Partial Transcript: INT: So you're going to tell us a little bit about where you grew up, how you grew up, you know, what your family was like?
GN: Yeah, yes, and in preparation for doing this marvelous project and I really have to thank the Academy.
Segment Synopsis: Nava thanks the Academy for being involved in the project and briefly introduces his home movies.
Keywords: Border; Chicano; Chicano culture; Family; Home movies; Interviews; Latin family; Ojai, California; Parents; Relationship with father; Relationship with mother; San Diego, California; Tijuana, Mexico; United States/Mexico border
Subjects: Family Home movies Latin family Parents Relationship with father Relationship with mother United States/Mexico border
GPS: Ojai, California
Map Coordinates: 34.449167, -119.246667
Partial Transcript: GN: So let's take a look at some of these images and some of the people who we'll be talking about.
Segment Synopsis: Nava relates anecdotes of his childhood, family, and traumatic events that marked his life while watching his family home movies.
Keywords: Basque culture; Border: USA y Mexico; Cousins; Culture; Deportation; Diversity; Easter; Ethnic; Family; Father; Grandparents; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; Mother; Parents; Poverty; San Diego, California; Siblings; Social class; Space cadet; Star Wars; Tíos; Traumatic events; Uncles; World War II
Subjects: Border Childhood Family Latin Culture Memories Remembrances Social class Traumatic shock
Partial Transcript: INT: When you were six years old, what was your sense of Hollywood?
GN: You know that’s a great question. My family were great movie goers. And we used to go to the movies all the time.
Segment Synopsis: Nava narrates about his first contact with the seventh art, and how to film home movies and the impression after seeing "The ten commandments" had a strong influence in his life.
Keywords: Astrodome; Childhood--Movie going; DeMille, Cecil B.; Director; Disney movies; Houston, Texas; Movie theaters; Moviegoers; Parents; San Diego, California; Selena; Ten Commandments, The
Subjects: Childhood--Movie going Disney movies Movie theaters Parents San Diego, California Ten Commandments, The
GPS: California Theater. San Diego, CA
Map Coordinates: 32.7169479,-117.1611978
Partial Transcript: INT: Let me ask you, what kind of films did you imagine you would make when you were a little child, and you figured out that somebody was making them?
Segment Synopsis: Nava fondly remembers the movies that were important to him during his childhood.
Keywords: Adventure movies; Captain Blood; Cartoon; Classic film; DeMille, Cecil B.; Disney movies; Fernandez, Emilio "El Indio"; Figueroa M., Gabriel; Flynn, Errol; Golden Age of Mexican Cinema; Hollywood; Lawrence of Arabia; Mexican cinema; Robin Hood; Ten Commandments, The
Subjects: Adventure movies Childhood Classic film Disney movies Golden Age of Mexican Cinema
Partial Transcript: INT: Now I’m gonna change the subject a little bit, where did you go to high school? And how did that institution influence you?
Segment Synopsis: Nava talks about his scholar life during high school and the sacrifices his family did to give him and his siblings a proper education. He also mentions some extracurricular activities.
Keywords: Balboa Park, San Diego; Catholic school; Catholicism; Fencing; Flynn, Errol; Saint Augustine High School; San Diego, California; Scholarship; Student; University of California, Los Angeles. School of Theater, Film, and Television
Subjects: Catholicism Education Extracurricular activities Fencing University University of California, Los Angeles. School of Theater, Film, and Television
GPS: Saint Augustine High School
Map Coordinates: 32.7347, -117.123611
Partial Transcript: GN: I was very, very much in love with poetry, theater, drama, you know, and I started making my first movies when I was in high school.
INT: What were they about?
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers his first amateur film as a director, which he made with his brother's 8mm Bolex camera.
Keywords: 8mm; Artist; Artistic identity; Bell&Howell; Bolex; Family; First camera; History; Poetry; Siblings; Story ideas; Theater
Subjects: Artistic identity Early films Family Memory Siblings
Partial Transcript: GN: What was it about my upbringing that was so special?
INT: What was it?
GN: You know, it’s, you know, you look at the images of going back and forth to Mexico with the ranch, and all of these powerful images.
Segment Synopsis: Nava details how growing up by the American and Mexican border defined his artistic career and the impact of his parent's emotional support.
Keywords: Artist; Artistic identity; Childhood--Movie going; Developed country; Early films; Family; Film criticism; Latin America; Parents; Poverty; Relationship with mother; San Diego, California; Ten Commandments, The; Tijuana, Mexico; Underdeveloped country; United States/Mexico border
Subjects: Artistic identity Developed country Early films Latin America Movie going Parents Poverty Underdeveloped country United States/Mexico border
Partial Transcript: GN: Let me just speak about my father a bit, because he was an extraordinary man, who had to deal with huge amounts of, he was Chicano, and he came from a dirt poor background.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers his father fondly; his adversities in life, his participation in the WWII, his love and the lessons he shared with his family.
Keywords: Aircraft; Airplanes; Carpenter; Chicano; Deportation; Director; Parenthood; Racism; United States of America; World War II
Subjects: Chicano Deportation Director Parenthood Racism World War II
Partial Transcript: INT: Now at what moment, here you are, you’ve graduated from high school. You have all this background. At what moment do you realize that you want to go to Los Angeles to study film?
Segment Synopsis: Nava reflects about the moment that defined him as filmmaker, his political activism during college and a trip to Guadalajara that changed his vision on spirituality.
Keywords: 8mm film; African Americans; Augustinian; Aztec civilization; Berkeley Barb; Black Panther Party; Catholic school; Chavez, Cesar; Comic books; Counterculture; Green Lantern; Indigenous culture; Latino culture; Maya civilization; Mesoamerica; Mexican Culture; Miscegenation; Olene; Personal identity; Police brutality; Pre-Columbian cultures; Protests; Spirituality; Student protests; Summer course; The day 100,000 people vanished; UCLA Film School; United States/Mexico border; University of California, Berkeley; University of Guadalajara; Vietnam War
Subjects: Aztec civilization Counterculture Indigenous culture Latino culture Maya civilization Mesoamerica Miscegenation Politics Pre-Columbian cultures Protests Spirituality
Partial Transcript: INT: So tell me when you found your Ollin, exactly.
GN: Well, well, my Olene was to be a storyteller.
INT: There in Guadalajara?
GN: I knew what it was.
Segment Synopsis: Nava goes into depth about spirituality and the concept of Ollin, the thing that brings center and balance to life, and doing what you are meant to do.
Keywords: Dreams; El Norte; Indigenous; Indigenous culture; Machado, Antonio; Maya civilization; Mesoamerican culture; Ollin; Rabinal, Guatemala; Satori; Spirituality; Storytelling; Subconscious; The Day 100,000 People Vanished; UCLA Film School
Subjects: Beliefs Dreams Indigenous culture Maya civilization Ollin Rabinal, Guatemala Spirituality Storytelling Subconscious
GPS: Rabinal, Guatemala
Map Coordinates: 15.0870000, -90.495000
Partial Transcript: INT: And tell me about that first step you took. About "TheJournal of Diego Rodriguez Silva".
GN: Well "The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva", again…
INT: What were your themes?
Segment Synopsis: Nava discusses his political engagement at UCLA, Federico Garcia Lorca, betrayal and subjects that influenced him to create a low budget short film.
Keywords: Berkeley, California; Betrayal; Bolex; Camera; Drama; Family; Figueroa, Gabriel; Film production; Garcia Lorca, Federico; Guadalajara, Mexico; Guernica; Kesey, Kenneth Elton "Ken"; Latino culture; Lucas, George; National Student Film Festival Dramatic Film Award; Picasso, Pablo; Protests; Revolutionary movements; Spanish Civil War (1936-39); The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva; THX 1138; UCLA Film School; UCLA School of Film and Television; UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television; Vietnam War
Subjects: Betrayal Counterculture Family Film production Latino culture Revolutionary movements Spanish Civil War (1936-39) The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva UCLA Film School
Hyperlink: The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva
Partial Transcript: INT: At what point after you finished this film did you meet Anna Thomas?
GN: Well I had known Anna, I mean there was a lot of people who I was very close to... UCLA was the community of students.
Segment Synopsis: Nava discusses how he met Anna Thomas, the shooting of "The Confessions of Amans" and how painting has influenced his work.
Keywords: American Film Institute; Ancient Greece; Ancient Rome; Awards; Aztec civilization; Biograph Theater; Chicago International Film Festival; Chicago Sun Times; Confessions of Amans; Crew; Culture; Culture shock; Ebert, Roger; El Cid; El Norte; Europe; Eyck, Van; Fascism; Figueroa, Gabriel; Film critic; Film distribution; Film festivals; Independent cinema; Maya civilization; Medieval times; Memling, Hans; Mithology; Moorpark College; Moreau, Jeanne; My Family/Mi Familia; New York City; Orozco, Jose Clemente; Painting; Penaloza, Felipe; Props; Rivera, Diego; Siblings; Siskel, Gene; Spanish Civil War (1936-39); Thesis; Thomas, Anna; Toland, Gregg; Valdez, Patssi; Van Der Weyden, Rogier; Wil Wright’s; Yerington, Robert
Subjects: Awards Confessions of Amans Culture shock Film critic Film distribution Film festivals Independent cinema Medieval times Mithology Painting Thomas, Anna
Hyperlink: Anna Thomas profile
Partial Transcript: GN: But you know I didn’t get any offers. Still nothing from the studios, or anybody who were making movies, but you know I had this, had established some credibility as a filmmaker.
Segment Synopsis: Nava relates how he helped Anna Thomas in her debut as director in "The haunting of M." and situations that inspired his film "El Norte".
Keywords: Agent; Border; Border patrol; Chicano identity; Confessions of Amans; Coulter, Anna; Edinburgh International Film Festival; El Norte; Eye level Madonna, The; Ghost stories; Haunting of M., The; Huyck, Willard; Katz, Gloria; Latino culture; Los Angeles Times; Original story; Roth, Steve; San Diego, California; Scotland; Tijuana, Mexico; United States/Mexico border; Writers Guild of America; Zeigler Diskant
Subjects: Agent Border Film Festivals Ghost stories Haunting of M., The Latino culture Original story Racism
Hyperlink: The haunting of M.
Partial Transcript: GN: Now that personal journey, all right, corresponded with this birth of the independent film movement. Which Anna and I were centrally involved in.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers how Sandra Schulberg gathered many independent filmmakers together and how this evolved into Film Independent.
Keywords: Confessions of Amans; Film Independent; Hanson, John; Haunting of M., The; Independent filmmaking; Independent spirit awards; Lee, Spike; Los Angeles, California; Nunez, Victor; Schulberg, Sandra; Thomas, Anna
Subjects: Awards Film festival Film Independent Independent filmmaking Los Angeles, California
Hyperlink: Film Independent
Partial Transcript: GN: And when we were, so I started this process. And Anna and I decided, look. We are never going to be able to do this, you know, if I’m working, and you know, we’re doing all this different stuff.
Segment Synopsis: Nava tells how he and Anna invested all their time and savings to film "El norte"; which became a quintessential film that reflected the reality of the Mayan world and the Guatemalan.
Keywords: Berkus, Jim; El Norte; El Salvador; Guatemala; Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1994); Indigenous; Kanjobal; Labor; Los Angeles; Marroquin, Luis; Maya civilization; Montage; Roth, Steve; Sassoon pants; Script; Shooting; Spirituality; Tikal, Guatemala; When the mountains tremble
Subjects: Chiapas, Mexico El Norte Guatemala Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1994) Immigrant families Independent film Indigenous Kanjobal Maya civilization Spirituality
Hyperlink: El norte
Partial Transcript: GN: So, we finished the script, and you know we sent it around, and we made this big choice like we’re gonna quit all of our work and just concentrate on doing this.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers how the idea was rejected at the beginning because of the subject, the foreign casting, and how he fought to depict an accurate vision of the Mayan civilization.
Keywords: 35mm film; Academy Awards; Ambassador Hotel; American Playhouse; Benson, Robby; Bicycle thieves; Casting; Chiapas, Mexico; Commercial cinema/commercial release; Criterion Collection; Drama; Duart; DuArt Lab; Fernandez, Emilio "El Indio"; Foreign actors; Ikiru; Illegal workers; Immigrant families; Independent film project; Kurosawa, Akira; Law, Lindsay; Miles, Linda; Nicholson, Jack; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Rashomon; Seven samurai; Shields, Brooke; Television; True story; White savior; Young, Irwin
Subjects: Casting El Norte Ethnics Immigration Independent film Influences Television
Hyperlink: El Norte
Partial Transcript: GN: Let me just read something. Because one of the things I think is interesting about this interview, is not, this is me now.
Segment Synopsis: Nava details the subjects that inspire him to create "El Norte", taking ideas from Mayan mythology, opera and horror stories.
Keywords: American Family; American Family TV Show; Aristotle; Bicycle thieves; Chicano; Chicano identity; Chilam Balam; Dream realism; El Norte; Father; Fear; Hitchcock, Alfred; Humanity; Ideas; Latino culture; Maya civilization; Mythic structure; Ollin; Opera; Passion; Popol Vuh; Psycho; Selena; Terror
Subjects: Chicano Dream realism El Norte Father Humanity Ideas Latino culture Maya civilization Mythic structure Ollin Opera Passion Terror
Partial Transcript: GN: The films I make are in the dream realist style. And yeah, I did want to speak a little bit about what is dream realism.
Segment Synopsis: Nava defines what is 'dream realism' and shares his passion and admiration for the Mayan cosmogony in the works of Popol Vuh and Chilam Balam.
Keywords: 16th century; Americas; Ancestors; Asturias, Miguel Angel; Aztec culture; Chilam Balam; Cinema; Cliché; Codex; Codex Borgia; Dream reality; Duality; Folklore; Garcia Marquez, Gabriel; Genocide; Guatemala; Indigenous languages; Latin America; Latino culture; Literature; Magical Realism; Maya Divinity; Mayan Gods; Men of maize; Ollin; One hundred years of solitude; Originality; Personal style; Popol Vuh; Pre-Columbian; Sahagun, Bernardino; Social problems; Spanish Conquest; Supernatural; White savior; Ximenez, Francisco; Yucatan, Mexico
Subjects: Codex Dream reality Folklore Latin America Latino culture Magical Realism Mayan Divinity Originality Personal style Supernatural
Partial Transcript: GN: So we we're gonna speak about the shooting of "El Norte", the making of the film.
Segment Synopsis: Nava talks about the troubles that arose during the shooting of "El Norte" due to indigenous' traditions and political situations, and how he recovered the storyboards of the film.
Keywords: Actor; Aguacatenango, Mexico; Cast; Chamula, Mexico; Chiapas, Mexico; Chilam Balam; Cinematographer; Comunism; Costumes; Criterion Collection; Danger situations; Day of the Dead; Death menace; Documentary; Duality; Glennon, James; Guatemala; Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1994); Gutierrez, Zaide Silvia; Huipiles; Indigenous; Maya civilization; Mission; Mitology; Navarro, Bertha; Navarro, Guillermo; Popol Vuh; Producer; Racism; San Diego, California; Storyboards; United States; Villalpando, David; Virgin Mary
Subjects: Chiapas, Mexico Controversy Corruption Death menace Documentary Duality Filming location Government Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1994) Indigenous Maya civilization Racism
Hyperlink: El norte
Partial Transcript: GN: So after shooting for a month in Chiapas, we then went to Morelos where it was supposed to be safer, in order to shoot the scene.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers one difficult scene of the shooting, and some consequences for filming polemic political issues that eventually led him into a blackmail situation.
Keywords: American Family TV Show; Army; Blackmail; Bordertown; Bordertown, Ciudad al Límite; Bush administration; Controversy; Corruption; Crew; Cuatla, Mexico; Del Lago, Alicia; Emiliano Zapata; Filming location; Glennon, Bert; Gomez Cruz, Ernesto; Government; Hostage; Iraq war; Lopez Portillo, Jose; Morelos, Mexico; Navarro, Bertha; Perisur; President of Mexico; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Scherer, Hugo; Selena; Shopping mall; State funding
Subjects: Army Blackmail Corruption Filming location Government Public television State funding
Hyperlink: El Norte
Partial Transcript: GN: So after shooting for a month in Chiapas, we then went to Morelos where it was supposed to be safer, in order to shoot the scene.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remembers one difficult scene of the shooting, and some consequences for filming polemic political issues that eventually led him into a blackmail situation.
Keywords: American Family TV Show; Army; Blackmail; Bordertown; Bordertown, Ciudad al Límite; Bush administration; Controversy; Corruption; Crew; Cuatla, Mexico; Del Lago, Alicia; Emiliano Zapata; Filming location; Glennon, Bert; Gomez Cruz, Ernesto; Government; Hostage; Iraq war; Lopez Portillo, Jose; Morelos, Mexico; Perisur; President of Mexico; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Scherer, Hugo; Selena; Shopping mall; State funding
Subjects: Army Blackmail Corruption Filming location Government Public television State funding
Hyperlink: El Norte
Partial Transcript: GN: So we got back to the United States and, you know, we had been filming this, we'd been preparing the rat tunnel.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remarks why the shooting of the film ended in the United States of America and the opening of the movie in the Telluride Film festival.
Keywords: Academy Award nominations; Academy Awards--Writing (original screenplay); Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts Sciences (AMPAS); American Playhouse; Americas; Asociacion Nacional De Actores (ANDA); Awards campaign; Bilingual; Blankett, Betsy; Cannes Film Festival; Chiapas, Mexico; Chilam Balam; Cinema Latino; Collaborator; Colonialism; Confessions of Amans; Dance with wolves; Distributor (Film); Dorothy Chandler Pavillion; Duart; Ebert, Roger; Editing; Edwards, Doug; El Norte; Extras; Film sets; Governors Ball; Hitchcok, Alfred; Huipiles; Humor; Immigration service; Independent directors; Indigenous culture; Indigenous languages; Insdorf, Annette; Kanjobal; Kekchi; Law, Lindsay; Lean, David; Los Angeles, California; Luddy, Tom; Maya civilization; Morelos, Mexico; Music Hall Theater; New York; Popol Vuh; Production designer; Protagonist; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Pulp Fiction; Rats; Refugees; Screen Actors Guild (SAG); Silvia Gutierrez, Zaide; Simpson–Mazzoli Act; Siskel, Gene; Sneak Preview; Son; Sound; Sundance Film Festival; Telluride Film Festival; Terror; The haunting of M; Time of Destiny; Trilingual; Tunnel; Villalpando, David; Warner Bros. studios; Wasco, David; Young, Irwin
Subjects: Academy Awards Cinema Latino Film Festivals Independent directors Indigenous culture Indigenous languages Maya civilization Production design Terror
Hyperlink: Telluride Film Festival
Partial Transcript: GN: And I just want to speak a little bit more, because we've talked a lot about Anna but I haven't really spoken about her specifically.
Segment Synopsis: Nava stresses his admiration and respect for his former wife, Anna Thomas, who has been one of his most important collaborators.
Keywords: Academy Awards; American Family TV Show; Canals-Barrera, Maria; Cast; Collaboration; Cooking book; Difficulties; Divorce; El Norte; Film production; Funding; Gordon, Shep; Hurt, William; Independent filmmaking; James Beard Foundation Award; Latin talent; Leo, Melissa; Lopez, Jennifer; Marie, Constance; My Family - Mi Familia; Pena, Michael; Pfeiffer, Carolyn; Producer; Puttnam, David; Tú eres Mi Destino; Thomas, Anna; Time of Destiny; UCLA Film School; Warner Bros. studios; Writing team; Yugoslavia
Subjects: Cast Collaboration Difficulties Divorce Film production Independent filmmaking Thomas, Anna Time of Destiny Writing team
Hyperlink: Anna Thomas
Partial Transcript: GN: So when I think about it, you know, one of the things that you have to deal with as a director, is you have great successes, you're going to have things that don't work.
Segment Synopsis: Nava highlights the challenges that he has had as a director and how much he learned from the shooting of "A time of destiny" and his work with the composer, Ennio Morricone.
Keywords: Bumstead, Henry; Composer; Conflict; El Norte; Emotivity; Film composing; Film music; Film score; Filming location; Hurt, WIlliam; Italian food; Morricone, Ennio; Once upon a time in America; Orchestra; Production designer; Relationship; Roma, Italy; Time of Destiny; Yugoslavia
Subjects: Composer Conflict Emotivity Film music Film score Filming location Production design
Hyperlink: Ennio Morricone
Partial Transcript: GN: But that happens in movies. Everybody has this, this does happen. You know, I can't change him, I can't change Yugoslavia, but I can look within myself to see what I can change.
Segment Synopsis: Nava points out that after the conflicts with William Hurt, he studied with Sandford Meisner to learn his technique and improve himself as person and as a director.
Keywords: Acting – training; Actor; Adler, Stella; Agent; American Family; Berg, Jeff; Coaching; Director; Hurt, William; Intuition; Meisner technique; Meisner, Sanford; Mentor; Mentoring; My Family - Mi Familia; Pollack, SIdney; Selena; Stage acting; Stanislavski's system; Strasberg, Lee; Sundance Film Festival; UCLA Film School; Yugoslavia
Subjects: Coaching Director Intuition Mentoring Stage acting
Hyperlink: The Sanford Meisner center
Partial Transcript: GN: And so then, when I went to do "My Family", okay, so much of what goes on in "My Family" comes out of that experience.
Segment Synopsis: Nava talks about how he applied the Meisner technique in his later films and how his movies "El norte" and "My family" contain real life situations that strengthen the stories.
Keywords: Actor; Carrillo, Elpidia; Challenges; Chicano; Cinematographer; Del Castillo, Kate; Deportation; Directing actors; Drama; El Norte; Gardner, Kirk; Hurt, William; Hutton, Timothy; Illegal; Immigrant families; Immigration; Instincts; Kurosawa, Akira; Lachman, Edward; Latino culture; Marie, Constance; Meisner, Sanford; My Family/Mi Familia; One-shot; Political correctness; Politics; Real life; Script; Shakespeare, William; Smits, Jimmy; Spontaneity; Steadicam; Steadicam operator; Stereotype; Television
Subjects: Deportation Directing actors Immigration Latino culture Political correctness Spontaneity (Personality trait) Stereotype
Hyperlink: My family
Partial Transcript: GN: I wanted to talk about Los Angeles, because Los Angeles is one of the great cities of the world, and it has been the subject and part of so many films that I have made.
Segment Synopsis: Nava remarks how the city of Los Angeles has become another character in his films, and how he likes to portray this city under a Latino's scope.
Keywords: American Family TV Show; Central and South America; Chinatown; Cities; Deportation; East L.A.; El Norte; El Salvador; Epic film; Family; Generations; History; Homage; Hoovert, Herbert; Humor; Immigrant families; Intimacy; L.A. Confidential; Latin America; Latin people; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; Low budget; Mexico; Migratory movements; My Family - Mi Familia; Original story; Ozu, Yasujir?; Pierce, Mildred; President of United States; Producer; Project; Proudness; Rio Grande; Script; Selena; The Getty; Tokyo story; West L.A.; World War II
Subjects: Cities Deportation Family Generations Homage Immigrant families Latin America Latin people Latino culture Los Angeles, California Migratory movements
GPS: Los Angeles, California
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
Partial Transcript: GN: So when I came in to do Mi Familia, again, it's screenplay by Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, original story by Gregory Nava.
Segment Synopsis: Nava talks about two of his important collaborators, his agent, Jeff Berg, and executive producer, Tom Luddy, a key person in the creation of "My Family".
Keywords: Academy Award nominations; Academy Awards nominee--Makeup; Agent; American Zoetrope; Awards campaign; Berg, Jeff; Collaboration; Collaborator; El Norte; Executive producer; Film business; Film financing; Ford Coppola, Francis; Latino culture; Loyalty; Luddy, Tom; My Family/Mi Familia; Napa Valley; New Line Cinema; Script; Shaye, Robert; Telluride Film Festival
Subjects: Academy Award nominations Agent Collaboration Executive producer Film business Film financing Latino culture
Partial Transcript: GN: I'll tell you one little story about shooting "My Familiy", which was chilling because you know, we talk about dream realism and the forces and the you know, ancestors.
Segment Synopsis: Nava speaks about a curious incident during the shooting of "My Family", that resembled a life event during the 1950s.
• Keywords - Remove, "Scary experience"
• Subjects - Remove, "Scary experience"
Keywords: Afroamericans; Black lives matter; Cholo; Dream realism; East L.A.; El Norte; Gang member; Gangs; Latin community; Los Angeles, California; My Family/Mi Familia; Police brutality; Shooting; White Fence
Subjects: Afroamericans Dream realism Gangs Latin community My Family/Mi Familia Police brutality
Hyperlink: My Family
Partial Transcript: INT: Would you talk a little bit about the themes of "My family" that you were hoping to address this multi-generational trauma.
Segment Synopsis: Nava discusses the main themes of "My Family" and the vision he imagined, highlighting that the film is about the human experience.
Keywords: Chicano; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Deportation; Diversity; El Norte; Email; Family; Latino culture; Levine, Peter; Los Angeles, California; My Family/Mi Familia; Society; Stereotype
Subjects: Chicano culture Chicano identity Latino culture Los Angeles, California My Family/Mi Familia Stereotype
Hyperlink: My Family
Partial Transcript: GN: I really wanted to also speak about Ed Lachman, who I made three movies with. And the first movie I made with him was "My Family".
Segment Synopsis: Nava speaks about his other collaborator, the cinematographer, Edward "Ed" Lachman, with whom he has worked on three films
Keywords: A Tres Bandas; Academy Awards; Almendros, Nestor; Black stallion returns, The; Cinematographer; DeBlau, John W.; Film financing; Film production; Ford Coppola, Francis; Lachman, Edward; Lighting; Low budget; Marie, Constance; My Family/Mi Familia; Producer; Selena; Shooting; Smits, Jimmy; Why do Fools Fall in Love
Subjects: Budget Cinematographer Film financing Film production Financiamiento/ Fondos Ford Coppola, Francis Lachman, Edward Lighting
Hyperlink: Edward Lachman
Partial Transcript: GN: Also, that was the first film that I had, you know, editing is supremely important and Nancy Richardson has cut most of my movies.
