For those attending opening night at the Sarasota Film Festival, expect to see a familiar face. This isn’t a reference to the established documentarian, Rory Kennedy, but that of another political figure, President Barack Obama. Okay, Mr. President will not actually be in attendance at the festival, but who will be is Luis Ortiz, an Obama impersonator and the subject of one of this year’s documentaries, Bronx Obama. Ortiz plans on making an appearance on the red carpet as Obama and he’ll even have his own secret service agent. Spectacle aside, Bronx Obama is a compelling feature about a man whose world changes simply on the basis of his resemblance to arguably the most identifiable man in America. SRQ had the privilege of speaking to director, Ryan Murdock, and Luis Ortiz about the project and their film fest expectations.
Ortiz had been down on his luck and recently had experienced being on welfare around the time that Obama was turning out to be a leading candidate for 2008’s presidential race. Though Ortiz’s obvious likeness quickly became a running joke amongst friends, it was his friend, Pac, who realized the potential opportunity that had befallen Ortiz. So, off he went and, after purchasing a suit and loosing his signature goatee, Ortiz hit up Time Square to try to make a buck. After Obama’s big win and inauguration, things changed dramatically for Ortiz; he became highly recognizable and was often referred to as “Bronx Obama.”
Murdock heard about Ortiz and was instantly fascinated with the premise of his unique situation. “The idea that everyone has a doppelgänger is interesting to me,” Murdock explains “When I first heard about Luis, I thought that’d be really complicated—to look like the president, especially Barack Obama.” Some time in mid-2011 the two arranged a meeting through a mutual friend and Murdock was convinced that with 2012’s election approaching, it would be the ideal time to document Ortiz’s experience. This meant jumping headlong into the project and Murdock had to drop everything in order to follow Ortiz around for that year. “I shot most of the film myself; it was nice because I could get into intimate moments without a huge crew or big clunky camera set-up,” Murdock tells us. For that year, as Ortiz joined a touring production under the management of a wretched manager that put on humorous mock-debates between Ortiz and a Mitt Romney impersonator (and even a Donald Trump), Murdock was there at every beat. Through the process Murdock and Ortiz became close, or as Ortiz says, “It’s been a long journey and Ryan and I have gotten pretty tight.”
It’s evident that Murdock admires Ortiz and his ability to take this opportunity and run with it. The film becomes less about just the oddity of Ortiz’s predicament and more about the man behind the famed face. “I found not only the weirdness of the story and the visual element compelling but his personal story, as well,” Murdock says. “There are some other Obama impersonators out there but I feel like Luis, for me, is an interesting person. Obama’s a cheerleader for the ‘American Dream’ and I think Luis takes that to heart,” Murdock continues. “He thinks good things are still to come, which I think for many people is not an easy thing to believe right now.”
Despite his positivity, life since Obama’s presidency hasn’t always been peachy for Ortiz who says he walks around “with hats and sunglasses everywhere.” Ortiz explains, “I’ve walked by people and I’ve seen steam coming out of their ears. I have to hide myself sometimes.” Aside from the threat of confrontations, overall Ortiz remains truly grateful for this profitable break and all the experiences he’s gotten out of it, as well as the public figures he’s met, for example Flavor Flav of Public Enemy (one of Ortiz’s favorite groups.)
for Head on over to SFF’s website to purchase tickets to Bronx Obama check out our photo gallery below for exclusive photos from the feature.
Saturday, April 12, 12:15pm Regal Hollywood 20, Theater 11
Sunday, April 13, 12:15pm Regal Hollywood 20, Theater 8