Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 8, Day 45 — “Control”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 8, Day 45 — “Control”

So let me take you by the hand, and lead you in this dance
Control
It’s what I got, because I took a chance
I don’t wanna rule the world, just wanna run my life

From “Control” by Janet Jackson

Weight: 246.2

Glucose Reading: 102

I recently gave myself a little test on control around the start of week 7. I wanted to see if I could enjoy a snack of raw walnuts without turning this tasty, crunchy treat into a marathon of eating my feelings at a single sitting.

Guess what? I failed.

It’s a subtle test, trying to limit yourself to “enough.” I’ve never been good with “enough.” I’m all about “more.” I wolfed down half of that damn bag of walnuts on the drive away from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t even try to wait and make it home! The mania surged in that familiar way is staggering because it is uncontrollable. It’s this powerful sense of hunger, of feeding this ravenous, desperate beast that can’t seem to be sated. It scares the shit out of me, this feeling of “more.”

baskin-robbins

I had this flashback to when I was a kid, this one afternoon when my dad took me to Baskin-Robbins for a treat. I was down for an ice cream cone, but when we got to the store, I changed my mind and eagerly asked for a pineapple shake. Dad bought it, but when we were in the car, he turned to me and said something that struck me as odd at the time. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along these lines:

“Whenever you go with someone to a place like Baskin-Robbins and they offer to buy you something, don’t just pick something expensive. You never know if they have enough to pay.”

My dad was always trying to instill in me this lesson on frugality, which I never heeded. Not until it was too late and even then I still could do better. The consequences of my errant ways with money are on par with my eating disorder. I can’t consume — or spend — enough. It always had to be more…for me. Looking back, I realize that my dad went without so I could enjoy that frosty treat. He didn’t have enough for us both. Two cones yes. A cone and shake? No. I don’t even think I shared it with him. Irony? We’re both diabetic and can’t have such sugary drinks anymore.

Every time I go anywhere with my dad today, I think about these selfish moves I pulled on him, of my lack of control to put such machinations aside. That is why I work extra hard to make sure he feels so cared for and appreciated whenever we go out together. It doesn’t wipe away how awful I was to him all those years ago. I don’t want to be redeemed in that respect. It’s my own issue to reconcile. However, I do want him to know that I was able to control my own wicked tendencies in the end, that I listened and took his lesson to heart.

I’ve been trying to compose this diary entry for several days now. Talk about a lack of control. More like a lapse in focus as my career reaches one of its many rises we all experience throughout the year in productivity. A few things have happened of late, some of which have nothing to do with my current weight loss journey, yet the theme of control is not far behind.

While I continue this struggle to stop letting my emotions tyrannize my health, I’ve been scanning my motivations in other areas for similar problems, too. Like my relationships. I learned after my break-up with the Ex that you can’t control or maneuver someone into becoming the person YOU think they should become. It strangled the life out of our relationship. While it was a bitter lesson in the end, true to form, it remained a lesson I didn’t seem to want to heed. The results of trying to control ALL relationships can come undone.

I’m not sure how to explore this situation as a diary post at the moment. I can only say that my intentions were honorable, but realities exist when you all of your worlds collide together. Is it worth compromising one’s rust. Worse, what do you do when the view from the other side is disturbing to you, cold and unwarranted.

Part of me recognizes how much control I’ve given people over my interests, values and decisions these many years. I’ve let it rule me to not so great effect, allowing for real regrets to be honest. I could chalk it up to wanting to be liked, of wanting to be the peacekeeper, but really it was an evasion from reality. I think up better narratives than the ones I live or at least I’ve convinced myself of that. Complaining is so second nature to me, I often wonder if it, too, is just a manifestation of my inability to live an honest, contented life.

My desire to wrest control back of late has not been without its roiling points and it’s made me question more than just how I live my life. I was never going to be an industry player. I was never a shark in that regard. It has been a struggle, changing how I perceive my career and its importance in defining myself. I am privileged to be with people who see beyond the false trappings of the entertainment industry. They seek to nourish themselves in ways that is comprised of real sustenance, of seeking knowledge on things that make us question our world as we live it. That is what crave so much more these days.

If you recognize the foods that can cause you harm, you avoid them, right? But how far do you go with people, no matter if they are well intended or not? How do you reconcile the changes you are going through with those who are in a state of arrested development? As I continue on this journey toward wellness, I will continue to ask myself these questions. Whatever the answers, I do know they will be achieved on my terms.

I don’t want to rule the world.

I really do just want to run my life.

 

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4 — Day 20 — “Persist”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4 — Day 20 — “Persist”

Are we crazy?
Living our lives through a lens
Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren’t you lonely
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough?
Happily numb
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

img_1814

Leave it to Miss Katy Perry to inspire this return of DAHFGM. Her performance at the Grammy Awards presentation was marked by a singular theme: To Persist.

With the first weeks of #45 leaving an acrid taste in our mouths, or at least in the mouths of the sane, I found myself losing a sense of forward momentum. By week 2, I was wondering if I was stupid for even trying to diet during a time where my emotional triggers were being pulled on the daily. By week 3, I was nearly laid up with a respiratory infection that had me coughing like an old Parisian whore with consumption. It was then that I started not wanting to document a damn thing.

My Facebook page was littered with a constant stream of my own rage against the #45 machine and it was gumming up my inner works. So, I shut down Facebook and I shut down my own train of thought to find some much needed clarity and focus again. In short, I needed to find the means to persist with this choice to improve my health.

It is the start of week 4 and here is the latest:

Weight: 252.4

Glucose Reading: 156

I’ve managed to shed just over 10 lbs. so far. It was 12 as of Friday, but the return from my trip to Baltimore, a side trip to Palm Springs and the brunch celebrating my Dad’s 92nd birthday did prove to have its effects in the end. What it had going for me was my ability to NOT reach for “those foods which will not be named.”

I brought unsalted, raw walnuts, pistachios and pepitas along with dried broccoli florets with me as snacks to Baltimore. I ate fish or chicken, scrambled egg whites and veg for as many meals as possible, filling in the gaps with protein bars and fruit. And water, lots of water. To discover the joys of Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken in Maryland was enough to make me to click on Lyft for a lunch run on a really cold Thursday afternoon before I started interviews on a new film project. That heavenly steak at the Woodberry Kitchen on the last night with the EPK crew was the stuff of dreams, but also the fast track to feeling bloated for two days. Haha. But it was so worth it.

Saturday was my big, bold, bear adventure to Palm Springs and the IBC events at the Hard Rock Hotel. I jokingly referred to friends as it being “My Big Bear Puta Weekend,” but suffice it to say the only putas were the ones ignoring me and my attempts at being an object of desire. Instead, I was the object of one hilariously drunk senior’s determination to get the attention of the overwhelmed bartender at Hunter’s so I could have a club soda. This is after a young cub from Rochester told me that he was leaving my side to go get his “flirt on” — with someone else.

