s Director, Maria Agui Carter is a very accomplished, having won the Erik Barnouw Award (Best Historical Film in America) for the film. Women’s Fund of Long Island is a programming partner on the performance.”
For more information about “REBEL,” go to rebeldocumentary. com and check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/REBEL.documentary. Tickets for “REBEL” can be purchased at the Tilles Center Box Office for $8 each. The box office is open from 1-6 p.m.