Filmmaker Peter Bratt returns to UC Santa Cruz Friday as part of the local premiere of La Mission, his heartfelt portrait of San Francisco's Mission District, the neighborhood where he grew up.

La Mission is now in limited national release after being named a Sundance official selection in 2009. It officially opens in Santa Cruz Friday, April 23 at the Nickelodeon Theatre in a benefit for student scholarships in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz.

The movie is a family affair for Bratt, a 1986 graduate of Cowell College in politics. He is La Mission's writer, director, and co-producer. It stars his younger brother, television and movie star Benjamin, who is also co-producer, and features Benjamin's wife Talisa Soto Bratt.

The brothers and their three siblings were raised in the Mission by their single mother, an indigenous activist from Peru of Quechuan descent. One early adventure as children was joining the Native American occupation of Alcatraz with their mother in 1969.

UCSC's impact

Though he admits a rough transition from the inner city to UCSC, Peter Bratt recalls that UCSC "incubated an inspiring, exciting atmosphere where we analyzed and deconstructed the systems we live in - capitalism, classism, Christianity."

He described a spring quarter film theory class that he had looked forward to as being "kick back." Instead, he wrote a paper a week analyzing film from a Marxist/feminist perspective.

"That was my awakening," he said. "I saw how powerful and transformative film can be. I had no idea how our perceptions are formed by what we watch, how our cultural identities are informed, and how we are unconscious of it.

"A light bulb went on for me," he said.

UCSC visit

Peter and Benjamin Bratt are scheduled to visit UCSC Friday afternoon to talk with students, and will also appear for a question-and-answer session after the exclusive 7 p.m. screening at the Nickelodeon, with co-producer Alpita Patel, cinematographer Hiro Narita, editor Stan Webb, and music supervisor Greg Landau.

Landau, who has taught the class "Musica Latina" for eight years in UCSC's Latin American and Latino Studies department, said Bratt hopes to dispel some of the mystery of filmmaking for students, particularly students of color. Bratt envisions using his production company as a vehicle to help young filmmakers of color get their projects off the ground.

It was Landau, a longtime family friend, who suggested a special film premiere when the LALS department was looking for ways to raise an endowment for student scholarships. The Bratt brothers readily agreed.

Benjamin, best known for his role as Detective Rey Curtis in the TV series Law & Order, plays Che Rivera, a macho former inmate, recovering alcoholic, and single father. He's a Muni bus driver by day and a lowrider aficionado by night.

The backdrop is the Mission's colorful neighborhoods and people, lowrider culture, and music, both old school favored by Che and his buddies, and hip hop, preferred by the new generation. The movie explores homophobia, gang culture, and violence in the Latino community.

The brothers wanted their film to represent the cultural diversity of their hometown as it confronts issues affecting the culture and neighborhood. The film depicts the clash between homosexuality and Catholic values after Che learns his only son is gay.

La Mission is Peter Bratt's second feature film. In 1996, he produced

Follow Me Home, also starring his brother, a low-budget film he describes as an "ethnic road movie."

Latin American and Latino Studies Department

The Latin American and Latino Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz is leading an emerging field that links Latina/o Studies and Latin American Studies. Its scholarship centers on developing the core concepts needed to understand the dynamics of cultural, social, political and economic integration in the Americas within an increasingly globalized frame of reference.