For a brief shining moment, this super hot gent from San Francisco seemed to prefer me to the evening’s SNL cold opening. Sadly, the thumping bass of 70s disco was the only bump and grind that was going to happen for me that night. SF Guy showed me a text from his ex, who also happened to staying in a different room at the Hard Rock: “I need my boy’s butt.” Needless to say, he and his butt answered the call.

Persist, indeed.

Going home the next morning, I felt a bit dejected and adrift. It was a familiar friend, attempting to road dog with me with a determination that I take pills to eliminate. The pills put up a good fight, though. It ain’t easy being “good and bougie” in a crowd that prefer the exact opposite. I’ve always tried too hard to fit my particular brand of gay into a category that is so decidedly NOT me. Case in point, the first thing I saw when I entered the Thunderdome of the IBC pool party was a portly millennial sporting a tee with emblazoned with this legend: “I’m only here for the gang bang.” Yeah. I wasn’t about to add my own brand of special flavor to the bubbling hirsute smoothie that afternoon. I knew from that moment that this act of persistence was one that needed to be shed along with my obsession with King Taco carnitas burritos with salsa roja y queso cotija.

IMG_1788.JPG

Celebrating Dad’s 92nd birthday at this fantastic eatery called Salazar in the Frogtown section of LA restored a lot of good. The tears that welled up in his eyes when we sung “Happy Birthday” were just wonderful to behold. Alzheimer’s Dad was not present. My true Dad was very much with us and cherishing every smile and kiss he received from my family. I couldn’t help but hug him for being the sentimental person he’s always tucked carefully inside his strict demeanor and Old World gentlemanly values.

Palm Springs faded into the past and I returned to my regular life of forward motion. And, eating that sugar free cake, plus the horchata with Stumptown coffee were well worth the splurge in light of the kale salad with grilled chicken, yams and queso fresco I consumed, despite the envy I felt eyeing everyone else’s choices at the table. (Dude, the chilaquiles that Dad enjoyed were TEMPTATION on a plate.)

img_17911

Today is Monday, and a few things have rattled my own sense of self, which I don’t want to rehash as there is no point. Numbers were a little up from Friday, but all that rises does fall with little effort when I try. Especially when it comes to losing weight. The power lies in being able to persist.

Bringing this back to Katy Perry’s new track, “Chained to the Rhythm,” it is easy to find yourself trapped in a bubble of your own making. We get safe. We get lost. We free ourselves. We get scared. We return to the safety of the bubble. It is a very easy way to live. And no, we often don’t see the trouble until it is too late.

Last night, I slept in fits and starts, feeling this strange tightness in my chest. I still feel it now. Perhaps it’s one more tape of negative thinking I still need to purge in order to reach a peak of wellness, one that I will sustain for the rest of my life.

I hadn’t felt this sense of loneliness in a while. It’s on par with feeling left behind at times. This roller coaster we’re all on right now is shaking so many of us to our very cores. It is gratifying to see that so many of us are questioning our place in the world. At the same time, many of us are questioning our own journeys towards a revised self-awareness and true enlightenment. We want to break free of the bubble, to persist despite the efforts of many who prefer our silence. So I will continue with these missives, self-absorbed or not.

It should be so damn easy, being able to feel happy, healthy and eager to partake of this thing called life. Why hide? Why lie? Why feel lonely? Why be addicted? Why be the subtle shade of beige? These are truths I seek. Not for myself, but to share with as many people who have the same questions. At some point, I won’t think twice about the things I choose to ingest anymore, either. That is why it is important to persist. That is why it is important to resist.

It is time for the many to be amongst the already woke lions. Myself, included.

 It is my desire
Break down the walls to connect, inspire, ay
Up in your high place, liars
Time is ticking for the empire
The truth they feed is feeble
As so many times before
They greed over the people
They stumbling and fumbling
And we about to riot
They woke up, they woke up the lions

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

When imagining Argentina, superficial references to the tango, polo playing and the pop culture legacy of Eva Perón may apply for some. But the reality is you cannot define Argentina in such limiting terms. Its place within Latin America is as complex and contradictory as its neighbors, existing as a country rife with history and invaluable contributions to world history. Yet, to take a closer look at Argentina is to gaze into a mirror that reflects the best and worst of human nature.

From award-winning director Pablo Trapero (“Carancho,” “White Elephant”), THE CLAN is an unflinching depiction of the consequences wrought by Argentina’s dictatorship through the prism of the incredible true story of the Puccio family. A narrative spun with equal parts suspense, action and intrigue, THE CLAN offers an unrelenting chronicle on the manner with which this seemingly normal middle class family afforded its comfortable lives through kidnapping, extortion and murder. With laser-like precision, Trapero carefully and without embellishment ensnares and provokes the audience to think about what they’ve witnessed long after the credits roll. At what point do we lose our sense of morality and ethics? How can people, especially those of a privileged status, allow themselves to be persuaded to commit such atrocious acts in the name of protecting the greater good, like a family’s well being?

Released in Argentina in August 2015 to great acclaim and record breaking box office success, THE CLAN not only reignited interest in the Puccios’ life story, it has been acclaimed for offering a potent cautionary tale for a new generation to process. For the second time in 30 years, the Puccio clan succeeded in rocking the nation with their secrets and lies.

Chronicling a series of abductions that occurred between 1982 and 1985, the film is at once a riveting drama to view in the present and a searing indictment of Argentina’s past. Viewing THE CLAN will lead many to ask the universal question asked whenever monsters are revealed to exist in the most unexpected sectors of society: Why?

It is not enough to say the family simply acted on the father’s wishes to protect their way of life. Sons, daughters, friends, all participated in these crimes willingly, despite the very real possibility of being caught. Even as their moral conscience would sometimes break through, they continued with these deeds without ever their neighbors’ awareness. The lack of a definitive answer as to why the Puccios’ resorted to such wicked deeds may frustrate those seeking a black and white closure to their narrative on screen. And, any clear answers remain with the late Arquímedes Puccio, who maintained his lack of culpability to the end.

Sometimes real life can truly be stranger than fiction. However, in the case of the infamous Puccios, the mind reels. In preparing for the North American release of THE CLAN, director Pablo Trapero, producer Matías Mosteirín, legendary Argentinian film star Guillermo Francella and rising star Peter Lanzani sat down to contemplate several questions about the legacy of the Puccio clan. It wasn’t enough to simply recreate the period details of the era. The filmmakers and cast were charged with a challenging task: to bring humanity and truth to the people and events that defy most sensibilities. In the conversation that follows, it is evident that the commitment shared by the entire production was resolute. EL CLAN may not be a documentary. However, if they learned one thing in bringing Trapero’s vision to life, it is that the reality of the Puccio family retains an all-too-tragic relevance to the time we are living today.

big_eba521a4d69093db8e324d123bf81d3f.jpg

JORGE CARREON: What do you remember of the Puccios’ era in Argentina? How did that color your efforts in creating THE CLAN? Did you start with wanting to make a statement about Argentina first or capture the essence of the Puccios’ extraordinary story?

