Ms Johanna Ruiz Bermudez, accomplished a milestone business venture, the completion and premier of her film production, Sugar Pathways. Government House on St. Croix rolled out the red carpet on 21 March 2009 for the global debut premier of “Sugar Pathways,” with more than 250 people turning out to see the documentary about the migration of Puerto Rican families from the small Caribbean island of Vieques to the U.S Virgin Islands from the 1920s to through the ‘60s. In the beginning they came to work in the sugar cane fields. In the ‘60s many were forced to leave Vieques when the U.S Navy began using the island to test bombs. Johanna Bermudez-Ruiz wrote, produced and directed the film.
In “Sugar Pathways,” activist George Flores said his mother came to St. Croix to build a better life for her children. Author and story teller George Tyson said the conditions were better on St. Croix than Vieques. “Young people need to know the history of why we came here,” Bermudez-Ruiz said. “This is an educational film preserving the culture of Puerto Ricans on St. Croix. I put a lot of passion in the film, with scenes that really move me and touch me.”
The film, narrated by actress Lauren Velez of the Showtime series “Dexter,” recounts the Puerto Rican’s will to survive, integrate and contribute to the culture, economy and politics of the Virgin Islands. This film preserves history and culture and raises public awareness, portraying the blending of Crucian and Puerto Rican traditions,” said Delegate Donna M. Christensen in remarks before the screening. Gov. John DeJongh Jr. echoed Christensen’s remarks, saying the film captures the successful fusion of the Puerto Rican and V.I. cultures.
The 75 minute film includes black-and-white historical photos and footage, as well as interviews with historians, scholars, businessmen and storytellers. Laurent “Tippy” Alfred composed the soundtrack, and the film features music by Danny I and Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights. Some of the historians featured are Sen. Wayne James, Gerrard Emanuel and Arnold Highfield. “Crucians and Puerto Ricans came together and became one,’’ James said. “They got along better than any others” Merchant Basilo Felix, 82, said he came to St. Croix in 1948 and worked in the cane fields. He eventually owned and operated two thriving grocery stores. In the film, he tells about the day Pueblo supermarket opened in Golden Rock and how his gross receipts dropped dramatically.
“This film was very enlightening about the roots,” Felix said after the screening. “It lets people know how and why we came here. It is an important film for young people to see.” Bermudez-Ruiz, a Puerto Rican born on St. Croix, attended Antioch College, earning a bachelors of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on filmmaking, women’s studies, cross-cultural studies and political science. Ruiz has produced, directed, written and participated in numerous features and short films.
Bermudez-Ruiz sought the assistance of the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center to develop a detailed business plan and marketing strategy. Ms. Ruiz was able to leverage sponsorship of the film from: Governor DeJongh, Delegate Donna Christensen, St. Croix Administrator Pedro Encarnacion, the V.I Department of Tourism, the V.I State Historic Preservation Office, the Department of Natural Resources, the V.I Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the V.I Puerto Rican Friendship Committee. Bermudez-Ruiz said the next step for the film is marketing it at film festivals, for college tours and for television. Excerpt from the St. Thomas Source “Documentary About Vieques Migration Gets Gala Debut”, March 22, 2009, By Carol Buchanan