Segment Synopsis: Nava talks about his film editor, Nancy Richardson, whom he has worked with frequently and her magnificent work on "My Family".
Keywords: Camera lens; Cooke lens; Epic film; Fifties; Film editor; Generations; Griffith, D.W.; Lachman, Edward; Modern film; My Family/Mi Familia; Personal style; Richardson, Nancy; Scorsese, Martin; Silent film; Technicolor; Zeiss lens
Subjects: Camera lens Film editor My Family/Mi Familia Personal style Richardson, Nancy
Hyperlink: Nancy Richardson
Partial Transcript: GN: It received a presidential premiere in Washington D.C.,they were very rare. Clinton only gave two, one to you know "Schindler’s List", and one to "My Family".
Segment Synopsis: Nava narrates on how the special screening of the film, "My Family" at the White House was an important tribute to his parents, especially his father.
Keywords: Ambassadors; Censorship office; Clinton, Bill; Congress; El Norte; Family; Film screening; Hispanics; Latino culture; My Family/Mi Familia; Oval office; Parents; President of United States; Schindler's list; Senators; Son; Washington, D.C.; White House; World War II
Subjects: Family Film screening Latino culture Parents President of United States Proud Raising White House
GPS: The White House
Map Coordinates: 38.8977, -77.0365
Hyperlink: The White House
Partial Transcript: GN: On "My Family" this is when Selena was killed, all right? And there was a lot of talk about this and, you know, the movie was released and of course the Quintanilla family really loved the movie.
Segment Synopsis: Nava comments on how he approached the tragedy of Selena's story in a more human way.
Keywords: American; Auditions; Billboard Latin Music Awards; Canals-Barrera, Maria; Chicago, Illinois; Chicano identity; De Niro, Robert; Father; Film studio; James Olmos, Edward; Latino culture; Lead role; Lopez Rojas, Eduardo; Lopez, Jennifer; Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, California; Marie, Constance; Mexican actor; Miami, Florida; Morales, Esai; Murder; My Family/Mi Familia; New Line Cinema; Quintanilla Family; San Antonio, Texas; Sciorra, Annabella; Sensationalist; Smits, Jimmy; Texas, United States; Tomei, Marisa; Tragedy; Travesy; Tribute; True story; Union Station; Venice Beach, California; Youth
Subjects: Celebrity Chicano identity Murder My Family/Mi Familia Quintanilla Family Tragedy Tribute True story
Partial Transcript: GN: So we had these things and we had, you know, people who had never been in a movie before that we picked from these things and we picked one of the girls.
Segment Synopsis: Nava highlights how important was to choose a Latin actress for the main role.
Keywords: Actress; Aristotelian tragedy; Box office; Cable television; Celebrity; Choreography; Consequences; Corpus Christi, Texas; Dancer; Dream realism; Ethiopia, Africa; fan; Greek tragedy; Guerra, Jackie; Houston Astrodome; Lachman, Edward; Lee Meza, Rebecca; Legacy; Lopez, Jennifer; Mimic; Music career; Ontiveros, Lupe; Poteet, Texas; Selena Museum; Sequence; Songs; Super 8 camera; TV Film; Violence
Subjects: Celebrity Choreography Dance Dream realism Latin actress Latin culture Music career
Partial Transcript: INT: Can you talk a little bit about a movie that came right after that in 1998, Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
Segment Synopsis: Nava comments about how this movie was inspired by the life of the singer Frank Lymon, the film-making process, and the necessity of speaking of other minorities.
Keywords: African Americans; Artistic identity; Berry, Halle; Beverly Hills, California; Classic film; Death in Venice; El Norte; Fifties; Fox, Vivica A.; Gratitude; Kröger, Tonio; Lachman, Edward; Latino culture; Litle Richard; Lymon, Frankie; Mann, Thomas; Music rights; My Family/Mi Familia; Novel; Rochon, Lela; Songs; Sound; Tate, Larenz; True story; White public; Why do Fools Fall in Love
Subjects: African Americans Latino culture Lymon, Frankie Music rights Songs Sound True story Why do Fools Fall in Love
Hyperlink: Why do fools fall in love?
Partial Transcript: INT: You've talked about a couple of actors that you discovered and others who were established that you've worked with. What is your approach to the casting process and ultimately working with your actors?
Segment Synopsis: Nava reflects on the importance of finding the right cast in order to make a veritable film and how he works with them after learning the Meisner technique.
Keywords: Acting; Acting method; Ancestors; Anthropology; Artistic identity; Aztec civilization; Canals-Barrera, Maria; Cast; Casting director; Coloch, Jose; Costumes; Dance; Del Castillo, Kate; Dream reality; El Norte; Guatemala; Indigenous; Instincts; Lopez, Jennifer; Marie, Constance; Maya civilization; Meisner, Sanford; Mussenden, Roger; My Family/Mi Familia; Pena, Michael; Pollack, Sidney; Popol Vuh; Pre-Columbian; Rabinal Achí; Spirituality; Spontaneity; Test screenings; Theater
Subjects: Acting Acting method Ancestors Anthropology Artistic identity Cast Casting director Dream reality Indigenous Instincts Spirituality Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: You brought that understanding very much to your documentary work, with American Tapestry and it'd be interesting to talk about.
Segment Synopsis: Nava relates on how all his ideas and feelings were incorporated in his first documentary, a genre that he hadn't explored, by showing a more human approach in the telling of the migration stories.
Keywords: African Americans; American dream; American Tapestry; Asia; Border; Bordertown; China; Coyote; Directing; Director; Documentary; Dream reality; Ellis Island, New York; Europe; Executive producer; Illegal; Immigrant families; Immigration; Jewish immigration; Martinez Jitner, Barbara; Migration; Millenium; Oaxaca, Mexico; Poland; Poverty; Reality; second unit; Second unit director; Selena; Solitude Virgin; Tijuana, Mexico; True story; TV movie documentary; TV shows; United States; United States/Mexico border; Why do Fools Fall in Love
Subjects: American dream American Tapestry Border Documentary Immigrant families Immigration Migration Reality True story
Hyperlink: The 20th century: American tapestry
306:31 - Collaborators -- Working with Barbara Martinez on "Bordertown" and the TV series "American Family".
Partial Transcript: GN: I'll tell you one other thing about an incredibly courageous thing that Barbara did, when we were shooting "Bordertown".
Segment Synopsis: Nava highlights the work of his second unit director, Barbara Martinez Jiter, her audacious work that has turned her into one of his most valued collaborators during his last productions.
Keywords: African Americans; American; American Family; American Family TV Show; Border; Bordertown; Braga, Sonia; Burnett, Charles; Bush, George W.; Cast; Chilam Balam; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); Conservative; Death menace; Del Castillo, Kate; Directing; Dream reality; Emmys; Executive producer; Factory; Family; Feminicides; Fox Studios; Golden Globes; Hidden camera; Illegal; Iraq war; James Olmos, Edward; Latino culture; Lee, Spike; Liberal; Marie, Constance; Martinez Jitner, Barbara; Mexican Revolution (1910-1920); Morales, Esai; Nomination; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Review; Rightwing; September 11th, 2001; Soap Opera; Televisa; Thomas, Anna; TV pilot; TV seasons; TV shows; Welch, Raquel
Subjects: American Family Border Cast Executive producer Family Feminicides Latino culture Martinez Jitner, Barbara
Hyperlink: Barbara Martinez Jitner
Partial Transcript: GN: And I went from that heartbreak, to then the next heartbreak, which was "Bordertown". And what I really wanted to do for the women of Juarez was what I had done for the Kanjobals that we did in "El Norte".
Segment Synopsis: Nava shares how he wanted to show the viewers the femicides in Ciudad Juarez in spite of receiving many threats, and how the film was misunderstood by some audiences.
Keywords: Bad experience; Banderas, Antonio; Berlin International Film Festival; Bordertown; Chihuahua, Mexico; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Connelly, Jennifer; Corruption; Director; Disappointment; Duality; El Norte; El Paso, Texas; Felix, Maria; Female empowerment; femicides; Film distribution; Film financing; Film review; Hidden river; Home video; Illegal; Immigration; Impunity; In Lak'ech/I am another you; Indigenous; Kanjobal; Latin actress; Latino public; Location scouting; Lopez, Jennifer; Los Angeles, California; Menaces; Mexico; Mixtec; New Mexico, United States; Nogales, Mexico; Polemical; Pre-Columbian; Reporter; Spirituality; Test audiences; Thesis; United States/Mexico border; Zapata, Maya
Subjects: Bordertown Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Corruption Duality El Norte Female empowerment femicide Film distribution Film festivals Immigration Impunity Indigenous Kanjobal Polemical
GPS: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Mexico.
Map Coordinates: 31.739444, -106.486944
Partial Transcript: INT: You wanted to talk a little bit about how film-making has changed since the time when you were making "El Norte" and "My Family", and whether or not you think you could make those movies today?
Segment Synopsis: Nava stresses the biggest social and political changes that have been present in the latest years, and how they have negatively affected the image of the Latino community in the United States.
Keywords: African Americans; Alamodome; Asian Americans; Citezenship; Collaborator; DeMille, Cecil B.; Disappointment; El Norte; Elections; Globalization; Humanity; Illegals; Immigrant families; Immigration; L.A. Confidential; Los Angeles, California; Media; Media Representation; Movies; My Family/Mi Familia; Negative image; Passion; Pierce, Mildred; Television; Trump, Donald; World War II
Subjects: Disappointment El Norte Elections Globalization Humanity Immigrant families Immigration Media Representation My Family/Mi Familia Passion
Partial Transcript: GN: When I was a young director I believed that a director's job was to give orders. Now I've learned that a director's job is to receive order.
Segment Synopsis: Nava reflects on his career and ponders on his evolution as a filmmaker; analyzing how he personal values and experiences have given him passion for his projects and vision.
Keywords: Artisan; Artistic identity; Basque culture; Crew; De Unamuno, Miguel; Directing; Director; Dreamer; Existentialism; Humanity; Indigenous side; Mexican side; Olene; Personal finance; Philosophy; Pragmatic; The Tragic Sense of Life; Working with actors
Subjects: Actors Architecture for Humanity (Organization) Artistic identity Crew Directing Philosophy
Partial Transcript: INT: And as advice to younger Latino filmmakers?
GN: You know, I have to say, you know, and I say this not just to young Latinofilmmakers, but to all aspiring young people, this is a tough business.
Segment Synopsis: Nava imparts an inspirational message to aspiring filmmakers.
Keywords: Bond; Cluman, Harold; Commercial success; Culture; Films; Hope; Humanity; Innovation; Ollin; People; Stories; Storytelling; Television; Values; Violence
Subjects: Commercial success Culture Films Hope Humanity People Storytelling Television Values
PART I: GREG NAVA HOME MOVIES "INT: So you're going to tell us a little bitabout where you grew up, how you grew up, you know, what your family was like?
GN: Yeah, yes, and in preparation for doing this marvelous project and I reallyhave to thank the Academy and Ellen Harrington you Lourdes, all of the beautiful people at the Getty who put this together, I think it's a very important project and I'm honored, deeply honored to be a part of it. And I wanted to bring something new to this, because I know how great your movies are. And what you 1:00get out of your, the people that you interview and that you work with and the subject matters that you deal with and you asked for something stronger and deeper than what I normally do when I talk about my background and my upbringing. And I happen to be visiting my mother in Ojai, California with my son and when I grew up my parents were always taking home movies. 8mm home movies, my whole life is on 8mm home movies and my son had never seen any of them and so we pulled them out and we were looking at them and they affected me very, very, very deeply. And I realized something, you know, that machine is a time machine. It's a dream machine, you know the movies. Film. It, all this light from so many years ago was captured and suddenly here we can replay it and see the world that I came from. And when I was watching it I realized how deep and how much stronger and more powerful my upbringing, the worlds that we came 2:00from, I grew up on the border, you know a Latino family, Chicano family in San Diego but I had lots of relatives in Mexico and Tijuana. My grandfather he was Basque, he had a big ranch down there. [INT: Can we look at it?]
GN: And, well one thing before I say it. And when I watched it, I saw howdeeply these images affected me and from childhood, but I also saw all these faces of my family and I realized that all of them have become characters in my films. So let's take a look at some of these images and some of the people who we'll be talking about. This is me, I think it's my third birthday. Happy birthday, Greg. And that's my older brother John, and he of course has become a very, very famous painter. He did all of the tapestries on the inside of the cathedral in downtown Los Angeles and there I am on the right, the younger brother. And that's our little house in San Diego, we were very poor and we lived in a little you know clapboard house behind another house [LAUGHS] right? 3:00In San Diego. You know, all these images, you know cowboys and Indians, that's because we used to watch Hopalong Cassidy when I was a kid. Now my birthday is April 10th and that particular year it fell on Easter, so here we are in our Easter suits, my brother and I. And my brother and I were very, very close growing up. And we shared so much, and we both became artists. There's my mom and she was always, look how beautiful you know, we didn't have a lot of money but she always made sure that we were always clean, very well dressed, she was always very well dressed. There you have a really nice look at our little house that I was raised in as a child. You know tremendous pride in who you were and in your family, and that's very much a part of our culture. I love these images, you know when I see this little car, you know the old neighborhood. And there's 4:00my grandmothers, Sebastiana, she was Basque from the Pyrenees and we were very, very close, the family. All of us were. And she was a great, great lady, and there's my grandfather in the middle. Anita we called him which means father in Basque, you know? And you see the man in the Hawaiian shirt is named Paul Nelson that's my father with Paul Nelson and they were buddies in World War II, my father, and he came to visit us. And my father fought in World War II in Italy and you know, he lived his whole life and he never saw... there's so many Latinos fought in the war, but their story was never told. The first time a Latino GI story was ever told was on my TV show American Family and that's the reason I did it. Now this is my brother and I, and we're going down to Mexico to my grandfather's ranch. And this is the world that I lived with. You know, 5:00living in San Diego and going down to Mexico, Tijuana out into the ranch, you know every week. It was a constant thing. And the ranch was, it was like you know the old California culture. You know there was no electricity, there was you know, no, you know you had to go to the well to pull the water out. We would always stop here in Ensenada to get the supplies to take out, it would take us all day to get there bumping on dirt roads. That's my Uncle John with my dad, and this is my Uncle Martin who's the great villain of the family who was characterized in the film A Time of Destiny played by William Hurt, you know? A bad guy. And there's my father with my Uncle John and my Uncle Martin and there we are going down to the ranch with a beautiful Matilija Poppies that would grow wild.
"INT: That's where your mother was born? In the ranch? GN: My mother was born6:00in San Diego but she spent so much of her life growing up at that ranch. Yeah, always all summer. And there it is, that's the, where the ranch is. The last shot in this reel is you know, a shot of that ranch. And it was in the middle of nowhere, like 30,000 acres, you know? And it was very much, you want to rewind that? And we'll put on another one? [INT: But keep on talking.] GN: I want to pick, I wanted to get the one I wanted to thread up. Yeah, this one here. And you know, it's a world that's now gone because now-.
"INT: What did they grow on the ranch? GN: It was cattle and sheep. It was acattle and sheep ranch. Yeah, and it was very much you know, we're doing research it's interesting talking about how all these images and all these people and everything is fueled, all the stories that I've done. I'm working now on a big project for NBC about the Californios, you know, and the old rancho period in the 17 and 1800s, and of course that world was the same as my grandfather's ranch. It hadn't disappeared in Baja, and it was a world of kerosene and candles, there was no electricity. You had to go to the well to 7:00pull everything up from the well. All the lariats and everything were handmade and I still have my handmade buckskin lariat for the vaqueros too. This is down at, my grandfather actually had two ranches one was the big ranch in the middle of Baja, and then the other one was a smaller one which was in Descanso by the beach half way between Tijuana and Ensenada. And this is us at the Descanso ranch having a barbecue with my family, you know? You see my cousin Pammy there with that red hair. That's very Basque. And Melissa Leo, that's one of the reasons I picked her for the role of Josie in A Time of Destiny because she had that brilliant strawberry blonde hair, you know? You notice that's my Aunt Jessie on the right there, and there's always a character in all of my films that's based on my Aunt Jessie who is a very... And also when you see like my mother, my Aunt Jessie, my Aunt Lucy on my mother's side, on my father's side my 8:00Aunt Nina, my Aunt Cecilia, very, very... my mother, my grandmother. That's Toyah, she was married to my Uncle John, she's indigena from Colima. And you know you see all this mixture of peoples that were at the ranch and you know I based a lot of characters on Toyah. She was a very strong woman, very resilient you know? And the women in my family were very, very powerful, you know. Obviously my father was a great man. My grandfather was a great man and very strong and very powerful man, but the women were, the way they kept the home together, and the way they were, you know, tended the hearth, and so that female energy has always been very important to me and I've always brought that into the films that I've done and I've always wanted to have in them you know, an equal balance between the male and the female characters in all the films. Because the women are equally important to the men in all my films. And this 9:00comes from my childhood and for the very strong women that I was raised with. There's my grandfather, Anita, my Basque grandfather. There he is with Bonafacio [PH], one of the vaqueros. And there's my grandmother Sebastiana and my father. And we're down there at the ranch at Descanso in Mexico. [INT: Okay.]
INT: And what lessons do you think your grandparents and your parents taughtyou aside from what you already mentioned? GN: You know, there's my Uncle John with my Aunt Jessie. You know, and there's my Uncle John with Toyah. Beautiful woman. And there's my cousins, you know. I could go on and on about my father, you know he was the most marvelous man that I ever, the greatest man that I ever met. If you, oh and here they are, you saw them earlier cooking the meat in the 10:00ground just like they used to do in the old California days they would still do that for us to have our barbecue together and our food together. The, if you ask anybody you know, what do you, a man, you know, I'm a filmmaker, you could ask me, I'm a filmmaker, I'm a writer, you know, I'm a lawyer. I'm a doctor, right. If you ask my father what he was, what was his most important thing he would say I'm a father. His most important identity in his life was to be a good father. His father I never met my Mexican grandfather because there's my dad, look at him he's such a handsome beautiful man, huh? He was raised without a father because in the late 20s and early 30s there was this tremendous thing that is very little dealt with. And I deal with it in the film Mi Familia, and this is why I dealt with it in the film Mi Familia, where they had the deportations. Where they blamed the depression on Mexican people who were taking away jobs 11:00from real Americans. And it's almost impossible to believe that this really happened and it's not reported in our history. But over a million people were deported in cattle cars from the United States and Southern California and Arizona to Mexico. Deep into Mexico so they could never get back, and they were never allowed to come back. They took their papers. Didn't matter that they were citizens. You know my Mexican grandfather was an American citizen, they took his citizenship away, his papers at the border and he was sent back to Mexico. Disappeared. You know? And this happened to my father when he was a little boy, he lost his father because of the deportations. And all of these families were broken up, and this happened in the United States. It's the only time in the history of the United States that American citizens were deported and kicked out of the country and their citizenship was taken away, you know? And many of the people they deported were Mexican citizens, you know they were. But many of them 12:00were American. It didn't matter if they were Mexican, it didn't matter if they were citizens or not, they were taken out. And you see that scene in my film Mi Familia where they take Jennifer Lopez and she is taken away from her family and deported and put in a cattle car. And this happened to my Mexican grandfather, that's why I never met him. And my father was raised without a father. And so that to him, he want-that was more important to him that he wanted to be a really wonderful father. And that's another reason why in my films there's very positive father figures. There's my dad. Such a handsome beautiful man, huh?" GN: This movie here -- this is Christmas 1953. And there I am with my brother with the Santa Claus at Sears and Roebuck. Again we've seen Mexico and the rancho, you know, now this is Sears and Roebuck in, you know, it's this contrast between these worlds of the United States, and we used to go to Disney Land and all that stuff, and then we're down at the rancho with the vaqueros and indigena 13:00people and you know, horses and the whole thing. You know? And [candle light], so there we are dressed in my Catholic school uniform. And my mother said "oh we always found a very good Santa for you guys to..." [LAUGHS] "To ask for your presents from." You know? Now there you go, look at that. Star Wars. There was this TV show when I was a kid, Space Squadron or Space Cadets or something. And we got these outfits with the stars and the lightning bolts and you know, those are supposed to be our ray guns for, from the Space Cadet show on TV. [INT: And who's shooting all this?] GN: My mother. My mother would do all the shooting you know? And it was like I was raised with this, and so it was very natural for me to get into movies because at one point I picked up the movie camera and started making movies on my own. And my dad is shooting this because here's my mom. [INT: Your mother had a steady hand.] GN: Well this is my father, he had a steady hand too, but she did. She was very good. And at that time in the early 14:0050s, Capri pants were all the rage. So my mother and her sisters and my cousins decided that for this Christmas party, there's my dad. They were all going to wear Capri pants as a, you know, it's like a gag. Everybody gave, all the husbands gave their wives and their kids Capri pants. So we go over to - GN: So there's my Aunt Jessie, my mom, my cousin Pam, my cousin Patty all wearing Capri pants. And my cousin Dickie you see he played trumpet, and my grandfather, my Basque grandfather Aita was a real character. Look at them. You see my family, they're all hams. And over, and also the family to the left is my Aunt Lucy's family, we haven't seen them before. She married a Mexican man my Uncle Vale. 15:00There's my grandmother. She never liked to have her picture taken, you know? And there's my Aunt Lucy and she's pregnant. You see how my Aita's playing the saxophone being a real clown? And there's my Uncle Vale from Tijuana and he's playing the trumpet. And he owned the car dealership in Tijuana and was very wealthy. And my cousins Valito and Josie. And my Aunt Lucy and she was so beautiful my Aunt Lucy. You know she reminded me of like Evita, you know, because she would come to our house in furs and in diamonds, you know in our family, the Mexican family was the wealthy family and we were poor. [LAUGHS] And our you know, our relatives from Mexico are here! They'd come up in a tomato red Cadillac convertible you know, and she was wearing diamonds. There's my Uncle Peter, that's Jessie's husband. And you can see that these, the women of my 16:00family are very powerful and very assertive, aren't they? Incredible. And it's so sad, one of the great tragedies of my family you see my Aunt Lucy there, she's pregnant, she died two weeks after this movie was taken. She was so well loved, she loved me, you know, and so much of my childhood was spent in hospitals with tragedies that would happen. My grandfather was getting sick when my Aunt Lucy died, and so you notice in all my films, there's always a big hospital scene. You know because of those tragedies that happened. And I was always, I remember as being a little boy and, you know, going to the hospital and Aunt Lucy, she was pregnant. My Aunt Jessie was a nurse, okay? And she was 17:00having her contractions and she was ready to give birth and my Aunt Jessie was with my Aunt Lucy in the hospital. And I'll never forget when this happened because it was like, and again that's another thing that attracted me to the whole story of Selena. You know the sudden loss of this light in the family. And she was talking to my Aunt and she suddenly goes "I don't feel so well" and she turned her head and died. Instantaneously. And my Aunt Jessie who was a nurse she, my god she could see. And she starts calling the nurses and everything. Well in those days they couldn't do anything until the Doctor came, and of course the Doctor, because they wanted to... she was dead, they wanted to give birth to the child. But they wouldn't until the Doctor came to the hospital and of course that took forever. It was a terrible tragedy. But what had happened was the amniotic fluid is protected from the blood stream of the mother. There 18:00was some rupture and the amniotic fluid had gotten into her bloodstream and the minute that happens, however long it takes for the amniotic fluid to get to the heart, the minute it hits the heart you die instantly. She died in seconds. And it was horribly shocking. And they finally the doctor came and they gave birth to the baby, but the time the baby came it lived, but it was completely, you know had no motor coordination was like a vegetable you know? And little Lucy, yeah. [INT: Did you ever portray that in a film?] GN: You know, not, I haven't done that particular thing but the drama around a death in a hospital and a drama, and the weeping in the hospital, you see that in Selena. All of these things are things that I experienced as a child when my Aunt Lucy, when my Aunt Lucy passed. And also Rosa, of course, in El Norte you know she dies in the hospital. She dies tragically in the hospital. And so these experiences like 19:00Rosa's death in El Norte, you know, and also Isabelle in Mi Familia, she dies giving child birth in Mi Familia and Selena. All of these things you know, come from these experiences and this particular experience. With my Aunt Lucy who I loved dearly, and I was very close to her. So in looking at these movies, when I saw that film that you just saw, and I saw my Aunt Lucy and I hadn't seen her and thought of her for so many years. All of these things came back to me. And I realized how much the things that happened to me with my childhood, the contrast between these worlds of Mexico and the United States, you know, the personal tragedies around people like my Aunt Lucy, like my grandfather, you know, the 20:00war experiences of my father, my Uncle Martin who was such a bad guy. You know, all these faces. And the names, you know Irene, Tony, they're all the names of my Aunts and my Cousins, and I saw all these faces looking at me from this movie and I was seeing all the characters of my films.
PART TWO: GREG NAVA VISUAL HISTORY INT: When you were six years old, what wasyour sense of Hollywood?