PABLO TRAPERO: When I first heard the news of the Puccios, I was 13 or 14 years old. The Puccios were a family that seemed like any ordinary family. Even within their neighborhood, people could not believe they could have responsible for such crimes because the family seemed so normal. Many years later when I was preparing my film “Leonera” in 2007, I started thinking about making a film based on the actual Puccio case, but I only knew the superficial details about the family, nothing else. There wasn’t a lot of information, especially how it related to Arquímedes within the context of the time. During this research process, I began to realize this intimate story was absolutely universal. However, I would also be able to tell the story about an era in Argentina’s history that is not so well known. There have been many films about the dictatorship, those dark years that are part of Argentina, like “The Official Story,” which won an Academy Award® and spoke about the early years of the democracy. And there have been other films, too, that have depicted the years before and after, but not the transition. That step was very painful for the country. For many people, it represented the hope of something new, but also that hope was very weak. Because our past history was so hard, it felt like it was conspiring against it. That’s something I remember from when I was a kid. We felt so much euphoria over the arrival of democracy, but also the fear that it wouldn’t last. There’s even a line in the movie where a character is asked, “How long will this last?” and he responds, “Two years.” That best represents the era and the spirit of some people who were very skeptical about whether the democracy would work. At one point, late in the process, I decided to start with Alfonsín speaking about “Nunca Más,” a statement on how we as a country can never repeat the past again. The case of the Puccio family was a symptom of a sick society. The shift in government is also a symptom of that time. That shift is what brought the Puccios’ story to an end. Hence, there isn’t the role of an investigator in the film because it was not so much the will of someone in particular to catch the family. The political changes are what brought the era of the Puccios, and other people like them, to an end. They became known as “the hand of unemployed labor,” meaning they were individuals who worked for the military who lost their “jobs” once the democratic government was brought in. They began to improvise these privates businesses to continue what they had done for the previous regime. There were several cases like Puccio, but none so extreme because they did not involve their own family members. So, it all happened in reverse. I realized that the film could stand as a testimony to this era in Argentina’s history when I started to understand and investigate the intimate details of the family.

tumblr_nvalnclLxa1ur1at4o1_1280.jpg

CARREON: Given the fascinating psychology of the Puccio clan, why not make a documentary about the family? 

PT: I chose not to take the documentary route. The family’s story is incredible and it was tough even writing a script at that time. Would people even believe this story, much less accept them? They would have said, “Trapero has gone crazy and just wrote whatever he wanted.” It was something we talked a lot about with Matías. How much of this incredible story could be credible to the public. The simple truth is I’ve always believed in it as a narrative film and never as documentary. Still, to make this movie, we completed a lengthy period of investigation. The case was well known in niches, but it was not something that people talked about on the street. Those who would talk to you about the case were usually from the previous generations. A book has since been published, just before the premiere of the film. But we have a lot of research material, interviews, conversations, all of which had no place in fiction. Maybe some day we will use it for a documentary material again.

CARREON: Was it a challenge to distill the information you gathered to create a narrative script with impact, but without distorting the essence of the Puccios?

TRAPERO: It was a big challenge for me because it’s the first time I’ve made a film based on a true story. It’s the first time the characters in the film have the names of real people. That’s a major responsibility. The families of the victims will hear their real names. The question became how do we work with and process something that is based on their real lives? For most of the people who see this film, it may seem like a work of fiction but it is based on a true story. It was so helpful to speak with the families of the victims, especially with Rogelia Pozzi and Guillermo Manoukian. We also spoke to the judges on the case, journalists who investigated the story during that time. We also spoke to psychologists who could give us some idea as to the pathology of the case. We went to the neighbors that lived in the San Isidro district. Alejandro’s teammates at the rugby club gave us a perspective as to who he was. In reality and in the film, it was this group who remained the most skeptical that Alejandro could be guilty. They still think it was a gross error.

PETER LANZANI: It’s a really dark story. They did all of these things not only for money, but for power. I think the most sinister thing about them was that they would kidnap people they knew, their own friends or Alejandro’s friends that played rugby with him. It does reflect the decade that Argentina lived during the dictatorship. I didn’t live through it, but I studied it. I know too many people that lost family members or friends.

MATÍAS MOSTEIRÍN: Immediately after the Puccios were arrested and jailed, many people of their status felt they were falsely accused. It took a long time for people to accept that this family, which appeared to be a normal family, of good standing and social mobility, with great moral authority, could even be capable of creating this inferno of intimidation in their own home. Pablo is a very respected cineaste in Argentina and his films are greatly appreciated. Because no one had ever sought to review this story with a fresh perspective, I think his reputation helped in obtaining the cooperation of the people willing to offer their testimonies.

TRAPERO: They offered their most intimate knowledge, people who had been in the Puccios’ home for dinner while they had someone in captivity.

MOSTEIRÍN: The film then began to unfold for us. What usually happens with projects based on real stories, the adaptation process requires many changes. We clearly saw a visible pattern of what could be the movie. Pablo made the correct decision to respect the facts of the actual case and shape them naturally while building the narrative of the film. Because the script is based on court records and testimony from the relatives of victims, and the testimony of lawyers and judges, the film does not try to deny the truth. We did not have to resort to falsehoods.

TRAPERO: Of course we did not have transcripts of the conversations between Alejandro and his father. But we did have letters; we did have an idea as to how communicated. We did not have video, because these were the 80s, before we entered this culture of filming everything. However, we had access to lots of photographs, which were incredibly helpful, not only for the writing process but for the actors, too. They could study and analyze how they stood, how Arquímedes looked at his son. It was a great process, but in reconstructing these lives, we remained as respectful of the elements we had close to us.

CARREON: Why do you think the families and people involved in the research wanted to offer up such intimate details with you?

MOSTEIRÍN: I think for the pain, the need for this story to be recognized.

TRAPERO: They’ve carried many years of great loneliness. Behind this story are many people who sought justice in very difficult circumstances and it cost a lot to be heard. This is a case that eventually proved the criminal responsibility of these people. It was important to have this testimonial. Some people were very uncomfortable with the film being made, which speaks to how difficult it remains for many people, like the rugby club and the San Isidro neighborhood, to face the facts.

CARREON: The Puccio family dynamic is frighteningly normal to view on screen. It certainly magnifies the intensity with how the characters of Arquímedes and Alejandro interact with each other on screen. If one was the monster of the family, the other is depicted as something decided more human, certainly conflicted, but possessing a conscience.

