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July 17, 2014

Host: José Cárdenas

Carl Hayden Robotics Team Documentary

  |   Video
  • Underwater Dreams is a new documentary that follows four undocumented students who entered an underwater robotics competition in 2004 and beat MIT and other colleges. The group was from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix. Cristian Arcega and Lorenzo Santillan, two members of the 2004 Carl Hayden High School robotics team and Fredi Lajvardi, Carl Hayden robotics team coach talk about the documentary.
  • Cristian Arcega - Graduate, Carl Hayden High School
  • Lorenzo Santillan - Graduate, Carl Hayden High School
  • Fredi Lajvardi - Team Coach, Carl Hayden Robotics Team
Category: Technology   |   Keywords: technology, robotics, underwater, team, documentary, competition, phoenix,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: "Underwater Dreams" is a new documentary that follows four undocumented students who entered an underwater robotics competition in 2004. The group was from Phoenix’s Carl Hayden High School. We will talk to two of the students and one of the coaches featured in the documentary, but first, watch what "Underwater Dreams" is about.

(Sound on tape)

>> They were a rag tag robotics team. Four teenaged boys from Phoenix, Arizona, decided to build an underwater robot. Just for the hell of it. They took their robot and headed west, to a sophisticated underwater robotics competition up against the likes of MIT.

>> When we arrived at the competition, I was pretty nervous.

>> The other robots were like pieces of underwater jewelry.

>> We looked like the carnival had arrived.

>> We were way over our heads.

>> We noticed water in the case.

>> We're telling it to go forward, the robot's going sideways and I'm thinking –

>> Oh, my god.

>> We were all having problems.

>> My idea was a tampon. This was a do-or-die situation.

>> MacGyver would be proud.

>> But the robot was only the beginning.

>> Who are these punks from nowhere that had no business doing what they do? What is that?

>> They broke the mold and said catch me if you can.

>> It wasn't about building a robot.

>> The 2004 team showed us it was possible.

>> No matter what background you come from or where you are, you can do what you set your mind to do.

>> Kids at Carl Hayden high school become leaders.

>> They have a sense of social responsibility that was cultivated as being part of this team.

>> Knowing you can't do something just because you're lacking a piece of paper is kind of devastating.

>> What the robotics did to me was to show me, even though I don't know where to start, I can solve the problem.

>> We should empower as many people as we can to build great things.

>> These boys laid a foundation. They inspired those behind them to see that possibilities could exist. To be courageous. To dream and to fly.

>> I want to solve the energy crisis.

>> Make a difference in my community.

>> Be a computer engineer.

>> Develop the renewable energy infrastructure.

>> The next generation of autonomous vehicles.

>> Make them go faster.

>> Prosthetics for kids.

>> Discover, like, alien life.

>> I want to be an astronomer.

(End of tape)

José Cárdenas: With us tonight to talk about the Carl Hayden robotics documentary "Underwater Dreams" are one of the coaches Fredi Lajvardi, and two of the team members Cristian Arcega and Lorenzo Santillan. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte." We've actually talked about this wonderful story a number of times over the last 10 years. And as I understand it, from talking to you earlier, this movie has been in the works for about that same period of time.

Fredi Lajvardi: Yeah.

José Cárdenas: Why so long? To get it from talking to actually on the screen?

Fredi Lajvadri: Well, the director and producer contacted us right about when the story happened, but we had already signed with Warner Brothers, so she kept checking every year to see if the contract was up and if we were free to sign a contract with her. Turned out that just about a year ago our contract wasn't renewed and we were kind of free agents and we went ahead and signed with her to do the documentary.

José Cárdenas: Kind of like LeBron James going back to Cleveland.

Fredi Lajvardi: So she jumped in when she had that window of opportunity and in less than a year she filmed it and got it all done and ready to go.

José Cárdenas: I understand ultimately it's a collaboration between her and Lions Gate.

Fredi Lajvardi: Yeah, Lions Gate jumped on afterwards. After we had already started to do the documentary, they wanted to now do the feature film. So we had to put that in the contract that she would be able to still be able to make the documentary and everything worked out right.

José Cárdenas: So, a lot of memories for you guys. They're shown on the screen. What was it like going through the movie making process? And then I want to talk about the actual events and what it was like to compete against MIT and some of the other major universities in the country.