GN: You know that’s a great question. My family were great movie goers. And weused to go to the movies all the time. To the drive-ins when I was really little, and then to theaters, I remember one of the very first movies, I think the first movie I ever saw at a theater was Peter Pan, the Walt Disney cartoon Peter Pan. At The California Theater in San Diego, you know. And we used to go all the time, my parents loved the movies. So to me they were dreams. You know 21:00we were talking about this, we were looking at those home movies, and of course they were always taking home movies, so I was surrounded by movies, either my life was being recorded or we were going out to the movies. And they were like dreams. You know talk about the movie, the projector being a time machine that captures light. Well it’s a dream machine. And I would go into the theater, and the lights would come down, and these images would come up. And they were like dreams. And I would get caught up in them. They were absolutely marvelous. And I loved it. And finally, one day, we went to see a movie called The Ten Commandments. I was a little boy, all right. And it was at The California Theater in downtown San Diego. And the whole family went, you know it was, you know my grandmother, Sebastiana [PH], my Basque grandmother, she was very, very 22:00religious. And so she wanted to go and see this religious epic, and she came with us, and we all went to see The Ten Commandments, all right? So we’re sitting in the movie theater, and I was little, very little. And in the original version of The Ten Commandments, it didn’t start like a regular movie. You know, the curtain opens, with no sound, you know no music. And there was a shot of a curtain. A movie of a curtain. And Cecil B. DeMille walks out. Right? It’s a shot of Cecil B. DeMille, the director. He comes out and he’s standing in front of a mic and he says, “The movie you’re about to see is based on the life of Moses.” You know. “And it’s taken from the bible, and we filled it in with the midrush, and it’s about how man has gotta, you know, become free and not live under the ty-you know, the tyrant of the pharaoh,” and all this kind of stuff. And you know, “It’s gonna take three and a half hours to unfold before you, and I hope you enjoy this picture.” And then all 23:00of a sudden, the stereo sound comes on, [SOUND EFFECTS]. Boom, boom, and up come the credits, The Ten Commandments. And I was sitting there, and it like, it just split my head open, because suddenly, for the first time, I realized that somebody made these dreams. That this guy, who was, you know talking to me, had made this movie. [INT: What age was that?] Four years old, five years old maybe. And I went, my god. They aren’t just dreams that happen magically. Somebody makes them. And right there and then, I thought, that’s what I wanna do. [INT: Did you know what…] I want to do that. I want to do what he does. Well, I mean you see pharaoh’s chariots, and thousands of extras, and all this kind of stuff, it was really amazing, you know. And I thought, god someday, you know, I wanna stand in front of thousands of extras and direct them, and I’ll never 24:00forget that when we did the Houston Astrodome scene in Selena, we had 35,000 extras filling, it was shot at The Alamo Dome. 35,000 extras, and I’ve got my mic, and I’m directing the extras, and it came back to me right at that moment. I went, I finally did it, I made it, CB. [LAUGH] Just like when I was a kid, I am now standing in front of 35,000 extras directing them, like a Cecil B. DeMille, you know, epic, and it was a wonderful moment.
INT: Let me ask you, what kind of films did you imagine you would make when youwere a little child, and you figured out that somebody was making them?
GN: Well the kind of movies that I loved as a little boy were the greatadventure films, you know I loved The Ten Commandments. That whole great journey and the Red Sea opening, and the pharaoh, and I loved the past. I loved movies with Romans. And you know, I used to rush home after I was, from school to watch 25:00The Early Show, on channel 8. And they were rehashing all the old great Hollywood movies from the ‘30s, and I used to love the Errol Flynn movies, like Captain Blood, and Robin Hood. I adored those films. And then with my grandmother, you know, we would watch channel 12 which was the Spanish language station from Tijuana, and we’d see, you know, the great Mexican films that they were rehashing on TV, you know the El Indio Fernandez and Gabriel Figueroa, these great Charro guys, you know, and you know, Mexican revolution, and I loved that. I loved the romance of that, I loved the power of those images. You know, so I always grew up, you know without this sense of like, oh you know, Mexican is less than, or whatever, you know, it was always very powerful in my consciousness. You saw the images of me going down to the ranch, and seeing the vaqueros, and you know seeing El Indio Fernandez movies, seeing Errol Flynn movies, seeing Cecil B. DeMille movies, seeing Disney. You know Disney was very important to any young person, you know Mickey Mouse Club, and you know seeing 26:00all the cartoons, you know, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. [INT: Yeah.] I loved all those films. Lawrence of Arabia, my god, you know, I was overwhelmed you know when I saw Lawrence of Arabia. We used to go to the movies like, every week. [INT: Right.]
INT: Now I’m gonna change the subject a little bit, where did you go to highschool? And how did that institution influence you? Let me, I’m gonna give you a compounded question. What were your interests at that time, sports, extracurricular activities. That’s the question.
GN: I went to Catholic boy’s school, Saint Augustine High School in San Diego.And you know Augustinians. Right. And you know it was a very problematic experience for me, you know, I mean I started out being a very devout Catholic, and I ended up being a lapsed Catholic, you know not wanting to have anything to 27:00do, you know with the Catholic church, I went through a big journey with respect to the Catholic church. And I was always an excellent student. You know I was like the number one student. I’ve always been a tremendous grade point average. You know, Bank of America liberal arts honoree, alumni scholar to the University of California. I’ve always been, had that. And education was really important to my parents. And they were very, and I have to thank for them, because that’s not necessarily that common in the Hispanic community, you know. But they really wanted me to be well educated, and they, my brother and I were the first people in our family to go to college. To be able to go to college. And my parents, and you saw often in the movies were not wealthy, they were poor, but they worked really, really hard and my dad worked really, really hard, so that I would be able to go to, be able to go to college. So I was a dedicated students. Now there was a lot of people living in our house, my 28:00grandparents, I grew up in the same house with my Basque grandparents, my brother and I, my mom and dad, and it was a little, you know it was a three bedroom house. So we, I used to wait ‘til everybody went to bed before I could do my studies ‘cause it was so noisy. So I got into the habit actually of working late at night, because that was when it was quiet. And I still do that to this day when I’m writing, I like working late at night, I always have my best ideas you know, then. So I was very dedicated to my studies. I didn’t like any, you know the football and basketball or any of the extracurricular activities that are normal in high school. Mine was fencing. I loved fencing from watching Errol Flynn movies. And I found out that there was this fencing instructor who taught in Balboa Park. So I used to go every week and do fencing, and I’ve done that up until fairly recently, I love fencing and sword fighting, and all those kinds of things. You know, I absolutely adore it. [Q: Competition.] It’s competitive, you know, but it’s interesting, because you 29:00have to feel your opponent. You know it has a whole martial arts aspect to it. And you know you have to, you know, and it’s psychological as well as physical. And of course it’s very romantic, you know it’s Errol Flynn, and all these things. And so one of my great goals is I wanna make a movie where they’re sword fighting. Because I will do the best sword fights ever. Having you know been a, you know, a fencer for so many years, you know. So that was the extracurricular activity that I was involved. I was very, very much in love with poetry, theater, drama, you know, and I started making my first movies when I was in high school. [Q: What were they about?] Well, I took my parents’ movie camera. And, actually that’s not exactly what happened. My brother got a Bolex. Better quality eight millimeter camera than my parents had, that one that you saw in the movies we were looking at earlier, a wind up, you know Bell & Howell. He got this Bolex, really nice, did fades and dissolves. Did some 30:00technique, you know. And he wanted to make movies, and boy I loved this, you know. And our first production together with my brother, I think I was in ninth grade then, was The History of the World. I mean if you can imagine, you know. So it’s like, I started with The History of the World, and ever since then all my movies have been, you know less thematically grand, you know. But he didn’t really like it that much, and he was a great artist. And he has become, that’s a very important relationship in my life, my relationship with my brother, because we shared so much growing up. I mean, what an incredible thing. You saw this family living in this little nothing house, these two kids. Me I become this film director, my brother becomes this famous artist. So you know, nobody else in that whole world at that moment, you know, had those kinds of careers, what was it about my upbringing that was so special? [Q: What was it?] You know, it’s, you know, you look at the images of going back and forth to Mexico, with 31:00the ranch, and all of these powerful images. You know you were asking me earlier, gosh, you know you were two years old. I said, yes but I remember it like it was yesterday. You know I think that even though I was thinking of my death of my Aunt Lucy, and the hospitals, and the ranches, and the vaqueros and all of these images, and Tijuana, you know, downtown Tijuana. And you know, going to the movies, and seeing The Ten Commandments. All of these things. But they were powerful things. When you grow up on the border and you live, the border between the United States and Mexico is like the only place in the world that the first and third world meet. Now when you’re a little kid, you think it’s just the way, it’s normal. But that is, nowhere else in the world do you have that huge contrast between worlds. And San Diego is this squeaky clean republican city. And Tijuana, you know, everybody’s coming up from all over Latin America to cross the border, and it’s got all of these you know, cardboard cities, you know, it’s horrible poverty. So when you grow up with 32:00those powerful images, they really are etched in your soul, and they really, and you remember them. And there’s something about all of that, that whole familial world that you saw, that both for my brother and I, really gave birth to a powerful, artistic sensibility.
GN: And I also have to say that my mother was very much a part of that. Shereally admired artists. And she was, you know you say, well what did you get from your mother? You know. My mother, I mean, every little thing I would scribble, or that my brother would scribble, or any little thing that we would do, was marvelous. Just absolutely marvelous, it was just so great. Right, she would just give us the tremendous esteem from the, as early as I can remember. And so you grow in that direction, and she could not draw at all, she was a horrendous artist. And she admired that more than anything. And so when we had those abilities, she you know, just was, encouraged it. So she gave me a 33:00tremendous sense of self-esteem and importance about everything that I wanted to do. You know I make, movies I made when I was in high school, they’re the greatest ever, you know. So when I make films today, and if they get panned by the critics, right, I always say, to this day, I say, what do they know? My mother knows it’s great. [INT: Wow.] One thing. Let me just mention this as long as it’s on my mind, because we’re talking about my mom, and what she gave me, which was very powerful. So I mean it’s a combination of things. This incredible clash of worlds, the family, the support you get from your parents, and what they encourage you to do. Let me just speak about my father a bit, because he was an extraordinary man, who had to deal with huge amounts of, he was Chicano, and he came from a dirt poor background. And we talked about who 34:00his father was taken from him by the deportations when he was a young man, and he had to assume, from like age five, being the man of the family, he never really had a childhood. ‘Cause he had to work. Always work, very hard worker, he taught me that. And he had to deal with huge racism, and he did it with grace, and with dignity, you know. And even though this country had taken his father away, he fought for this country in World War II. And he spilled his blood for the United States, he really loved this country, even though it really didn’t do well by him. He still loved it, and he fought for it, and you saw the image of him with his war buddy, Paul Nelson. He didn’t talk about the war. He had nightmares at night, I remember. He just passed about two years ago. And right at the end of his life, he finally shared with me some of his experiences in World War II, and I tell you, it was shocking. Horrendous what he went through. Absolutely horrendous. Well, it was important to him to build this family to be a great father. I told you that he didn’t see himself as a 35:00dentist or a doctor. You know he worked for Ryan Aerospace. He was an aircraft worker. And, but his big, what he identified with being was being a father, and being a good dad. And he struggled very hard, you know, and he had some apartments, and he was trying to make good. So we would go with him on weekends, to paint, and fix plumbing and stuff when I was, me and my brother. And my dad, he was very handy, you know he could, he was a great carpenter, or all these kinds of things. I’m terrible at all that stuff. But he was excellent at it. And I remember I was painting this wall, you know. And my dad was trying to repair a wall, and he was reaching for a hammer, all right. And I looked at him over, I looked and I was painting, and I saw him reaching for the hammer. And he looked at me, and he said, “Son, if you see a man reaching for a hammer, don’t wait to have him ask you, get me the hammer. Get him the hammer.” You 36:00know? And I immediately ran over and got him the hammer, you know. But that piece of advice that my father gave me has served me, you know that’s the kind of guy he was, he was really practical, and when it comes to nuts and bolts stuff. And that has served me massively in my whole career as a director. Don’t wait for the guy to ask you to get him the hammer, get him the hammer if they’re reaching for the hammer. When you feel somebody needs something, fill that need, that’s what your job is as a director. You have the actor in front of you, you see what they need and what they don’t need. It’s never the same way twice, because no two people are alike. The cameraman, you know, the lighting technician, costuming, whatever it is, anticipate. And when you see people’s needs, fill those needs. And that is what my father, he gave me the ability and the sense of the importance of that, and the ability to do that, and you do that as a director. And believe me, your set runs smooth as silk. 37:00
INT: Now at what moment, here you are, you’ve graduated from high school. Youhave all this background. At what moment do you realize that you want to go to Los Angeles to study film?
GN: Well that’s a great question. I, you know I gotta say I made this big,crazy movie, eight millimeter movie when I was in high school. After I took over my brother’s camera. And it was called The Day 100,000 People Vanished. And it was based on a comic book. I was the first comic book super hero guy, you know. Green Lantern. I made it with all my high school buddies, and we shot in the gym, and we shot all over the place, and it was a really terrific production. And I really wanted to be a filmmaker, I mean that was it. And when I went to look at schools, one of the places I went was the UCLA Film School, and I went god, this is it, I wanna go to the UCLA Film School. But that was 1967, right? 38:00And all these Catholic schools wanted me, you know, Georgetown and Notre Dame and all those kinda things, ‘cause I was such a good student. But I did not wanna go to a Catholic school, because I had abandoned the Catholic church, and Catholicism completely. And I thought, you know I wanna go to UCLA, but right. The world is changing, I knew the world was changing, the counter culture was happening. This was, I had a sense of the uniqueness of everything that was going on. And so I decided, I’m gonna go to Berkeley. I will go to Berkeley, because in those days, once you went to one UC, you could transfer to another UC. And I thought you know, your first two years, you’re gonna be at the university doing breadth requirements, you’re not gonna be able to take film classes, so I’ll go to Berkeley for two years, and then I’ll transfer to UCLA and go to the film school. So I wanted to be at ground zero of the counter culture and what was happening. And I went to Berkeley. And it was, you know, a 39:00mind boggling experience, because there was all the protests against the war in Vietnam. I remember once my roommate, Ernie Tompkins, in the dorm, comes back all bloodied. He’d gone out to file his reg packet. He wasn’t part of the protest. But a policeman had beat the crap out of him with a stick. And he was on the cover of the Berkeley Barb, because the policeman who had a gas mask on, put his foot on Ernie’s head and posed with him, like you know, he was some animal that he had just, you know slaughtered, you know. And a photograph of this got on the cover of the Berkeley Barb. So it was a tumultuous time, but it was an incredibly exciting time. You know, people were finding their identity. You know there was the farm workers. You know I went and marched with Cesar Chavez. And I protested the war in Vietnam. And you know I was with the Black Panthers. And you know all of this political stuff. And studying, you know, getting great grades as always, and going on weekends to San Francisco to see 40:00Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, and you know, Santana, and all of the, you know, great rock groups, Cream, and all of these, The Doors. So it was a very exciting period. And scary. You know. And you know, life changing, that whole era. I think it affected all of us. And you suddenly, I suddenly started to see, in that particular time, that who I was, in a sense, was different, was important. Your Latino identity, it wasn’t just, up until that time it had just been who I was, you follow? But then suddenly you saw, oh my god, this bigger picture of what the nation is. The incredible exploitation of African American people, of Latino people, of farm workers. And I am these people, you know? They are me, and I am them. And you start to have a sense of who you are in a different way. 41:00So in a sense, my journey, and I think the journey of Latinos in general is such a journey of identity. Because our identities are, we are so many different things, aren’t we? We’re Native American, we’re European. That’s the great combination that is raza, right, the cosmic raza of the indigena, the Native American, and the European Spanish, you know. Also we have African American, African is a very important part of the Hispanic identity as well. And so suddenly you realize, you know, there’s mestizaje, all of these things are within me. And they start to, all these things, they acted like acupuncture points. And they’re affecting you, and all this stuff is bubbling up in you, and you start to… [INT: How old are you at this point?] 18. 17, 18. And then I transferred from Berkeley to UCLA, and went to the film school at UCLA. [INT: 19, at 19?] 19, yeah. And I wanted to be a, this is it. And I wanted to do this 42:00ever since I saw The Ten Commandments when I was a little kid. I wanted to be that dream weaver, you know.
GN: And you know there’s something I wanna mention that we skipped over, but,that you don’t know that it’s important, but it’s very important. And that is when I was in high school, and this is something that the, actually the Augustinians did give me that was very profound. They had this program where in the summer, and this was 1965 I believe, the summer of ’65. You could go to Mexico, to Mexico, and spend the summer going to the University of Guadalajara, and living with a Mexican family in Guadalajara. And this experience changed my life. Because up until then, I knew the border world. And the border world is a totally different world than the interior of Mexico, as you know. As a matter of fact, you know, both on the United States and the Mexican side of the border, is 43:00different than the rest of the united states or Mexico. It’s its own world, a Mexico really. And that was the world that I was from. And so in a sense, going to Berkeley and seeing the greater view of the United States was shocking, ‘cause it wasn’t like what I was used to being from the border world. But also, in ’65 when I went to Central Mexico, and lived in Guadalajara, it was like oh my god, you know, Mexican culture, that whole world was unbelievable, and it affected me very, very profoundly and very deeply. And I took classes in the University of Guadalajara, and it was there that I took a class in pre-Columbian culture and civilization. And when I took this class, and studied Toltec and Mayan religious thought, mythology, architecture and art, it was like, it just set things, fireworks off within me. In a way that I couldn’t, I mean it’s affected everything that I’ve ever done, the whole way I see my 44:00life. You know. The spiritual concepts of the pre-Columbian people, that’s what I identify most in my own spirituality. I was raised a Catholic, you know. And you know, the Christ died for your sins, and the immaculate conception, I knew all this stuff. But really it didn’t hit me like oh my god. You know, this is beautiful. I learned this concept, which has become a guiding principle of my whole life. When I was there at that time. And I still key on this. And I wanna share this, very important. Ollin [PH]. You know, movement. You know, and the symbol of Ollin is five points, with the point in the center. And what this means is, work, what you do in life, you know, is where you find god and spirituality, in your work. I mean, this just hit me. And what the professor was 45:00saying, and what is true, is that the Mayans and the Aztecs, they didn’t have monasteries. You know in Europe, they have monasteries, you retire from life to find God. You know, and in Asia, and China, and Japan. You retire from life to find God, to a monastery, right. In Mesoamerica, no monasteries. You didn’t retire from life to find God. God and spirituality was your life, in what you did, in your work. That’s where you found your god. That’s where you found your spirituality. And I went oh my lord. You see that’s what I carry with me. That’s what my filmmaking is. You find your Ollin, what you were meant to do in life. And when you find your Ollin, then you find your spirituality, you find who you are, and you not only do what’s right for you, you do what’s right for the whole society. And that was the other concept that was amazing. 46:00Everybody has a different Ollin. And the society needs farmers, and it needs poets, and it needs warriors. And everybody has to find their Ollin, and when everybody finds their Ollin, that really, what their true path is in life, then everybody who should be a farmer will be a farmer, and everybody who should be an artist will be, and a warrior. And everything will be done, and then the society finds its Ollin. Because it’s not just about you, it’s not just your individuality. It is the community, the world, and you find your Ollin, everybody finds their Ollin, and then the society is in balance, and you are in balance with nature. You see? [INT: So tell me when you found your Ollin, exactly.] Well, well, my Ollin was to be a storyteller. [INT: There in Guadalajara?] I knew what it was. That made me realize what it needed to be. I am a storyteller. That’s what I am. You say I’m a filmmaker, yes, I’m a 47:00film director, yes. But really, primally, at its most primal, I’m a storyteller. [INT: Right.] If I was an Aztec. If I was a cro magnon, a caveman, I’d be the guy around the fire, telling the story of the hunt. [INT: Okay.] You see? I was a storyteller, I’d be Homer, you know singing the Iliad. That is what I am.
INT: So where do you implement this Ollin?
GN: And the way to do that… [INT: No when did you implement?] Immediately.[INT: As soon…] I started to make the movie, you know The Day 100,000 People Vanished immediately upon returning from Mexico. [INT: Okay.] And there’s something else that happened to me there, I’m gonna share this with you. Because this is a special thing, and you, I know, Lourdes, want more depth than what I’ve done in other interviews. So I’m sharing a lot of things like this thing about Ollin. The thing about my Aunt Lucy, all these things that I’ve never talked about before, but I’m gonna share something with you. That 48:00awakened something deep within me. And I started to have powerful dreams. Okay, at that time, ’65. And I wrote them down. And since 1965, to today, I have maintained a dream journal. Because I have my life, and I have my dream life. And I have kept track of my whole dream life. And that dream life is a place I go to, for many of the images and themes, and stories that I bring to my films. It’s a very, very important part of who I am. And it was studying the Mesoamerican, and embracing that, and the Mayan especially, for whatever reason, you know El Norte, all down, the Mayan has been very important to me. And I’ve 49:00lived with Mayan people, and recently, down in Guatemala, in Rabinal. It just fills me. And that awakened this other half of me, you know like the dream side. The subconscious becoming conscious. Because to indigena people, and to Mayan people to this day, you know, it’s not subconscious. I mean, they have this open flow between dream, what we call dream, and reality, and it awakened that in me. One more thing about Ollin that I wanna share. Because the question comes up, and people say, “Well, how do you find your Ollin? How do you find what your path is?” Okay? And this was another concept I learned then in ’65, which just changed my life. You know, if you say, you know the key to Western Christianity is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you have a key concept in Asian, you know, Buddhism, it’s you know, all is one. The key 50:00concept in Mesoamerican spirituality, which is this Ollin concept, is make your heart your face. You take your heart, what is here within you, and you put it here. So the world can see who you are. You don’t hide who you are. You put who you are here. And the minute you do that, you can see. When you do not make your heart your face, you’re blind. You cannot see your path. You make your heart your face, and you can see. And then you see your path. You see? And in all the films that I’ve made, when you see them. And in, even when, us looking at those home movies. What I’m doing, is making my heart my face. I’m showing you what is here. For you to see. And for the audience to see. And the 51:00process of that, going to, starting to make movies. Then going to UCLA, and eventually leading to the making of El Norte, which you know, is when all of these forces culminate into me realizing my Ollin, realizing my path. And everything that I did when I made El Norte, was exactly what everybody told me not to do. Okay? I didn’t do whatever anybody told me. And I was very, very, very adamant about following what I thought was the right path, and you know what? It turned out to be the right path, and that was the film that made me world famous. The one in which I did everything exactly what people told me I should not do. [INT: Right.] And we’ll go into that when we get to El Norte more specifically, but there’s all kinds of interesting things that will come up with respect to El Norte, along those lines. 52:00
INT: And meanwhile, the journey, you know the choreography of your career, youknow led you someplace else before El Norte, before you realized yourself, really.
GN: Yes, and it’s all, you know you’re on a journey, you know. Caminante nohay camino, se hace camino al andar. You know the famous poem by Machado which is another guiding principle in my life. Traveler there are no roads, you make your road as you go, you know. [INT: Mm-hmm.] Traveling you make your road, and when you look back, you see the path that you will never walk on again. Traveler, there are no roads, only the wake in the sea. You know like we’re all boats. And our path is erased behind us. We’re all on our own journey. [INT: True.] And this journey is my journey. And it’s, you’re right. It’s interesting how these things evolve. You know. But then there’s always a moment that’s like you know, Satori, where you, it hits you, you know, and, 53:00but it’s like, you know the pressure building up on the, you know on the fault and then it finally, you know cracks, you know, or the Zen image of the snow falling on the leaf, and it builds and then finally it reaches a point where the leaf falls, you know. And that’s what journeys are like, but it does build up, yes you’re right. [INT: Yes.]
INT: And tell me about that first step you took. About The Journal of DiegoRodriguez Silva.
GN: Well, The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva, again… [INT: What were yourthemes?] Well, okay. There was a lot of political activity in the world at that particular time, okay? And, with the war in Vietnam. And we, let me tell you this story, it’s an unbelievable story, but when I was at UCLA, and I thought I’m gonna get to UCLA and it’s not gonna be like Berkeley, right? I get to UCLA, they invade Cambodia, and the university shuts down. And we took over the film department. The students took over the film department, kicked the teachers 54:00out. Liberated the equipment, liberated the film, liberated the cameras. And that’s when I really first got my hands on a camera and started shooting. Was during this revolutionary period. Not the school, it was the students, we took it over. And we would use the camera as gun, we would burst into classes that were still in session, and we would start shooting them and saying, you know how can you be taking French, you know, Nixon’s invaded Cambodia. And we’d stop the class and they’d all leave. Right, and we’d go out into this community. I went up to Berkeley shot Ken Kesey, I shot, you know, Vietnam veterans who were against the war, and people burning their draft cards. I shot and shot and shot and shot. Now I don’t know what happened to this footage, it was marvelous. We called ourselves the eyes and ears of the revolution. And we were sleeping in the sound stages. It was unbelievable, I tell people, you go to UCLA to this day and I talk to students there, and I tell them this happened, they’re like, what? They’re like, you know they’re all students who are, 55:00the faculty and everything is such a big deal, and the bureaucracy, and they’re terrified. And we weren’t. We just kicked them out. And took over, you know. It was unbelievable period. But one of the things that happened was, yes it was very romantic, and very beautiful in a way. But I saw what happened to people under that kind of pressure. You know revolutionary movements, and the horrible things that people could, were capable of. The things that they could do to each other. You know not just what the police were doing to us by beating us up, and shooting tear gas which was awful, but what we started to do to each other, in a revolutionary movement, you know what that’s like. It gets nasty. You follow? And if you have a very strong poetic, artistic sensibility, like I do, how do you, what do you do, what do you react, what do you, how do you react to a situation like that, right? And I made The Journal of Diego Rodriguez, 56:00which is like a Roman a clef, loosely based on the life of Garcia Lorca. Who was a poet who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. And you know, my family, as I’ve told you is, my mother’s family is Basque, and so naturally they suffered tremendously in the Spanish Civil War, you know the Guernica, the famous painting by Picasso, refers to the destruction of the sacred city of the Basques, Guernica, by the Nazis. And so I was very sensitive to the Spanish Civil War, and Lorca’s plight. So I thought that, it’s not Spain and Lorca, but it is a poet in a revolutionary situation, a civil war. He’s wanted by both sides. He’s eventually turned in by his best friend, which is what happened to Lorca, and you know he’s killed, and it’s, I wanted to deal with this issue of, what does an artist do in a revolution or a civil war. What, and you know these themes of betrayal, where people suddenly are betraying their 57:00best friend, because I saw this when we were doing, during the student movement. Where there were betrayals, and it was terrible. And within my own family, you know you saw the image of my Uncle Martin, and he betrayed my grandfather. And stole his ranch. That was a big tragedy in my family, you know. This, my family was like a Greek tragedy, The Oresteia, you know. And this great ranch that you saw images of, was taken, you know, in a betrayal. And so I’ve always been sensitive to themes of betrayal, you see that in all my films. And I saw that with the eyes and ears of the revolution. And so I wanted to make a movie that dealt with my personal feelings about that. And that also dealt with me being Latino, Hispanic, I wanted to shoot this. A Latino world. For that particular film. And I discovered one of the most important things.