MOSTEIRÍN: The kids had no real future, but Alejandro had a great future ahead. He had a great talent and the prospect of a successful career in the world of rugby. He was also an attractive guy, seductive, greatly loved by his peers. He was someone who had plenty of opportunities in life to develop, which made him privileged in that sense. Yet, instead of taking all these options before him, he chose or could not remove himself from the criminal path traced by his father. We were very interested in why he decided to be a part of what ultimately condemned him to ruining his life.

LANZANI: I think Alejandro knew what he was doing was wrong. No one with common sense would think that kidnapping your friends is a good idea. He was really ambitious. I think it was his decision to make. He was 24, 25 years old, which means he could make his own decision. He couldn’t stand up to his father. He didn’t have the ability to tell him that he didn’t want to continue. Alejandro carried this baggage for the rest of his life. When he tried look back at his past, he was really upset by the fact he betrayed what he wanted for himself.

MOSTEIRÍN: Despite all the information we had at our disposal, we were never going to know the minute-by-minute, day-to-day aspects of their family life. But they had a life of routine like any other, with the same relationships and feelings and moral commandments like all families. It was very important to Pablo to establish that the Puccios’ family dynamic was identifiable to any other. Another important character was the mother, Epifanía. The level of psychological manipulation, emotional and moral subjugation imposed by Arquímedes on his children is evident. However, the mother was much more subtle. She allowed for her children to fall under the mandate of the father. There is a sacrifice here, which makes the mother such a tragic figure in the classic sense. However, if one wants to think today as to how this story is inevitable, you need to think about the double standards of this family. How far can we sustain appearances while living with a secret? All societies create monsters, which appear from one day to the other. And we will always say, “How could this happen?”

TRAPERO: There is a saying in Argentina, “You can not cover the sun with your hands.” There is a time when reality is so strong it is very difficult to pretend that things do not happen.

MOSTEIRÍN: Or maintain all is normal.

TRAPERO: I think the film allows the general public, both inside and outside Argentina, to attend an allegory. When a society does not face or covers up the problem, the problem goes somewhere else. Audiences in other countries will confront a shared reality it depicts that has nothing to do with the Argentina of 30 years ago or the Argentina of today. But there is something in the relationship between the context and this phenomenon that generates these events, which unfortunately keep repeating in various societies.

CARREON: Once THE CLAN went before cameras, how did the knowledge of having the survivors of the Puccio clan’s abductions relive such painful events affect the manner in which the film was crafted? The film has a noir-ish aesthetic, but remains quite emotionally charged as an intimate family drama. And many already know the outcome.

TRAPERO: It was a great challenge, because at times the narrative was very extreme. However, if that intimacy is achieved on the scene, you accept it. Every family has a story it wants to hide. Stories exist behind closed doors. I think that also helps the audience feel a connection to the family because it is something we all share. Still, it was a challenge to make a thriller into a melodrama, or maybe it is a melodrama inside of a thriller. I only know that creating just a melodrama was not what I wanted. And there have been plenty of thrillers that are just about kidnappings. The challenge was this crossing of genres. Even at some point there are elements that might be identified as being from a horror film.  There is a lot at play here in relation to what the audience will feel. From getting the audience excited, to being entertained, to feeling anxiety and reflection. All of these things happen when you see a film and that is what motivates me to make them. When it came to THE CLAN, I did think about how I could surprise people start to finish, but not feel so disconnected from the family that they are not emotionally involved because what they do is so extreme. Finding that proximity was really a challenge, but I am glad people are having a strong emotional reaction to the film while being terrified by the history. People do identify with the victims and feel fear towards people who come across as real on screen. These are not actors simply acting. I wasn’t sure if the film would land right or not because of these contrasts, like seeing Arquímedes in an act of violence or being a dutiful father teaching mathematics to his daughter. These are very extreme situations that work to create these shocks of emotion contained throughout the film.

MOSTEIRÍN: It’s a proposition built for the senses. The film has staged scenes. Decisions were made on lighting and what type of lens to use. The production design, the sound, the specific style of editing was also a bit extreme in terms of what we’ve done before. However, I want to emphasize that when we started to make ​​the film, although it is about a very specific case, which happened during a very specific political context relating to our country, we always wanted the film to mean something to viewers around the world.  That was always a goal, and one of the things we had clear was that the narrative had to be as universal as possible. Audiences are able to have an emotional relationship with the film that goes beyond Argentina’s history, beyond the real case, so that people could feel like they are inside this family.  After seeing the finished film, the viewer is inside the home, in the car, they are very close to them. That was a nice challenge to meet.

CARREON: Actor Guillermo Francella delivers an unforgettable performance as Arquímedes Puccio. Audiences have seen him in dramatic turns, but he’s also one of the revered comedic talents of his generation. How did you gain his trust and confidence?

TRAPERO: Before I had a finished the script I needed to have confirmed actor. We had a meeting with Guillermo and I told him, “I want you to do this character. I do not have the finished script, but I want you to tell me if you want to do it. Not only will it be a dramatic character, but your first villain, a guy who terrifies people. Your fans will hate you.” Not all actors have that sort of relationship with the public because it is a difficult one. But that trust and bond with an actor is important to me. My wife is an actress and we have made ​​several films together. That relationship of trust and risk shared by an actor and director in creating a character is one thing I enjoy most about making a film. I knew I wanted Guillermo for the film and from there we established a bond. It was very demanding and very intense.

GUILLERMO FRANCELLA: I have a strong opinion because I also have lived during the time of the Puccios. I was very informed about their story. When Trapero offered me the role, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I lived in that area of San Isidro, I walked by their door of the hundreds of times, never knowing what was happening in there. We were able to construct bit by bit who Arquímedes was with all the information gathered from people who knew him, how we behaved, how he conducted himself, his manner of speaking, his posture, his physical being. It was a very interesting process.

image55b8f41a99b389.23109137

CARREON: Guillermo, what proved the main catalyst for your being able to inhabit the skin of such this polarizing father figure?

FRANCELLA: The rehearsal process was extremely useful. During pre-production, once the cast was in place, we had many meetings. It was very helpful to get to know each other because were had to generate a sense of chemistry beyond what was written in the script. The rehearsals were essential because there wasn’t much video research material on Arquímedes or the family to properly observe their behavior together. Still, once we were all together, it became very clear what each of us had to do. I worked closely with Trapero on Arquímedes’ calm manner, his cold stare. We tried to make sure he never blinked during a conversation. He had an intimidating stare. We crafted a certain attitude that was affable, sociable, educated and respectable. There wasn’t much in his transition from being the man who helped his daughters with their homework, helping them with their tasks to executing the most atrocious kidnappings. He was a very relaxed person. To find that contrast when he lost his composure, like the shooting in the car because Alejandro would not complete his task? Grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the dressing room wall at his shop, as well as the argument in jail were the two hardest scenes to complete.

