By Davy V.
In March of 2015 I welcomed filmmaker Dylan Avery into my home.
Avery, whose film 9/11 Loose Change, is one of the most important documentaries in history, and the first film to go viral on the Internet, long before YouTube became what it is today, had been criss/crossing the country, filming his latest documentary, Black and Blue which centers around police brutality and injustices.
Humbled that Avery, along with Alex Salazar, a former LAPD cop turned activist whose story is featured in the film, had chosen Rochester, NY as one of their filming locations for Black and Blue, I gotta be honest, I didn't know quite what to expect.
I mean those that know me know that usually I'm
behind the camera, not in front of it.
And the only filming happening is when I exercise my first amendment right to record law enforcement officers, with my spontaneous, unorthodox random style of documenting police interaction with citizens.
That is if there's even such a thing as an unorthodox way of recording cops.
But here was Dylan Avery, who I had never met other than through a brief phone conversation.
Someone whose work I have always admired.
And he was now a guest in my home!
After showing Dylan and Alex to their room, I took them to one of my favorite Spanish restaurants, where we ate some great food.
After dinner, and over some Coronas, we talked about my dad Mario Vara.
My Dad Mario Vara with his VHS camcorder.
Photo circa 1989.
For those who may not be familiar with me, my work, or my Dad, let me explain.
My Dad Mario Vara fled Cuba in 1968 with my mom
and my brother, leaving family and loved ones behind.
In search of a better life and freedom for his family, my Dad eventually settled in Rochester, NY.
(That's where I come in.)
But little did my Dad know that he would soon face very similar injustices to the ones he fled his homeland for in the first place.
In 1986, Rochester, NY Police officers Randall "Rambo" Benjamin and Mark Mariano kicked in our front door without a warrant, terrorized our family at gunpoint, threatened to shoot my dog, assaulted me, destroyed our belongings, and then laughed at us afterwards.
Rochester Police officer Randall Benjamin even called my brother "Perry Mason" after my brother told him that what they did to our family was illegal and unconstitutional.
It was that incident right there that would forever change my Dad's life.
My Dad became very outspoken against police misconduct and corruption.
He would organize and attend rallies and marches.
And he would be at every city council meeting denouncing police abuse and demanding action and accountability from city officials.
My Dad even hosted a Spanish language cable access show titled "La Voz del Pueblo", which means "The Voice of The People", where he would focus on social justice issues including police misconduct and corruption, and where he would interview victims of police brutality.
But my Dad's activism didn't stop there.
When it came to video recording police, my Dad was a pioneer.
He began recording cops in the 1980's.
Long before YouTube.
Long before smartphones even existed.
Simply put, my Dad Mario Vara was video recording cops long before it became cool to record cops.
I remember my Dad wouldn't leave the house without his full size VHS camcorder.
The old school VHS cameras one would put on one's shoulder.
As you may imagine the Rochester, NY Police Department wasn't too happy.
In fact they hated my Dad.
They hated my Dad so much that they implemented a form of psychological warfare tactic against him.
Rochester cops would harass and intimidate my Dad every chance they got.
It got so bad that my Dad couldn't even leave the house without being pulled over by Rochester Police or stopped if he was walking.
After more than a year of this my Dad fell into a very bad, deep depression.
He stopped being the outgoing passionate man he was.
He stopped writing.
He stopped going to the rallies and the meetings.
On July 9, 1993 my dad committed suicide in his bedroom while me and my mom were downstairs.
At my Dad's wake, I made a promise to him.
I promised him that I would continue his work.
More than 20 years later, here I am, keeping that promise.
Now for those of you who have never met Dylan Avery, let me tell you just how serious he is about his craft.
Around 6 a.m., I got up as I wanted to get coffee, donuts and other baked goods for Dylan and Alex when they woke up.
That's when I realized Dylan had already gotten up, and left.
Turns out he left early to capture the Rochester, NY sunrise.
Ok let's break this down.
Here's a man who is more than 3,000 miles away from his home in California, having already logged several thousand more miles traveling to different cities and towns throughout the country, to give a voice to countless families of innocent victims who have been killed by trigger-happy cops, and instead of relaxing a bit, and getting some rest, he's up before dawn.
Camera in hand.
As someone who suffers from depression, to the point where many times I struggle to get motivated, I admire Dylan Avery's work ethic, dedication and passion.
Shortly after Dylan returned, I sat down for several hours to do my interview,
It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
And at the same time, one of the most therapeutic.
You see, it's not easy reliving the past.
Especially having to remember and recount the day my Dad took his life.
And to have to remember and recount something like that in front of bright lights, and with cameras rolling, is even harder.
It was very emotional and I'd be lying if I said there weren't times throughout the interview when I felt I couldn't do it.
But throughout the interview Dylan Avery was very respectful and professional.
Several hours later we were finally done.
I remember feeling exhausted.
But at the same time relieved.
I needed to get that pain out.
I needed to get my story out, or at least a part of it.
Which is kind of ironic considering that I've dedicated two decades of my life to helping others tell their stories, but come to think about it, in many ways I've never really fully told mine.
As someone who has spent the last 20-plus years exposing rogue cops and being a voice to thousands of innocent victims of police abuse, I can tell you that it's very hard, depressing work.
And also very thankless work.
That's why I not only have great respect, but also great appreciation for Dylan Avery.
I'm not sure if Dylan Avery truly realizes it or not, but his film Black and Blue will help many, including myself not only get our story about our loved ones out, but Black and Blue will also help many hopefully begin to find a sense of closure, by helping them release some of their pain.
Pain we live with everyday.
And for that, I say, Thank you Dylan Avery.
If you haven't already done so, please check out the official trailer for Black and Blue, below.
Dylan Avery checks the cameras before my interview for Black and Blue.
Alex Salazar, myself, and Dylan Avery in Rochester, NY
Dylan and Alex talk over appetizers
Follow me on twitter