Johanna Bermudez Ruiz Bio 2018 NK (1)I am an award-winning filmmaker born in the Caribbean. My ancestors go back thousands of years migrating within this sea’s currents of Puerto Rico, Vieques, and St. Croix. Like many others, they migrated all throughout the Caribbean, Latin American, and Unites States. They were the first to experience the brutality of colonization and genocide. As an outcome of these monstrous inhumane atrocities of expropriations and enslavement, I am of Amerindian (Taino), African, and Spanish lineage.
St. Croix is mostly unknown. It is a small, quiet, and subtle island that is packed with history, resilience, and beauty. Here is the thing, if you have seen, read, or listened to the “Hamilton” sound track, the Broadway show by Lin-Manuel Miranda, then you have touched on St. Croix. Hamilton’s mother was born on St. Croix and he was raised and educated on the island. He got his first introductory studies to economy and politics by local merchants on St. Croix. After a dire hurricane that ravished the island, the merchants paid for his travels to New York City so that he could pursue higher education.
So let me put this history, and my story into present day perspective. I was born on St. Croix. This island was purchased by the United States in 1917 from Denmark for $25 million. That same year Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship. As you may know Puerto Rico was invaded or occupied or acquired, depending on who you talk with, by the United Stated in 1898. A little further down in history, my paternal great-grand father, of African descent, who was from Luquillo, Puerto Rico, migrated to Vieques as a laborer. He met my great-grandmother a mid-wife in Vieques, who was of Spanish-French ancestry. They married in the late 1800’s, and by the early 1900’s they migrated with seven of their children to St. Croix. My paternal grandmother with her family migrated from St. Croix to Chicago in the 1940’s. My parents met in Chicago. They got married in the ‘60’s and returned to St. Croix where they later started a business. My maternal great-grand parents are from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. My mother’s family has deep roots within Amerindians (Taino) ancestry. Her family were farmers who owned their farmland and sold their provisions to their community. So I consider myself Crucian-Rican. Crucian is the term used for those who are born on the island of St. Croix.
Does this make sense to you? It’s okay if it doesn’t because the truth is my family’s Caribbean history is deeply complex.
The bottom-line is I fell in love with film from an early age. My dad had an 8mm camera and filmed everything around us. He documented our childhood through film. I loved to watch those family movies over and over again. I am thankful to my mom and dad because they trusted me at an early age, about 7 or 8 years old, to set-up the 8mm projector and watch those films all by myself. I think my sisters would describe me as a brat because they struggled at times to get me to do house chords. My passion was to watch movies and TV shows. I was glued to the TV, and when I wasn’t, I was dreaming about moving to California to become an actor. At least once a week, I would ask my day “when are we moving to California?” I was persistent. So, his reply to me was “one of these days.” My response, after weeks and months of waiting was, “when is one of these days?” My dad was the head of the household, and he had a lot of patience with me.
By the age of 17, I was accepted to Antioch College. Although in high school I was very involved in acting, and photographed everything that moved, on the advice of my high school Literature teacher, who thought I would be a very good attorney, I enrolled in college as a political science major. It was my passion for acting and photography that led me to continue to enroll in those classes whenever I could. But it wasn’t until I went to London for a study abroad semester that I I met a classmate that was majoring in Creative Writing, and through that, fell in love with the creative arts and film. That experience opened my eyes and my heart, and of course my passion, to once again love film. In London, I study film theory, filmmaking, and literature. It was excellent!
I returned to the states to continue my studies. I did an internship at the Women of Color Resource Center at the University of Berkeley. In the Bay Area, I was exposed to films, film festivals, and distribution companies. Films like “Black is Black Ain’t” by Marlon Riggs, “Daughters of the Dust” by Julie Dash, “Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino, and “Fargo” by Joel Coen had such an immense influence and impact on me. These movies had me fall head-first deep in love with films. At the same time, my interest in dance was growing after watching Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company. I decided to combine dance with storytelling within my films. I returned to Antioch College, and worked on several short and feature experimental documentaries and acted in films. My senior college thesis film was a feature documentary film, “X-Isles”. This beautiful film delved into homophobia in the Caribbean. “X-isles” was nominated for film festivals awards and was part of a Latina Studies course at Hunter College. It broadcasted on New York City public television.
After college graduation, I move to New York City where I worked on films and freelanced as a light rigger on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. For many years I worked at Susan Batson’s acting studio, known at the time as Black Nexxus, Inc. I collaborated with Susan’s son, Carl Ford, on a couple of documentaries and fictional films. Carl helped me edit my first award-winning short, “Spirit of Expression” that I co-produced with Fiona Conway. “Spirit of Expression” captured the underground culture and magnetism of spirituality in Guyana.
A few years later, I traveled to Vieques to document on camera the international protests to stop the U.S. Navy and U.S. NATO alliances from using the island as a bombing practice range. My film documentation of the protest allowed me to produce my short film, “Vieques: An Island Forging Futures.” Not only did it win numerous awards, but also screened worldwide conferences and film festivals in Japan, Indian, Switzerland, and Cuba. Since then I have produced and directed over 15 independent documentaries, films, music videos, and Public Service Announcement videos. I produced my award-nominating feature documentary film, “Sugar Pathways” about the more than 100 years of Puerto Rican migration, integration, and contribution to the U.S. Virgin Islands. My feature documentary, “Forgotten in Paradise,” captures the relation of mental health services between the United States and U.S. Virgin Islands. Recently, I completed my award-winning short drama-thriller, “Soléne.” This beautiful fictional film captures the essences of the strength of love when faced with aversion.
I continue to educate myself in the film industry and work hard on my film craft. I started a women-owned film production company, Cane Bay Films, that produces social responsibility PSAs, documentaries, and video content for government, corporations, and non-profits. I was a founding member of the New York Chapter of the National Latino Independent Film Producers. Currently, I am a member of the International Documentary Film Association and the European Documentary Network. I enjoy working on films that help with making the world a better place.
To see Sugar Pathways: www.vimeo.com/ondemand/sugarpathways
To see Soléne: www.vimeo.com/ondemand/solene
To see Vieques: An Island Forging Futures: www.vimeo.com/182980315
Follow me on Instagram: johannabermudezruiz
Find me on IMBD: www.imdb.com/name/nm1976118