LANZANI: Guillermo had a look that was like from the Devil itself. Pablo understood Arquímedes as being the Devil, not the patriarch of a family.

0013188676

CARREON: Peter, this is your first major film role. What proved essential for you in building your understanding of Alejandro?

LANZANI: It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to try. I love movies and this is my first one and it was difficult, but Guillermo and Pablo helped me a lot. I think the harder the challenge, the better for me so I can learn more. The psychology of Alejandro was the most difficult thing to create, you know? He’s must have been pre-occupied with so many things. The guilt he carried, of having his father always telling him what he had to do and never having the courage to stand up to him. He exposed his soul to do these terrible things and lost himself forever. The intensity this generates in some of the scenes was difficult. It’s a story with a lot of impact. We tried to do our best and work from the details we had at hand. These were clues we needed so people could see the movie like a documentary about the Puccio family.

CARREON: The final minutes of THE CLAN may surpass the violent crimes depicted earlier in the film in terms of impact. What proved the bigger challenge? Was it the climax of the final scene in court or the recreation of the Puccios’ crimes?

TRAPERO: The ending. But it was a challenge to write and it was also a challenge to stage. I worked again with (Julián Apezteguia) my director of photographer on “Carancho.” I proposed to the entire crew that we create a physical sensation for the audience, to bring them as close to the characters as possible. That is why when the camera is inside the car, you are also sitting in the car. When someone is in the bathroom one, you’re positioned right there next to them. In the script there were several long sequences written, like the kidnapping of Manoukian. All of kidnappings were envisioned as sequences that turn you into the victim. The film is primarily told from the perspective of either Alejandro or Arquímedes, except during the abduction scenes. But the final scene is about deciding who is the victim here? Is it Alejandro or Arquímedes?  It plays with that sensation, because you’ve seen the two sides of Alejandro. It was always written this way in the script, but it was a very difficult shot to create. It took many days of filming to complete and some FX work, too.

CARREON: Music plays a key element in THE CLAN, often functioning as a counterpoint to the action on the screen. In some moments, it even provides a layer of dark comedy. How were these classic rock songs of the era chosen?

TRAPERO: Many are songs are of the time, but not others, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Kinks. It was all music that was banned in Argentina during the period of the military. Interestingly, from the time of the Falklands, music in English was banned. But families of the middle class did not listen to music in Spanish. It was trendy to listen to music in English, so that speaks a lot of the time. Some tracks were chosen to represent the era, like David Lee Roth was big in 1985 and Serú Girán was a well-known band in Argentina around 1982. Virus was another Argentinian band that represents 1983. We also have Ella Fitzgerald, Creedence, The Kinks, especially with “Sunny Afternoon” (1966), because the lyrics were ironic.

CARREON: No one likes to have their dirty laundry aired, particularly within a fiercely protective community. Yet, THE CLAN was a massive hit in Argentina. Why do you think the film struck such a chord with audiences?

FRANCELLA: We are experiencing “Pucciomania” in Argentina at the moment. Everyone is talking about them. In the media, police investigators, everyone.

TRAPERO: It was great to see the film do so well in Argentina. This can mean that the public will accept movies that do not follow certain formulas. I am very pleased that the public is encouraged to look at these types of stories, to reflect and to leave the theater and discuss with their families what they’ve just seen, to talk about the history of Argentina. The film allows people to reflect on the present, on the internal lives of every family. It was heartening to see in Argentina that the public had the maturity to deal with issues that are disturbing. We all know that Argentina is known for the tango and its constant reflecting on the past. Interestingly, the country has one of the highest amounts of therapists per inhabitant, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. For me, the success of THE CLAN is a good sign for these types of films, because it means we can continue making more of this kind.

LANZANI: I think our movies should show the things that happened in our country. The dictatorship was the worst thing. We have moved on away from that period. At least, I hope so. I only want my country to be happy, to be at peace and for the world to be at peace. It’s not so easy, but we will try.

CARREON: What can be said of the surviving Puccio family members today? Were they part of the process? How have they reacted to THE CLAN?

TRAPERO: We tried to reach out to Epifanía, but she would not speak to us. We also tried to speak with Maguila via Skype because we were able to speak to friends of his and Alejandro’s. However, we were unsuccessful. An interesting thing did happen with Arquímedes. THE CLAN was first announced in 2012. I was working on another project at the time, but after the film was released, Arquímedes reached out to the media said he wanted to meet “Trapero because I’m going to tell him the real truth.” When I returned to Argentina to begin THE CLAN, he had died. If I could have spoken with him, I imagine he would have said what he said until the day he died: He was not guilty, that he had nothing to do with these crimes and that he was a victim. But the real question that I would have liked to have asked is why did he do this to his family? Because when you see the movie or even when we were doing research, one can understand that he loved his family in a very special and very crazy way. Everything he did was for his family. But at one point he makes a decision, as you see in the film, that affects them all.

CARREON: Guillermo, do you think you have a greater understanding of Arquímedes Puccio today?

FRANCELLA: No, I’ll never understand him. Never. Even after seeing his testimony. Before his death as an old man, he was already free and living in La Pampa, a province in Argentina. He remained with that arrogance, denying his role in the crimes without any remorse. I hate him more as a result. I’m sure if I were given a chance to speak with him, it would have been a very sterile conversation, without emotion because there is nothing that would make him want to reflect on the past. He worked for the secret service; he fought against progress. When the democracy came, he continued his “line of work” for personal ambition. These kidnappers were shitty people, if you pardon the expression. He spoke of divine justice, but he was already old and crazy. I don’t think I would want to cross paths with him today.

CARREON: How have the families of the victims reacted to THE CLAN?

MOSTEIRÍN: Several have come to the premiere.

TRAPERO: Matías insisted that many of them came to the premiere. A few said things that shocked me, like they felt they “saw” the real Arquímedes on film. That impacted me. But they also felt the film exists, in a silent way, as a tribute to the families and the victims. It is a different way of doing justice. The Puccios preyed on people, denying all reality in their behavior. There was never a moment to apologize to the families, which sometimes happens in these cases. So I think it helped the victims to have a sense of moral compensation, beyond the court. Everyone in Argentina, and throughout the world, can now speak of the cruelty of this family and how the victims suffered the madness of these people.

From 2oth Century Fox International, THE CLAN is now playing in select theaters. 

“Vivir con miedo es cómo vivir a medias” (Cuentos de la vida real 2)

“Vivir con miedo es cómo vivir a medias” (Cuentos de la vida real 2)

 

En ver las imágenes desde Mexico últimamente, siento una tristeza muy profunda. Se ve miedo, rabia, caos y desesperación. Ha llegado el momento de enfrentar la corrupción y violencia que ha deteriorado la imagen del país.

