With “Sin Padre,” the movie premiering tonight at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival, director Jay Francisco Lopez hopes to pull at the heartstrings of his audience. The film — the title of which translates as “Without a Father” — tells the story of fatherless Juan, a Honduran teen, who delves into his past to uncover the identity of  his father, which was kept secret by his mother.

“If I can just reach the heart of one person in the audience, that will mean so much to me,” Lopez says. “I hope that my movie sends a message that goes beyond racial borders, because it’s a human story and a universal one.”

The 28-year-old drama director and screenwriter wanted to show his first feature film through the lens of his teen years in the Mission, growing up in a Honduran family and without a father.

“The film is based on my life events till I was 17 and it’s very close to my heart,” says Lopez. “Because the story is very intimate and personal to me, it was sometimes very hard to talk about.”

To write the screenplay, he says he had to dig into the past. In ways, he had to relive some of his teenage years, he says.

For the past seven years, Lopez has been working with children and teenagers from various cities and has met many whose fathers are absent. While working with them, he noticed they experienced the same sadness due to their father’s absence.

“The fact that it is highlighting a Honduran family has gained attention because there isn’t much Honduran representation in the entertainment industry. But all cultures can relate because every racial group and ethnicity has children growing up without fathers,” says Lopez.

The project was an idea he had dreamed about throughout his professional acting career. Lopez says the inspiration for the movie came from an essay about his father he was assigned to write for class when he was 11 years old and that he has since kept.

Unlike many filmmakers, Lopez hand wrote the script in a leather-bound journal he proudly shows off.

“I remember when I first started writing this script in September, I just grabbed a piece of pencil and paper and just started writing and writing,” Lopez says.

To produce the movie, Lopez had to overcome some challenges such as funding the project himself and casting. In the end though, “everything just came into place.”

Many of the actors and actresses starring in his movie are from the Bay Area and include actors who starred in “La Mission.” The actor David Fernandez Junior, who starred in the T.V. show, “Weeds,”  flew in from Los Angeles for the filming, which only took eight days.

The biggest casting difficulty was finding someone to play the main character, Juan, and his mother, Maria, because both are so similar to him and his mother.

“My Maria needed to embody what my mother actually looked like with this look about her that almost looks soulless,” says Lopez as he takes a deep breath. “She used to tell me that the only reason she lived for was me.”

The director ended up casting Mia Perez as his mother. The actress has been featured in films such as “Letter to my Daughter,” “Dish Soap,” commercials and music videos.  Javier Lezema, who starred in films such as “Cornered,” played Juan.

Lopez believes that his crew’s hard work is already paying off. The film is premiering at the Victoria Theatre tonight. He’s also planning future screenings at universities and high schools.

Sin Padre will be shown at 9:30 p.m. For more ticket information, click here.

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