Pa’lante, director Krisitan Mercado’s riveting short film exploring the struggles of working-class Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, won the Jury Award for Music Videos at the recently concluded SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Based on the song of the same name by the band Hurray for the Riff Raff, Pa’lante was a decided underdog as one of 20 finalists for the award, beating out films from several chart-topping artists, including Childish Gambino’s This is America, Anderson .Paak’s Bubblin’ and Kaskade’s Tight.

It was a huge win, not only for Mercado, whose acceptance speech was the emotional highlight of the night, but also for the broader Puerto Rican and Latin communities. It underscored the power of cinema as a tool for social change. “In a world where honesty is rare, we took a chance to share our pain,” says Mercado. “SXSW has shown that the future of cinema is now. Cinema provides a platform for people on the fringe, people who have been marginalized and oppressed. SXSW heard the voices of the people of Puerto Rico and provided them a forum to tell their story to the world.”

Mercado, whose own family suffered dislocation and loss in the storm, had a visceral, emotional reaction when first presented with the song Pa’lante (from a Spanish phrase meaning “forward”) by Hurray for the Riff Raff singer Alynda Segarra. “Alynda was looking for a director of Puerto Rican descent to help tell her story,” he recalls. “When we spoke on the phone, we connected immediately. I understood her perspective, because the hurricane also affected me and my family deeply.”

The director adds that he hopes the film’s success at SXSW will draw attention to the continued plight of Puerto Rico and open doors for other Latino filmmakers. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell the story of the people of Puerto Rico, who have not only lost their homes, but have also suffered a loss of dignity,” he says. “For a director like me, who does not come from means, winning this award is very significant. I hope it will inspire others to step forward and share their stories.”

Starring Mela Murder (The Florida Project) as Milagros and Kareem Savingnon (The Girl Is in Trouble) as Manuel, Pa’lante was shot over five days in Puerto Rico. Although it was months after the hurricane, working conditions were still challenging as electricity was spotty and debris had yet to be cleared. “It was a very scrappy production,” Mercado says. “We shot in a lot of places that were devastated, including my grandparents’ neighborhood. It was odd to be in a place that was so familiar, yet so changed.”

Post-production audio finishing was completed at Sound Lounge in New York. Mercado teamed with Mixer/Sound Designer Pete Crimi in finalizing the film’s soundtrack. Crimi created an environment through sound for Pa’lante’s opening and closing narrative sequences that was authentic to the island. He also blended subtle effects with the music in the body of the piece to help tie it to the visuals. “The life of Puerto Rico comes through in its sounds…the roosters, the wind, the palm trees, the ocean,” observes Mercado. “Pete helped flesh out that soundscape. He captured the texture of that world.”

Crimi says it was an honor to work on a project that sheds light on a story of the strength of the human spirit, noting, “All of us at Sound Lounge are grateful for opportunities to use our skills to build awareness for important issues. Films like this deserve to be awarded and celebrated.”

About Sound Lounge
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