Vivir con miedo es inaceptable en un mundo moderno. Pero donde hay miedo si se puede encontrar esperanza y el deseo de rechazar lo que nos agobia. No pretendo comparar mis propios miedos con los que se vive en México hoy. Pero si recuerdo el poder que se realiza cuando pierdes el miedo y empiezas usar una voz alta y clara. Es lo básico de nuestro ser.

Era el año 1977 y ese verano fue el momento que terminé mi primera decada como Jorge Carreón Jr. Durante casi 10 años, me quedé con la determinación de vivir al lado izquierda del centro. Solo pensé en cultivar los intereses que eran cualquier cosa menos lo que era normal en Pico Rivera. No tenía muchos amigos, pero eso no me importaba. Quería perderme en todos los libros y películas que podía procesar antes de regresar a la primaria en el otoño. La mayoría de los niños tenían ganas de ir al parque, tomar clases de natación o tener días lánguidos en la playa. Yo quería saber más del artista moderno Andy Warhol y leer mis libros de Nancy Drew. Pero mis planes se quedaron en supsenso cuando mi papá me dijo que yo iba con él y mi hermana a visitar a su familia en el D.F.

Era como si el pusiera un alfiler en el globo de mi sueño de verano.

Así que fui, inocente al siniestro plan que mis padres habían inventado sin mí. Papá sólo tenía dos semanas de vacaciones de la fábrica. Eso significaba que junto con mi hermana, quien mantuvo la primera de una vida de secretos, tendríamos que quedarnos con nuestros familiares durante todo el verano. ¿Y cuándo llego el momento que me enteré de eso? El día que mi papá se regresó a Los Angeles sin nosotros.

Me dio una rabia feroz. Le grité. Lloré. Lo seguí a la puerta de la casa de mi tía en la mejor manera que aprendí de las telenovelas: “¡No me dejes!” Nunca se dio la vuelta. Caminó con buen paso a la puerta sin decir otra palabra más. Nunca me sentí tan lejos de mi vida real en California. Fue demasiado. Casi no hablaba el idioma. Ne dejaba de pensar: “Yo no soy mexicano. ¡Soy americano!” Pero todo mis gritos cayeron en el vacío. Estuve en esta casa sin esperanza para el resto del verano.

Pensando en este momento, me doy cuenta que no sabía ese verano con mi familia mexicana sería un regalo. ¿Cómo podría saberlo? Yo era sólo un niño. No pude ver mucho con mis ojos llenos de lágrimas. Tenía miedo de lo nuevo, de enfrentar la fuente verdadera de mi identidad: México. Nunca paramos de enfrentar lo “nuevo”. Gente, ciudades, costumbres, situaciones, todo lo que nos une como la raza humana. Fue el primero de muchos miedos que tendría que conquistar en mi vida, pero sí los conquisté.

images

Tenían que pasar 37 años para entender que la vida es demasiado corta para cualquier sentido de temor. Nacer latino es obstáculo suficiente en un mundo que valora la vainilla sobre el picante. Como ya he madurado, me emociona y me preocupa ver como nuestra narrativa nacional se conforma con la comunidad hispana. Espero contribuir a esta narrativa, para que refleje lo que realmente es ser un american en 2014. No tengo mucho espacio para el miedo con el fin de lograr ese objetivo. El miedo casi me dejo mudo durante todo un verano. Pero yo tomé ese paso que me llevó a un grupo muy especial en este mundo. Me convertí en un americano bilingüe, realizando el sueño de existir dentro de dos mundos que he llegado a representar con orgullo.

Family3c-221

Miércoles, 24 de noviembre. Escrito y subido desde Wayne Avenue Manor en South Pasadena, CA

 

“The Book of Life : The Filmmakers’ Journey” — A MediaJor #featurestory

“The Book of Life : The Filmmakers’ Journey” — A MediaJor #featurestory

“All the world is made of stories, and all the stories are here…

…No matter what’s out there, mijo, write your own story.”

Director Jorge Gutierrez was beaming like a proud father who couldn’t wait to tell the world about his first born child.

It may have been an ordinary Texas morning, maybe a little too grey outside despite its being early August. But no matter, once you entered the confines of the Reel FX Studio, it felt like all the colors in the world were being housed in this one specific location deep in the heart of Dallas. Standing in the midst of production photos and the folkloric garlands of brilliantly colored tissue paper strewn across the entry way, the smiling Gutierrez made it clear that the day’s media visitors were all very welcome.

The morning routine at the Reel FX studio had just kicked into high gear. A few artists and staffers straggled in but most were already hard at work. Even before the department heads gathered to reveal a look at the making of “The Book of Life,” the sense that this was a family gathered with a unified purpose was tangible. It was an important day as Gutierrez and team would also be offering a teasing first look at the feature, fleshing out what the trailers have only promised to date.

It may have taken nearly two years to animate the “The Book of Life” into reality, but the project has been gestating in Gutierrez’s fertile imagination since he was a boy. Born and raised in Mexico, the 39-year old director had long been drawn to the iconography of his homeland’s country’s rich history and cultural traditions. And no tradition resonated with him strongest than that of Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

“I always loved Day of the Dead,” Gutierrez explained, “especially growing up. It was a very, very important holiday. I was really inspired by all the stories and so I went through animation school and film school here in the U.S. at Cal Arts. I made my thesis film about Day of the Dead.”

A joyful celebration of the afterlife and the living that occurs during the first three days of November, the Day of the Dead has evolved into one of Mexico’s most treasured traditions. Today, the wildly ornate images of calaveras (skulls), the carefully prepared ofrendas (altars), marigolds and the iconic goddess Catrina have been appropriated by a modern generation of artists and youth culture. Inspired by his personal connection to the holiday, Gutierrez was steadfast that a universal story for all audiences could be inspired by such a poignant celebration. His thesis would be the first chapter in an evolving narrative that would eventually bring him to lead a team of over 400 people in Dallas, Texas.

“It won a student Emmy and I got to go to the Cannes Film Festival and show it over there,” Gutierrez explained. “At that point, an agent said, “You should write a movie about what inspired your short.”

Taking the adage of “writing what you know to heart,” he only needed to look at his whole “crazy family” that had “all these crazy stories.” Encouraged, Gutierrez went to a local bookstore to look for a book on how to write screenplays. But he was still a few chapters away from living out that Hollywood ending.

“I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ and I wrote the worst screenplay you’ve ever read. I pitched the script to pretty much every studio in town back then and they all laughed at me. They said, ‘You’re just a kid out of school. No one wants to see a movie about this stuff. We’re looking for talking animal movies and none of your animals in your movie talk.’ They basically told me it wasn’t something that they wanted to make.

