Alba Enid García-Rivas on the Significance of Being a Latina Stop-Motion Filmmaker

Josie Zetina Inka Originals
Josie Zetina Inka Originals

In 2023, only 34 percent of creative roles in animation are held by women, according to the nonprofit organization Women In Animation. Within that 34 percent is Indigenous Boricua filmmaker Alba Enid García-Rivas.

Thanks to her father, a well-known director of photography on the island of Puerto Rico, García-Rivas became immersed in the world of film at a very young age. "My father was one of the cameraman pioneers. He was the director of photography for many telenovelas and stuff like that. Iris Chacón and La Lupe and all these greatest artists from Puerto Rico knew him because he was the go-to cameraman and the director of photography," she tells POPSUGAR. "Since I was 2 years old, I was involved with him. He brought me to the TV station. He taught me, 'This is how you do special effects. This is how you do a green screen.' He coached me, my brother, and my sister. We all grew up with that."

Being exposed to this world attracted a young García-Rivas to explore acting, which led her to study the craft further at the University of Puerto Rico. While attending the university in the '90s, García-Rivas was exposed to the rise of computer animation. It fascinated her, and she realized that this was the path she wanted to take. Leaving acting behind, the filmmaker-in-making packed her things and took a flight to New York and transferred her credits over to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in 1997 so she could begin taking courses in stop-motion animation.

After graduating with honors, García-Rivas landed her first job in the animation industry. "I did my thesis in stop-motion. And then at the end, I think a year after I graduated, I was hired by MTV to work as an animator on 'Celebrity Deathmatch,'" she says. But "Celebrity Deathmatch" — an adult stop-motion claymation series — was canceled in 2002 after six seasons. It was a harbinger of changes to the industry, and many stop-animation studios in NYC began to slowly disappear.

"They weren't making money because the computer animation industry started to explode. There were no jobs," García-Rivas remembers.

It was around this time that García-Rivas decided to focus on her artistic skills as a director. She also wrote screenplays, which revolved around character design. And she traveled the world going to conventions, where she sold her original puppets.

With puppet creation and stop-motion skills in her toolkit, this Indigenous Boricua filmmaker eventually returned to the camera and began working on stop-animation passion projects, which now includes an award-winning short inspired by Puerto Rico and her fourth film, which came about per a request from her daughter who was 7 years old at the time. The 13-minute long film, based on the book "Dangerously Ever After," took García-Rivas seven years to make and is set to release this spring.

"This film has, I will say, about 16,000 pictures. It's 24 frames in a second. For four seconds, it will take you about six hours of being there, moving and taking a picture, then moving [again], and making sure the increments are moving the correct way. And a lot of accidents can happen, [and] you have to start again," she explains.

"It took seven years to build, to do because life happens," she continues. "It's done in my basement studio and life happens, so I have to do it at my own pace. This is an indie film all the way, but the quality looks like it came from one of the biggest studios."

That hard work has been paying off. García-Rivas is the winner of this year's 21 Islands International Short Film Fest Award for her work on 2018's "Dak'Toká Taino (I Am Taino)," an animated short film about a young Taíno girl who visits her abuelita in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

And García-Rivas is setting her sights on greater accolades. She's hoping and preparing for a 2024 Oscar nomination bid for "Dangerously Ever After," which is based on the award-winning children's book by Dashka Slater of the same title and tells the story of Princess Amanita, who laughs in the face of danger and tackles obstacles with a bouquet of sniffling noses. The film is in final production right now and is slated to release later this year.

"We are going to release it in festivals first. We're going to try to do Sundance and Cannes Film Festival, because this is a strategy to follow, if you really want to go there [the Oscars]," she says. "And I've been qualified a few times, but this one I really, because it took seven years, I really want to take my time to have a shot."