GN: Here’s another very, very important thing. You know, about how I come up58:00with all the ideas for how I do what I do, okay? That is, the story dictates it. You know. It’s this thing about we don’t choose our path, our path chooses us. The story chooses us to tell through it, right? We’re like the hollow bone, you know. And I always feel that way with this life, this tale flowing through us, right? So if you try to find the right way to tell your story, that is where you evolve all of these ideas that bring you to making your film. And I thought, you know, I can’t shoot the… And people said you know, you have to have the equipment at UCLA, the [INAUDIBLE], you gotta stick around UCLA. You know find a place to shoot this, and I can’t. You, nothing in LA or Southern California fake, it looks stupid, it doesn’t look like Spain, or Mexico, or anything like that, I have to go there and shoot it. Right, down to Mexico, I knew where I wanted to go, because I had lived there in 1965. I wanna go shoot 59:00in Guanajuato, these towns, and get these images, the skies, the, that colonial architecture, right, to really create a world that would be amazing to set this story of this poet. And I couldn’t take equipment or anything down to Mexico in those days, you know. I had to go on leave, I quit the university for 10 weeks, you know. And Victor Nunez, who was a great friend, a great independent filmmaker, and you know he had some money, you know he had been more farther along, and he had some equipment. He lent me his Bolex. And it had a motor on it. you know I shot some sync scenes, you know. And he lent me this. So I took Victor’s Bolex, and a bunch of equipment and lights and stuff, and put it in a car, my, I got a little car, a little Cortina. And my dad, my beautiful father and I drive down from LA to Guadalajara. Guadalajara, you know, and I lived with 60:00the same family I lived with in 1965. And he flew back. And I shot this movie by myself. I was the whole crew. Nobody else. I set the mic up, I’d get behind the camera, had headphones on when I was shooting, baboom. You know, and I made The Journal of Diego Rodriguez. And we shot in Guanajuato, and we shot in Guadalajara, and we shot out in Los Altos, the Jalisco, at this beautiful house in San Jose de Garcia, Jalisco. Well, I cut this movie together, and at that particular time, people in the film department you know thought I was this weird, crazy loud guy, you know. This movie shows at the, we used to have screenings at the end of the quarter. So I took about a year to cut it. I put it together, and mixed it, put it on. People went out of their minds. I mean they, it was like, they’d never seen anything like this movie. Right? And I had this 61:00title in front that said, it’s based on the journal of the poet who recently died, Diego Rodriguez Silva. And there were people who were saying like, I know him. I know his poetry, of course. This one teacher, John Boem [PH] says, “I have a book of his poetry.” I didn’t tell him, you know, I made the guy up, you know. But in a sense, you talk about who’s me in my films, and in a sense you know, he was me. And I was dealing with my feelings about that. And then the film went on to win the 1972, the National Student Film Festival Drama Award at Washington D.C., which is the biggest award that any film could win, you know George Lucas had won that same award with THX 1138. So it was this incredibly honored movie. And I’d shot it by myself. Without the crew, without the fancy equipment, without all the stuff. And what I learned from that film, nobody cares ultimately, what is behind the camera. All that matters is what is in 62:00front of the camera. If you take your camera down to this incredible city like Guanajuato, and you put those images on the screen with a, it was black and white, you know, 29 red filter and the, like a Gabriel Figueroa. He, I shot it, I was very inspired by his movies making that film. These clouds, and, that you didn’t have a sound man, and you didn’t have a grip or a gaffer, nobody cares because that image is like, no one had ever seen anything like it. And no other student film looked like it. and so from then on, all of my films, I try to really think about you know, not to let the production exigencies dictate what you’re putting in front of the camera. No. Let the production be dictated by what you’re putting in front of the camera. [INT: Very good.]
INT: At what point after you finished this film did you meet Anna Thomas?
GN: Well I had known Anna, I mean there was a lot of people who I was very close63:00to... UCLA was the community of students. You know the faculty was okay, and we learned a lot, of course we did. But what we really learned was working together, to make and help make each other’s films. And so you know, I worked with Anna on her film. And you know she was a, you know fantastically talented, and as was Victor, and everybody else, and we, you know we all just had this community. And we’d all go out to, and we, and Anna and me, and Victor and Jean-Louis Jorge from the Dominican Republic, and there was a group of us, and who were, worked late at night. I told you, I used to like to work late at night from when I was a kid, you know in high school, right, ‘cause everybody, that was when I liked to work, and we all go, and then we would, you know, be pacing the halls, and we’re cutting our movies, and then decide we’re gonna go to Wil Wright’s to get an ice cream, you know, ‘cause they used to be open ‘til three in the morning or something. And I’ll never forget, one day we were pacing, and Anna and Bob Yerington, and Victor, and we’re like all cutting. And we said well, I’ll go to Wil Wright’s and bring back some ice 64:00cream for everybody, okay. What do you want, well I’ll have chocolate chip. You know, I’ll have pistachio. Then all of a sudden, the door opens and out sticks you know, Jean Louis, who I loved, Jean-Louis he goes, you know, “Two pistachios, two chocolate chips, and one Nesselrode Bula.” Nesselrode Bula, we go what is that? “Oh, it’s my favorite, you know flavor at Wil Wright’s.” And we said oh, we all gotta have that, so then we all just canned our films and went down to Wil Wright’s and ate Nesselrode Bula. And talked, you know. But we exchanged ideas. Exchanged our cultural experiences, they were so rich. I learned all about Shiites and Sunnis, and all those things back then, because we had so many students from the Middle East, for example, you know. And of course Jean-Louis was Dominican, so he was Latino. And you know I learned so much from him about the Caribe, and that whole experience. So we 65:00exchanged ideas, we exchanged our work. And you know, I wanted to go and make this feature thesis film, which was The Confessions of Amans. And that was in 1973. And I traveled to Europe. And I had this same idea, you know, this was going to be set in the Middle Ages, I had a very strong, and still do, a strong sense of things Medieval, you know. And someday I’m gonna go back and make another movie set in the Middle Ages, maybe my career will end. I’m afraid to make another movie of the Middle Ages, ‘cause I started with a movie in the Middle Ages, and that’ll be the end of it, you know. So I’m not doing it yet. Roger Ebert used to say that, you know, “Greg, you’re gonna come back to the Middle Ages.” You know. But there was something about it. And what it was about it, is that I’m always very attracted to what I call mythological cultures. Cultures that are, and the Middle Ages is the last mythological 66:00culture in Europe. Then you get the Renaissance, and the age of reason, and it leaves. Europe loses its mythology. Greek, ancient Greek, I love ancient Greek culture. Ancient Greek mythology. Roman, you know, Mayan. Aztec, all of these things and what they all have in common, is they have this mythological mind. Which I am attracted to. Which is this kind of dream real mindset, in the way that you view the world. And what’s so marvelous about Mayan people, and so many of the indigena people that you meet is that they still have preserved that. What a beautiful thing to have preserved. Because it is such an extraordinary way of seeing the world, and I think you know, in a way more beautiful, and more healthy, and richer than you know, so much of the capitalist industrial mindset that you have dominating the world to this day, you know. 67:00Monetary, you know, oriented. And I don’t wanna knock that, because obviously we all live in that, and that’s you know, Caminante no hay camino, that’s where we are. But I personally am very attracted to the mythological. And so the Middle Ages has that quality in terms of my European background, you follow? That’s how I relate to it, is at the mythological level. So I wanted to make this film, and I was very interested in the wandering scholars, and Abelard and Heloise, and all these different things, and so I had this movie about a, again, Amans is like me, and he’s this smart, young student. And it was loosely based on Abelard and Heloise, he becomes the tutor for a lady of a night. They fall in love and have an illicit affair and have a child, and it all ends very tragically. So I wanted to shoot this again, in a Medieval environment. And I went to Europe, and I traveled, and saw Europe for the first time. And also with 68:00a thing in mind, can I find a place to shoot this Medieval world in Europe. You know my brother was living in Italy at the time, he was studying painting there. And I’ve looked around Italy, you know, but I speak Spanish. I don’t speak Italian. So I went to Spain, and of course, that was Franco Spain, so it was not what it is today, it was still Medieval. And you know, the cities and everything were unchanged from the ancient days, and there weren’t power lines, and none of these things. Very beautiful world. "
GN: And for whatever reason. And this is the thing, you know you talk aboutAnna, and you know Victor and all these. There are certain people in your life, who come into your life, and they collaborate with you. You know, in a very powerful way. And for some reason, they, and it doesn’t benefit them 69:00necessarily. Right? Over an, and you do that with other people as well, you know. Above and beyond the call of duty. I met this guy, Don Felipe Penaloza [PH], who had in fact fought for Franco, hated Franco, but had fought for the Nationalist Army during the Spanish Civil War. And he was the Viscount of Altamira, and head of the curator of monuments in the province of Segovia. Fantastic guy, and it broke my whole notion about, you know, people who fought for Franco are fascists, you know, and I found out that they aren’t, that they weren’t all fascists, and many of them who fought for Franco hated Franco, and hated fascists like he did. The Spanish Civil War was a far more complicated thing than you know, I formerly thought, as most political things are. And I spent many an evening with him, you know drinking. He introduced me to Rioja wine, and all of these wonderful things. And for, I don’t know why, here’s this young American student. He loved me because I wanted to do something. You know. I wanted to do something, right? And that impressed him. So I’m gonna 70:00help you, whatever you want. And since he was the guy that you got permission from to use Medieval locations in Segovia, he gave me permission to use anything I wanted. I was shooting in castles, I was shooting in these incredible interiors. And then, you know the books in the movie are real Medieval books. He took them from his own personal library, ‘cause you know his family goes back to forever. Here you go, you know what I mean. Here we are using as props, real Medieval books, you know, and real Medieval everything, and I went to Cornejo, and there were the costumes from El Cid were just sitting around gathering dust, so I used those for no money. And me and Anna, and Bob Yerington were the entire crew. And I got these actors in England. You know ‘cause I figured for a Medieval film they should have an English accent, it needed to be in English, and you can’t have American actors, you know it doesn’t play, right? You have to get the right actor for the right role. So I got these English actors, and we all went down to Spain, and we shot this story about this Medieval 71:00wandering scholar, you know, The Confessions of Amans, and we shot it in 16 millimeter ECO. My god, what is the ASA of that, like 20 or something, it was incredible, but… And another thing that I should talk about here is that I have a very strong sense of, in all the films that I’ve made, a painterly quality. I really believe in painting. Looking to painting for inspirations for images.
Movies too, yes, you know we talk about Gabriel Figueroa, and we talk about thegreat cinematographers, you know, Gregg Toland, etcetera that have influenced me, but painting is really where I gravitate toward, because you’re on the set, and you, no matter how much time you have to set a frame, you know it’s not that long. But a painter spends months working on one frame. So what they did to that frame, I like to look at, because there’s a lot of thought in it. So all of my films have painterly underpinnings. And painters that inspire it. 72:00And The Confessions of Amans was, the look of that film was inspired by the Flemish masters, like Van Eyck, and Roger Van Der Weyden. Those deep saturated colors, and the light, the soft light. And I wanted it to look like paintings by Vand Eyck [PH]. Van Eyck, not Vand Eyck. Jan van Eyck, and Roger Van Der Weyden. Hans Memling. Those painters. Later, you know El Norte was very Diego Rivera. Was very orosco. And then finally I reached a point in my career where I hired painters to paint pictures, to inspire the picture, the film. I reached that point, and on Mi Familia, I hired Patssi Valdez to paint a cycle of paintings to influence the way that movie would look. It reached a si-… [INT: I didn’t know that.] Yes. And I have them all hanging in my house. She didn’t give them 73:00to me, they paid her a lot of money, I still had to buy them, you know. Patssi being Patssi. But that whole look of that movie was very much determined by a painter who I hired to do a series of paintings. Not to make it like scenes from the movie, but to use her imagination to create that. And then for Selena we used Carmen Lomas Garza. I hired Carmen Lomas Garza to paint images for Selena, because she’s a Tejana. And I wanted that Tejana, you know, quality in the film, and familia, and all of those things that Carmen does. So I’ve taken the painterly thing to this other level and hired painters to do the images of the film. So that film, I very much wanted to have this quality, so we made the movie, and you know, we get back to the United States, and by then I was romantically involved with Anna. And you know, I didn’t have any money to finish the movie. I just had enough money to shoot the movie, so it sat in a 74:00closet for a year. And we, you know, rented a little apartment together, and just said, what are we gonna do, you know, ‘cause that was my thesis film but I had finished all my class stuff. And I’m going like what am I gonna do, you know, what are we gonna do?
GN: I got a job, she had written a cookbook, and so she had some income fromthat. ‘Cause it sold very well. And then I got a job teaching film at Moorpark College. So I had some work coming in. and then I got, about a year later, I applied for this American independent filmmaker grant from the AFI. And got 10,000 dollars, and that allowed me to finish, you know, The Confessions of Amans. You know. To finish that film, and so it was a really funny experience because I have this movie, okay. And what do you do with a movie? I mean there was no independent film movement at the time, it was just like, I got this movie, and I showed it at UCLA, and everybody loved it. They loved the movie. But then what? I went to the teachers at UCLA, “What do I do with this?” And 75:00they go, “I don’t know.” “Well do you know somebody that I can show it to, you know?” “No.” They didn’t help me at all. So then I went to the AFI, they had given me the grant, you know, John Hegg [PH], and I said, “I got this movie, look. It’s terrific.” “Oh it’s wonderful, we love this movie.” “You’re the AFI, do you know people in the business that you can show it too that maybe I can get a job?” Mm, no. Nothing. You just, nothing, there was nothing for a young filmmaker at all at that time. All doors were closed, I mean Hollywood was a closed shop. And it was, you know run by the guys in the studio, and these filmmakers at that time who were still the same filmmakers who were, you know making the movies, that had made them in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it was like closed doors. All right? So what do you do with a movie? You know, nothing. So I thought, what the hell am I gonna do? So I started to look up you know, there was no internet in those days, going to the library and finding out, maybe I’ll send this thing to film festivals. All right. So I started writing off to film festivals, to say, you know, can you 76:00show The Confessions of Amans. Right. And no. Nobody wanted it, you know. Because they want, you know, a big Hollywood movie by a director, or they want some foreign film. At that time, foreign films were very big, you know the Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman, and Kurosawa. And they weren’t interested in, who are you, you know. So no one was interested in it. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote to film festivals. And finally, the last one I wrote to was the Chicago Film Festival. All right? And Michael Kutza, who was head of the Chicago Film Festival, actually looked at the movie. The first guy to look at it. None of the other film festivals I sent it off to, it returned, I could tell it hadn’t even been looked at, you can tell, ‘cause it hadn’t, they hadn’t cracked the tape on the thing, you know. He looked at the movie. And he 77:00sends me back a letter saying, we like it, I like this movie, we’re gonna show it at the Chicago Film Festival, this is 1976. And I was still teaching at that particular time, you know. So I go off to the Chicago Film Festival, right, and it’s in November I think it was, it’s cold, and you know it’s freezing in Chicago, and I was from California, I wasn’t used to the snow, that’s for sure. So I got this movie, and you know, I get into the car. They pick me up at the airport. Oh we’re so happy to have you, you know they’re always very nice when they pick you up, you know. I’m sure you know that from film festivals. And there was a lot of reviewers there. And they said you know, they broke this news to me gently. Nobody is gonna come and see your movie. Who’s gonna see a 16 millimeter, you know what I mean? Thesis film from UCLA, you know, set in Spain, you know in Medieval Spain. No one’s gonna come see this movie. So you know, the critic, you know from The Variety, and Hollywood Reporter, and Gene Siskel from the Chicago Tribune, no one’s gonna see it. I 78:00go, okay. Well, you know, maybe the public will like it, so. There’s only one chance, there’s only one critic who will come and see your movie. And I said, “Who’s that?” And they go, “Roger Ebert. From The Chicago Sun Times.” He, Roger Ebert would go see anything. He would, it didn’t matter if it had, it was a Hollywood movie, or if it was a famous foreign film, Roger would go see a film. Right? So they said, “He’s the only guy that’ll see the movie.” And right at that time when we were driving in, there was this big billboard with a picture of Roger Ebert from The Chicago Sun Times. I hadn’t heard of him, because he didn’t have the TV show yet. Right, he was just the local critic, but he was the second most important critic in Chicago, after Gene Siskel, and it was like, he’s very well loved in Chicago, and he has a TV, you know a little TV spot on the news, you know. So if he likes your movie. So it’s like, oh really? My entire career, everything in my life that I’ve been 79:00building up to talking about my journey is like, is Roger Ebert gonna like this movie or not, you know. That’s it. You know, what an incredible experience.
GN: So they showed the movie at The Biograph Theater in Chicago, and TheBiograph Theater is where John Dillinger was when he got killed. The night that he got killed. Right? [INT: No, wasn’t it Al Capone?] No. It was John Dillinger. And he went to The Biograph Theater, and they gunned him down when he left The Biograph Theater, you know the woman in red, right, had betrayed him. Another theme of betrayal, right? So I go to The Biograph Theater, and there’s this seat painted silver. And I said, “What is that seat painted silver?” And the guy says, “That’s where John Dillinger sat the night that he got killed.” And I said, “I sure as hell am not gonna sit in that seat, you know.” Anyway, so I introduce the movie, right. And I don’t know Roger 80:00Ebert’s there, I assume he saw it at a press screening or something, but… So I introduce the movie, and then you know, it shows. And I’m out in the lobby like nervous as a cat, you know, ‘cause it was a good house. People in Chicago are great film goers, and they love movies, and it was pretty full. So I’m like ah. Every now and again checking like ah. So the movie ends, and there was this wonderful applause. My god, I couldn’t believe it. And I come into the theater, and there’s this wonderful applause, and all of a sudden this kinda short, fat guy with glasses comes charging up the aisle, right? And holds his hand out to me like this. And he goes, “Hello. My name is Roger Ebert, and I loved your movie.” And shook my hand. And I shook his hand, and it was like, at that moment, I knew I was gonna have a career. You know. He wrote a glowing review of the film. And it won the best first feature award at the Chicago Film Festival that year, I still have it. The silver Hugo. And at the awards 81:00ceremony, Jeanne Moreau gave me this award. Okay. I have a picture of it in my computer, which I’ll show you. I couldn’t believe it, Jeanne Moreau handing me this thing, you know, and I’m looking. And then after the awards show, Jeanne Moreau and Roger Ebert and me, and other filmmakers all went out to, you know, O’Rourke’s. You know Roger was still drinking at the time, he hadn’t stopped drinking, and we all went to O’Rourke’s bar, and we’re trading stories ‘til 3 o’ clock in the morning about movies, and there I was, you know with Jeanne Moreau and Roger Ebert, and all these famous filmmakers, and I was there, you know, and that was a real watershed experience in my life.
GN: As a result of the showing, it got a limited distribution from this very,A.J. Bauer, this very small company. And they showed it, and he actually played it in New York, and in different cities in the country. And it got the most 82:00fantastic reviews. You know, you have this, this movie, the original, and the original negative is at the academy, and I have not seen it since it first got released, but you know, I don’t really think it’s very good. But Roger supported it, and maybe it is marvelous, you know. It certainly got, I mean some of these reviews, they’re the best I’ve ever re… A magnificent work of love. A beautiful film. This is Vincent Canby, you know. A film to treasure, you know. I mean these, the stylized intensity of Rossellini, but it achieves more warmth, I mean incredible, you know. And I’m reading all these reviews from Variety, and the New York Post, and the New York Times, and it’s like oh my god, you know, that was, really took me by surprise, it, you know the flood gates kind of opened up and, for me. But you know I didn’t get any offers. Still nothing from the studios, or anybody who were making movies, but you know I had this, had established some credibility as a filmmaker. And after I did 83:00this film, you know talking about the writing, I do wanna speak about this. So Anna and I are going like, okay. And I get this question all the time. You know, when I go to talk to students, they go like, how do you get an agent? All right. And I go, I have no idea how you get an agent today. Because when I got an agent, back when, there was a whole way of doing it that has disappeared. So Anna and I, and she was a good writer, very talented writer. And I was a talented writer, and we thought well, let’s write a script together, you know. And, on spec. So we wrote this script, it was called The Eye Level Madonna. And it was a detective thing, you know. So we wrote this script, and then in those days, you wrote it, but you had to take it to a script service. You know, to have it typed up. ‘Cause we didn’t have computers and our things are all weird, you know. And the script service would type it all up so it would be really, really beautiful, okay. So we took it to a script service, and they 84:00typed it up. But what happened in those days is, all the agents were tied to the script service company, you see. And if the typist who was typing up your script, said hey this is a good script, they’d call an agent and say, I got a hot script and talented writers, see. So that’s what happened. The person that typed up The Eye Level Madonna calls this agency, Zeigler Diskant was the name of the agency, which was a small agency. Very prestigious agency at that time. And they were really talented, so they passed, they sent the script up to this agent, Steve Roth [PH]. He read it, and he calls us in, and says I wanna represent you. And so suddenly we were getting work developing movies, this young couple, you know, and it was like, in those days, you know Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck had made a big splash in Hollywood, and they said this is the new Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, you know. A young couple, you know screenwriters. 85:00So we got some work developing films, and we developed this movie with Fox. We had a studio, a office on the studio, you know. And it was called For Better or Worse, I forgot what it was, a romantic comedy thriller kind of movie, you know. And so we’re making some money writing scripts. And we have got a toe hold in. And that was my first Writers Guild job. Was back then. So Anna then wants to do a feature along the lines of Confessions of Amans, she wants to do this film The Haunting of M. And you know I wanna help her, you know. She had helped me. So I shot it. And I had shot a lot of movies when I was at UCLA, and I had shot all my own movies, I’d shot The Confessions of Amans. And I had shot Diego Rodriguez as you know, and I shot a lot of films for people. And I had offers. What I did get offers for was to be a cinematographer. You know. And I didn’t 86:00take them, I said you know if I start taking jobs being a cinematographer, you know, I’ll never get back to being a director, you know, ‘cause that’ll just take me away. But I would shoot Anna’s film. So I did do the lighting and the cinematography for The Haunting of M., which she shot in Scotland. And it was a ghost story. All right? And that was a good, a wonderful movie.