Undaunted, Gutierrez shifted his focus to pursue other avenues within the animation industry. After marrying his wife Sandra, also an artist, the couple crafted a cartoon pilot that did go to series at Nickelodeon. That show, the critically acclaimed “El Tigre,” was an award-winning hit that benefited from a strengthening, multi-cultural audience.

“It was a love letter to the culture,” Gutierrez continued. “As the show became more popular, it started winning awards, it started winning Emmys and it did really well. The same doors for feature animation started to open again.”

At that point, producer Brad Booker, whom Gutierrez had remained in contact for several years, advised that up Reel FX was ready to start creating original movies. Despite the success of “El Tigre,” Gutierrez was hesitant to revisit “The Book of Life” after his previous experience with other studios. If he was going to bring this passion project forward, he actually wanted to get away from Hollywood and be free to trail blaze, not conform.

“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled “Guillermo del Toro” at the top of my lungs.

“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled ‘Guillermo del Toro’ at the top of my lungs.

Well, ask and you will receive because Gutierrez did find himself in the position to pitch the project to much sought after del Toro. (It was a meeting that would be the stuff of legend as Gutierrez recounted later.)

“Jorge arrived with a beautiful trunk filled with skulls, flowers, and amazing images,” del Toro recalled of their initial meeting. “He had some beautiful and very powerful keyframes for his story. When I saw these images, we started talking, and little by little I fell into his trap.”

Gutierrez has compared the experience as “getting a Ph.D. in cinema from a very loving but strict professor” because of del Toro’s involvement in the picture. Once the collaboration was in place, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.

“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”

“Jorge is his movie,” del Toro added, “and the movie is an imprint of his personality.”

When it comes to magical realism in Mexican literature, fate is very present in the sometimes outlandish journeys experienced by its characters. The film industry, which already possesses its own brand of surrealism, is no stranger in calling the destiny shots for the countless dreamers who make their way west. Once Gutierrez’s goal in collaborating with del Toro was real, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.

“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”

So how does an incredible animated fantasy-adventure that spans three fantastical worlds in manner never before seen by today’s audiences? Find out as Gutierrez, del Toro and members of their creative team lead you into the heart of what makes “The Book of Life” a vivid celebration of the past traditions that looks to the future of what animated entertainment can offer audiences.

BOL Mediajor

QUESTION: “The Book of Life” is being praised for offering a visual aesthetic that is truly singular, which is saying something in a genre that never stops evolving. What inspired your journey to become an animated filmmaker?

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER JORGE R. GUTIERREZ: Having grown up in Mexico, I saw the golden era of Mexican cinema. They would first show all these cartoons and then the cartoons ended and these movies started. I would just keep watching whatever the TV showed and so the cartoons and the movies kind of melded. Then my father introduced me to the movies of Sergio Leone, so “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is my favorite movie of all time. I might have seen it when I was a little too young, but it made a huge impression on me. It was a fairy tale. There’s good people, there’s bad people and there’s people who are defined by their choices. I’ve always loved that idea. As a kid, I loved Greek mythology. This movie is lie Orpheus. My favorite mythology has always been the stories where mankind teaches the gods a lesson, which to me is a fantasy of children teaching their parents something.

QUESTION: “The Book of Life” embraces the folk art of not just Mexico, but of Latin America and the rest of the world to create a universe audiences have never seen before. And yet, the colors, the shapes, everything is rife with subtext. Cultural veracity aside, was it enough to just tell the team, “Be different?”

PRODUCTION DESIGNER SIMON VARELA: I grew up with black and white films pretty much because that’s what they showed in El Salvador. I was into a lot of comics. A lot of comics. I also looked at a lot of artists that had nothing to do with painting. I looked at sculptors, architects. Because it’s still an art. It’s an art form and we are creating worlds. We wanted to be so different, right? Every director says they want something no one’s ever seen before and you’re like, “Okay here we go again!” But you do the research and then you try to figure out what it is that they want. Jorge wants everything. (Laughs). We needed to figure out what percentage of that “everything” we put it in a drawing, in a piece, in a design.

ART DIRECTOR PAUL SULLIVAN: To start off, Jorge gave me 11 eleven DVDs that I had to watch. So I watched all of them. I also have been around the culture and I knew what he wanted. The culture inspired me also, so when he said “folk art,” I knew everything about it because I do collect folk art. I did do some research because even though you’ve been there, you know the spaces, you do want to get involved a little more visually. You get on Google and start looking for images. Jorge will come out with some crazy idea where you’re like, “What? Okay, how do we do this?” (Laughs) Then you start exploring. You look at his characters and you go from there because you’re creating a world where these characters are going be working on. What we do is secondary to the characters, but they still have to live in that world.

GUTIERREZ: We are giving you an artisan’s version of real history. We are able to get away from all the sort of realistic things about it by making the good guys made out of wood, the bad guys are made out of metal, so metal can hurt wood. When you go to the Land of the Remembered, you turn into stone. All of the objects and the materials become really important, but it was all of us going, “Why not? No one’s done this. Let’s do it.”

QUESTION: Still, how do you balance the desire for originality with creating a project that is also commercially viable?

GUTIERREZ: The goal of the studio is for the movie to be seen and by the most amounts of people and be the most commercial the movie can be. I think the goal of the filmmakers is to make the movie as good as it can be and finding that balance I think is really hard. We’ve been able to navigate all that and say, “Okay, if we get a big star like Channing Tatum that allows us to have more indie actors in other roles. If we get a big song from this band that allows us to get more indie songs from these other bands.” That’s been a tricky thing for me, as a director, trying to figure out how it can’t just be for film nerds and animation nerds. It also can’t just be so commercial that it doesn’t connect emotionally.

QUESTION: You mentioned the dream of collaborating with Guillermo del Toro earlier. How did he become part of “The Book of Life” family? What made that first pitch so unforgettable?

GUTIERREZ: Like Batman, we turned on the “Guillermo del Toro Sign” and he showed up! (Laughs) At the time, he was working on “The Hobbit.” I was under the impression that there’s no way he can produce this, he’s so busy. But he said, “No, no, no, I’m coming back.” We all scrambled to put together this presentation. Then, we kept getting invited to pitch to him and he kept canceling because at that point, everybody wanted to work with him. Everything was getting pitched to him. He kept putting us off until finally I guess he felt so bad, he said, “Come to my house and pitch it to me directly over there. So, we go to his house and it was very overwhelming. It was like in August, it was like a 110 degrees. He opened the door and a little steam came out because it was cold inside. He lets us in and his house, which is so full of artwork that we said, “We can’t put all our artwork up because there’s so much artwork it’s going to blend in. Let’s pitch to him outside. That way it’s not competing.” We had maquettes and we had these beautiful paintings that (art director) Paul (Sullivan), (production designer) Simon (Varela) and Sandra and I had done at this point. We go outside and we put all the artwork up. He has a pool that has a life-size statue of Ray Harryhausen and it felt like the statue was judging me the whole time. (Laughs) They had told me, “Pitch it to him in 20 minutes.” Guillermo goes, “Pitch it to me in five minutes.” He’s already sweating and I’m already sweating and just as I’m about to say what the movie’s about, three lawn mowers go on at the same time next door. It’s super loud and Guillermo goes, “Just yell it to me.” I’m red and sweating. I think I had a heat stroke. Worst pitch in the history of pitches. I’m drenched in sweat and ready to just shake his hand and say, “Thank you for taking the time.” We sit down and he goes, “That was a terrible pitch. But I know there’s something amazing in there. I have two daughters and on Saturday mornings, we would get up to watch your cartoon “El Tigre,” so I know your style. I know your sense of humor. I know exactly who you are and of course I want to produce your first movie.”

