Director Diego Luna Discusses "Cesar Chavez," Community and Change

Adam Reynoso ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

During a screening of Cesar Chavez at Harvard University, Emertainment Monthly had the opportunity to take part in a round table interview with director Diego Luna to talk about his motivations to work on the biopic and the importance of reflecting on the past to continue moving forward.

*So with everything going on in the world, especially the issues regarding immigration laws and policies, what made you decide to make the film now?

Well, I guess because before I was too young. I was surprised and a little shocked there was no film about Cesar Chavez movement and about the farm workers in the sixties and seventies.  And so I thought by celebrating one of the stories of this community, we could also bring the attention to what matters today. But, I had to film and I think it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in the states that I realized this community wasn’t portrayed in cinema as much as they should. It’s growing with a big complexity, you know, now, we call them Latinos just because we don’t know exactly how to call them and again, the complexity of this community, that is growing. It’s growing, it’s not the same experience for those who have crossed the border recently or, that cross here when they’re already adults and those who crossed as kids, those who are first generation, second, third, those who already running big companies today, and you know, it’s changing, very fast. And, I thought, a film about the past needed to be done, before we start reflecting on the future. We tend to forget about where we come from and this is an attempt to remind them that something like this needed to happen for us to be where we are.

Diego Luna on location filming Cesar Chavez. Photo Credit: Pantelion Films.
Diego Luna filming Cesar Chavez. Photo Credit: Pantelion Films.

When you read the script, was there a particular scene you were looking forward to filming?

I guess yeah, I was very excited to shoot in the fields. That was the main thing and we were thinking about a lot of how we portray the moments in the fields because it’s hard not to romanticize the moments. Shooting on the fields and having the actual workers, the workers actually were workers. It was easier for us, also, to explain to a farm worker how we do film, than explaining an extra how you are a farm worker. Asking an extra to pretend to know his craft and to have the face of someone who has been exposed to the sun, to the wind, to the dust for so many years. So we had the actual workers there, but there was a lot of challenges there. One was the weather, where we were shooting 117º in a 12 with the sun on top of us, with no shadow, with the real workers there. That was very exciting to me, because also, I knew if we achieved that, then the whole story would have a meaning. We were shooting that way, on the left and right, you would always see the real workers picking grapes, reminding us that we were telling their story.

This is your first English language feature film, how did your approach differ from your Spanish language film?

Very different, same as interviews. I’m struggling here to make myself clear and you lose a lot of subtlety. What’s in between good, very good or bad and very bad, well there’s tons of words there I don’t know in English that I know in Spanish and I think directing is about giving the right information to everyone around you and be very precise. But also, there’s always a way to explain yourself and to find that connection. I don’t see my previous film tiny compared to this one. I care about telling stories and when I’m telling one story, it’s because that one matters more than anything else.

Diego Luna filming Cesar Chavez. Photo Credit: Pantelion Films.
Diego Luna filming Cesar Chavez. Photo Credit: Pantelion Films.

*With the cast that you have, you have really big name actors in the Hispanic community. How did you decide on who to cast in this film?

It was difficult because everybody wanted to be part of this film, Everyone from this community because everyone in this community knows the little options or chances that are to portray interesting roles. With a film like this, it’s all about community and it’s all about celebrating the existence of this community and everyone wanted to be part of it. We did a big casting and we saw everyone, even though I knew I wanted to work with Michael [Peña], America [Ferrera], Rosario [Dawson], John [Malkovich] obviously, Jacob [Vargas], I still went and did the whole process of doing a casting and then doing an open call for those that were not actors and wanted to try out and they sent their videos. We spent a lot of time casting this film. And it was worth it because I got a sense of who was there and also a sense of how important this film was to actors and it made my job more exciting because I realize I was doing something before I even went to do it, it was already important for so many.

*How did you decide to structure the film the way that you do?

It was in the process of editing, I have to say, because telling the ten years of the life of someone is very difficult. Telling the life of someone is impossible. On the editing is where I found what about I wanted to be specific, and yeah, at the end, I wanted to tell a story about a father and a son. And, because that’s why I am telling a story about Cesar Chavez, because of the connection I had suddenly with that community that my son belonged to, that I always saw from one angle and suddenly, I was part of it, because of my son being born there. So when I did a film about it, I said, well, I ended up finding myself, what is what matters me the most about Cesar and its what he had to go through, give away the opportunity to be next to his kids. So that’s why it’s a family film. I hope young kids take their parents to watch it.

Cesar Chavez arrives in theaters on March 28, 2014. 

* Denotes a question asked by Emertainment Monthly

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