- Editorial Photographer / Photojournalist
- Sound Mixer
- Video Editor - Documentary
- Full-Service Live Production
- Non-Fiction Film Director
- Executive Producer
- Senior Editor
Cellf is a documentary which focuses on the story of Michael Cevallos. Michael, 53 at the time of filming, is a poet, activist, and has spent most of his life in some form of incarceration. He was born and raised around the Houston, Texas area. He is the son of Mexican immigrants.
The filming was conducted in May of 2021, roughly two years after I began interviewing Michael. When filming was taking place, Michael was staying in an abandoned barn while on the run from a parole violation, a fugitive. While I do not make a point to highlight this directly in the film, Michael mentions it in passing.
After the credits, Michael introduces that during the film we will be going through his journal. A decades long mass of writing which he used to keep himself looking toward a better future during his multiple stays in prison. The documentary is split into three main parts: Prison, Passion, and Punishment. Each of these chapters are driven by the stories Michael recalls or reads directly from his written pages.
The narrative begins with establishing shots of the location, a key character in the film. Not only does it give context to many of Michael’s anecdotes in the film, but also provides the viewer with a look into what living on the US/Mexico border may mean for a second-generation Mexican immigrant. Most of southeastern Texas is ranch land, white owned ranch land. The corn fields, wind turbines, and massive plots of land behind fences are a blatant symbol of colonization and capitalism.
We first meet Michael in the barn. He begins the film by speaking about his devotion to Jesus Christ and the role that his faith plays in his day to day. The viewer is then given a look at how Michael makes money. Collecting and selling scrap metal, disused furniture, and books is his main form of income during the filming of the documentary.
Each chapter is punctuated by close-up studio shots of his journal. Background music and lighting are utilized to set a certain subtle tone for the stories ahead.
Chapter one is Michael recalling what prison means to him in the literal and metaphoric sense. Chapter two is Michael reading directly from his journals. In this chapter he laments missed opportunities in his life. Chapter three is a discussion about how Michael has experienced parental and state punishment throughout his life. The third chapter ends with Michael recounting the extensions added to his current sentence, which he is finishing while on parole.
Once this segment ends, we move into a sequence of Michael mowing the lawn of the abandoned property. The audience leaves Michael in a reflective state. We had just spent five days filming and discussing his past mistakes and trials, which had an impact on us both. The lawnmowing sequence is intended to alleviate some of tension created by the film, but also leave the audience in a relatable place with Michael. Regardless of status or class, most of us must clean up the yard at some point.