QUESTION: Animated films tend to embrace a more homogenized world to ensure mainstream appeal. How did you intend to preserve the cultural elements that are central to “The Book of Life?”

GUTTIEREZ: I never wanted the movie to just be with Mexican actors because I didn’t want the movie to just be for Mexicans. I wanted it to be for the whole world. Certain roles should absolutely be a Mexican actor, but other roles were opened up like other movies like “Kung Fu Panda.” These are movies that are very specific to a culture, but feature actors that are from everywhere to let everyone know, “This is a universal story.”

PRODUCER GUILLERMO DEL TORO: If you’re telling a story and want it be universal, then you have to be specific. If the filmmaker loves the story and characters, then audiences will love it. And if a filmmaker feels it’s powerful, more people will love the story he or she is telling because it’s powerful. And that’s exactly what Jorge has done with “The Book of Life.”

BOL Junket

QUESTION: How did your principal cast of Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana and Channing Tatum come together?

GUTIERREZ: With Diego, I did write the role for him. I’ve always loved “Y Tu Mamá También.” I didn’t know if he could sing, but I specifically wanted him to sing because I didn’t want the singing in the movie, especially from the main character, to sound overly produced. I wanted it to sound like a real guy who grabbed a guitar and went to sing for his girl in a human and organic way. Diego and Zoë knew each other and I knew they had chemistry. When they got to speak together for the first time, we recorded them together because it was kind of a reunion. She speaks perfect Spanish and she understood the culture really well, bringing all this fire and feistiness to her role. After that, I said, “Well, (the role of) Joaquin needs to be a really big presence. Someone that everyone goes, “That’s a hero!” When we discussed Channing, I had never thought he would say yes. I really didn’t. We went to Chicago. He was shooting “Jupiter Ascending.” We pitched to him in his hotel room. He hadn’t slept. He had done a little cameo in “The LEGO Movie” as Superman, but this was going to be his first animated film lead role. He really got behind the idea and then at the end, he took me aside and he said, “Jorge, you know I’m not Mexican, right?” (Laughs) I was like, “Yeah, but you’re going to be Captain Latin America! You’re going to have the swagger of Argentina, the smoothness of Brazil, the machismo of Mexico! You’re going to be every country in one!” He said now that he’s a dad, he wanted to make movies that his daughter can see and so this was the perfect movie. He loved the idea that he could make fun of that persona that people see. That’s how it all kind of grew.

QUESTION: With so many working parts to keep moving forward, how important is it to maintain a sense of focus?

GUTIERREZ: As you can see by my weight, I have no control over what I do. I fall in love with everything! (Laugh) With the help of Brad and Guillermo, they keep me in line. It’s my first movie, so I want to put everything in there!

QUESTION: You aren’t kidding about wanting everything. While “The Book of Life” is not exactly a musical, music definitely expresses the hearts and souls of several characters. You chose to have new interpretations of classic rock songs interpolated throughout the film? You don’t always think, yeah, Radiohead/Día de los Muertos!

GUTIERREZ: Well, the original music will be from Gustavo Santaolalla and there will be little reinterpretations of various songs from different people. We got to do a more Latin American version of Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold,” which was amazing. The movie has a lot of spaghetti western references, too. At first, the people in the legal department said there’s no way any of the bands will give us the right to use any of their songs. But they started with the hardest one of them all, “Creep” by Radiohead. It’s a really complicated song because they don’t always play it. It kind of represents the “one hit wonder” era for them, so they don’t really like it. We sent them a description of how it was going to be used in the movie and what it meant and how it expressed the frustration of a teenager who couldn’t fit in with this world, couldn’t fit in with his family. The band said, “Yes! This is why that song was written and this is kind of what it means.” From that point on, any band that would give us any trouble, we would say “Oh, so you think you’re better than Radiohead?” (Laughs)

DEL TORO: Gustavo Santaolalla is known to mix the sound of Latin America with Northern influences, including electronic, punk and rock. That became the sound of The Book of Life. It’s the idea that these songs from all over the world, and from different eras would go through the film’s “sound machine” to sound authentically Mexican, but at the same time have a global reach.

QUESTION: Was there any song that required a little more effort to secure?

GUTIERREZ: The Mumford & Sons song, “I Will Wait.” That song is about faith and so when I first asked the band if we could use it to express Manolo’s waiting for Maria, the band said no. They felt it wasn’t a love song, that is was about faith. They said they would offer another song that hadn’t been released. We listened to the other song and it was beautiful, but it didn’t work as well as how “I Will Wait” would, so we went back. We hired a mariachi band to stand behind me and we shot an iPhone video of me begging the band, saying, “I understand this song is about faith, but you guys are artists should know that once you release a song, the audience will make the song into whatever they want. So when I heard your song, I heard it as a love song and in our movie, our characters will use it as a love song and love is about faith. And, if you guys love the children of Mexico, you will let us use your song.” Then the mariachi band started playing their song. This was on a Thursday when we sent it, and on Saturday the band said we could use the song.

QUESTION: Risks have always existed in breaking new ground, which seems even more challenging in today’s economic landscape. Still, now that “The Book of Life” is nearing release, how do you want this journey to be remembered?

GUTIERREZ: I’ve come to terms with that. I can only worry about what I present and then what the audience does with it. I would love to be able to tell them, but I feel like good artwork should speak for itself. But before we got here, I did say that if even if I never get to make this movie, there’s something really good here. I don’t mean “good” creatively. I just mean “good” for humanity. There’s some goodness in this idea that I got to pass on to non-Latino people and non-Hispanics. They need to know what’s happening out there. We live in such troubled times, but this is a huge reminder, “Hey you guys, there’s beautiful stuff out there, too.”

 “The Book of Life” opens everywhere on October 17.

Written for 20th Century Fox. Posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA 

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.

Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.

Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.

Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.

Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.

Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.

Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA


My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.

To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?

Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.

My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.

Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.

Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.

Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.

He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.

Last night, I became Jorge the First.

Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA