Featured Filmmaker: Anthony Lucero, Writer/Director of “East Side Sushi”

Our next installment of the Featured Filmmakers blog focuses on Anthony Lucero, a writer and director from Oakland, California who is here on Maui to present his latest feature film, EAST SIDE SUSHI. This drama is a journey of self-discovery, an ode to Oakland, CA (the location) and over coming adversity: a heartfelt story of Juana, a Latina single mother who is determined to make it as a sushi chef, a profession dominated by Japanese men.

EAST SIDE SUSHI screens tonight at 5pm at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s beautiful, state-of-the art Castle Theater.

EAST SIDE SUSHI writer/director Anthony Lucero

EAST SIDE SUSHI writer/director Anthony Lucero

Anthony gave us a bit of his time so we could learn more – including a major perk of making movies about sushi: you get to eat the props! 

Q: How did your film come to be?

A: My film started off as a self imposed writing exercise about a busboy who wanted to become a cook in a small greasy-spoon restaurant. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer and turn a simple idea into something more compelling. While writing that story, I became engrossed with the idea of having two cultures blend together in one story, and sushi felt like a good fit for an American story. While writing and researching this story about a Latino busboy (Juan) who wanted to become a sushi chef, it dawned on me that I’ve never seen a female sushi chef anywhere, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area which is one of them most liberal places on earth. If I were to find a female sushi chef, I think it would be here. Writing a film about someone who closes the gender gap and the cultural gaps felt intriguing to me. So I changed my character from Juan to Juana, and that’s the story we have today.

Q: What was the most challenging thing about making this film?

A: The most challenging aspect was not having enough money and resources to tell my original scripted story, but I believe that is a problem with many indie filmmakers. I had to beg and borrow people, actors, crew, locations, gear, etc. Luckily, the locations for my film were all donated and many of the cast an crew people worked for free. Also, sushi is expensive. Making an ultra low, low, low budget film out of pocket is very difficult and as I found out, food films in general are tough and costly to make. When we were filming, the fish and sushi would begin to change colors and fall apart under the hot lights. But the good thing about shooting a film about sushi was we got to eat the props when we were done filming.

Q: What type of experience do you hope the film will bring to viewers?

A: I hope that the film would inspire people to be more like my lead character, Juana. She is someone who wants to break out of the mold of what society believes she should be. I hope audiences will laugh, cry, smile, get upset at the antagonist in the film and just…fall in love with it, and of course walk away hungry.

Q: What do you think our Maui audiences will appreciate about your film?

A: I hope Maui audiences will appreciate the authenticity of the film. “Authenticity” is a topic that comes up in East Side Sushi. What is authentic Japanese food and does that food need to be prepared by Japanese people? It’s a question that I hope people will think about. Hopefully the many years of researching and writing East Side Sushi will come across on the big screen for the audience members in Maui.

Q: What is your connection to Maui?

A: It’s my number one choice for a vacation. I love it here. I have spent my last two December holidays here in Maui and it is also the very first tropical vacation that I ever took, 15 years ago. It was so magical, so beautiful. Once I got here, I never wanted to leave. I remember thinking, “I need to figure out a way to live and work here.” It’s a question that I’m still trying to answer today. Maui was also my introduction to slack-key musicians like Willie K. and the late Dennis Kamakahi.



The Featured Filmmaker series is coordinated and written by the Maui Film Festival’s Filmmaker Liaison and Social Media Director Sara TekulaClick here to see all of the Featured FIlmmaker posts and be sure follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get live updates from the festival.