Cristian Arcega: It was very inspirational especially getting to see and hear all the different stories, because the documentary doesn't just cover us. It covers a lot of the history of our team and a lot of stories we were unaware of due to not being personally familiar with the students and also their history and families.

José Cárdenas: We're talking about people who came after you.

Cristian Arcega: And before us, as well. There were a few students that graduated and they came back and said and they, you know, gave us feedback on what the story had turned into.

José Cárdenas: So as I understand it, Cristian and you Lorenzo were sophomores at the time. This was about the third year of the program. Why did you get involved to begin with and tell us about your experiences in the competition.

Lorenzo Santillan: I had just entered the competition –- I joined the robotics team because my friend had left for Mexico and I didn't have anywhere to go. I joined the robotics team because I found a place where I could work with tools and, you know, play with them and break stuff and do all that good stuff.

José Cárdenas: So Fredi, part of the appeal of the movie is the story of doing things that people don't think you can do. And they think of Carl Hayden, they also think of kids who are immigrants to this country. And yet, you believed in them all along the way.

Fredi Lajvardi: Yeah, I mean, talent can be found anywhere. Really the only thing that determines whether or not you can be successful is yourself. That's something that I learned when I was young, and we try to teach the kids. I think they hit the jackpot when they realized having beaten MIT in a very competitive competition. I think it opened the door for all the students after them, as well.

José Cárdenas: It was an eye opener for you, too. That little clip we heard, you used an expletive because you were surprised at what was happening.

Fredi Lajvardi: Any time you're in a competition like that, there's unusual things that happen and sometimes, you probably don't choose the best words at the moment, but there's a lot of emotion and time invested and you feel frustrated when things don't go exactly the way you want or if you’re shocked with how tough the competition is, but that's part of being in it and learning how to dealing with it and either learning from it so you can do better next time or if you get lucky, you do well and win the first time.

José Cárdenas: So Lorenzo, you beat MIT among other universities. What was that like?

Lorenzo Santillan: I think I didn't know how to feel because at the same time, we beat MIT and we beat all the top really high-caliber colleges and universities, but at the same time, I was probably -- I didn't know who they were. So, it didn't make a difference if I beat a college or university, I didn't know who they were. So I was like oh, cool we beat MIT. Later, the teachers told me who MIT was and all the other colleges that we had just beat. It was like whoa, we did just did that. Like, oh my god! We had to sit down and walk on the beach and soak it in for a little bit.

José Cárdenas: Cristian, what about afterwards? Was there a letdown maybe not immediately, but over time?

Cristian Arcega: There definitely was. We didn't get a lot of attention at first, and then about a year afterward we were on your show, you were one of the first ones to actually pay attention to our story and after that there was a lot of media publicity and the movie stuff started coming out. But after we graduated high school, there was a lot of anti-immigration legislation in the state and I lost my scholarship from Prop 300 and I didn't really have anywhere or any set goals because my whole life I had already always been aiming for that goal. I want to go to university, I want to be an engineer, I want to be and do something great. And I thought we had done some great things when I was in high school and I thought we were on the right path, but life takes you on some not so interesting directions sometimes, especially in Arizona.

José Cárdenas: So Fredi, did that make it hard? You have these kids who’ve accomplished so much. Incredible future ahead of them and they can't advance because of legislation like Prop 300, which says you can't get in-state tuition or provide state financial aid. What do you tell the kids that come after them? Why should they keep doing it?

Fredi Lajvardi: It wasn't as hard as you think. If you think about it, you think the kids won't continue because they saw what happened to them. In fact, it was the complete opposite. The kids doubled down and worked harder. They were able to secure funding from nonfederal groups, so they could pay the three or four times in-state tuition in order to go to college and a whole slew of kids went to ASU after that and got their degrees.

José Cárdenas: And we’re showing some of them on the screen as we’re talking.

