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NUVOtv Docudrama Fuses Soccer, Immigration Issues

As savvy multicultural marketers have known for the last several years, the most robust growth for brand managers and advertisers may not be in the top 10 Hispanic DMAs but in “emerging markets” -- nontraditional cities and towns that have never had a sizable Latino population until now.

According to Pew Hispanic Center tabulations of 2000 Census and 2011 American Community Survey data, North Carolina’s Hispanic population in 2011 was nearly 120% higher than in 2000. It’s the highest percentage gain of any state.

One North Carolina community that has experienced an unprecedented shift in its Latino population is Siler City, a town of roughly 9,000 southeast of Greensboro that in TV lore may be best-known as the burial place of actress Frances Bavier, who played “Aunt Bee” on the classic 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show.

Today, Siler City’s downtown boasts two competing tiendas just down the street from its Piggly Wiggly supermarket. Nearly 50% of the community’s population is Latino.

The surge in Siler City’s Hispanic population created a fundamental shift in how to meet the basic needs of this rural community. Finding Spanish-language translators and confronting immigration issues rose to the forefront, as did the need to provide the town’s Latino teens with a recreational outlet.

Enter journalist Paul Cuadros, who in the early 2000s responded to the growth in Siler City’s young, Hispanic male population by inviting them to try out for the Jordan-Matthews High School soccer team, which he had agreed to coach after spending time with Hispanic poultry-plant workers. As documented in his 2006 nonfiction work A Home on the Field, Cuadros used soccer as a way to overcome a deep culture clash that emerged between the newly arrived Latinos and existing residents, who went so far as to include former Klansman David Duke at an anti-immigrant rally. After three seasons of setbacks, Cuadros took the team to the 2004 state championship match and won.

Cuadros discussed his experiences in a 2008 interview with National Public Radio. Mark Landsman, a Los Angeles-based independent producer of feature-length documentaries, happened to hear the broadcast. He was instantly struck by Cuadros’s story and gave him a call.

“I originally called to see if I could make a scripted film out of A Home on the Field,” said Landsman, best known for documentaries showcasing a Houston high school’s transformation from sub-par jazz band to world-class funk act in the 1970s (Thunder Soul) and a year-long look at the parallel lives of Israeli and Palestinian teen-agers (Peace of Mind). “That initial conversation grew into a friendship as the issue of immigration reform grew to the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.

“I was drawn to Cuadros because he had a compelling, honest story that intends to put a human face on a story that is often dehumanized. As a director, I am interested in telling the most human story we can -- a passionate story.”

That may not be an easy sell to a movie studio or a television network, but Landsman found a welcome ear. “We were scraping together funding to do a feature documentary, which is a long, frustrating experience,” he said “While working on our initial funding, we had a meeting with Lynda Lopez and Nuyorican Productions.”

Joining Lynda Lopez at the meeting was Benny Medina, manager of entertainer (and NUVOtv chief creative officer) Jennifer Lopez. With Landsman’s team still thinking of a “one-off” opportunity, Lynda Lopez and Medina responded in the most unexpected way. “Not knowing about NUVOtv, they took the reins and believed that a six-part mini-series was a better option than a feature-length documentary.”

Discussions progressed, leading to the July 16 debut of Los Jets. Broken into 30-minute episodes, the docudrama will air each Wednesday at 10 p.m. through August 20. As is the case with NUVOtv’s programs, Los Jets airs in English. Subtitles appear when dialogue is presented in Spanish. Jennifer Lopez is the executive producer, working with Landsman and the rest of the NUVOtv/Nuyorican team. Filming was conducted in fall 2013.

The network is actively promoting Los Jets as the first series to be part of NUVOtv’s fledgling Nu America franchise.

Landsman laughed when asked if discussions about product integration were brought to the table during the negotiation process with Nuyorican Productions or NUVOtv and Fuse president Bill Hillary, who ultimately green-lighted the project.

“Meeting Bill and Lynda was a blast of fresh air,” he said. “Stories with meaning? There are not a lot of doors to knock on when you’re pitching something like that. What sells are down-the-barrel reality shows, and the market is saturated with that. With Los Jets there is no narration, and we let the boys speak for themselves. It was about telling the story the right way, and Bill and Lynda are real collaborators and partners.”

NUVOtv seeks to use Los Jets as a springboard for a new style of documentary programming of appeal to bicultural, bilingual Latinos. Jennifer Lopez has met with first lady Michelle Obama to discuss the series and its ties to the issue of immigration reform. A red-carpet screening was held in New York on July 10, with press opportunities for Jennifer Lopez and sister Lynda to further address U.S. immigration issues.

Meanwhile, Landsman still has his sights on the big screen and a bigger audience for Cuadros’ tale -- a scripted feature based on Los Jets is already in the works.