Natatcha Estébanez – in memory

From Brigid Sullivan — 3/16/2007

As many of her grieving WGBH friends and admirers already know, after a courageous seven-year battle with cancer, Natatcha Estébanez passed away March 15. Nata died at home at age 45, with her husband, composer Claudio Ragazzi, at her side. She also leaves her eight-year-old daughter, Gabriela, for whom she fought the good fight for so long.

A WGBH gathering in Natatcha’s memory is being planned. We’ll let you know once details are firm. We invite everyone in the ‘GBH community to come and share their memories, or to remember her in silence.

Nata’s family has scheduled a visitation at Stanton Funeral Home, 786 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown this Tuesday, March 20, from 4 to 8pm. Donations in Nata’s name may be made to Boston’s Dana Farber Sarcoma Center.

Nata was the original series producer for our PBS children’s series Postcards from Buster. Prior to that she wrote and produced the acclaimed bilingual film The Blue Diner/La Fonda Azul, which aired on HBO as well as PBS. She was a regular contributor to our Greater Boston Arts series and served as writer, producer, and director of the Blackside-produced, WGBH-distributed BreakThrough: The Changing Face of Science in America. These and other projects won her many awards, as well as the respect of colleagues and viewers far and wide. Nata began her WGBH career at La Plaza, where she wore many hats as producer, writer, and director.

Postcards’ Carol Greenwald calls it “a privilege” to have worked with Nata. “She was a passionate and talented producer who nurtured and brought out the best in everyone she worked with,” she says.

Elegant, witty, intelligent, insightful, curious, beautiful in every way … Natatcha set the standard, and she set it high. It was she who guided Postcards from Buster to include all kinds of families, from Mormons to Arapaho to Muslims to, yes, same-sex parents. Born on a dairy farm in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, she was the first Puerto Rican woman to attend Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. She spent time at London College and then attended UPenn’s Annenberg School for Communications.

The issue of identity — who we are, at our core — was an important one to Natatcha. “This whole idea of the melting pot is no longer, to me at least,” she told an interviewer. “I want to keep everything. I want to keep it alive and keep it with me.” Nata’s outstanding films and vibrant personality will keep her alive for us all, and keep her with us, even as we mourn this tragic loss.

From QuickNooz (by permission) — 3/19/07

Natatcha Estébanez, the original series producer for our PBS children’s series Postcards from Buster, died Thurs, 3/15, after a long battle with cancer, at age 45. She leaves her husband, Claudio Ragazzi, and 8-year-old daughter, Gabriela.

We mourn the loss of our vibrant colleague. A gathering in Natatcha’s memory will be held in Studio A Tues, 3/27, from 9:30 to 11am. On Tues, 3/20, a visitation will be held from 4 to 8pm at the Stanton Funeral Home, 786 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown. A private service will be held on Wednesday.

Donations may be made in Nata’s name to the Dana Farber Sarcoma Center (checks, made out to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, with notes “Sarcoma Research” and “In Memory of Natatcha Estébanez,” may be sent to DFCI Division of Development, Attn: Karen Sveda, 10 Brookline Place West, Brookline, MA 02445).

Nata began her WGBH career at La Plaza, where she served as producer, writer, and director. Prior to producing Postcards from Buster, she wrote and produced the acclaimed bilingual film The Blue Diner/La Fonda Azul, which aired on HBO as well as PBS. She was a regular contributor to our Greater Boston Arts series and served as writer, producer, and director of the Blackside-produced, WGBH-distributed Breakthrough: The Changing Face of Science in America. These and other projects won her many awards, as well as the respect of colleagues and viewers far and wide.

From the Boston Globe — 3/19/2007

Natatcha Estebanez, 45; tapped heritage for films

Drawing deep from a reservoir of personal experience with family and culture, Natatcha Estebanez set out in the mid-1990s to put something very real about the Latino immigrant experience onto the movie screen. “The Blue Diner,” which she produced and co-wrote, became an award-winning independent film six years later.

“I’ve been here 20 years, but I’m still Puerto Rican,” she said in an interview with NewEnglandFilm.com in 2001, the year the film premiered. “This issue of identity, of who we are, that’s the core of ‘The Blue Diner.’ . . . This whole idea of the melting pot is no longer, to me at least. I want to keep everything. I want to keep it alive and keep it with me.”

A producer, writer, and director, Ms. Estebanez won four New England Emmy Awards for her work on “La Plaza,” a series on WGBH-TV about Latino culture, and more recently was series producer for the children’s show “Postcards From Buster.” The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy and civil rights group, honored “The Blue Diner” in 2002 with an ALMA award for outstanding independent motion picture.

