Kevin Rios delves into his sexual identity and Cuban heritage in “Made of Sugar”

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Filmmaker Kevin Rios didn’t expect to be a winner of the 2015 Sundance Ignite and Project 1234 film challenge. The 24-year old creative, who wrote, directed and shot the short film, submitted his piece, “Made of Sugar,” with minimal expectations, only to find out weeks later that his project had come out on top.

The documentary short blends highly stylized, evocative black and white shots with stop-motion scenes and wistful home videos that explore Rios’ cultural and sexual identity. In an interview to Out, Rios elucidates the inspirations and intentions behind his bold, engaging film. 

“Made of Sugar is a personal film that I made in my last semester at New York University,” Rios told Out. “The film reflects on my family, my first years living away from home, and how our Cuban culture is evolving.”

Raised in Miami among an immigrant family, Rios’ sense of self was greatly shaped by his Cuban heritage.

“There’s a palpable fondness of the island and its pre-revolutionary ideals that you can feel through the older generations,” Rios said.

Marked by the tales and nostalgia shared by the generations that preceded him, Rios was at odds with himself—he was Cuban, queer, and felt an overwhelming pressure to fit in and adhere to convention. For years, Rios suppressed his feelings and lived in a charade “created [by]a forced masculine exterior.” 

“As soon as I came out, I began to reject my Cuban culture that caused me to suppress my sexuality for so long and truly believed I was just an American,” he added.

It wasn’t until he picked up and moved to New York City to pursue a film education that he began to investigate and reflect on his family’s background and the rich history that linked their pasts to his present.

“Not only was the film tackling my own upbringing, it shed light on how my mother felt leaving her home for a new country and the idealistic memories of what Cuba use to be,” he explained. 

Through his journey, he was able to embrace his inherent duality, find self-acceptance, and illuminate the indelible ties to a culture that was deep-seated, yet elusive.

“I began film school with an open mind and realized that looking into the history of my culture was the only way to discover my own voice in film. I couldn’t whitewash myself. Mine and my family’s stories were the ones I was born to tell through film.”

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