Editor Moonlights As Spanish-Language Starlet p.12

By: Mark Fitzgerald Mexican-born Mar?a G. 'Lupita' Colmenero's first role is star of action film

It's not unusual for journalists, especially local TV anchors, to make cameos or even play bit parts in movies. But the editorial and marketing director of the Spanish-language weekly El Hispano News in Dallas is no bit player in the new movie La Conexi?n Cubana ? Mar?a G. "Lupita" Colmenero is the star.
In her very first acting role of any kind, Lupita Colmenero is listed third in the credits ? but make no mistake about it, she is the star. She has far more screen time than her two well-known co-stars, hunky Mario Cimarro, a Cuban model who stars in Mexican soap operas, and the aging Mexican matinee idol Robert "El Flaco" Guzman.
La Conexi?n Cubana (The Cuban Connection) is a Spanish-language, direct-to-video film that was released in mid-April for sale and rental to the Hispanic market. An English-subtitled version is scheduled to appear in May.
Lupita Colmenero is not the only connection between the film and El Hispano News, a 35,000-free-distribution paper. The movie was written and produced by Mario Nelson Suarez, the newspaper's owner. Suarez, who released the film through his Mariel Films International company, is listed as "co-director."
Indeed, El Hispano News plays a pivotal part in the plot of The Cuban Connection.
In the movie, Colmenero plays the newly pregnant wife of a Havana shipyard worker who accidentally kills a policeman in a struggle. One misfortune after another is heaped on the couple until Colmenero's character finds herself leaving Cuba alone in the Mariel boat lift and being resettled in Dallas. There she becomes a crusading journalist at El Hispano News. Her work on behalf of Cuban human rights eventually enrages the Cuban government ? which orders her assassinated.

As the lurid video jacket copy says, "There's no place to hide when the Cuban government wants you dead."
Lupita Colmenero's real-life story has some parallels with her "Cuban Connection" character--and, indeed, Suarez says he wants to base his next film on her life.
"She is an intelligent, exceptional woman with many accomplishments," Suarez said.
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Colmenero was a social worker when her brother went north to the United States and simply disappeared.
"It hurt the whole family. I came Los Angeles, as an illegal alien, to look for my brother," Colmenero said in an interview in El Hispano News' offices. "For three years I looked for him, and once I came in, it was not easy to come out. I was really a coward. I couldn't come back and say to my mother that I could not find him."
In 1985, Colmenero, who has since married and received permanent residency status, came to Dallas and helped in the start-up the next year of Dallas' second Spanish-language newspaper. (El Sol de Texas, established in 1996, was the first.)
In editing and selling newspapers, Colmenero found a profession she clearly loves. She speaks of journalism with much more ardor than of movie-making.
"You have a moral obligation once you get in this business," she said. "It is not just about making money. You have to stand up for the truth, and stand up for people, and if we need to be controversial, we will be."
Several years ago, in fact, a former Mexican consulate ? so angered about the paper's coverage he publicly called Colmenero a "bad Mexican" ? tried to organize a boycott of El Hispano News and its advertisers.
"Some (advertisers) followed that threat," she said. "But we didn't really care. . . . We did what we had to do."

Colmenero first went in front of the camera in 1996, when she worked as a news anchor on Spanish-language TV Channel 19 in Dallas.
Her television work convinced producer Suarez she could act. "I told her, 'Read this scene,' and as soon as [Cuban Connection director] Francisco Guerrero saw her, he said, 'That is who I want,' " Suarez said.
Certainly the role of Irene Diaz was an actor's challenge: In the course of the movie she is a joyous expectant mother, a rape victim, a shell-shocked refugee and a terrorized human rights activist being stalked by a hit man.
"A lot of people who saw the movie said I was good," said Colmenero, whose acting is easily as good as anything seen in soap operas south or north of the Rio Grande.
Filmed on a budget of just $50,000 in Veracruz, Mexico (doing a credible job of passing for Havana) and in Dallas, The Cuban Connection is more than an action film ? it sometimes veers into a strident anti-Castro polemic.
The brutality of the Cuban government is emphasized repeatedly ? a fact that cost the film the lucrative possibility of playing on Mexican television.
"Televisa and TV Azteca both said they could not run it because of political considerations," she said.
Suarez, however, hopes to get the video into Blockbuster stores in Puerto Rico and Mexico, and he noted some 700 copies sold in the first two weeks of sale. (For information on the film, phone Mariel Films International at 214/357-2186.)
These days, however, Colmenero's professional attention is focused on the newspaper. "This movie was something done, really, as an accident," she said.
?(On location (above) near Veracruz, Mexico, Maria Colmenero receives direction during shooting of The Cuban Connection. The video (right) signals action.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www. mediainfo.com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher june 6, 1998) [Caption]


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