GN: And when she was editing that film, all right, and I was teaching, Istarted, we went out to this dinner with some friends. They were young up and coming, you know yuppie couple, all right? And they lived in Westwood. And we went to their house. And you know, the woman is all agitated and upset, all right? And they were nice people, and we were interested in wine, Napa Valley 87:00wine, and all those kind of thing. And they were all agitated and upset. And I go, “Why, why are you upset?” And she goes, “Look at this, look at what was in the Los Angeles Times today.” And it’s this map of Los Angeles, and they’re always doing this in the press, which I hate, you know, scare, horror scare tactics, you know... It’s like what the Hispanic population in Los Angeles was you know, 20 years ago, and 30 years ago, and now what it is today. And it’s this big black blotch, that grows, like this you know cancer that is engulfing the city. And there’s all these illegals coming in, you know. And all these Hispanics, and they’re destroying our culture. We have this today with this Ann Coulter thing, you know, adios America, you know. America is being turned into this third world hell hole, you know. By all these Latinos, you know, all these Hispanics. And this shocked me. First of all it shocked me that 88:00the Los Angeles Times was doing this. But then her reaction to it shocked me, like this was a liberal woman, and a friend, right? And she’s like horrified by Hispanics coming in and destroying the city. And it really hit me, and I looked at her, right in the eye, Lourdes. And I said, “Don’t look now, but part of that big black blotch that’s taking over the city is having dinner with you tonight.” And she goes, “What do you mean?” I said, “Me. I’m Mexican. I’m Mexican-American. I’m Chicano.” And she goes, “Oh yeah, but you’re not like the rest of them.” That’s the big thing you always get. I get that all the time, I still get that. Like somehow, they’re paying you a compliment, because you are not like them. Right? And I’m supposed to, oh thank you, I’m so complimented. And I looked at her and I says, “No, 89:00you’re wrong. I’m exactly like them. I am them, they are me and I am them. And if you’re not afraid of me, you’re not afraid of them.” I will tell you that that was the most awkward dinner party that I’ve ever been to. You know. It was very awkward. Because I didn’t back down from that. And you talk about that moment of Satori, where like, finally the earthquake goes, and all of these forces come together. Kaboom, right? And I remember leaving their house, and thinking, you know, somebody should make a movie about this. About the shadows that are in our city. Mowing all the lawns. You know taking care of the babies, right? Everybody thinks that they’re all, the illegals are out there 90:00picking farm. No they’re here in Los Angeles, doing all the work, washing all the dishes. I go to restaurants with my friends, you know and I see it. I go to the bathroom and through the kitchen and you hear all the accents. I know they’re from Guatemala, I know they’re from Mexico, I know they’re from Salvador, from how they’re speaking. You know. The guy picking up the dishes. And they don’t even see them, my friends, non-Hispanic friends, they’re like shadows. I says, someone should make a movie to give a heart and soul to the shadows that are pervading the city. To give a voice to the voiceless. Somebody should make that movie. Right. And then, you know I drove home, and by the time I got home, I thought, if I don’t make this movie, nobody is gonna make this movie. Right? And I started, the very next day, to write the script to El Norte. Okay. And in a way, that dinner, I walked into my destiny, okay. Now Anna was 91:00cutting Haunting of M., and I was in the room down the hall, writing El Norte. Okay. And after she finished the movie, and it had premiered, I think at the Edinburgh Film Festival. I showed her the script that I had written. And she loved it, you know. And we made a decision at that point, all right. And that was that we were gonna make this movie, all right. She rewrote the script with me. You know, when you see the credits of the movie, the screenplay is by Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, original story by Gregory Nava. You know that acknowledges the, you know the fact that I wrote the original draft of the piece. You know it was my story really, from the world. Because I’ve seen 92:00people from when I was a little boy. Like you saw in the film. Crossing from Tijuana, from the horrible cidades perdidas, these lost cities of cardboard and poverty that exist in Tijuana, the contrast between Tijuana and San Diego is so graphic, right. And I saw this from when I was a child. And in a sense El Norte comes from a child wondering why does this exist, you don’t know about the politics or anything. Except you see this poverty, and you see people desperately trying to come to the United States to work. And crossing, and there was all this activity around the border crossing, and the border patrol and all this stuff. I saw this all, right? And so the movie is not just an intellectual thing about, you know, here we gotta do this and that and this, let’s go. No. It is emotional, it’s visceral. That comes from those images from my childhood. And having grown up on the border, and suddenly it all started to 93:00come to focus at that time. Now that personal journey, all right, corresponded with this birth of the independent film movement. Which Anna and I were centrally involved in, because I had made The Confessions of Amans, and it had gotten notoriety, and Anna had done The Haunting of M., and so suddenly Sandra Schulberg put together all these independent, you know, us and Victor Nunez, and Spike Lee, and all these people that she, you know, Hanson, and you know Northern Lights. And she realized, Sandra who’s a brilliant woman, that there were all these lone rangers, you know, making movies on their own, throughout the country, that something was happening, and she had the idea if you bring everybody together, right, then an explosion will happen of energy, just by 94:00people getting together. She didn’t have money to fund movies, she didn’t have distribution. All she had was the idea that you get people together, and an energy is gonna be created by people communicating and feeling each other, and sharing their journey. GN: So we all got together and kaboom, that’s exactly what happened. This energy started to happen. And we decided, let’s take this idea back to Los Angeles, and I started the IFP West in the living room. With six other filmmakers. And that organization has become Film Independent. Which, how many people, 15,000 members, it’s huge, Film Independent. There’s a couple of things that I’ve done in my life that I’m as proud of as the films that I have made. And one of them is founding Film Independent. You know, to have started an organization like that, and to see that organization grow the way it is. And I remember when we started the Independent Spirit Awards. You know I was involved in all of those decisions that made the organization grow. And one of the things that we decided when we did the organization, that we didn’t want an organization that was based on a charismatic personality, 95:00because it rises or falls with the charismatic personality. So we kind of made it, structured it from the very beginning, so it’s that, people could come and go, and I could go, and you know, Anna could go or whatever, and come back or whatever. But that there would be somebody to fill it. That the organization itself would be greater than the people who actually run it. Because we had noticed, all the filmmakers had noticed that when you have some charismatic leader, it’s great, but then they go south, our you know, they leave, or, and the whole thing falls apart. So that proved to be a very wise decision, because the organization has grown, and people, you know Don, and different people have come and gone to be head of it. But it continues to grow. Because that’s the, how we founded it when it was just six people. So I was very, very proud of that. And when we were, so I started this process. And Anna and I decided, look. We are never going to be able to do this, you know, if I’m working, and you 96:00know, we’re doing all this different stuff. You have to make a break, and life or death, we make this movie or that’s it. You have to put it all on the line. Right, and she had money from her cookbook, and I had saved money from my teaching, and you know we had some means. And we decided, I’m gonna quit the job, and I took the script to my agent at that time, it was Jim Berkus, ‘cause we had, you know Steve Roth had retired, and Jim Berkus who’s now head of UTA, he became our agent. And I showed him the script to El Norte. And you know he read it over the weekend, and I went in to meet him on Monday. Like, help me make this movie. Help me get funding for El Norte, okay. And so I had this meeting with Jim, and I sit down with him. And he looks at me and he goes, “Greg, it’s great. It’s a great script. Just fantastic. You know, and I 97:00know that you’re dealing with your heritage. And I really respect that, you know. But tell me. What can you do to help me make my payments on my Mercedes?” That’s what he said to me. And I looked at him, and I said, “Jim, nothing.” You know. And I walked out of the office with El Norte under my arm. And when I walked out of that office, I walked out of whatever career we had, and we were getting jobs. Writing, development stories. Romantic comedy thrillers, for Fox. I left that behind. With El Norte. Okay. And walked into my destiny. Unknown. Because every single thing that I was doing with that movie, 98:00and the way I wanted to do it. I mean again, this comes from what you saw there in the home movies, and everything that we’re talking about. It was based on what I knew was right to tell the story. Okay?
INT: Tell me a little bit about how the story itself gets developed. I mean Iknow that there were changes. You know, from it’s orig-…
GN: Well of course, you always… You always change. [INT: Yeah.] But you, thething that you do, all right. Creation. It is... This, I always keep this on my desk. All right this is from Tical [PH], this is a reproduction of a, from Tical. A hollow bone. [INT: Right.] And incised on the bone are the paddler gods of creation. All right? And they paddled their canoe through The Milky Way, and 99:00they plant three stones. The jaguar stone, the serpent stone, and the water lily stone of creation. And they create the world. And the universe from these three stones. Okay? And this is an image of the paddler gods of creation. And what is it? It’s a hollow bone. Creation. If we are going to truly create, make those changes, do whatever, you have to be open like a hollow bone to let this flow through you. You have to plant your ego away. Not me, not what I want. What does the story want? What is the story moving through me to tell? [INT: Yeah.] So it’s never the same way twice. [INT: No, absolutely.] Because every story is different. And every single thing that I did with El Norte, and really all the 100:00films that I’ve done, is based on this concept of creation and the story flowing through. I’ll just do one circular observation, so that you see. [INT: Okay.] When I’m working with an actor on a scene, all right, I want, we talk about the controlled accident. You create an environment. This is true of the writing, it’s true of the shooting, it’s true of the editing. A safe environment for the spontaneous accident to happen, because that’s where the life is. Right, that humanity is in the spontaneity. So when you’re on the set and you’re trying to get these, you’re working on the performances with the actors, right? You know, what if you have a disagreement on the set? You hear this all the time. And you say well, I’ll shoot one the director’s way, and one the actor’s way, you know, and then we’ll see which one’s better. That never happens to me on the set ever. Because of this. If you’re having a disagreement, I say to the actor, “Right, we’ll shoot it my dead way, and 101:00your dead way. We’ll have two dead versions. It won’t be alive.” Because let me tell you Lourdes, when you, when there is life, nobody disagrees. There’s no my way, your way. If you open yourself up and you let it flow, that actor feels that life in that performance, they don’t go, forget it. If it’s dead, and you have your way and I have my way, it’s dead. Let’s forget the ways, and let’s make it live. And when it lives, nobody disagrees. Ever. So I don’t do that. Because I don’t think that way. That’s not how I work. So when we made El Norte, we made changes in the piece, yes. But it was always about making it live as the more it flowed, and things find you. Okay. They find 102:00you. I was told, look. I was doing all kinds of research, and all the pieces that I do come from the research that I do. All right? So I was doing research with all the undocumented, and this marionol [PH] said, “You know, there’s this Can Jovales [PH], from Guatemala.” Showed up at the marionol house in downtown LA, and there was a huge community of Can Jovales from Guatemala. And he said, “Come down on Sunday, they’re gonna have mass.” So I went down, and there was all these Can Jovales, their faces, they were like stone carvings of Mayan people in Stelae from Copan, and calegua [PH], and Tical, they were Mayan, right? And they were having mass and they were so, my god. The spirituality of Mayan people, of all indigena people, you know. They just weep, they are so close to God, right? And God is not some transcendent thing but 103:00right there, like they’re speaking right there, you know. And I was so moved by the Can Joval people. And their plight
"GN: And here was this genocide going on in Guatemala. Hundreds of thousands ofMayan people were being slaughtered. There was no news about it. You know, they had news about the war in El Salvador, but the war in Guatemala was much greater than the war in Salvador. No news. [INT: No but we did have When the Mountains Tremble.] That hadn’t been made. [INT: In ’86.] That had not been made at this moment where I’m talking about. [INT: When you were doing the research.] No, When the Mountains Tremble was not made until I had already shot El Norte. [INT: Oh I thought it was the other way around.] Until the film was finished, no. Hmm-mm. No. El Norte was done before When the Mountains Tremble. And so by this, but this was many years before that. Nobody knew anything about the war in Guatemala. Okay. So I started speaking to the Can Jovales, and my god, it was 104:00incredible, all right? Incredible. And I realized, this is it. You know. This is the story. And so when I wrote El Norte, that’s what we wrote. Now, they were helping me. And they had jobs doing, working in you know, sweat shops in downtown Los Angeles. Making clothes, Sassoon Jeans. At that time, designer Sassoon Jeans were all being made by Can Jovales, people whose native dress is like these, beautiful. Look at these weavings. This is the actual huipil that was worn by Rosa in the film El Norte. And look at this, these are the most beautiful weavings in the world, are done by Guatemalan, Mayan people. Magnificent. And they’re, the people that do this, are making designer jeans, 105:00you know. In downtown LA. Unbelievable. So they said to me, this guy Luis Marroquin, who I was working with, he comes to me and he says, “You know, we’re helping you. Can you help us?” I said, “Of course, what?” And he says, “You know, there’s a girl, her name is Rosa.” The protagonist of El Norte’s name is Rosa. “And she’s been up from, you know, Guatemala for two weeks, and she hates, you know, our women they hate working in the Sassoon factory. And they’ve heard that women work in homes, taking care of babies, and you know, being nannies and such. You know, can you help us get some jobs for our women to work in homes, they would prefer that. To working in a sweat shop.” And I said, “Of course.” So I started making phone calls and asking friends, and I got some folks some jobs, and I remember my next door neighbor at the time, I was living in LA, in Rancho Park. He was a professor of astronomy at UCLA, and he had a friend who was an astronomer, professor at UCLA, and his 106:00wife, and they had just had a baby. And they wanted some, you know, live in care. And they lived on Beverly Glen. So I said, okay great. So I told Luis, there’s somebody that, you know, they want a live in. So I went to downtown, picked up Luis and Rosa, drove to Beverly Glen to meet this family of astronomers. Now, indigena people and Mayan people, they are so cool. They’re very down to earth, they’re very at ease. You know, all the clichés that you think about native, you know they’re just not true, right. So we go to this situation, and the person who’s… And this is a guy, I mean this is a young lady who two weeks before, has been in a village in Guatemala. In a pre-Columbian reality, right? Invaded by soldiers, seeing people killed. She goes, and she is in, you know this beautiful home in Beverly Glen, you know what 107:00West LA is like. Neither she nor Luis are thrown at all by this. They’re completely at ease, they’re completely comfortable. Whereas the professor and his wife, they’re like totally freaked out, right? So Luis is like talking to this astronomer, and he’s trying to, you know, put the guy at ease, you know, ‘cause the guy’s like err, right. And so he says, “Oh, and what do you do?” And the guy says, “Well, you know.” He says, “I’m an astronomy professor.” And Luis goes, “You know my people were very, very good at astronomy.” Mayans, of course. My god, you know. They invented it. I mean just, they were very good, they knew a lot about the planets and the stars, and the movement of the stars, and the guys like ra, right?
GN: So anyway, so Rosa gets this job. They hire her. And so now, I’m writingthe script. And Rosa’s working with this family. And we keep getting phone 108:00calls every day, because the lady doesn’t really speak Spanish, and Rosa doesn’t speak English yet, and so I’m translating, right, back and forth. So then one day I get this phone call, and this thing has happened with a washing machine. The whole washing machine scene in El Norte really happened. And it was based on a real event that happened from a person that I got a job for. So now suddenly, the script is writing itself, by me working with the Can Joval community. You know. And Rosa has like washed these clothes in the swimming pool, because you know, she’s used to doing that, you know, and she can’t deal with this crazy machine. So we go up to Beverly Glen, and I’m trying to explain how to work the machine to Rosa on the phone and I can’t possibly do it. So Anna and I get in the car, we drive up to Beverly Glen, and we sit there, and the lady explains how to work the machine to us. And I’m like my god, it’s the most complicated machine I’ve ever seen. And Rosa looks at me and goes, “es mui dificil ah, no?” It’s like it is hard, isn’t it? I said, “It sure is.” We drove home and we wrote that scene, exactly the way the 109:00woman described it to us. It was still burning, we wrote it. And what you see in the movie is exactly what the woman did when she was trying to explain that crazy machine. And of course in the film Rosa washes the clothes in the sink and in the pool, just like the real Rosa did, you know, and her point was, what difference does it make how I do it as long as the clothes are clean? You know they’re clean. You know, I did it by hand, and they’re clean. No, no, no, no, no, you gotta use the machine, you know. It was one of these great cultural things, because this lady from Beverly Glen, from West Los Angeles, right, she couldn’t conceive of doing anything other than using the machine, and the thought that you hand washed something was horrifying to her. And I told Rosa, “You have to learn how to work the machine.” And we put all this in the film, and of course, that’s one of the iconic scenes in the movie. But it was talking about you know, life imitating art imitating life imitating art, it 110:00becomes this circular process. That scene really happened, and it happened as a result of us writing the script of El Norte. You know. So, we finished the script, and you know we sent it around, and we made this big choice like we’re gonna quit all of our work and just concentrate on doing this. Nobody wanted to make that movie. Nobody. I could get nothing. Zero. And as a matter of fact, not only did I get rejected, people hated the script. This is a script that got nominated for an Academy Award, all right? They hated it. Terrible. And a lot of the objection revolved around one essential point. Which Hector Tobar makes a big point of in his article about El Norte that’s in the Criterion DVD. There’s no white guy in here. There’s no, what about a border guard? You know like the movie with Jack Nicholson. Right, where he’s the important guy. Or how about a lawyer? You know. A white savior. Is what people wanted, you 111:00know. This whole bullshit about, you need a way in. You know this is just all in this world, there’s no way in for the audience, the general audience. So you need a white character, who’s a fish out of water, who goes into this world, and is a savior. And I’m like, no, I’m not doing that. I was adamantly against this whole having an important white character. Because in talking to every undocumented person I’ve ever spoken to, and I’ve interviewed a lot, not just Can Jovales, but many. Not one of them had any encounter with any white savior figure, you know, I wanted to tell the true story the way it really happens. From their perspective. Putting Rosa and Enrique in the center of their own story. Not the journalist. Not the lawyer. Them. It’s their story. So I was adamant about that. And I didn’t want the white characters to be evil, or 112:00racist, because they aren’t either. You know when you see El Norte, you know the lady in the house, she’s very nice. She’s clueless, but she’s very sweet and very nice. She’s not mean, right? But this is how, with El Norte, you see what it really is like for somebody coming to the United States. And so all of these criticisms revolved around this point. I have been adamant about this point in all of my films, I’ve never done it. Ever. And well…
INT: So in other words, let me just interject.
GN: Yeah. [INT: Who was your audience at this point?] My audience is people…For me… [INT: In El Norte.] Okay, in El Norte, I felt that there was an audience for people of heart, who loved a great movie, a moving human experience. I really believe, and I still believe this to this day, okay. Which is why this whole, you know, because the minute you have this, you know you put 113:00the white savior figure into your story, suddenly you colonize the story. Right? It’s not their world anymore, it’s suddenly this ghettoized colonial world with whoever, you know. And I didn’t want that, because that’s not what the world is, I didn’t wanna make a film like that. And it’s not true. And I didn’t believe, and I was right, that the audience really cared about that. They don’t care about that. They want a moving human experience. I believe, you tell the story of your village, you tell the story of the world. And all human experiences are, I can know them because I am a human being and I share them. I’m very much influenced by Kurosawa’s films. By Satyajit Ray’s films. I wanted those films, you know, Emilio Fernandez. Non-European movies, with perspective outside of the European perspective. I can see Rashomon. I can 114:00see The Seven Samurai. I can see Ikiru, when I saw Ikiru, when I was in high school, I made a decision, that’s what I want to do, I want to tell humanistic stories like Ikiru. I’m not Japanese, I’m not an old Japanese man with cancer. Didn’t matter. I wept with, you know, the main character in Ikiru. I wept with Satyajit Ray and The Apu Trilogy. Bicycle Thief. I’m not Italian in the post war, it didn’t matter. So I didn’t believe any of that stuff. Of Mayan people who are suffering genocide and come to the United States to work. This is a humanistic drama of the first order, that’s just like those other stories. And all people in the world can identify and relate to that. Okay, so I believe you tell the story of your village, you tell the story of the world, and you tell the truth. You tell it the way it truly is, and that meant it had to be about Rosa and Enrique. Their story, from their perspective, as they see the 115:00world. That was a huge choice. I didn’t realize what a big choice it was. And in fact it’s only very, very recently Lourdes, that people are starting to focus on this thing about white saviors. You know, because throughout my whole career I’ve heard this, and I’ve always resisted it, I won’t do it. Okay, and I’ve been a Don Quixote, alone in that. Thank god, recently there’s been more consciousness about this, and people are bringing it up, and talking about it, like in Selma and other films, you know, you don’t, you know, all stories don’t need to have that if you’re making them about Latinos and African Americans and whatever, you know, it’s, it colonizes the story in a way that’s wrong. But I was telling the truth, you follow? And I wanted to tell it in a true way. So so much of the rejection of El Norte revolved around the fact that people perceived that there was no way in for the general audience into this story. Because it’s about Two Mayan Indians. And teenagers, who can we 116:00cast to star in this movie? You got two 18 year old, you know 18 and 19 year old Mayans, you know. I mean, really when you think about it, on the surface of it, you’re walking into people’s offices trying to sell them on this idea, and what is the most non-commercial thing you can possibly imagine? And I finally had somebody who said they would do it, as a TV movie. And I went, I can’t believe it. They said, “This is a great story, we’re gonna do it. Now, what we gotta do is, we gotta cast Robby Benson, and Brooke Shields as Rosa and Enrique.” And I went, “Are you kidding me?” And they go, “Yeah. Then, you know, you’ll get an audience. We cast them to do it.” And I went, “No. No, I, no. I can’t have Robby Benson and Brooke Shields playing you know, Rosa and Enrique. That destroys it.” He goes, “Yeah but nobody’s gonna watch it.” You know. And I said, “I guess this never can be made.” You 117:00know I left that office when I had that meeting and I went, “El Norte is never going to be made. ‘Cause if I can’t make it the right way, I’m not gonna make it at all. I’m not putting in some way in, you know, you know white lawyer guy. And I’m not casting Robby Benson and Brooke Shields. I’m not doing that. I’m telling the truth, and if I can’t do it, I’m not gonna do it at all.” “Wow. Very arrogant young filmmaker, no?” So I just, “No.” Okay. So then, and Anna goes, “We’ve been working on this for two years, we’ve got nothing but rejection, it’s never gonna get done.” You know. So around that time, we were working on an event for the IFP West, which was this, at the Ambassador Hotel. And there was this guy there, Lindsay Law, right? And he was starting a project with PBS called American Playhouse. And they wanted a Hispanic, Latino project for American Playhouse. And he had heard about El Norte, from somebody or other, and he came up to me. ‘Cause he was speaking on one of the panels. And he says, “Will you send me that script to El Norte?” Right. And I said, “Of course, Lindsay, I’ll send it to you.” I got home, 118:00I picked up the script to El Norte Lourdes, it was so painful. I had gotten so much rejection, I couldn’t send it to him. And I did not send it to him. Right? I said, I can’t do that, I can’t have another rejection. He’s gonna read it, and he’s gonna tell me he hates it, you know. And a month later, Lindsay Law calls me up. And he says, “Greg?” I said, “Yeah, hey Lindsay.” And he goes, “You never sent me that script.” You know. This is another one of these people that you meet on your road. You know, who just, you know like Roger or Anna, you know. Or Jennifer Lopez, later, right? Incredible people, who just, you know, are there. And share your vision, and he goes, 119:00“Send me that script.” So I did. And he said yes.
"INT: What year was that?
GN: That must have been 1981. 1981, 1980, 1981. Like that. And we were gonna,you know, and of course it wasn’t all the money that we needed. But it was a good portion of it. And we had a friend Linda Miles, from Channel 4, who was this crazy independent lady, you know, who had invested, you know in Wisconsin, you know. [INT: A redhead.] Maybe a redhead. And she invested into it, we… And then a very important guy, who’s very important in the history of independent cinema, Irwin Young. [INT: Irwin.] Of DuArt Lab, he, I had met him, I had gotten to know him, he really liked me. And he deferred all of our lab costs, 100 percent. So he was a major investor in the movie. And I did not want to shoot 120:00the movie in 16, or in Super 16, I wanted to shoot the movie in 35 millimeter. Okay. And dragged these 35 millimeter cameras, you know, up to these locations in Chiapas, and Terajapa [PH]. Places, Lourdes, where the people who had never even seen a camera, they didn’t even know what a movie was. That’s how isolated it was at that particular time. And, because I wanted it to look a certain way, I did not want to make a docu-drama. I didn’t want to make anything documentary at all. I hated that, that wasn’t true to the story. I wanted to tell a different kind of story. Let me just read something. Because one of the things I think is interesting about this interview, is not, this is me now. I’m an old warrior, right? I’ve made many movies. You’re getting my perspective now, what I’m like today. After having made El Norte and Selena, and American Family TV Show and all these things, right? What was I like 121:00back then? Would you like, you know like showing you pictures, I was a little kid. On the ranch, you know, it gives you an insight." GN: My notes. I didn’t just write the script, I wrote all of this. Everything that I wanted to do with El Norte. All the ideas, the concepts, the visual images. You know. I believe all films need to have a mythic structure. But I didn’t want my mythic structure to be, you know, Greek, or something. I wanted to go into the Mayan world. You follow? The Popol Vuh is the mythic structure of the film El Norte. And the imagery of the film, I wanted to pull from the Popol Vuh, and from the Chilam Balam. These are things that come to us from the pre-Columbian world of the Mayan. And we have these images, you know. And I was swimming in unbelievable waters, that no filmmaker has ever swum in before. Because nobody 122:00has made a Mayan movie, using Mayan myth, Mayan imagery, like is in El Norte. People to this day say to me, “What was that fish in the flowers? And how about all those white butterflies when Rosa comes into the…” You know what I mean? All these images come from the Mayan world. And opera, I love opera, and I wanted to give it the depth of a operatic drama, you know. And the classical thrust of Aristotelian tragedy, you know. And I wanted to combine the-you know, my thought was, you know when you read Aristotle, you know pity and fear, you have the catharsis of pity and fear. And that makes drama, fear is the emotion that pulls people together like no emotion, right? And I thought, who does fear better than Hitchcock? Really terrifying, you know, the shower scene in you know 123:00Psycho, you know, it’s terrifying, right? Can I make a movie that has a scene as terrifying as the shower scene in Psycho, but moves your humanity like Bicycle Thief? Can I put that together? And then I’d have a movie unlike anything. And that’s what we did, you know the rat scene. In El Norte is like the most horrifying scene, you know, it’s, I wanted it to be as powerful as it could possibly be. Because when you’re in a tunnel with two people being attacked by thousands of rats, it doesn’t matter what, they’re Mayan or whatever. You become one with those people. And you have the humanity. You know people don’t put those things together in films, they’re seen as separate genres. I wanted to bring them together. [INT: Yeah.]
INT: This is before the script.
GN: This is while I’m doing the script. [INT: So these are…] This is at thesame time. [INT: Okay.] And this is before we shot the movie. Okay. This is planning to shoot the movie, all right? Okay. Okay. Okay listen to this, now 124:00this is me, before I’ve made El Norte. Planning what I was going to do with the film. El Norte aspires to being a tale of mythic proportions. A true Aristotelian tragedy, riding the complex seas of the Mayan concept of time, with the super charged drama of opera. It is from all these things, that El Norte will derive its strength. We will attack the emotions of pity and fear, rejecting all documentary realism. We will find a new kind of realism. A dream realism, that will reach another kind of truth. A truth that I believe is much 125:00more profound, and much more important, than that which journalism can reach. The movement through parallel time will work in conjunction with pity and fear, to create a striking, new kind of film. A powerful film, that will move the audience deeply. Perhaps this sounds a bit overblown. Perhaps after all is finished, I will read this and laugh, or weep, because I have an awful failure on my hands, that achieves nothing like what I intend. Well, I spit in the eye of failure. And I take the risk. I will not play safe. If I fail, I want to fail having tried something extraordinary. But we will not fail. Because El Norte will be a wonderful film. I am convinced. [INT: Aw, that’s sweet.] And that was me. That was me. Just on the cusp of making El Norte. Brash young man, huh? 126:00Full of dreams. And motivated by all the things we’ve talked about, it all came together. Those experiences from my childhood, the whole journey, finding who I am. My Ollin. Right there. Boom. And we made the film.
