At the center of Cruz Angeles's compelling first feature Don't Let Me Drown are Lalo (E.J. Bonilla) and Stefanie (Gleendylis Inoa), two high-school kids living in Brooklyn.
Lalo comes from a Mexican immigrant family that struggles financially. His father (Damian Alcázar), formerly a janitor at the World Trade Center, now works at Ground Zero cleaning up debris.
Stefanie's family is Dominican and they moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn after her sister was killed in the attacks. While her mother (Gina Torres) tries to hold the family together, her father (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) is overwhelmed by the loss and cannot control his anger.
In the midst of their family turmoil and exactly one month after the WTC attacks, Lalo and Stefanie meet at a birthday party, and although they start off on the wrong foot, the ice melts, and their budding friendship becomes a clandestine romance.
Don't Let Me Drown features an elegantly poignant story, layered characters and standout performances. The textures of the city and the lives of the families are shaded with a wistful sense of struggle but the heart of the film is a refreshing and honest love story.
Sundance 2009 Review: Cruz Angeles' Don't Let Me Drown
Cruz Angeles, "Don't Let Me Drown": Daydreams, Grief and Hope
DON'T LET ME DROWN—Introductory Remarks and Q&A With Cruz Angeles and Maria Topete
Overcoming Obstacles To Love