Next up in the 2023 F3T Behind the Lens, we head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and beyond to follow along with angler Jr. Rodriguez and his journey into the sport of fly fishing. By juxtaposing Jr’s origins in Houston, Texas, and his current home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we share his journey of learning to love the outdoors and what it can be like to participate in outdoor sports in Western mountain towns as a person of color. Flylords was lucky enough to catch up with filmmaker Sofía Jaramillo and star of the film Jr. Rodriguez, to learn more about what went into the making of this film. Check out the full interview below.
Flylords: Tell us about yourselves.
Jr: My name is Jr and I’m a first generation mestizo bilingual bicultural filmmaker, photographer, and BIPOC activist. My work focuses on the intersectional relationship between nature and people with projects that empower communities to tell their own stories.
Sofía: Hello! I am a Colombian-American National Geographic photographer, explorer and filmmaker based in the Tetons. My mission is to uplift and tell the stories of BIPOC+ athletes in film and photography and to tell the stories I wished I’d seen as a kid. I first got my start in storytelling working at newspapers and as a freelance photojournalist. Now I work as a Director and Executive Producer in filmmaking.
Flylords: How did this film turn from an idea to a reality?
Jr: Sofia and I were looking to work on a film together because we liked working on photo projects together. We thought of a motorcycle multimedia trip to all of the classic spots around Jackson Hole and Yellowstone since we lived in Jackson, WY. As we interviewed I kept mentioning my family and Galveston, Texas and a spring-fed lake called The Reef (got cut) and it kind of snowballed that we needed to show where I actually learned to fish and why I fish.
Sofía: This project first started out as a way for Jr and me to collaborate on a piece about Jr using his motorcycle to fish and learn about the GYE. It was supposed to be a two-minute piece. We sent a pitch to Orvis and they expressed interest in it being a short film.. We had never made a short film before but we decided to seize the opportunity!
Flylords: What does “Believing is Power” mean to you?
Jr: Creer es poder, is my family’s mantra and it’s where I find a lot of bandwidth. When I’m down I just need to look back at all that my family has accomplished because they believed that they would thrive in Texas and that was enough to keep them going (they still going).
Flylords: What was your most memorable moment in the production of the film?
Jr: When we were filming in Houston one of my brothers said, “Oh we just a paycheck to you now?”. He was joking but we use jokes to tell the truth and it really hit because he was implying that I haven’t been home in so long. (There’s also no money in short films) Back when I worked at the environmental organization here in Jackson Hole there was not a lot of opportunity to visit family but now that I’m freelance I see them more frequently. The other reason this hit is because he explicitly pointed to intention and brought it to the forefront. I keep this in the front of my mind in all my work.
Sofía: The most memorable moments in filming were probably our very first days of filming when Mason Trinca joined us in Jackson and we went out on the Teton River. There were just some really peaceful and scenic moments that we all experienced together. There were some beautiful sunsets and lots of wildlife and it was just out on the river. I also caught a fish (included in the film) during those days!
Flylords: What was the biggest challenge in the production of this film?
Jr: We all have a myriad of stories but narrowing down to a single thread for audiences was difficult. I wanted so many more family members to shine because I am a reflection of them. If I’m funny, it’s because of my dad. If I’m kind and can see the bigger picture, that’s my mom. If I won’t back down, that’s my oldest sister. The list goes on ans on how I’m just a mirror for my family. Also, funding was a big issue.
Sofía: One of the biggest challenges from a directing standpoint was finding funding. Prior to 2020, there was little interest from brands in this story. After the murder of George Floyd all of a sudden, we got a lot of calls and emails back to support the film. It was bittersweet and that moment definitely stuck with us through the process. That experience is what drove us to create the Wading for Change BIPOC+ Filmmaker’s grant.
Flylords: Were there any difficulties around filming, was there was bad lighting, weather, fishing conditions, etc.?
Jr: Of course, there’s bad lighting, bad weather, and bad fishing conditions. We had to make due because we had selected dates and those were the dates we had with Mason and Faith. We had to adjust a few times but luckily my family was pretty flexible and we planned according to the weather even with hurricane season in Houston. The fish knew we were filming because they were quite shy during our shoot days in Jackson Hole. We went to all my spots, spots even Sofia had seen hog after hog and when it came time to shoot, nothing.
