When Yunior Santiago from Cuba came to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, as a computer science major, he had no idea his senior year he would be walking the red carpet of some of the world's biggest film festivals as a producer of an award winning film.
However, since its first screening at Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, in February, international attention and critical acclaim has grown for the film, Una Noche, which won three major awards last week at the famous Tribeca Film Festival in New York, founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.
Santiago's wife and director of the film, Lucy Mulloy, was selected as Best New Narrative Director by a jury that included Whoopi Goldberg, Kellan Lutz and Leelee Sobieski. They commented: "Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche rang the bell inside all of our little director hearts. We simply thought the film was awesome, and it only grew in our esteem as we spoke of it after." Her prize included $25,000, post-production services of $50,000 and an award.
In addition, she won an art award, "Red Top, 2012," courtesy of Stanley Whitney & Team Gallery, New York.
Two of the actors in the film, Dariel Arrechaga and Javier Nunez Florian, split a $2,500 prize as Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film. That jury who included Patricia Clarkson, Dakota Fanning and Mike Newell said: "Both young actors are nonprofessionals who took great risks to tell a daring story. Each won our hearts."
Una Noche also won Best Cinematography in a Narrative Feature Film for Trevor Forrest and Shlomo Godder, who received $5,000 and $50,000 in post-production services. Jurors said: "Una Noche reveals a Havana we could never otherwise see, in its jumble of life, decay, and making do. There's a 'you are there' documentary immediacy to the picture, shot on the fly and in the streets, that keeps us enthralled."
The film garnered extra international attention on the news last week when two of the actors, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre an Javier Nunez Florian, who had been granted temporary visas to attend Tribeca, defected from Cuba and never showed up at the film festival. Later in the week they emerged to claim asylum in Miami.
Santiago says all Tribeca screenings of the film were sold out and an additional sold out screening was scheduled to accommodate the clamor for tickets. Then this past Sunday, two more screenings for Best New Director Award and two more for the cinematography award were sold out as well.
Una Noche received a similar festival response at Berlinale with all three screenings sold out.
He described the after party for the film at Tribeca hosted by Calvin Klein and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) as "overflowing with people and amazing."
Santiago and Mulloy spent several years finding locations, casting actors, and finally shooting in Cuba.
Now they and the other three producers Daniel Michael Mulloy, Maite Artieda, and Sandy Perez Aguila are sifting through the flood of other film festival offers and seeking a distributor for the film.
In the midst of all the acclaim and positive buzz for the movie, Santiago has his own excitement this week. He will graduate from Westminster College on Saturday, May 5.
Una Noche tells the story of three Cuban teenagers, struggling in poverty, who decide to escape to Miami on a raft.