JUAN E. VIGUIÉ SR.
Pioneer film and documentary producer born and raised in Puerto Rico to a French father and Ecuadorian mother. Orphaned since childbirth, his passion for motion pictures sparked at age ten when he witnessed the first silent “flickers”, deciding right then and there that making films would be his life-calling. When he was just fourteen years old he was already working as a movie projectionist at the town’s theater, and at age sixteen he filmed the first moving pictures shot by a Puerto Rican “Escenas de Ponce” which consisted of various scenes of his hometown, and later exhibited them at a small movie theater he bought with his own earnings.
Looking to further his career in film, he left for New York just as the first movie studios were starting to emerge. After six years of gaining hands-on experience with the East Coast studios, and later in the early days of Hollywood, Juan returned to Puerto Rico where he worked as cinematographer for various U.S. films that were being produced in the island. In 1922 he founded his famed newsreel “Viguié News”, and also garnered global acclaim with his numerous documentaries distributed internationally by MGM and Fox News. He also produced documentaries for the Puerto Rico Department of Health, for the Dominican Republic, and the Rockefeller Foundation. With the invention of synchronized film with sound, Viguié incorporated the new technology into his newsreels.
In 1934 he produced “Romance Tropical”, the first-ever Puerto Rican film with sound and the 2nd feature length “talkie” in Spanish in the world. It was photographed, directed and produced by Viguié, written by famed poet Luis Palés Matos, scored by renown band-leader Rafael Muñoz, with the wardrobe design by Viguié’s wife, María. Distributed by MGM, it became a huge blockbuster upon its premiere both locally and in the US mainland. But shortly after, and under mysterious circumstances, the film disappeared. In 2017, more than eight decades after its release, a copy of this lost cinematic treasure was found at the UCLA Film & TV Archive. After undergoing an expensive restoration, “Romance Tropical” was celebrated with a big screen premiere for the first time after 83 years on November 4, 2017 at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles. In its home Puerto Rico, the film's big screen premiere took place on September 24, 2020 in a private showing at the historic Old San Juan CinemaBar theater, organized and presented by Viguié's own descendants who today carry the family’s film legacy - his grandson and great-grandchildren, collectively known as TheRaccoonteurs.com.
JUAN E. VIGUIÉ JUNIOR
Viguié Sr.’s eldest son is also considered a pioneer in the film industry of Puerto Rico. Working closely with his father since childhood, Viguié Jr. learned cinematography and every facet of the film business very early in his life, which set the foundations for his notable career which spanned over five decades.
After an honorable discharge from the US Army in 1946, Viguié Jr. established Puerto Rico Industrial Photography, a company dedicated to commercial and advertising photography. In 1950 he filmed the Jayuya Uprising and showed it in theaters across the Island, and impactful incident led him to establish his own newsreel, “El Noticiero Viguié”. As a direct result of its wide success, Juan raised sufficient funds to build Viguié Film Productions, Inc., the first movie studios on the Island, featuring soundproof rooms, film developing laboratories, sound recording facilities, a woodshop for set construction, editing rooms, and a fully equipped camera and grip department. He also integrated the first animation studio in Puerto Rico and pioneered the use of the latest in animation techniques in his productions. Now with his modern facilities, Viguié Jr. exported his famed "Noticiero Viguié" to major cities with Hispanic communities throughout the US.
When television arrived in Puerto Rico in 1954, Viguié Films airs the first-ever TV news program and starts to produce the vast majority of the TV commercials for the emerging advertising industry of the Island. Viguié Jr. also opens offices in New York City and lands contracts with the Madison Avenue ad agencies and other stateside clients to produce commercials in Puerto Rico geared to their US mainland markets. As the company continues to flourish, in 1971 he sells it to Telemundo. As part of the transaction, he signed a ten-year non-competition clause, which meant he could not establish another film studio.
But as he envisioned new ways of storytelling beyond film, in 1975 he founded Viguié Multimedia, Inc. and together with his son, John, began producing Epcot-like audio-visual presentations which proved to be an innovative and highly successful means of storytelling through immersive experiences. Viguié Multimedia became the first and largest multimedia company on the Island operating in a 10,000 sq. ft. custom-built facility in the heart of Hato Rey, complete with photographic and sound studios, film developing lab, theaters, and specialized camera equipment for visual effects. Upon the advent of personal computers in the early 1990s, the company transitioned from analog to digital technology, and began producing interactive CD-ROMs, DVDs, web pages, computer graphics, digital photography and video content, among others.
In 1996 Juan E. Viguié Jr. retired, leaving an indelible mark as a pioneer in the development of the film and entertainment industry in Puerto Rico. Today, both his as well as his father’s historical news clips and documentaries are conserved in the Puerto Rico Archives and in the Carnegie Library.
Watch this short historical capsule featuring highlights of Juan E. Viguié Jr.'s career and legacy.
It's no surprise that TheRaccoonteurs.com's groundbreaking project is an epic TV series about a family bloodline and legacy that transcends four generations, whose fascinating life-stories, turmoils and adventures take us deep into a surreal/magical world where anything is possible and nothing is what it seems; a realm aptly named “Somewhere in the Nowhere”.
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