Fredi Lajvardi: It inspired them more, it gave them more sense of purpose and more that they wanted to prove to everyone they were worth it, even if it meant having to pay out of state tuition, even though they live in the state and they purchase everything in the state, and in some cases, pay taxes, so it just motivated them more to do it and I didn't expect that. I was really surprised by how tough they were about it. One of the things I think that we use, if I could say anything, was, you know, you end up -- you could get deported any time. What do you want to be deported as? Do you want to be deported as a landscaper, a garbage collector or an engineer? So your education, as long as you're here, is the number one thing. Do anything you can, scrape for it, do yard sales, do anything you can, but get that education because once you get that, they can't take that away from you and the interesting thing is this is kind of ironic, you could work in any country, except the United States.

José Cárdenas: That’s an excellent point. We need to talk a little bit about the movie. The documentary took nine years to get going, but it's gotten going now and premiered in New York City is that right?

Fredi Lajvardi: New York City and Los Angeles.

José Cárdenas: And this week in Phoenix on Friday.

Fredi Lajvardi: On Friday.

José Cárdenas: Tell us about that.

Lorenzo Santillan: Well, it's going to be on Friday in the AMC center downtown at 7:30, and we're excited because well, it's Arizona and it's where we originated from. I'm really excited about it and I hope a lot of people can show up.

José Cárdenas: Cristian, it's gotten great reviews. And as I understand, there's going to be a shortened version that's going to be shown on television.

Cristian Arcega: That's right. This weekend, which will be on Sunday afternoon, you would have to check your local schedule for that, but it's going to be simultaneously broadcast in Spanish and English on Telemundo and MSNBC. And also Monday, it will be broadcast by Mun2.

José Cárdenas: And Fredi, you know you're a central character in this. As I understand it, there's going to be, for lack of a better description, a commercial version of this. There's a movie that's in the works right now and tell us about that.

Fredi Lajvardi: Well, this movie, which is called “Spare Parts,” is being produced by Lions Gate and Pantelion. And it's starring George Lopez is going to play a combination of myself and Dr. Cameron, so the character's going to be called Fredi Cameron and of course, they inserted a female interest in the movie. This character is played by Marisa Tomei, who pushes George Lopez to work with the kids and make sure he stays true to his word, and doesn't just abandon the kids. I don't want to tell too much about the movie, but it's real exciting because we actually, our current robotics team got to build and operate all the robots for the movie, the underwater robots. A lot of the kids today on the team have participated in helping the special effects for that movie.

José Cárdenas: Cristian, we're almost out of time. What does this mean? There’s the excitement. There’s the novelty of being in a movie or having your life portrayed that way. Is there a deeper meaning to all of this?

Cristian Arcega: There's always a deeper meaning, especially when it affects you directly and I hope what other people take from this is there's a lot of barriers in this country, especially if you're undocumented or whatever other problems you have individually, but you always have to have hope and you always have to keep trying your best and try to get to your goals, because even if you don't reach them, I haven't become a mechanical engineer yet, but I'm still aiming for that.

José Cárdenas: And Fredi, we’re almost out of time, but I understand that there have been other successes you've produced valedictorians and other people have gone on to be very significant in their careers and so congratulations to you, congratulations to all of you. It's been an inspiring story and I wish you all the best. And thanks for coming back on the show.

And don’t forget, if you want to watch previous episodes or find out what’s coming up on the show just go our website azpbs.org and click on "Horizonte." That’s our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and Eight, I’m José Cárdenas. Have a good night.

Sounds of Cultura (SOC): Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona

  |   Video
  • Dr. Vanessa Davidson, curator of Latin American Art for the Phoenix Art Museum, talks about Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona, an exhibit featuring work by artist Antonio Berni. The exhibit is the first retrospective of Berni and was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in collaboration with the Malba-Fundación Costantini in Buenos Aires.
  • Dr. Vanessa Davidson - Curator of Latin American Art, Phoenix Art Museum
Category: Sounds of Cultura   |   Keywords: the arts, soc, culture, latin, american, art, artist, phoenix, exhibit, museum,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: The latest exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, "Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona," opened in June and features over 100 objects by artist Antonio Berni. The works include a variety of media including paintings, sculptures, sketchbooks, and more. Joining me to talk about this exhibition is Dr. Vanessa Davidson, curator of Latin American art for the Phoenix Art Museum. Dr. Davidson, thanks for joining us to talk about this very, very fascinating artist, regarded as one of the premier artists in Latin America of the 20th century. Before we talk about why he obtained that fame, give us some background on him.