GN: So much of what I do is because of my love for my father. You know he wasChicano. He was in-you know, part indigena. Yaki. And I saw the pain, he would never express it, but, that he had to endure, he was a brilliant man, he was a hard worker. And he was, you know never, you know the glass ceiling. At his 127:00work. Or when he went into the Army. They wouldn’t let him into officers candidate school ‘cause he was Mexican. And Mexicans are too emotional, they can’t be good officers. This kind of bullshit. My father would’ve been an incredible officer. Incredible leader of men, he was a great men. But he bore all of those things. And I remember when I told my parents, because like I said before, my brother and I were the first ones to go to college, and I was, you know the bright student, you know the award winner, the number one student. Phi Beta Kappa, the whole thing. And everybody thought oh, Gregorio will be a doctor, Gregorio will be a lawyer, you know finally, we’ll have a doctor, you know, or abogado in the family. Right. He’s such a great, he could be the greatest lawyer, he can talk the leaves off the trees, he can convince anybody of anything, you know. He’ll be great, you know, they saw Perry Mason on TV. Gregorio’s better than Perry Mason, you know. So they had high hopes for me to 128:00do that, and when I told them I wanted to be a filmmaker, you know, and they had sacrificed so much to send me to college and school right? You know it was hard for them. But they supported me. My father supported me, my mother supported me, whatever I wanted to do. And that’s a beautiful thing, I think for all Latinos, all people really to support your children in their dreams. And I remember, you know, my father, my mother telling me, “I know that you will do great things in whatever you choose to do. And if this is what you want to do, I know you will achieve great things.” That’s what she said to me. And my father said to me, “Son, you will have to be better, because of who you are.” You know, and that’s true. Because it is hard to be a Latino in this 129:00film business, trying to do Latino projects, as you know Lourdes. The glass ceilings. The attitudes, it’s hard to get these projects lmade, they’re tough. And the only way that you get it is you really have to have that edge of passion and love, and craft, and everything to break through. So you know, he was a realist, and he knew what I was getting into. And he knew it would be hard for me. But he supported me, and loved me, and all my life...
GN: The films I make are in the dream realist style. [CLEARS THROAT] And yeah, Idid want to speak a little bit about what is dream realism? And then in conjunction with that, we're throwing out all these terms of things like, you know, the Popol Vuh, the Chilam Balam, you know? And chatting about those things. Well, a lot of people don't know what the Popol Vuh is or what the Chilam Balam is, or really what dream realism is, and what is all this about? And so I have very strong feelings about this style because it's the style that I work in, and I want to talk a little bit about it. You know, when the conquest happened, the Spanish conquest of the Americas happened, there was an incredibly 130:00rich, incredibly powerful culture here in the Americas that was conquered. And they were very sophisticated cultures with unbelievable art, philosophies, spiritual concepts. We talked earlier about Ollin and the Ollin heart, and these beautiful concepts that I learned when I was in 1965 when I first went to Mexico, so I wanted to just show a little bit about what dream realism is and how it works, has become a literary and now cinematic style. This is a reproduction of a pre-Columbian book. And pre-Columbian books were not, they were like this, you see? They're like accordions and as you can see, they're full of writing and pictures and numbers and unbelievable images. And it's like 131:00a river, a flow of images, and many of which we do not understand today. ...We talk about the duality when I was talking about Rosa and Enrique, this idea of duality and the unity of duality. And here you see a beautiful idea of it with death and life, you see the buccal mask which is the breath, the wind, Ehecatl. Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death, and they are united and so you see this very beautifully, graphically, powerfully portrayed image of this pre-Columbian concept of, you know, the two sides of the, you know, becoming one thing. And being the same. And it's powerful. And I think you can also see from this with like this calavera, this skull, that all of these things are still very much alive in Mexican culture and Latino culture, they haven't died. You know, 132:00these... you know, the Spanish thought they were destroying something, but it didn't get destroyed, it stayed alive. So we have this and this is the flow of the antepasados, [BACKGROUND NOISE] the ancestors. Okay? The world of the ancestors, and we are part of this river, that's how they see it. Now, we would call that the collective unconscious, all right? For them it wasn't unconscious. It was conscious. But it's this dream flow of our life connecting us with all of our ancestors.
GN: And so what happened was, is that the Spanish came and to a very greatextent they just tried to destroy all of this because they saw that it was, they thought that it was from the devil. But not everybody did and some tried to preserve it and these things got preserved, like this is a reproduction of a book from the 1500s, that was done by Bernardino de Sahagún. It's in Nahuatlan 133:00Spanish, and it is done by the Aztecs, and it's full of all these illustrations which as you can see, are now keying off of what was originally in there. This is another kind of codex, the new kind of codex that was preserving this ancient knowledge that you see in this book here. And among the things that got preserved powerfully was something called, and I refer to this a lot in my talking, the Popol Vuh. And the Popol Vuh means, the book of the people, and this is the Mayan bible. You know, this guy, Francisco Ximénez, this priest, he actually got the Mayan Indians in the Highlands of Guatemala to write this down, and in their native language. And it tells the story of creation, it tells the story of the two hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the hunter and little 134:00jaguar. How they descend into Xibalba, the world of the underworld of death and rescue their dead father who then is born again. And then they become the sun and moon. It's such a magnificent, unbelievable story, and this got preserved from this world and comes down to us, to this day. All right? And the other thing I spoke a lot about was the Chilam Balam. And the Chilam Balam that means jaguar priest, all right? And these were from the Yucatán, and in the Chilam Balam there's nine of these books. There are probably many, many more, they are the Chilam Balam, the Chumayel. The Chilam Balam, the Mani. These refer to towns in Yucatán, and these books are very hard for us to understand. They're alternately called books of history, and books of future prediction, like Nostradamus. The truth of the matter is, is that they are both. Because to the 135:00Mayan people and to pre-Columbian people, the past and the future were one. So when you... very hard to read them, because when you're reading them, they will talk about the past events and the future events in the same sentence. You read about the past and the future at the same time. So this is a very important feature of dream realism, is time. Not being linear, but being circular, you'll notice in El Norte, everything is circular. And it ends and begins in the same place, Enrique is working with his arms at the beginning in the coffee plantation and in the end you know, digging the ditch and it's come around, the wheel has turned. All these cycles. Past and future are one. So the Chilam Balam talks about the past and the future as one thing. The Popol Vuh talks about the creation of the world and the coming of the sun and the moon. And we have these 136:00things. And so these things then are part of the consciousness that exists in Latin America, all right? Because they're so powerful and they're so strong. And so then all of that comes down to this. You go from this to this and then to this, and this is the great novel, Hombres de maíz, Men of Maize, by Miguel Ángel Asturias, one of the great classics of dream realist literature from Latin America. This was very inspirational to my film, El Norte, and this is a first edition of Hombres de maíz, and it is the only first edition that exists that is signed by Miguel Ángel Asturias. I have the only signed first edition [LAUGHS] of this book. This was very important for me to acquire because it's important, and so writers like Miguel Ángel Asturias and most famously, Gabriel García Márquez, found a Latin American way to tell a story that was different 137:00than what anybody else had done. They found their own unique way and that was this dream realism. Finding, taking from all of these things and then channeling that into a novel. And I feel very strongly, when you tell a Latino story, you have to tell it in your own unique way. I don't believe in being imitative. Imitative of nothing. You know, they talk about, "Let's do the Latino Godfather, let's do the Latino Roots, the Latino this." No, no, no, no. Let's do something original. One Hundred Years of Solitude is not like anything else. It's its own original thing. Unlike anything else, and that is where we make our major contribution. We have to find our own way to tell a story and I felt that Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel Ángel Asturias, they had found that way. They had channeled all this into the dream realist literature, and you have to 138:00remember, and I wanted to bring that to the movies. And El Norte is one of the first if not the first films to take the dream realist style and put it into cinema. So you go from this Codex Borgia to the Popol Vuh to Hombres de maíz to El Norte. And that is what I wanted to do, something different, something new, something that hadn't been done before. That's why I didn't want to make the movie like a documentary or like a gritty neo-realist, no. I wanted to do a dream realist film. GN: Now, people very often refer to this style as magical realism. And I don't like that term. Magical realism implies something like Bewitched, something supernatural, something outside of, no. This is not that. This is the flow of dream. It is connecting you to your ancestors, this is going deep into the collective unconscious, to find these images. You know, when you 139:00read the Chilam Balam, which talks about the past and future as one, it says, "And the future is written on the blooming flower petals of time." I mean that's like hallucinogenic, you know? This is within us, not without us. So that's why I like using the term dream realism because to me that interconnects us with our ancestors and with our culture and with the land. Magic has a different implication. But when you look at these beautiful things, you look at those beautiful woven [wepeles?] you know, that I showed, that I brought, they're very exotic and very beautiful. But I don't believe in the exotic and I don't believe in the folkloric, all right? That's a trap, right? Dream realism, a very important component of dream realism is that it must speak about the social 140:00problems, the social realism. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the protagonist, he wakes up, he's on a train car, a cattle car with 5000 dead banana workers, who've been slaughtered by the banana company. In Hombres de maíz, you know, Gaspar Ilom, he fights the plantation owners and dies fighting for his land. El Señor Presidente, dealing with, you know, the oppression of a dictatorship. You have to deal with the social reality, you must deal with these issues. And the Latin world is a volcanic world, it is a world that is full of power and culture and amazing things. And incredible problems, tremendous poverty. You know, we see that with the immigration of people coming up. The genocide that we were depicting in Guatemala. You must show this. Otherwise, if you don't, if you just show people in pretty outfits, right? Then you have folklore. You know, you 141:00have, you know, exotic brown people and that I'm against, right? That deadly combination of the white savior with the exotic brown people, has done more destruction in movies than any other cliché that you can possibly do. We must get rid of that. And we must get down to the dream realism, the truth of the people. The truth of our story. [CLEARS THROAT] And deal with it in a real way. Okay? We have these social issues, we must embrace them, and together by bringing the dream together with the reality, you have [MAKES NOISE] the dream realism. That is the style that I first worked on when I did El Norte, and that I have been working in on all of the films and television shows that I have been doing since then. It's what characterizes my work. And I think what is unique and part of my unique contribution to making films about Latino people and 142:00telling Latino stories. GN: So we we're gonna speak about the shooting of El Norte, the making of the film. You know, that’s an epic saga, and the most unbelievable story, and they’ve made documentaries about it you know, on the Criterion Collection, we did a whole documentary about the making of that, because it was such an amazing story. But we didn’t know what we were getting into, again, it was this thing about hey, I gotta go to the world, to capture this world and to make this the way it needs to be made. Of course we couldn’t shoot it in Guatemala, because there was a war in Guatemala. But we thought Chiapas is also Mayan, you know, it’s kind of a false division there between Chiapas and Guatemala, it’s the same world. Mayan highlands. It looks the same as Guatemala, so we were gonna go to, of course Chiapas was then, and still now not a very stable place. Dangerous place to be. But that’s where we had to go to capture this story, and to tell the story of Rosa and Enrique. Now, casting 143:00two Mayan young people, was another journey because you know, you can’t go to Guatemala, and especially in the middle of a civil war and find Mayan actors. You know, it’s very racist in Guatemala, they don’t allow Indians to be actors, you know, they, it was very brown face, you know, at the time of anybody, like a joke. So, but in Mexico, you know you do have people of indigena, you know, heritage who are trained, you know ‘cause Mexico is very strong with its indigena roots. And so Zaide Silvia Gutierrez, and David Villalpando, you know they both have very strong Native American roots, and they’re very talented young actors. So it was in Mexico that you could really find the right actors to capture and play these roles, because they were complex roles, they needed talented actors to do them, you know. American actors, there may be some who looked right, but if you were raised in the United States, you know your body clock and everything is so American, it just, you didn’t move right, you know. None of them looked good. But in Mexico is where we found these 144:00young people, and, to play those two lead roles, you know. And it was important to me that you have these two lead roles, Rosa and Enrique, this duality. Because in the Popol Vuh, and in all pre-Colombian, Mesoamerican mythology, it’s always twin heroes. There’s always this duality. You know the unity of duality, all right? You know Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl. You know, all of these, twinning is very important in Mesoamerica, and so the mythology reflects that. GN: So Lindsay funds the movie. And we find Rosa and Enrique, we find Zaide and David, they’re beautiful actors, they really capture this. We go to Chiapas. Bertha Navarro, who is the sister of Guillermo Navarro, the famous DP, was our Mexican producer. And Anna of course was marvelous. I mean Anna is like, I 145:00don’t necessarily wanna be a producer, right? You know she’s a great producer, but she doesn’t wanna do that for a living. Why am I doing this, because I wanna protect the movie. Protect the material, protect the story. You know, and I know that I will do it, you didn’t trust anybody else to produce the film, right? And it was hard to produce that movie. It was a difficult job. Because, and Bertha and Anna did a marvelous job, because we’re dealing with unbelievable things in making that film, you know trying to make it in this indi-and in places where people didn’t even know what a movie was. Had never seen a movie camera in some of these isolated locations that we were at. And working with the whole indigena mindset in a movie, they don’t go together necessarily, you know, very, very well. One of the things that we wanted to do was of course bring in the huipiles from Guatemala at that time. Because of the civil war in Guatemala, they didn’t allow Guatemalan textiles, which now you can buy in stores everywhere. They were not allowed to be released from 146:00Guatemala. That was communist, you see? I had to send people into Guatemala to smuggle the huipiles and the costumes out of the country. These beautiful textiles were all smuggled from Guatemala, over land through the mountains, to bring them into Chiapas, so that we could dress our Mayan people for these scenes in El Norte, so they would be Guatemalan. So we’d start doing these scenes, right, and we’d bring all these, they were from Chamula, we’re doing the scene of the, where they’re at the sacred Mayan burial ground with those crucifixes, the beautiful crosses. And we have all these Chamulas in there. And they go, okay now change your huipil, you know, put this on. You know. You do that here, yeah, I’m an extra, I got it. What? Indigena people. No, they’re 147:00not gonna change their clothes. That’s who they are. Their clothes are their identity. Every town has its own huipil. So I’m not from here. I’m from here. So if I change my clothes, I am denying who I am. Right? Well no it’s just for a movie… No, no, no, no, no. All that stuff that doesn’t play, you know, it was really an interesting problem to get the indigena people in Chiapas, once we’d smuggled all these beautiful, you know, huipiles, and chals, and everything to change their clothes. They didn’t want to do it. Ah, that was insane. You know, how do you make a movie? I respect their point of view and their attitude, and I love it, and I embrace it. It’s a whole different way of thinking of clothing, right? But I got a movie to make, right? So you know, we finally were able to get, we lost a lot of those extras for that 148:00thing, ‘cause they just put the clothes down and walked away, and they took their money, you know. They got paid and they weren’t in the movie, you know. You had to deal with that. And as a matter of fact, that scene got very hairy, because we were asking people to change their clothes. Guys came with machetes to kill us. Because we were asking people to change their clothes. They were going to kill us, and we had to separate the crew. And you know, where the authorities came and, to put that down. Because they were gonna chop us up. For asking people to change their clothes, so these were the kinds of issues that we had to deal with when we were making El Norte, because you know, it was just such a foreign thing to people. And making a movie was not something that was part of their cultural reference, right, and it hadn’t been done. And we had a lot of dangerous circumstances there. We went to one town, Ahu Acatenango, and 149:00you know, the scene where Rosa is supposed to light the candles, we had the interior of this church. And you know, we get there, and I go into the church, and I’ve got my story boards with me, and we’re setting up the shots and everything. And it was the day after Day of the Dead, you know the, cruda nacional, you know, the national hangover in Mexico, because everybody’s gotten horribly drunk the night before, and there was a lot of very ugly people. And some foreigners had come recently, gone into the church, and stole their Santos. Well to Mayan people, images of saints are, they’re not like just images or represent-they are the god. You know. We don’t have a sense of an image the way a Mayan person has a sense of an image. When they pray to an image of the virgin, or Santiago or whatever, they feel like they are actually talking 150:00to the god. And that image is the god. So their saints, they have la cofradias that protect these images. This is huge in Mayan religion. The importance of the image. That really made a big impression on me, because I suddenly realized, they’re right. You know, we, with all of our intellectualizing, and philosophizing and stuff tend to diminish the power of the image. But the Mayans are right about how powerful the image truly is. And so the images that we create, that we put in the movies, that people go and see in the movies, they affect people. Much more strongly than our society recognizes. They really change you. GN: Image is powerful. And the Mayans know that, and I’ve learned that from them, that they are right. So you gotta be really careful about what images you’re putting on the screen, and what images you’re putting on TV, 151:00because they really go like acupuncture needles right to the collective unconscious of the people, and it affects them, and you see it. I, the minute I became aware of it by looking at the world of the imagery through a Mayan perspective, you see how it affects our society. And how when images start to come, how the whole society starts to change, and how important our images, the images we’re putting on the screen about who we are as Latinos, right. And all the images that are being put on the screen, and on TV, affect the society. And it’s a tremendous responsibility. We’re like the cofradas, you know, protecting these beautiful images, and you know, we have to take that very seriously. Well, these people had come in and they’d stolen these Santos from this church, right? And that was absolutely horrible. And here we were, some new people coming in. And they’re like, these are the people that took our Santos. Well of course, no, we respect your Santos, we just wanted to shoot, right. So pretty soon this huge crowd gathers. And this is, you know, much more serious 152:00than we had at Romaria where we had a couple of guys with machetes who were threatening us. Suddenly we had the whole town, thousands of people Lourdes, surrounding our van, right? And at the church, and I had walked out of the church to go deal with something, and I had left my storyboards in the church, all right? When I went back to the church it was surrounded by people, and I couldn’t go into the church. All right? And people said to me, “Greg, we gotta get out of here. We have to leave right now. Because they’ll kill us.” All right? And this is really serious, because the people are all around the van. All right, and they’re angry. Right, they think you stole these saints. You know. Can we explain to them that I didn’t steal the saints? No. Absolutely not. So I go, “I can’t…” So, I’m crazy. “I can’t leave 153:00without my storyboards.” I brought a couple of them to show you.
GN: These are two of the exact storyboards that were in question. That I left inthat church when I left. And you can see, you know, I had, you can see some of my artistry here. Not as good as my brother, but still pretty good, and I would always, and still do, you know my own storyboards. I’m very proud of these because a lot of the beautiful concepts that the film is most famous for, you know came, you know talking about things like the Chilam Balam, and the Popol Vuh, and the imagery that was very striking in the film coming from Mayan imagery. Let me see if I can find this. Here, here it is. And you know these are things that I figured out and designed before the movie. Like, here’s this scene here where Enrique is killing the puma, and he sits back, and then you see 154:00here it says, “Boom.” And then we cut to the close up of the father’s head in the tree. And then boom, a close up of the full moon. And then boom, the drum. You know this head, moon, drum, you know transitions with these booms, you know. And this idea of the severed head being associated with the full moon, being associated with the drum of time. You know the rhythm of the drum of time. This is from the Chilam Balam. These great books of augury and history that were written by Mayan people in Yucatan. And I drew this image from that book. To make this stunning transition in the film, and planned it before shooting the film, you know. So I had all this stuff, and I had figured all these things out. And I sure as heck did not wanna leave this, the whole movie, you know, in this 155:00thing. And so I guess in retrospect, I would’ve said, today I would’ve gone, “Let’s get out of here.” You know. But I said, “Is there any way to get this, these storyboards out.” So they took me to the municipio, little town hall. And the mayor is there, and I said, “Look. We’re gonna leave, we’re not gonna shoot this scene. But I left something in the church. You know. And I was wondering if you can get it.” He said, “Well, okay we got a guy here, he’s indigena, he’s cool, he’ll sneak in, and he’ll get your storyboards, and he’ll bring them out to you.” So I’m waiting in the municipio, and there’s a couple of drunk guys there, you know, and I’m waiting. Finally after a while, and the crowd, and meanwhile, the actors, they’re in this van, and people are rocking the van like this, you know, and, right, they’re surrounding, right? And so finally this guy comes, and he’s got him. And he hands me the storyboards. And great, okay. Now, what? The guy says well, you know, bye. And I’m in the municipio. And there’s a plaza full 156:00of people, angry people. And here’s the van on the other side of the plaza. And I have to walk from the municipio to the van, through this crowd of angry people. With machetes, and rocks, and they’re pissed. And I think how in the hell am I gonna do this? So I thought, you know what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna walk to the van like… With, not, without any fear. Right? Like I have a right to do this. And make no eye contact with anybody as I walk. Just move right through. With strength, and determination, you know. So I left the municipio, I had the thing and the thing, and I just started walking, you know. Through this crowd. This is the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, okay? But you know, I didn’t make eye contact, I walked right through, and it was really 157:00weird, because as I walked, people just parted, you know. The way. And I moved, got into the van, and brother, Bertha, and Anna, and Zaide, and David, they’re all in the van, and Jim Glennon, who was marvelous, the DP. They’re like, what the hell have you been doing, you know. It’s like they were scared shitless. They were really mad at me, because you know, I had been in the municipio to get the storyboards. And we drove out of the village, and they through everything at us, you know, rocks, and pummeled the van with the stuff as we drove out of the village. And you know, so we finally, when we got back to the United States, we didn’t have that shot of Rosa lighting the candles. So that shot was actually filmed in the Mission San Diego, in San Diego. You know, ‘cause the missions kinda look like a church down in Chiapas. And I had gotten a couple of shots of 158:00the Santos in the church in Ahu Acatenango. So I intercut those with the virgin, and the mission in San Diego. And she lights the candles, and you know, we had to put together that scene in that particular way. GN: So after shooting for a month in Chiapas, we then went to Morelos where it was supposed to be safer, in order to shoot the scene, because they said, look, you can’t shoot the scene where the campesinos, the indigena people are being shot and killed by the Army. That’s too heavy a scene to shoot even in Chiapas. With the Army gunning down these guys. So we’re gonna move to Morelos, which is in the center of the country and safe, and we’ll shot that scene at this great ruin outside of Cuautla. Morelos, you know. And, which is a big Zapata place, you know, this big old ruin of a sugar plantation that had been destroyed by Zapata. Great location. We’ll shoot that there, all right. So we moved to Morelos to shoot 159:00the scene of the Indians being, you know, the Mayan people, men being killed by the Army. And we’re shooting, we’re working on shooting this scene, you know the head. You know the father’s head in the tree, and all this kind of stuff. So one day, I’m in the ruins filming guys running, right. We had this great DP, who I really want to acknowledge, Jim Glennon, because he, his father was Bert Glennon, the famous DP who did Stagecoach, and Jim made a tremendous contribution to El Norte, he was a brilliant DP, had just finished working on Return of the Jedi. You know he was a top guy. And he shot another film for me and worked on Selena, I loved Jim, he passed recently very young, tragically. And I dedicated the film about the making of El Norte to him on the Criterion disc, and I wanna acknowledge his marvelous contribution to El Norte, and what a 160:00great man he was, and a great friend. And he’s unfortunately no longer with us, and it’s very sad. But his wife was giving birth to a baby, and so he was gonna be leaving, right? Morelos, and I was gonna shoot the last stuff myself. So we’re working, and Jim is gonna be his last day. And suddenly these guys with guns come to the set. Right? And there’s Bertha, and Anna, and they’re running interference, holding back these guys in suits with pistols. And they wanna shut the movie down. And this scene of the Mayan people being killed by the Army, was not just too heavy a scene to shoot in Chiapas, it was too 161:00politically hot a scene to shoot at all. As it turns out, right? And you know, and people say, “Well did they come from the government, or what?” And you go like, when you’ve got a guy with a gun pointed at you, you don’t ask where are your paper, you know what’s your official thing or not, you know. And so it was officially unofficial, right? You know, obviously no one’s gonna acknowledge that they are shutting the movie down, but they wanted to shut the movie down. Okay. So we… [INT: Did they wanna extort money from you?] It, you 162:00know, yes. They wanted to extort money, and they wanted to stop the shoot. In other words, politics, as you know, and corruption are always go hand in hand with the money, I mean there was political motive, and there was, you know, they wanted to see, at the same time, because we weren’t finished shooting, they had a lot of scenes to shoot, what the hell they could suck out of us at, in doing so, you know. So you know, we… Jim, we said, “Look, all of our exposed negative is at the hotel.” So what we wanted Jim to do, ‘cause he was leaving to go to see the birth of his kid, is to like, sneak out the back of the, you know, location, get to the hotel, get the negative, go to the airport, and fly out of Mexico City with the negative. So he does this. And he gets, the van takes him, and he goes to the hotel, he gets the negative, and he leaves to go to the airport. Car comes behind him. There’s a car chase in the streets of Cuautla, because they’ve got a guy, a spy guy at the hotel. Right? And suddenly they’re driving, you know, like in Bullet, you know? Finally, they pull the guy over, and they entered the van with guns, with a machine gun, and 163:00Jim Glennon is sitting on top of the film cans, and he goes, “Tourista, tourista.” I don’t know anything, you know. Well they take him, and they take the negative, and they take Jim. And they put him back in the hotel, right? And now he’s like, being held. So he gets freaked out, and then he is in this hotel room, and he lifts the window up, in the bathroom, and jumps out of the bathroom window, runs to the street, flags down a cab, gets in the cab, and goes off to the Mexico City Airport. But they have our film. You know. And I get a message saying, “Shoot whatever you can shoot and get right now, because this is it.” That’s all the footage you’re gonna get, is what you shoot today. So I was shooting the scene where the guys are running, being chased by the Army and gunned down, and I had the storyboards, and I just shot one take per shot. That scene that you see in the movie which is a very good scene and a very 164:00dramatic one, was shot like one to one. You know. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. You know got this shot, now you fall. Boom, next set up, ga-ga-ga. You know. I had to shoot it, you know in just a couple hours, an hour or so. You know, now my parent, now...