Ms. Estebanez, who had survived Hodgkin’s disease and breast cancer, died Thursday of complications from a sarcoma that had metastasized. She was 45 and lived in Belmont with her husband, Claudio Ragazzi, and their 8-year-old daughter, Gabriela.

“If you could see Natatcha, she has these liquid brown eyes, dimples, an incredible wit, this mobile face where she’s talking and you can see everything she’s thinking — just the most expressive person,” said Jeanne Jordan, a close friend and editor for Blue Diner.

“The first thing you notice about Natatcha is that she is extraordinarily beautiful and absolutely lovely,” said Brigid Sullivan, a vice president at WGBH. “And then, when you get past that, you see that she is also intelligent and deep and filled with humor. ”

Ms. Estebanez, Jordan said, “was too congenitally modest to see herself as a figure of admiration.” For her, life had begun inauspiciously.

“I was born and raised in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico,” she said in an interview with IdentityTheory.com. “I was on a dairy farm that used to be a coffee plantation. . . . I grew up in the mountains, and I went to rural schools and lived a rural life until I was 10 or 11 years old. At that time my mother thought it would be a good idea to go to San Juan, because education was not so great in Vega Baja, and there were only so many cow stories she could tell.”

From San Juan she went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., on a scholarship.

“I was the first Puerto Rican woman to attend,” she told IdentityTheory. “It was a culture shock, not to mention the snow and all that.”

Another scholarship sent her to London College for about three years. She became ill with Hodgkin’s disease and returned to the United States for treatment. She finished a final undergraduate semester at Muhlenberg College before going to the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, from which she received a master’s in visual communication.

Staying in Puerto Rico would have meant mostly producing commercials “with beautiful boats and with women in bikinis, which I really didn’t want to do,” she told IdentityTheory, so she began working on documentaries and in television in the United States.

In addition to La Plaza and Postcards From Buster, Ms. Estebanez produced dozens of documentaries and cultural programs about the Latino communities and culture in the United States, according to WGBH, where she had worked for more than 15 years.

She also produced and directed for PBS a dozen short films as part of the Favorite Poem Project, four films for The Discovery Channel, and worked on “Human Race,” a PBS series on race relations.

Ms. Estebanez was nominated for two national Emmy Awards for the “Postcards From Buster” series, which drew the ire of the US secretary of education for an episode in which Buster, an animated bunny, learned about maple syrup at the Vermont home of a lesbian couple.

The day before Ms. Estebanez died, her husband — a composer and musician — learned that he, too, had been nominated for an Emmy for his work on the series. The couple had met when he was performing at a dinner for those involved with the “La Plaza” project.

“Natatcha Estebanez and Claudio Ragazzi are one of the great love stories — the names alone,” Jordan said. “They are so beautiful and fell madly in love.”

Ms. Estebanez, who had spent most of her career with nonfiction projects, told IdentityTheory that in making The Blue Diner she “found there is more truth in drama than there is in documentary. . . . Doing documentaries you have the illusion that you are capturing reality. What you end up doing is constructing your perception of what reality is — whatever that might be.”

To create The Blue Diner she had to traverse the emotional landscape of what she called her own “turbulent relationship” with her mother: “I had to search that. I had to scratch. It had to hurt. And in that sense it was more truthful.”

Partway through production her mother died, and she worked with Jan Egleson, her co-writer and the film’s director, to focus more on the mother-daughter relationship that is at the heart of the story in the bilingual film. In the movie, a Puerto Rican woman who speaks only Spanish lives in Boston with her daughter. One day the daughter, who is bilingual, suddenly loses her ability to speak Spanish.

“Writing that part was like an exorcism,” she told NewEnglandFilm.com. “The writing allowed me to come to terms with the fighting that went on between me and my mother.”

“After her mother died, there was a moment when that character really came alive and the connection really became unique and personal for her,” Egleson said.

“It was a true labor of love and deep, deep history” for Ms. Estebanez, Jordan said.

The Blue Diner played to three sold-out showings in Havana when it was part of a film festival. And it was the first film that Gabriela, then 2 1/2, saw.

“I was trembling because I wanted her to like it. . . . It meant so much to me,” Ms. Estebanez told IdentityTheory. The film, she said, is “not unlike a painting or a book, it has a life. . . . It will be there.”

In addition to her husband and daughter, Ms. Estebanez leaves her father, Eduardo of Spain; and her brother, Eduardo of Miami.

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