Vanessa Davidson: Antonio Berni was a very precocious artist and he had a long and very prolific career. He was born in 1905 in Rosario, Argentina. And in 1926, we already find him in Paris at the age of 21, where he developed a surrealist style. Of course, surrealism was all the rage in Paris in the late 1920s, early 30s. He returns to Argentina in 1931, and because of his socio-political proclivities, he decides to embrace the style of social realism. And he rises to some prominence in this painting style throughout the 30s, 40s and into the 50s, but in the late 1950s, motivated by the social distress he saw around him in Buenos Aires -- because of the poverty, extreme socio-economic disparities and socio-political upheavals, he decides to abandon painting for a more visceral medium, and that’s assemblage. In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘assemblage,’ the way I like to think about it is really collage in three dimensions. So in embarking on these assemblage works, he also does a very ingenious thing. He invents two fictional characters and uses them as narrative devices through which to tell the tale of his country's plight. The two characters are Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel. And he envisions Juanito as a young boy from the countryside who moves to Buenos Aires in search of work and ends up living in the misery towns or the shanty towns on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. On the other hand, Ramona Montiel is a working-class seamstress who is lured into the life of high-society prostitution by the promise of expensive gifts and a life of luxurious decadence.

José Cárdenas: And we've got some images we're going to show in a little bit to illustrate what he was doing with these two characters. Before we do that, he's regarded not only as the greatest Argentinean artist of his time, but one of the greats in Latin America. Why such fame?

Vanessa Davidson: Well, I think there are a number of reasons. One thing that makes the exhibition that’s presently at the Phoenix Art Museum so important is that in this series, Juanito and Ramona, what he does is very compelling in terms of the way he pairs his subject and his materials. So what he decides to do in these assemblages and these prints is to use materials from the fictional world that each character inhabits to illustrate that world. So for Juanito, he uses the trash and metal siding and cardboard and discarded wood that one finds littering the slums in Buenos Aires.

José Cárdenas: And as we're talking about, let's see if we can bring some of those pictures up to illustrate what we're talking about. But go ahead.

Vanessa Davidson: And for Ramona, on the other hand, as this image very well illustrates, he uses old machine parts and toys, old discarded clothing and shoes. This image is called “Juanito va a la ciudad” or “Juanito goes to the city,” and it really narrates Juanito’s transference from the chaotic jungle, very untidy life in the slums, going to the city reproduced here with buildings and grid formats. And as you see, the swirling clouds above are made from corrugated metal. That image was from 1963. And this image is from 1978. It’s called “Juanito ciruja” or “Juanito the scavenger” and what's so interesting about this image as compared to the previous one is the operative shift we see here between the ways that Berni is actually using the collage elements, whereas before, he had these jumbles of discarded detritus, here most of the elements feature corporate brands. So this is one way that he was eluding to the effect of commercialization on the culture of Argentina on the time.

José Cárdenas: And the other thing that one notices is that the image of Juanito changes.

Vanessa Davidson: Yes, indeed. He referred to Juanito and Ramonas as “archetypes of the Argentine and Latin American reality.” So as you'll see throughout the exhibition, their facial features change. They're not always depicted in the same way. And in fact, Berni also wrote of Juanito that he could have been a boy from Caracas or Santiago or from Sao Paulo. He could have been a boy from any of the slums of those teaming metropolises. And in this way, although his characters are rooted in the urban milieu of Buenos Aires, their plight is also one that's shared by other similar Juanitos and Ramonas throughout Latin America during this time.

José Cárdenas: Another image that flashed up on the screen, we'll get it back, is one that reflects, if I understand, the dreams that Juanito -- or nightmares would be a better term.

Vanessa Davidson: These are the monstrous, the monsters, they're from a series called the Cosmic Monsters that Berni created in 1964 and 1965. And yes, they illustrate the characters who haunt Juanito and Ramona’s nightmares. And as you see in this image, we actually have three monsters in the exhibition. We're very lucky to have them because, as you can tell from the image, they're very fragile and don't travel all that often. But this one is called “Sordidness” or “La sordidez.” It’s from 1964, and it's created, not only of discarded wood and paper mache, but also a whole tree root system, bottle caps, old camera flashes are the eyeballs. Nails stick out from the jowls. It’s just an illustration of what an awesome assemblage artist Berni was.