Sofía: Haha what Jr said. There was a lot of pressure to catch a fish and the fish were not excited to be on camera. Luckily on our last day of filming after sunset, just as blue hour hit, Jr caught a beautiful fish.
Flylords: What message are you hoping viewers walk away with?
Jr: We all go outdoors for a purpose consciously or unconsciously, something gets filled by being outside. I go outside to reconcile the “querencia” to be with my family and bring my community. As I keep experiencing the outdoors, I witness that there need to be changes so my family and community can feel empowered. I’ll never be able to make it the safest space possible and still changes need to be made, that’s why I keep diversifying every sport I can from trail running to mountain climbing to skiing. Are viewers creating the most inclusive outdoor space possible? If not, why? I hope viewers don’t put me in a box because if you put me in a box then you’re likely putting everyone you meet outdoors in a box. I’m not just an angler, I’m a filmmaker, a climber, a photographer, a runner, a conservationist, a skier, an environmentalist…
Flylords: If you wanted to give another BIPOC angler, one piece of advice what would it be?
Jr: We know it was never about the fish and you may feel alone but we’re out here! You’ll work and work and work and you’ll still run into those people that will question, belittle, test, and patronize what you’re doing. Don’t let that one person affect you, easier said than done I know. For every one of them, you’re likely affecting a multitude of people positively without even knowing it! Even during a Mountains of Color fishing outing with a film panelist, we had a verbal exchange: 1 person trying to belittle four grown-ass black and brown adults. We all had our strategies, some chose to ignore, some chose to engage, some tried to educate, y an unos les Valio. After, we all were flabbergasted but we chose to refocus on the joy we were experiencing learning to fly fish together. We could have been skiing, climbing, mountain biking, mountaineering, free diving, pickleballing, name it, the same thing could have happened and it does, and still, no one can take the joy you experience away from you.
Flylords: It’s our understanding you have just released a BIPOC film grant, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Jr: Sofia and I partnered with Fat Tire and 5Point Film Festival to create The Wading For Change – BIPOC Filmmaker’s Grant. It is intended to create more access for filmmakers and photographers of color to share stories that increase representation in nature with a $20,000 grant.
“As the Wading For Change production team consists of all creatives of color, we know firsthand the barriers to entry and difficulties of working in the creative industry. We want to address those barriers by encouraging other BIPOC creatives and creating opportunities.”
We’re actually getting ready to announce the winner next month! There were so many applications pointing to an obvious need so if people want to donate to this effort contact myself and Sofia.
Flylords: Anything else you want to add or anyone you want to thank for helping this film come to life?
Jr: So many people helped make this film a reality from grandma playing Loteria to Luz and Peter jumping in for the boat scenes to all the film funders to family members sitting through emotional interviews! So many people in my life that kept me going behind the scenes from my family, my two besties Ryanne and Wren (only Ryanne made it in with the shot of Machu Picchu), my Jackson BIPOC crew, Hillary and the Scarpa SAMI program, and Vanessa for helping process film release. Mason for believing in this from the very beginning and seeing through the end by coming all the way to the Houston premiere. Faith’s guidance through the process with poise and grace even when we would freak out. Chris Cresci for building a thread with emotion, relief, and resolution with two directors. Jeff Yellen for creating a crisp sound environment. Zachary Hetlage for correlating emotion with beautiful film color. Taylor and Megan for scaling the film project and the grant. And obviously, Sofia herself, put so much pressure on herself because we are besties and wanted to stay true to who we are during and after the creation of this film!!
Sofía: I second everything that Jr said. There were so many people that worked behind the scenes to make this film happen. Jr’s family did a lot of producing and planning for our visit to Texas. Our good friends, Wade Dunstan and Sheena, pitched in early in the process and gave us advice on how to get funding and put our pitch deck together. Faith Briggs was a HUGE reason this film got to where it did and without her mentorship and help I don’t know if it would have gotten done. We’re super grateful for her work as a team member and in the filmmaking community.
Special thanks to Sofía Jaramillo and Jr. Rodriguez for taking the time for an interview. Be sure to follow along with Wading For Change on their Instagram at @wadingforchangefilm. Stay tuned for more iterations of the Fly Fishing Film Tour, F3T Behind the Lens series by clicking here.