GN: One of the reasons that all this happened was because this was the end ofthe sexennial of Lopez Portillo. When we say sexennial, we mean the presidential, you know six years in Mexico. And so it was right at the end of the six year term of Lopez Portillo. And he was a very corrupt president. And very old style corrupt president, he wasn’t like, Salinas, you know who does things very elegantly by shifting bank stuff. He was like a guy with a gun, give me your money kinda guy, you know. And that was the atmosphere, and that’s one of the reasons that it took on that crude a form of corruption, was because of him, you know the sexennials in Mexico are very much determined by the personality of the president, and he was a real thug, Lopez Portillo. But also 165:00he had managed the economy of Mexico terribly, and as a result of that, it was the first big devaluation of the Mexican Peso, you remember that? Because forever it was twelve and a half to one, right? Then all of a sudden it’s hundreds to one. And the whole economy had gone spiraling. So we were caught in the middle of this horrible thing, and we didn’t have any money, and suddenly our money wasn’t worth anything, right? So I had to get my parents, my mother and father, who are so great, had flown down just before this happened. Had flown down to Mexico City, with 30,000 dollars. They were smuggling money, right? Into the country, so I can finish the movie. And my father stuffed the money in his socks, in his cowboy boots, and got it through customs in Mexico. Right? So my parents are there, I got this 30,000 dollars, and we’ve had to stop shooting. And the, Bertha was taken, Bertha Navarro was actually taken 166:00hostage, all right? We get this message spre-all the Americans who were involved spread out, and we were all at different hotels waiting for word, all right? And so finally the word comes, and there was a negotiation that took place. And with this other guy who was our partner at the time, a Mexican guy, Hugo [INAUDIBLE]. And so somehow they knew that I had this 30,000 dollars that my parents had brought down. So there was some pitazo, amongst the crew somehow, to whatever it was, something was, there was some internal thing. Who knows, you know. So they say, “We’ll give you your negative back, but you gotta pay us 30,000 dollars, and you gotta leave the country. You can’t finish shooting the movie.” That was it. So we go, okay. We have to get out. So we have to make this dump, this change, as the Perisur parking lot, which is a big parking, 167:00which is a big shopping mall in Mexico City. At midnight. All right? So we drive in, this Volkswagen, right? We have 30,000 dollars. And we drive into the Perisur parking lot. And suddenly, you know and I’m in the car, and suddenly, these two big like Land Rover type vehicles come in on either side of us. And these guys have got sunglasses and machine guns. Lourdes, at midnight. Sunglasses, machine guns. And they go like, you know, and Hugo’s telling me, “I’m gonna tell them. I’m gonna save you money.” He says, “I’m gonna tell them, they’re gonna ask for it, and I’m gonna say, ‘You take 10,000 dollars.’” You know. And you know, “Take it or leave it. Bas ca chinga tu 168:00madre.” You know. “Chinga tu madre, here’s 10,000.” He’s very, you know, big huevos, you know. He’s gonna tell these guys off. So these guys drive up. We’re here in this little Volkswagen. Sunglasses and machine guns and say, throw the 30,000 dollars into the parking lot, and Hugo goes, “Here it is.” [LAUGH] Whoomp. I, no question, you know, you’re not gonna mess with these guys. They, you know but there’s honor among thieves ‘cause they threw the film cans into the Perisur. They took the money, threw the film cans, they drove off. We got the film cans, and it was the film. They did return it. But then we came back to the United States, and we had a lot of footage to shoot. Because we hadn’t been able to get all the scenes that we wanted to shoot in Mexico. But we decided, come on, you know. You know we just have to regroup and figure out a way to finish the movie when we’re in the United States. With the scenes that we did not shoot in Mexico. GN: But I have to say that all the 169:00people, all the Mexican people that worked on the movie were great, you know. Zaide, David, all the actors. Ernesto Gomez Cruz, who played the father. Alicia del Lago, you know, Bertha. All of the people that worked with us, they loved the movie and they were very supportive. You know, so I don’t really, you know wanna say bad things about Mexico or whatever, I mean this did happen to us. And these things do happen. But it’s not that the people of Mexico aren’t like this, you know, it’s like, they have corrupt governments down there who do, in, politically tough things sometimes, we know this. But Mexico is the most beautiful country in the world, I love Mexico, I love Mexican people, and I love shooting in Mexico. I’ve shot many films and TV shows in Mexico since then. ...films and TV shows in Mexico since then and had nothing but the most marvelous experiences. They have the greatest crews in the world, the hardest working. I love Mexico and I love shooting in Mexico, the locations, the people. They give you more than anybody in the world, all the heart. And I adore it. So 170:00I don't want this story to be mistaken like I'm saying [LAUGH], you know, bad things about that country because I love the country and I love the people and the film community there and the film crews are just, I would rather work there, despite this experience, I would rather work in Mexico than anywhere else. And as a matter of fact, these projects that we're planning right now, we're planning on shooting in Mexico 'cause I love it. This was a very special circumstance because we were doing something that was very politically hot at a very tricky time because there were the civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador and they were worried about these civil wars spreading to Mexico. And these were very hot images. It was very controversial. I always do that in my films. I always make very challenging films. You know, like Bordertown, everything. And sometimes it comes out okay and sometimes it doesn't. You know, sometimes you get, I've always had this issue where I get burned very often because of the content of what I'm saying. And we talk about the American Family TV show where 171:00we dealt with the War with Iraq. There I got hit with by the Bush government, not just the Mexican government. I got slammed by the Bush government heavily on the American Family TV show because we were doing the War in Iraq and not painting a positive picture of that. And PBS is partly governmental and we were really criticizing the government with what they saw was government funded money. And so, you know, I always push controversial subject matter and I've always gotten, when you do that you do get into trouble. And El Norte is a film that is very controversial. And the content of it and the images that it shows. It's not a political film. I don't believe, I didn't want to make the movie political. I wanted to make it only what Rosa and Enrique would know from their perspective. But these images, I mean you show the army gunning down Mayan Indians, right, Mayan people, that's a heavy image to put on the screen from Latin America. And a lot of people don't want that to be seen and they didn't 172:00want that to be seen. And they also just thought we were some dopey, independent American filmmakers. They didn't think we were anybody important. We weren't a studio film or anything like that. They thought they'd killed the movie, right. So we got back to the United States and, you know, we had been filming this, we'd been preparing the rat tunnel, which as I told you before was really, really important because this is our, you know, fear moment to be as strong as a Hitccockian moment in the middle of the movie so that by the time, you know, you, they, the movie starts and you've got these people in huipils [PH] and they're totally different than you and you get to know them more and more and more and then by the time they go into that tunnel and they're attacked by those rats, suddenly you become one with them. Because everybody's got that primal fear. And when they emerge from that tunnel, now you're seeing the world from their eyes. This is what happens with the film. Suddenly you become them. And now you're gonna be seeing your own culture from their perspective, you know, [LAUGH] the washing machines and all of this stuff. And it became a very 173:00powerful statement for people to go through because suddenly they were seeing their world from the eyes of somebody else that they had bonded with. And the rat scene was very important. And so that set had been built and the rats had been trained while we were in Mexico and so we were working on shooting that. And my God, we were five nights in that tunnel with hundreds of rats, you know, and Zaide had a rat phobia. I mean that was, shooting that scene was incredible. But we're trying to figure out how are we gonna get these scenes that we did not get. And we had a wonderful production designer, he wasn't in Mexico but he did the production design in the United States. That's Dave Wasco and I'm sure he must be an Academy nominee or, because he did Pulp Fiction and many famous films since El Norte. He built a little set on a movie ranch which matched the village that we shot in Guatemala right? 'Cause all the vehicle scenes and stuff we 174:00couldn't shoot in Chiapas and we were gonna shoot them in Morelos then we couldn't shoot them there either. So he shot, he built this little set and we used the Kanjobals as extras. So there are actually scenes in El Norte with real refugees from Guatemala, indigenous people in this, in the film, intercut with the stuff that we shot in Chiapas. And the scene where the people get thrown in the back of the truck and they're reciting the Our Father in Q'anjob'al, that scene is with real refugees from Guatemala and that's one of the reasons why it's so moving because they're in a truck with army guys and all of them had been there in their real life and when they were praying it was like very powerful and very emotional.
GN: So we finished those scenes with the incredible brilliance of Dave Wasco and175:00using real Mayan people from Guatemala to fill them in. And they intercut seamlessly. You know, you can't tell where one begins and the other ends, you know. So now we have finished the film. Oh, by the way, Zaide and David, they were illegal in the United States working on the film, you know. We were not able to [LAUGH] SAG, you know, we couldn't do it with SAG or with the Mexican Union, you know, because it's like, everything we were trying to do was outlaw. It was not, you know, you do it according to the rules you don't make El Norte, right? Because everything is against the rules. So finally we had to say, "Hey we can't get, just come in. Just get a Visa, a tourist Visa and we're gonna shoot." So they were undocumented while we were making El Norte in the United States. And we shot the scene, the INS at that time, had an open policy and they 176:00were saying like, "Oh we're gonna help you." I gave 'em the script and they said, "Okay. We'll help you." So the INS helped us make the movie 'cause they were trying to have a better profile at that time. And they asked me to make one change which was, I have the original guys have gun drawns [PH] when they pick up Rosa and Enrique crossing the border. They said they wouldn't do that. So I just had 'em not, had 'em holster their gun and they, the helicopter is the real INS helicopter. We used it for free. Real INS vans. And the interrogation scene, the famous interrogation scene that's in three languages, Spanish, English and Q'eqchi-Maya was shot in the real INS office where their interrogations really took place. And when we shot the scene, Zaide and David were terrified because they were going to the INS office and they were illegal. [LAUGH] And they shot this scene, we shot it in there and nobody asked to see their papers in the 177:00[LAUGH] INS office. Very funny. You know, that scene is, I want to make a comment about that scene because it's very important to me, you know, I don't believe in bilingual. You know, Spanish and English. There's all this bilingual, bilingual, bilingual. I don't believe in that because Spanish is also a language from Europe as is English. I want to see America in my films. When I say America, when I say America I mean America, right? I'm talking about the Popol Vuh the Chilam Balam, we talk about Ollin. These, that to me is what America is. Not apple pie and, you know, hot dogs. That's not America. America is what is unique about America. And European customs and languages, they're great. But that's not America. So I always want to hear an indigenous language in all my 178:00films. So it was very important to me, El Norte is a trilingual film. It's a trilingual story. It starts they're speaking Q'eqchi-Maya. They speak Spanish and eventually they learn English. And I wanted them to speak Q'eqchi-Maya. This is the first major film in which you had extensive use of indigenous language, not Dances with Wolves, it was El Norte. When they're speaking Mayan, you know, Q'eqchi-Maya. And finally we have the famous scene where they start speaking in Mayan when the [LAUGH] INS guys are interrogating them and they are making their plan about how they're gonna trick 'em and of course the INS guy speaks Spanish [LAUGH] but they can't understand what these guys are saying, right? And everybody loves that scene. But it's a scene that was told to me by the Kanjobals. That's what they would do. When they were in detention they'd start speaking to each other in their Mayan language and they knew nobody would understand them and they could then say, "Yeah, we'll say this. We'll lie. We'll say dah, dah, dah." And I thought, oh, this is great. So I did this scene in 179:00the film. And it became humorous, it's a, one of the funniest scenes in the movie. And I wanted the movie to have humor. And the Mayan people were very adamant to me that El Norte be humorous as well as tragic. Because to them humor was very important and they have a very funny sense of humor, all Mayan people do. And they that's, they told me this is supremely important to us because it is with our sense of humor that we survive. without it we would not survive. And so humor, to the Mayan people, is a life and death thing. And they wanted me to make sure that the movie El Norte also had humor. And, of course, there's some very funny scenes in the movie, and that is one of them, that comes out of their culture and out of their journey. So all my films, you know, you hear the Purepecha language in Mi Familia. You hear the Mixtec language in Bordertown. I feel very strongly about always having indigenous language, the language of 180:00America, languages of America to balance off all of our perceptions of, you know, the colonization and of the cultures and of the people. So that's a very important thing. So they were on, GN: Anyway, we finish shooting the movie and we gotta, you know, edit it and it's crazy and I mainly edited the movie on a Moviola, you know. And Betsy Blankett came at the end and I gave her full credit but, you know, most of it had been edited by me and she, you know, did her thing on the overall, trimming and editing the last few scenes of the film. And we brought these people together and had innumerable problems trying to get the sound and it was down to the wire. Now Tom Luddy, who had known about me because of Confessions of Amans and The Haunting of M. and was a great guy and I love 181:00Tom. He's another one of these incredibly great collaborators who's been very important to me in my career. He says, "Let me see the movie." Calls me up. So he comes down to San, he comes down to Los Angeles and we show them El Norte and he goes, "I love this movie. It's great. And I want to show it at the Telluride Film Festival." Well at that time there was no Sundance, right? Nothing. There was Telluride. You know, that's, was the one that everybody went to. And I said, "Great. We'd love to show it to you." He has Bill Pence look at it. He loves it. So they give us a date to show it at the Telluride Film Festival. Now we have this whole big incredible insane thing trying to get the film ready for the Telluride Film Festival because you have to remember, El Norte was made for television. It was made for, I didn't make it like a TV movie. I made it like a movie. But it was made for American Playhouse. And this is September. Telluride Film Festival's in September. The movie was supposed to show that November on 182:00TV, right? I want it to be released in theaters, you know, but of course that's a pipe dream. But if we have any chance of that, it's gotta make a big splash at Telluride Film Festival. So, you know, I'm working day and night and Irwin Young is keeping, you know, the DuArt lab open 24 hours to get the print out and everything. So finally I land in Telluride on Saturday morning with a print dripping from the, [LAUGH] you know, from the lab and it's scheduled to show the next day on Sunday. And of course, you know, we're up on the hill and Annette Insdorf's giving some thing and it goes over and I'm thinking nobody's gonna get down the mountain to see the, ah, you know. All these horrible worries that a filmmaker has. And the film shows at the Opera House in Telluride. And I mean the reaction to that movie was unbelievable. Off the charts. I mean standing 183:00ovation, people went crazy. And when you leave the theater in Telluride, you have to go down this staircase. And I left the theater and the staircase was crowded with people. All wanting to touch me. To take my photograph, to have my photograph taken with them. You know, it was just this, you know, film and, you know, because of all these issues we had with the thieving and all these different things and the, having to give the money to these guys in [INAUDIBLE] we'd gone over budget. And Anna and I had our, we had to like, we'd have lost our house. We had everything personally put into that in addition to the monies that American Playhouse had, you know? We had everything, we put everything on the line for that movie, everything. And what blind faith, you know? And then we 184:00had this tumultuous reception for this film, you know. And suddenly there we are on top of the world and everybody's going crazy. And all you hear, "We gotta see it. We gotta see it. We gotta see it. Everybody has to see this movie." And every distributor is bidding on the movie. They want to release it. So we have to go to Lindsay Law and we say, "Will PBS hold showing El Norte for a year to allow the film to be released theatrically?" And Lindsay Law talks to the people at PBS and they say, "You know what, if we put this movie on in November starring Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando nobody is going to watch it. That's got no ratings. But based on the reception that we, and the reviews that were coming out of the movie were just ecstatic, this is gonna make a big impact. And when we show it on PBS everybody's gonna want to watch it." So they 185:00delayed, it was done very quickly.
GN: They delayed the screening of El Norte for a year to allow it to betheatrically released. Of course Roger Ebert was a huge supporter and then Gene loved it. And this is a sad thing that independent filmmakers don't have nowadays. You know, they had that sneak previews at the movies show. It shows on Sunday. They say, "This is the greatest thing you'll ever see." They show these incredible images of the Mayans and the, you know, the crosses and by Monday everybody wanted to see El Norte, in the whole United States. The lines at the theater, I mean unbelievable. Right? I, when I was driving up here I saw The Music Hall Theater and in the those days The Music Hall was just one theater. It wasn't a bunch of little theaters. That's where El Norte opened in Los Angeles, it was at The Music Hall. And it played in that theater for a year. In that one theater. And it was sold out every night. You know, everybody wanted to see El 186:00Norte. And then this unbelievable thing happens. It's just like, out of a dream, okay? Because El Norte opened in New York in January. It opened in LA in March, beginning of the year type of thing, okay. I'm at my house, which we get to keep now because we sold it for a [LAUGH] good amount of money. Got an advance, you know, paid off, you know, the loan that would have been foreclosed on to keep our home. And I was out gardening, you know, in the morning, you know, working on the beds and, Anna, you know, was cooking something, you know, preparing something. And so then we get this phone call [MAKES NOISE]. You know, it's like what is this? You know? It's Doug Edwards. Doug Edwards is an old friend of ours and he used to work at the Academy here doing the screenings, special screenings. I don't know if you met him. But, anyway, and Doug says, "Hey, you've just been nominated for an Oscar." "Nominated for an Academy Award? What 187:00do you mean?" There was no Oscar campaign for El Norte. They didn't send out screeners, they, nothing. And it had been released in January, right? That's death for, I mean no one thought of that. Independent movie? No. "You've just been nominated for the screenplay." That screenplay that nobody wanted. That had everything wrong about it, right. That was a great script, really. Anna and I just looked at each other, it's like, what? How could this happen? I mean it was just the Academy. And, you know, people criticize the Academy but I want to say something positive about the Academy because this changed my life and there wasn't, you know, there was no move for diversity at the time or any of this 188:00kind of thing. Out of the blue the writers' branch had nominated this film for best screenplay just based on having seen it and thoughting [PH], thinking it was great. No campaign, no nothing. The distributor, nobody had a thought. And at that time, it was the very first independent film to be nominated for an Oscar. That started a whole movement of independent films being nominated for an Oscar because at that time it was only studio films that got nominated for Oscars. It started a whole thing, you know. And El Norte, was the first big hit for the independent film movement in theaters. And it was a Latino film, [LAUGH] you know. I'm very proud of that. Yeah. And there it was. You know, we got this nomination and it was, I love the Academy because of that. That they would do that. And that they would just do it based on merit and based on how good it was. So then the time comes to go to the Oscars, which were at the Dorothy 189:00Chandler Pavilion at the time, and both Anna and I were nominated so we each had a guest to bring. So we brought Zaide and David, who starred in the movie, to be our guests and they went to the Oscars with us. And, you know, we went and of course we didn't expect to win and we didn't win. But it was such an unbelievable thing, it was a bigger win for us just for that movie to be nominated because every other movie that was nominated you expected to be nominated. Nobody expected El Norte to be nominated. GN: So we had a most marvelous time. And we went to the Governor's dinner, ball afterwards, all right. And we're sitting there with Zaide and David and I forgot exactly, Beverly, I forgot exactly where it was. I, maybe it was the Beverly Hilton, I don't remember. And it was fabulous and everybody's there. I mean, you know, 190:00David Lean and I met David Lean and I just, it, all the great stars and everybody. And so all the help are from Mexico and Guatemala and Central America, right? They're all Latino, undocumented or, you know, recently documented but they're all Latinos, all of them, serving the tables and pouring the champagne and bringing the food and stuff. So this guy comes to our table and he's pouring the champagne and he goes, "You're the stars of El Norte." He recognized Zaide and David 'cause he'd seen the movie, right. You know, and that was the line in Beverly Hills, you know, 'cause The Music Hall. Says, "El Norte's a great movie but you may see your gardener in line," you know. [LAUGH] All the Latinos went to see El Norte. That's one of the reasons it was such a huge hit, you know. And he saw them and he went nuts because here were the two 191:00stars of El Norte. So word got out amongst all the help and throughout the whole dinner everybody's coming over. They want to have their picture taken with Zaide and David. They want Zaide and David's autograph. They bring us champagne, they bring us caviar, they bring us everything. We had the best table in the whole dinner. Not Steven Spielberg, not Harrison Ford, they didn't care about them. They cared about Zaide and David. And finally somebody's over here is going like, "Who's at your table? I want to sit at your table." [LAUGH] We had extra bottles of champagne. It was the most fantastic experience because everybody in the kitchen and all the servers, to them, that we were there and that El Norte was there meant the world to them because that meant they were there. That they weren't just shadow anymore, serving and nobody noticing them. They suddenly had a presence, this movie and we were there and they were there. And it was a 192:00beautiful moment because what we set out to do was to give a heart and soul to the shadows and people felt it. They felt that they had a heart and soul that night. And that I was very, very proud of that. And another thing that I was very proud of and this shows how industrious and how smart indigenous people are, the Kanjobals, because of the success of El Norte, they applied for refugee status, [LAUGH] you know? [INT: I believe you.] And they got it. Because of the success of that film. Because nobody knew anything about their plight, about Mayan people. And because of the success of El Norte and how everybody had seen El Norte and they suddenly got, wow, Mayan people are being killed, right? This is a genocide. The government gave Mayan people refugee status because of El 193:00Norte. And as a result of that, thousands and thousands of lives were saved because of that movie. And I was talking about the two things I'm most proud of personally, bringing my father to meet the President and professionally the effect that El Norte had on, you know, saving all of these lives. That you can make a movie that can do this, can do something like, and also Simpson-Mazzoli was being discussed right about that time and one of the reasons that Simpson-Mazzoli passed, which got two and a half million people their citizenship, was because of the popularity of El Norte. And it did change the world. And you can with a movie and with these powerful images. All that crazy stuff that I was talking about, you know, moons and butterflies, you know, 194:00filling the room with butterflies and all these imagery that I brought from the Popol Vuh, and all these ideas, you know, when I was just sitting around writing these things, they came together and they worked and they made the impact I wanted them to make and they gave that voice and they gave that heart and soul and they changed the world. And I'm very proud of all the lives, more than the fact that it made money, more than the fact that I became a famous filmmaker or got an Oscar nomination was the fact that it saved so many people's lives and I'm very proud of that. [INT: Thank you.] So now...
GN: You know, Anna and I had sacrificed a tremendous amount and took tremendousrisks to do El Norte, and against all odds, against you know, everything and we've spoken a lot about it, it turned into this huge success. Tremendous success, outside of anybody's imagination and really nothing like it had ever happened before. I mean, nobody had made a movie like that about two Mayan teenagers that was suddenly had lines around the block, 'cause I have these 195:00photographs. There are lines around the block in New York, lines around the block at the Music Hall Theater. You know, people, it was just packed. And the Oscar nominee, all of these things. I'll tell you something amazing. El Norte opened in New York, in January of 1984. And I believe that was January 10th. On January 12th, my first child was born. Anna and I had our baby, Christopher, in the same week. You know, one day apart. The movie opens, and is tremendous success, [MAKES NOISE] she goes into labor the next day, and the baby's born. And the opening of El Norte and the birth of Christopher, those two days, okay? They changed every single aspect of my life completely, 100 percent, totally in 196:00every way. And ever since then my life has been unrecognizable. I don't even, I can't even remember what it was like before [LAUGHS] those two days. That's how drastically every aspect of our life was changed. And so you know, the movie went to Cannes, and we got this big deal with Warner Brothers to do a new film, which was A Time of Destiny, we were writing the script for that. We took our new baby, we went to the South of France, we wrote the script to A Time of Destiny and then we, after a couple of months we came back to Hollywood to turn this into the studio. And I just want to speak a little bit more, because we've talked a lot about Anna but I haven't really spoken about her specifically. You know, she was such an important partner and collaborator, but it was much more than just, we wrote scripts together, and she produced these films. It wasn't like a typical collaboration, I mean we were married, we had a baby together. It 197:00was, I mean when you talk about doing things like making the decision to quit your work and [MAKES NOISE] dedicate yourself to making El Norte, those are big choices to make. And you need someone who is really strong, really brilliant, and you know, is willing to take risks like that. We did that together. We made those choices together. When we put the house up essentially because we had gone over budget with the issues that happened in El Norte when our negative was taken, those are huge things to do. And fearlessly, Anna did them without question, to move forward, and you know, you want, you need to be together into doing these things. And so she was very strong, and she was a great producer. Anna's the kind of person who everything she does, she's really good at. She writes a cookbook when she's a student at UCLA, it sells millions of copies. 198:00She's won two James Beard awards for her cookbooks, you know? You know, she doesn't particularly want to be a producer, but she did it because she felt she needed to to protect the material, she's a tremendous producer. She did a superb job, faced off with these guys with guns at you know, El Norte, and did an amazing job producing A Time of Destiny. So she was a very important collaborator and as I said, you know, we have since separated and but we still remain friends and I hired her for American Family TV show, etcetera. But you know, she's a very brilliant, talented woman and I do want to acknowledge her and that collaboration was very important. So we [CLEARS THROAT] turn the script in and you know, we're casting this movie and we're location scouting in Italy. And we find all these locations and [MAKES NOISE], and then you know, the typical thing, "There's a regime change at Warner Brothers," and suddenly, you 199:00know, we're out. And now we have to scramble and find a way to make this film independently. Which we do do. And our, the people we collaborate, Shep Gordon and Carolyn Pfeiffer helped us out with that, and we found the movie the independent money to make it.