José Cárdenas: And we’ve been talking about her a lot, but you also have the images up next of Ramona.

Vanessa Davidson: Yes, indeed. As I was saying before, he uses the materials from each character's universe to illustrate them in his work. So for Ramona's universe he used lace and buttons from her life as a seamstress --

José Cárdenas: She almost looks like an Egyptian goddess in this image.

Vanessa Davidson: She almost does, yes. And as you'll notice, her necklace is composed of keys, of house keys. So he used different -- also with Ramona different discarded industrial materials, but also in the assemblages for Ramona, he used second-hand clothing of the Belle Époque in Paris, he scoured the flea markets for gaudy rhinestone jewelry to dress her up. What's so interesting about this image of Ramona, this is called “Ramona en la calle” or “Ramona in the street” of 1964, and here we see Ramona with her head literally occupied by an image of a politician and by consumer media. These are what you see atop her head there are advertisements for a razor. So he's also commenting as I said before with Juanito he used the corporate brands, the corporate logos and with Ramona he's looking at this culture of consumerism through the images that he puts into her head.

José Cárdenas: And why is she presented not simply as a lady of high society, but a high society prostitute?

Vanessa Davidson: Well, I think he wanted to show the plight that unmarried women faced in Argentina during this time. Women who were not married and didn't have a husband and children had to fend for themselves and the story of Ramona, the arc of the story is she worked for many years as a seamstress, but simply couldn't make ends meet, so that's why I believe he wanted to show how she was not a woman of lax morals, but instead aspired to a better life and much as the imagery in the exhibition also goes to show that aspiration toward a better life was in part fueled by the consumer culture that she was taking in through television and other media ads.

José Cárdenas: And I think we have another image that we're going to put of her up on the screen. This one, what is the significance here?

Vanessa Davidson: This one is one of the most iconic images of Ramona. It's called “Ramona vive su vida” or “Ramona lives her life.” As you can see, the dress is made of doilies that would be found in any household. The breasts are made up of gaskets that would go in cylinders for engines. The significance of this work with her arms raised high above her head in an jubilant, independent pose. This is Ramona living her life. This is Ramona who is in charge of her own destiny now that she is a high-society courtesan.

José Cárdenas: Now, you’ve made a few comments indicating that we’re pretty lucky to have this exhibition here in Phoenix.

Vanessa Davidson: Indeed.

José Cárdenas: As I understand it only one of two U.S. cities in which this is being shown. How did that happen?

Vanessa Davidson: This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires. Plans for the exhibition began in 2007, and it came to us by a confluence of contacts and very good fortune. I'm very good friends with the assistant curator at Houston Michael Wellen, and we were discussing the exhibition, and I asked if it was travelling. He said, yes, it's going to Buenos Aires and Mexico City and I said how about Phoenix? And he said he hadn't considered that possibility, and I said well let's consider it, so we started to plan out and realized that the dates corresponded and thanks to very, very generous support by the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation as well as Cox Communications we were able to bring it here. As you said, only the second venue in the United States for the entire exhibition.

José Cárdenas: And how long is it going to run?

Vanessa Davidson: It will be open until September 21st.

José Cárdenas: When people go, because it's an extensive collection, what will they see? You had told me when we were off camera that, for example, the pictures we arranged were kind of in the order that people will see them, Juanito, the monsters and then Ramona.

Vanessa Davidson: Yes, and there are about 32 assemblages in the show, but there are about 42 prints, and printmaking activity was very important for Berni. He was an incredibly innovative and original printmaker. He actually coined two terms: xylo-collage and xylo-collage relief. He applied the same technique of assemblage to wood block printing surface. So, he would create these wood blocks upon which he would incise beautiful imagery, and then he would collage some of the same elements that we’ve been seeing repeatedly -- machine parts, cogs and wheels and keys and coins to create collages with very high relief. So our visitors will be able to enjoy not only the assemblages, but also a wonderful number of these prints along with 15 of their printing plates which are displayed next to the work. We have the positive and the negative of the image, which sheds light on the artists’ creative process.

José Cárdenas: This is very special in so many different ways. Thank you so much for joining us tonight to talk about it.