Cuban American writer and film director Leon Ichaso rose to fame with his first Spanish language film “El Super” (1979), from which he won the Grand Prize at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival and a Premios ACE Award. He continued to direct and/or write such movies as “Sugar Hill” (1993), “Azúcar amarga” (1996), “Zooman” (1995, TV), “Execution of Justice” (1999, TV), “Free of Eden” (1999, TV), “Ali: An American Hero” (2000, TV) and “Hendrix” (TV, 2000) before enjoying a big breakthrough with the Benjamin Bratt starring vehicle “Piñero” (2001), which was about the life of Puerto Rican author Miguel Piñero. Subsequent film projects include “El cantante” (2006) and “Paraiso” (2009). Ichaso has also directed a number of episodes of television shows, including “Miami Vice,” “The Division,” “Medium” and “The Cleaner.”
Childhood and Family:
Leon Ichaso was born on August 3, 1948, in Havana, Cuba. His father, Justo Rodríguez Santos, was one of the most regarded poets in Cuba and a pioneer in broadcast TV and radio. His mother, Antonia Ichaso, had a radio magazine show in the 1940s.
When he was 14 years old, Leon moved to Mexico and then the United States with his mother and sister, Mari Rodriguez Ichaso. His father joined the family in New York five years later.
Growing up in a household of famous writers, journalists and artists, Leon Ichaso inherited artistic talent from his family and began a promising filmmaking career in the late 1970s with “El Super,” a look at life in the U.S. Premiering at the New York New Directors and New Films Festival on April 29, 1979, the drama won a Grand Prize at the 1979 Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival and a Premio ACE for Cinema - Best Director.
Despite a minor directing job with NBC's “Saturday Night Live” during the 1980-1981 seasons, Ichaso did not make another film until 1985 when he helmed and co-wrote the musical “Crossover Dreams,” which examined Latino communities and salsa music. He returned to television directing episodes of “The Equalizer” (1985), “Crime Story” (1986) and “Miami Vice” (1986-1988) and the made-for-TV film “Tales from the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's” (1987, starred Darren McGavin).
Entering the 1990s, Ichaso worked on the TV series “Veronica Clare” (1991) and the TV films “The Take” (1990) and “The Fear Inside” (1992) before directing Wesley Snipes and Michael Wright in the dramatic movie “Sugar Hill” (1993), which was about two brothers who become drug dealers in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. He returned to Spanish cinema in 1996 with “Azúcar amarga,” which he directed and scripted. The film brought the director a Golden Satellite nomination in the category of Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language. Ichaso also directed Tim Matheson, Mimi Rogers and William Forsythe in the NBC Original Movie “A Kiss to Die For” (1993) and Louis Gossett Jr. and Charles S. Dutton in Showtime’s “Zooman” (1995), based on Charles Fuller's off-Broadway play about a family dealing with the murder of a child. After directing three episodes of the short lived series “Sins of the City” (1998), he worked with Sidney Poitier in the Showtime film “Free of Eden” (1999) and Tim Daly, Peter Coyote and Khalil Kain in the Showtime television movie “Execution of Justice” (1999), an adaptation of Emily Mann's Broadway play that detailed the events behind the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Mosconi and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. The film won a 2000 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie or TV Mini-Series.
In 2000, Ichaso directed Fox's “Ali: An American Hero,” about boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Showtime's “Hendrix,” which chronicled the career of rock star Jimi Hendrix. The following year, Ichaso wrote and directed “Piñero” (2001), a biopic based on the life of Latino poet, playwright and actor Miguel Piñero. Starring Benjamin Bratt and co-produced by John Leguizamo, the film won a Special Recognition at the 2001 National Board of Review and a 2002 ALMA for Outstanding Motion Picture. For his work, Ichaso was handed an ALMA Award for Outstanding Screenplay (Original or Adapted), a C.I.C.A.E. Award-Panorama at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival, and a Chamizal Award for Best American Film at the 2002 Chamizal Independent Film Festival. He also received an ALMA nomination for Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture and a Grand Prix des Amériques nomination at the Montréal World Film Festival.
Ichaso resurfaced three years later when he directed the 2004 episode “A Death in the Family” of “The Division,” a crime series that aired on Lifetime from January 2001 to June 2004. He then directed “Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade” (2005, TV) and “El cantante” (2006), a motion picture based on the true story of the King of Salsa, Hector Lavoe. “El cantante,” which starred Marc Anthony and his wife, actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, who also served as executive producer on the film, received mixed reviews from critics and grossed over $7 million worldwide. Ichaso also tackled a string of episodes for TV shows like “Sleeper Cell” (1 episode, 2005), “Cane” (1 episode, 2007), “Medium” (2 episodes, 2007 and 2008) and “The Cleaner” (3 episodes, 2008).
Ichaso's new film, “Paraiso,” opened at the Miami International Film Festival in March 2009. The thriller, which he wrote and directed, starred Miguel Gutiérrez, Adrián Mas, Tamara Melián and Lili Rentería.
ALMA: Outstanding Screenplay (Original or Adapted), “Piñero,” 2002
Berlin International Film Festival: C.I.C.A.E. Award, Panorama, “Piñero,” 2002
Chamizal Independent Film Festival: Chamizal Award, Best American Film, “Piñero,” 2002
Premios ACE: Cinema - Best Director, “El súper,” 1980
Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival: Grand Prize, “El súper,” 1979