For Burbank resident Maritza Brikisak, acting is her dream, but it's not the type of job that family and friends always encourage. They sometimes recommend pursuing a "real" job.
"It's a very difficult profession," said Brikisak, who has lived in Burbank for 13 years. "Not everybody gets respect or recognition."
But Brikisak said she got some encouragement last month when she was honored with the Best Actress Award at the Official Latino Short Film Festival in New York City for her role as Laura in the bilingual film "A Prayer for the Lonely." It's a story about a woman's faith being restored after she briefly falters, an arc that seems to have been imitated in Brikisak's life.
"It gives you the motivation to keep going," she said of the award, calling it "the first one that's significant for me."
She's had awards for outstanding performances or for her work in film editing, she said, but this is the first one that's recognized her under the superlative "best" category since she started acting about 15 years ago when she lived in Canada.
The film, one of 50 in the festival, earned first runner-up honors at the event, held in Harlem, N.Y., last month, said the film's writer and director Felix Martiz. The competition was heavy, he said, but Brikisak's "phenomenal win" was more exciting than the film's award.
Brikisak also said that as an American from Canada born in South America but of German descent, she sometimes wasn't sure where she belonged culturally and always felt different from others growing up. In this role and with the recognition, she finally feels accepted as a Latina and has a sense of belonging in that culture — though Latin culture includes several diverse subcultures.
Martiz, who describes himself as half Ecuadorean and half Mexican, said he has explored various cultures, "even within me." Film gives him a platform to expose others to those cultures, he said, but the idea of a loss of tradition and culture is what intrigued him and prompted him to make the film.
It follows a woman enduring a "cold period" in her faith, who is watching the death of tradition of novenas, nine-day prayers for the dead, which she tells a priest is fading faster than she is, and she's ready to quit.
But then, while watching over a recently orphaned girl for a day, she finds encouragement to persevere in her faith.
The story and role were inspired by Martiz' mother and other women like her who maintain the tradition, he said. Brikisak gave a "quiet, nuanced" performance required of the role, he said, adding that he had to tell the normally bubbly actress to tone it down by 90%.
"Whenever you do something that subtle, it's scary that it won't translate," he said.
The goal was to ensure the character "showcases truth," which he said was affirmed when his mother complimented him on the film with more enthusiasm than he was used to.
Brikisak said she was happy to have landed a leading role that called for an older woman — she had to "age" herself to play it — which she said is a rarity. When she noticed people tearing up during screenings, she knew she'd done her job.
That, she said, is why she acts, to tell a story and to touch hearts, though she noted that she got into the dramatic arts at the prompting of her then-boyfriend, now-husband, who noticed she liked attention. There are two reasons to become an actor, she said — to be a star or to be a storyteller — and she prefers the latter.
Becoming a star is for the young and pretty, she said, and has a time limit, but there's not "deadline" for being the type of actor who helps to tell a story that moves people. It's an approach that has longevity, she said, and though the roles may be more rare, the pool of actors who stick to their career gets smaller, too.