GN: But now suddenly we don't have the kind of budget that we had with WarnerBrothers. We now have to go to Yugoslavia. You know, I mean shooting in Yugoslavia, I mean this is unreal. I mean it's a nightmare. And this is where I say, you know, Anna did such a marvelous job producing, because the film looks tremendous, you wouldn't know the difficulties and the strain. We had to ship nails in from the United States. Nails! For the set, they didn't have nails in this communist country, right? Gaffers tape, they didn't have gaffers, I mean things like this. You know, craziness, the strain on the crew, on everybody, and the actors, right? Because we had this cast, William Hurt and Timothy Hutton and 200:00Melissa Leo. You know, I always get a tremendous amount of credit for the people I discover. Like most famously, Jennifer Lopez, which I gave her her first job which was on the film Mi Familia, she played the young mother who gets deported in the beginning of Mi Familia, and I get a tremendous amount of kudos for that, Michael Peña, many, you know, María Canals, Constance Marie, many Latino talent. I always say it's very easy to find Latino talent, because [LAUGHS] they never get an opportunity, you know. You go look and there's tons of wonderful actors who haven't had a chance. But another actress, you know, that I actually discovered and gave her first big role to was Melissa Leo, who played the lead in A Time of Destiny, and she was beautiful and such an incredibly talented actress and the beautiful red hair, gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous, and of course, you know, unfortunately the film was not a success and so her career did not blossom until later in life. But one of the wonderful things about seeing A 201:00Time of Destiny is to see a young Melissa Leo, and you could see what an incredible career she could've had as a young actress, because she was so beautiful. And of course as we all know, she's an Oscar winner, brilliantly talented, and she was brilliantly talented as a young actress as well. So we had this cast and it was a tremendous strain on the set. And the shoot did not go well. It was, there were a lot of clashes on the set, lot of personality problems on the set. And the shoot did not go well, and then the film didn't turn out well, and it was not a success at the box office. And it got caught up with all this politics in Hollywood, you know, because David Puttnam eventually picked it up and then you know, he got you know, fired and this film got caught up in all that unfairly I think. But it did, and it was just everything that 202:00happened didn't work. All right? So when I think about it, you know, one of the things that you have to deal with as a director, is you have great successes, you're going to have things that don't work. I mean this is part of the business. Not everything is going to be a tremendous success you know, like El Norte. But I do not believe in failure. I don't believe in that. Right? Even if a film is not a success, even if a film doesn't work, you can gain something out of it. You follow? And you don't have to make it a failure, that doesn't exist for me. So when I look back on the film, I think about the things that I got from it, right? I mean the production designer was Henry Bumstead, I think I 203:00learned everything about production design from Henry Bumstead. Here we were in Yugoslavia working under the most impossible conditions, this guy delivered stuff that you cannot believe. He never lost his cool, he was always together. He taught me what you need to do to pull something off, difficult period like this. He'd go out on a location, we'd be location scouting, he'd pace everything off. By the time we got back, he'd have schematics of how big each plaza was, feet by feet, all drawn out. You know, I've never seen anybody do anything like that. And where you could put the camera and how you could do it, and he had everything figured out. On top of it. And brilliant, and you know, how colors work with skin, so that they would have the most pop on the screen. I mean he knew, that guy knew, he forgot more than any other production designer will ever know. And he loved me, I loved him, and everything I've done production design 204:00wise and every film I've ever made, you know. So much of it, almost all of it comes from what I learned from Henry Bumstead on A Time of Destiny, all right? You know, he knew, he says, "Don't do this, that makes a skimpy scene. Nobody likes a skimpy scene, that's the worst thing you can have in a movie." I remember him saying that, "Never have a skimpy scene." You know? I always carry his voice with me whenever I'm looking at how to do a film. GN: And the other, another person I worked with who was so unbelievably brilliant because he loved the script and he loved me, and he wanted to do the movie really badly was the composer, Ennio Morricone. I mean, this is the greatest composer I think ever in the history of cinema, and he loved this piece, he wrote a beautiful score for it. And you know, we recorded it in Rome, so I got to like live in Rome for a month with Ennio Morricone recording the score for A Time of Destiny. And I'll 205:00tell you a story about Ennio. The very first day that we had our first recording session, we're recording you know, and they're three hour sessions. We had two of them. So at the end of the first three hour session, we took a break, it was the afternoon. Everyone goes out to get a coffee at a bar. So the musicians are there, Ennio Morricone is there, I'm there. I order a cappuccino. I order this cappuccino, Ennio Morricone he looks at me, he goes, "[MAKES NOISE] Gregory, Gregory, Gregory, no, no, no, no, no, [NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE] [MAKES NOISE]." I was like, "My God," he had a conniption fit right there in the bar. Screaming at me red-faced, because I had ordered a cappuccino in the afternoon. In Italy, you do not have a cappuccino after 10 o'clock, maybe 11, that's it. In the afternoon 206:00you have an espresso. He finally calms down, you know, I'm going, "I'm sorry," you know? "Get this cappuccino away from me." But he loved me, and he thought I was a great man, and so he realized that I needed to be educated, all right? So from that day on the whole time I was there, every lunch, every dinner, he would take me out to restaurants and teach me every single [TRAILS OFF]. He's a big foodie, Ennio Morricone, every single thing about Italian food. You know, the right [roquette?] you know, arugula to have with ensalada de roquette. How to dress an ensalada de roquette properly. I do this to this day. And I make my arugula salads just like Ennio taught me. Every time I have a dinner party I serve my arugula salad, people go out of their minds, and they go like, "This is the best I've ever had." Of course, I learned from Ennio Morricone. You know, how to make the right spaghetti alla carbonara, which really should be rigatoni 207:00alla carbonara. How to have vongole veraci, you know, the right kind of clams with your linguine alle vongole. He went through everything with me, it was glorious. We were eating at the best restaurants in Rome, I was learning everything about Italian cuisine from Ennio Morricone, and we would talk about movies and music and how music worked with movies. And here I am, you know, munching on the greatest carbonara you'd ever had in your life with the greatest, you know, porcini mushrooms and grilled porcini mushrooms and everything. And he's telling me all about how music works with movies, you know? And I'm spellbound. I've carried all of his teachings into how I do the music for my films, because he was so brilliant. He goes, "[SINGS MELODY]," you know, Deborah's Theme from Once Upon a Time in America, and he says, "You see, that's 208:00it. [SINGS MELODY] The emotion is in that note. That's where the emotion is. [SINGS MELODY] That's what hits people, that unresolved chromatic note just before the thing [resolves?] itself. And that's where you have to put when you compose a thing and put the emphasis." And when he would play it, you'd see with his band, and they would play it, and he was right. You know? The note. He would always have this thing, in any theme. The note that pulls the emotion out. And he's right about that, and that's whenever I work with composers since then, and we work on these themes, I always search for that. Or redirect the theme, so 209:00that I get that, the Morricone note. You know, that and so many things that I learned from Ennio, is one of the most glorious and memorable experiences of my life. And I really matured as a filmmaker through this experience. Working with people like [Bummy?] and working with people like Ennio. And even though I had a terrible... not a good relationship with William Hurt, and we were in conflict, we did not get along. I learned a lot from him too. GN: Again, it's this thing of, I'm not going to blame anybody, I'm not going to take, you know, accept failure, I'm not going to accept it so I'm going to see what is there in this? Now, subsequently you know, I've talked to Bill and we've made amends to each other about the fact that we had conflict on the set. But that happens in movies. Everybody has this, this does happen. You know, I can't change him, I 210:00can't change Yugoslavia, but I can look within myself to see what I can change to be a better director, all right? And I realized that I could not... I did not understand really what he was doing, he's such a great actor. I did not speak a language that he could understand, and this, you know, you can say at this point, "Well, it wasn't my fault," and that's what people said. "It's not your fault, just move on." That's what my agent said. "Move on." Right? Remember, Jeff Berg. I said, you know, "Jeff, you know, all these bad reviews, the movie's a failure, you know, everything's falling on my head." My agent goes, "Wear a helmet." [LAUGHS] I'll never forget that. "Wear a helmet." But move on, just move on. You can say that, you can say, "Well, just move on." Or blame other people. I blame everybody. Or you can say, "What can I do?" There was a hole here that I needed to fill, and I discussed it and I spoke to people and one of 211:00the people I spoke to was Sydney Pollack. And I have to thank Sundance for this because I met him at Sundance, but I kept that relationship up and he was a great man and he was a wonderful friend. And I spoke to him and he says, "You need, here's what I think you should do. You should study with Sandy Meisner." You know, Sandy Meisner was one of the great acting coaches of all time, one of the three great method coaches, along with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler and Sandy Meisner. But Sandy Meisner's method has become, you know, the most important nowadays, it's all you hear, Meisner, Meisner, Meisner technique. He has eclipsed Strasberg and Stella Adler as the most prevailing, you know, technique. And you know, Sydney wrote a letter to Sandy and asked him to take me on. And Sandy goes, "I don't take directors, I only do actors." And Sandy was like a zen master, you know, you asked to study with him and they go, "No." So I 212:00had to go through a whole big rigamarole, but finally he let me audit and then eventually study. Study with him. And I stuck with it, you know? He would always say, "There's no shortcuts. It takes two years to make an actor." And he's right. There's no shortcuts in anything, there's no shortcuts in screenplay writing, anything you do. There's only one way, the long way. And I stuck with it, and I studied with him for three years, and I would have to say it was one of the most important experiences of my life as an artist, as a filmmaker, as a director, as a person. I became very close friends to him, he really became a mentor to me, and this relationship was incredibly important. And it was out of that experience of studying with Sandy Meisner that Mi Familia, Selena, you know, American Family, all the other projects kind of flow from that 213:00extraordinary experience.
GN: And I studied with Sandy Meisner for like three years. I didn't just go acouple of weekends, you know. Because Sandy would say, you know, he had this thing with his throat, you know, where he had his larynx removed so he would, you know, have a mike and he'd take air in he'd go [MAKES NOISE], "It takes two years to become an actor, you know. There's no shortcuts." He's right. There's no shortcuts to becoming an actor, to becoming a, people, you know, they take some weekend seminar for screenwriting. I hate those things. Because it's like, and then they have all these goofy ideas, you know, these young executives 'cause they took some, had nothing to do with, takes years to become a writer. Takes years to become and there's no shortcuts in this business. Sandy, so I said, "Okay." And I made the commitment to stick with it for years. Every week, twice a week I'd go and study with Sandy. Became very close friends with him. And he's a real mentor to me and someone who became very, very important. I also 214:00studied with Stella Adler, you know. But Sandy was the most important. And I learned, man, did I learn. Backwards and forwards the whole history, the development of the method, the Stanislavsky, everything, you know. And there was nothing. And I learned everything. And I talked to Sandy about all of these issues and he talked to me privately. And he would then also do one on one sessions with me because he really took an interest in helping me, you know. And then eventually we did a workshop together, me and Sandy and I acted. I actually became an actor and I was in a scene directed by Sandy Meisner, right. I really went for it big time. I wanted to learn this tremendously. And we talk about mentors, to me Sandy was a very, very important force. And I would not have done that if it had not been for the failure of A Time of Destiny. Because I knew there was something in my character, in my makeup as a director that was missing and I needed to fill it. And Sandy, man did he fill it. He was so funny, you 215:00know. The first time I did a scene, I directed a scene and he looked at the scene. And after the scene he turns to me and he goes [MAKES NOISE], "Did you go to college?" And I said, "Yes, Sandy. I did." He goes, [MAKES NOISE] "What college did you go to?" I said, "UCLA." He goes [MAKES NOISE], " Can you get your money back?" [LAUGH] [INT: That's evil.] Isn't that great. [INT: I love it.] But I love that, you know. I mean he was right, you know. It's like you're too up here. You know, when it comes to acting problems, it comes to acting situations, when you're directing an actor, forget the psychology, forget the philosophy, forget the Popol Vuh. Forget all that stuff. It's always some fundamental, basic simple thing. And nobody thinks simply enough for these actor 216:00problems. And you talk too much. You know, you get the impression that I talk a lot, and I do, but not when I'm directing. Little, less, be stupid, right. He taught me all that stuff and don't be result oriented, you know. And get simple, simple. Look low. Look really low for where the problem is. And that's, you see, with Hurt I didn't do that. I was like up here. And then it only makes it worse. You gotta get down, down, down. And the whole Meisner is simpler than simple. You know, he gets simpler than Stella Adler, simpler than Lee Strasberg. And then even simpler yet. Because it's always real basic stuff, to stuff that everybody thinks they're taking for granted. But he is right. The problems are always right down in that simple place where everybody, all the actors and everybody's taking for granted. And suddenly you are taking less for granted. You're less result oriented than the actors are and suddenly it's like they 217:00respect you. And the minute you, they know that you know when they're bullshitting and they're not real, okay, they start to respect you. And you gotta just be honest, you know. And Sandy said, and I say this, you know, he goes, "People say, there's a lot of people around town who are teaching the Meisner Technique." And he says, "Well I got news for them. There is no Meisner Technique. And anyone who says there is is an idiot. I just see the actor, no the human being in front of me. I see what they need and what they don't need. And it's never the same way twice because no two people are alike." He gave me back... [INT: That's great.] ...my intuition. He gave that back to me. And now with strength, with a foundation so that I would never distrust it again. With a 218:00language, with a technique, with a method, with a way of dealing with it that was deeply rooted and that would always serve me. He gave that back to me and so I love Sandy for that. And he's very important in my world. GN: And so then, when I went to do Mi Familia, okay, so much of what goes on in Mi Familia comes out of that experience. I'll give you an example because it's a marvelous scene in Mi Familia. Okay. Jimmy, played by Jimmy Smits, has just come back from prison and he's like hanging around fixing lights and watching wrestling on TV, you know. Toni used to be a nun, she's now become a political activist. She's got this undocumented, right, played by Elpidia Carrillo, Isabel, who's likely to be shipped back. She's gotta marry a citizen to stay in this country, you know. One of the things, talking about being controversial, that I got a lot of flak for in El Norte was when I had the Chicano turn Enrique in. You remember 219:00that. And I said, people go like, "Why did you do that?" And I said, "Well because it's real and that's what really happens." And they go, "Yeah but you don't have to show it." And I go, "No, we do have to show it. We have to show it." I believe in that. I don't believe in making us perfect people. That's bullshit. We have to do it just like anybody does. I'm not gonna, when I write and when I make a movie, forget about the stereotypes. Forget about all that crap, right, being politically correct or something. No. I'm gonna do this drama like Shakespeare did his dramas. Like Kurosawa does his. I'm not trying to make Latinos better than they are or worse than they are, just as we are. Warts and all. We got nothing to hide. And I think that if you tell the truth people believe you. You see people watched El Norte and even if they weren't Latino they believed that movie. And one of the reasons they believed that movie is because they knew they weren't getting a line of bullshit. When I showed that Chicano call the INS and turn Enrique in so he can get his job, you see that scene, which is true and it happens every day, right. You gotta challenge your 220:00own community but people watch that movie and they go this guy's telling me the truth. They believe the good stuff then because they know you're not bullshitting them, right? And El Norte had that quality. And all my films do. I always challenge my own community as well and I always try to tell the truth, okay. But people said, "Hey, Chicanos do help undocumented as well as turn them in." I said, "That's true. But let me make another movie. " [LAUGH] So in Mi Familia, Toni helps Isabel, [LAUGH] right? And her husband, who's an ex-priest, a nun and a priest, [MAKES NOISE] doing it, [MAKES NOISE] you know, Lupe Ontiveros, "A nun and a priest, [MAKES NOISE] doing it." Anyway, so she's got a, she decides she's gonna convince her brother to marry [LAUGH] this woman, right. And he's sitting there, obviously in the way, you know, watching TV and she comes in and she's telling him about this woman that's gonna be deported and blah, blah, blah. Okay. So what is the scene, all right. Let's get really 221:00simple. Scene is really simple. Somebody is trying to convince somebody else to do something they don't want to do. Basic. That's how you gotta do the scene. Forget the politics and the culture and the Chicano and the whatever. It's universal. Somebody's trying to convince somebody to do something they don't want to do.
GN: So I'm working with two marvelous actors, Jimmy Smits and Constance Marie,fantastic actors, wonderful. And so they're doing the scene and then going like, "Okay," so he says, "I'll do it." I said, "Jimmy, why are you saying that?" "Well 'cause it's written in the script." I said, "Are you convinced to marry this girl?" "No." "Well then don't tell her that you'll do it." And he goes, "Well what do you mean? It's in the script." I said, "I don't care what's in the script. Forget the script. I don't want you to say you'll marry this girl until 222:00she convinces you to do it. Period. That's the scene. If she doesn't convince you there's no scene. It's just bullshit if it's written in the script. It's just parroting words. Two people having text with each other. I don't want that. I want the real deal. I want her to really convince you. Really. And if you're not convinced, don't do it." They go, "Oh my God." [LAUGH] You know, right? You talk about getting simple and undercutting... [INT: That's right.] ...the whole thing, then suddenly, you know, the actors are going like, okay. Well then she comes in [MAKES NOISE]. So then he starts like, not wanting, you know, 'cause originally it was written that they're in the living room talking. He starts to leave the living room to get away from her 'cause he doesn't like it, right. Hanging the light, she starts pursuing him. He starts going all over the house, [LAUGH] right, to try to get away from her. Moving physically, right. So pretty soon he goes into the bathroom. [LAUGH] I kept encouraging him to go more and more. He starts taking a whiz. She breaks into the bathroom and he's going, 223:00"Wait a minute. I'm taking a whiz," you know, and all this kind of stuff [LAUGH], right. And now they're moving back. And it just took on all kinds of life, right. 'Cause now he's really trying to not do this and she's really trying to. Well then they go off text, who cares. The scene has life, right. And when she finally, and then at the end he's still not convinced, she goes off text. She goes, "If I was a man, I would do it." [LAUGH] Right? You know, Constance is great for going off, you know, coloring outside the lines. And then that's what nails Jimmy, you know. So they're like, "Greg, you know, we can't do this scene. We're moving all over the house, right? You can't do this." I said, "Don't you worry about how to shoot it. That's my job and the camera job. You just worry about giving this thing life, right. And this is fantastic. This is much better than what was written." You know what was written they're sitting in the living room. Now they're here, they're in there, he's in the bathroom taking a leak, she's breaking in, he's coming out. Ah, it's great. So, you know, I 224:00said, "That's it." So in comes Ed Lachman who was the DP and we're going like, "How are we gonna do this?" And I say, "Well, let's get the Steadicams, get a Steadicam guy." I couldn't afford one so we got, had to get one for that day. And let's do it all in one shot. And just have the Steadicam guy follow 'em throughout the house. I says, "Light the whole house. Let 'em move wherever the hell they want and we'll just follow 'em." Right? In the, you know, in the, we got this great Steadi guy, Kirk, and, Gardner, and I've worked with him on almost all my films. He's brilliant. He comes, this is the first time we ever worked together. It's still his favorite shot that he's ever done. He's done Steadicam for everybody. But he'll always work for me for less because he loves doing these movies and he loved doing this shot. And so, you know, Constance and Jimmy, they start to do this thing and he's following around the hall, to the bathroom, back and the whole thing. We did it all in one take. Six and a half minute take. The whole scene, finished early that day, six and a half pages, in 225:00the can, boom. It's one of the best scenes I've ever done and a perfect illustration of, you know, applying, you know, really following what the story wants and what it needs. Not the script. This whole thing about being married to the word. You know, they always say, Greg Nava the director, no, Greg Nava the writer, hates Greg Nava the director because [LAUGH] I'm always changing the script or letting the actors, you know, change it. I don't believe in ad libbing because then people are in their head thinking about it. No, they're in the text. It's written but if something bursts out of them, right, just naturally, from really doing the scene, then I like that. Like when she said, "If I was a man I would do it." And she didn't think about that that just came out 'cause she was responding to him, see. So, you know, that was marvelous. And I've never had problems with actors since then. Didn't, I've never had problems like I did with Bill Hurt and Timothy Hutton. It's all been... 226:00
INT: So you kind of got over that hurdle of...
GN: ...because I learned, I understood to trust my instincts. I understood howto deal with these issues. I understood what things were causing the problems and how to fix them up front, you follow? [INT: Yes.] Nip in the bud and make your actors trust you because actors will always trust you if they know you have a good bullshit detector. And if you go, ""That's not real. I don't believe that."" I mean the minute I told him, ""Are you convinced?"" and he goes, ""No."" I go, ""Well I don't want it."" The minute you tell him that now he respects you. [INT: That's right.] Because you're not buying bullshit, right. And he's an actor and he knows and most of the time say, ""Yeah, well it's written, just say it and do it."" And they don't respect you for that. And then you don't get anything out of the actor because they don't respect you. But the minute I tell him, ""I don't believe you're convinced. I don't care what's written in the script. I want you to be convinced. I want the real deal. That's what I want."" We talk about the controlled accident. You create an environment 227:00of trust where people feel safe. It's really well structured. And then you allow the spontaneity to happen, the accident to happen. I never tell an actor, ""Do it the way you did it in take three and the second part in take five."" No. Every time is the first time. I remember when I was working with Kate del Castillo on the TV show and we were doing this scene. You know, we'd done about seven or eight takes and she was tired and I went to her and I said, ""Kate, how many times have we done this scene?"" And Kate goes, ""Eight times."" And I said, ""No, we've never done it. This is the first time. [LAUGH] Every time is the first time."" And the minute I said that, I mean that's like the all, the only direction I gave her. She goes, ""Oh."" And then she did it perfect 'cause she'd never done it before. She was being spontaneous. That's what you want. 'Cause in life, you don't rehearse scenes you have with your husband, scenes you have with your wife, with your boss. It's always the first time. " GN: I wanted 228:00to talk about Los Angeles because Los Angeles is one of the great cities of the world, and it has been the subject and part of so many films that I have made. So many of my films are about Los Angeles itself, and of course in El Norte, Rosa and Enrique they come to Los Angeles from Guatemala to work as undocumented workers here in this city that is pervaded by shadows. But the film that I made that really for me as the quintessential film about Los Angeles and the Latino experience in Los Angeles was the film, Mi Familia, My Family, in which I was very inspired by Ozu and Tokyo Story. I wanted to make a film in which the family and the city become one, and they grow together and you see the changes through three generations of this city. Los Angeles is a city that's been in lots and lots and lots of movies. It's been the subject of tons of films, you know, from you know, Mildred Pierce and LA Confidential and LA Story, but really 229:00to me what Los Angeles is at its heart has never really been shown that much in the film, and that is Los Angeles is a Latino city. It started as a Latino city, it started when it was part of Spain, then Mexico, and its heart is always been Latino and still is to this day. One of the great Latino cities of the world. And yet, this part of LA, this heart of LA is never shown in the movies. It's never been shown in films, it's a tragedy really. It's kind of like when I think about it it's like my father fighting in World War II, you know, Latinos have fought in every war. More medals of courage and bravery to Latinos than any other group. Yet when the movies are made about World War II and about our wars, we're never there. When the movies are made about Los Angeles, we're never there. We're a peripheral or a drug dealer or a maid, but not at the heart of the movie. And when in fact, in Los Angeles the Latino experience is at the 230:00heart of what this city is, and this is what the film Mi Familia shows. "Whenever I see the bridges that connect Los Angeles with East LA, I think of my family." Those are the opening words of the movie Mi Familia, and they immediately define what the film is about. This epic story of the city, and this intimate story of the family. And that combination of the intimate and the epic is something that I always strive for in all the films I make. El Norte is like that, Selena I made like that, the American Family television program, everything. I love that combination of the intimate and the epic. And so you see in Mi Familia how Jose comes up from Mexico, after the Mexican revolution, but he already has a relative here. El Californio, someone who was born here when 231:00this was Mexico. And so you immediately see this connection, because throughout the history of Los Angeles, with all the immigrations that have come from Mexico and now from Central America, and other parts of Latin America, they're not coming to a foreign, strange place. They're always coming to a place that already is Latino, and the Latino part of the city has grown from its origin as part of Mexico, Los Angeles. And so you can kind of think of Los Angeles, the angels as being the city, but Los Angeles is also the angels are also you know, the family. But it talks about the bridges in that opening line. The bridges that connect LA with East LA. And that is the quintessential image of the film, Mi Familia, because Los Angeles is a divided city. People come from the one side of the river, cross to the other side of the river to the West Los Angeles, to serve, to work, and back again. And the people from the Eastern part of the city 232:00always cross to the Western part of the city, but the people from the Western part of the city never go to the Eastern part of the city, which is the oldest part of the city, which is the Latino part of the city. And so I wanted to capture in the film Mi Familia, that Latino heart, and show what to me is the essence of Los Angeles. Los Angeles in the film, Mi Familia.
GN: The film has many levels to it. And so it talks about family and trauma tofamily and healing from trauma to family. It's a three generational piece. And these themes seem very serious and they are, they're very strong, and they're very serious. But the film is very humorous, I mean, it's almost like a comedy in many, you know, sections of the film. And one of the running gags in the movie is that El Californio is buried out in the backyard. Right? He dies and, 233:00"When I was born this was Mexico, and where I lie is still Mexico." And his grave is in the backyard, and they're always joking about, "Oh, El Californio's in the backyard." And when the family from West LA comes to visit they go, "Oh, you know," you always get this, you know. "That was a long time ago," like it doesn't matter that Los Angeles was once part of Mexico and that it was founded by Latinos. And of course to the Latinos it's ultimately important that that's the case. And they said, "Oh no, no, no, you know, El Californio, he's buried out in the back." So that's the continuing image of what the city is, you know. It's this El Californio, our past is still alive. And yet we serve and you see the connections between Jose coming up, and then the deportations of the 1930s, where the Hoover administration tried to kick everybody out, you know? To make job for real Americans, you know, which were the Okies coming in from the Dust Bowl, it was the Depression, they had no work for white people. So they had to 234:00get rid of the brown people, and 60 percent of the people they deported were legal, were citizens of the United States, which of course is the case in the movie Mi Familia, the Jennifer Lopez character, Maria. She's a citizen, but doesn't matter. She gets kicked out. Two thirds of the Latino population of Los Angeles was deported during the 1930s, it's a tragedy that we depict in the film Mi Familia, that really isn't part of our history. It's not known, we don't talk about it like the internment of the Japanese or slavery or other you know, horrors that various groups have suffered. Yet here we were, you know, our home, our land, Californio was founded by us, and now we're being deported out of our home. And so you see the El Californio, who was born here. You see Jose coming up from Mexico. You see Maria being deported, the family is finally reunited, 235:00and then ultimately the film makes the connection with the immigration situation of today, with Isabel from Salvador, showing that there is a continuity from when Los Angeles was part of Spain and Mexico, all the way to today, and all the immigrations and all the movements and the deportations, they're all part of this beating pulse of the heart of Los Angeles, which is Latino in its essence. Everything else, everything you see in films like Chinatown and LA Confidential, they're all the frosting on the cake. And it's sad to me that this truth about what Los Angeles is, has not been seen, and has not been shown. And this is what I was trying to achieve with the film, Mi Familia. I wanted to celebrate the Latino family. Obviously our families are very strong, very powerful, and very 236:00important to our community, and I think to this nation, and to the city. But I also wanted to show, you see how the city is small when Jose comes, and then in the Fifties, the biggest, tallest building is City Hall, and then by the end of the film, the final image of the film is this tremendous skyline, the city has grown as the family has grown, and they're all part and parcel, the same thing. You know, if you know, the Getty is apparently doing a project about Los Angeles and Latinos in Los Angeles, I sincerely hope that if they do a film series, that they will show and embrace Mi Familia because I think that there is not another film that's ever been made that shows the Latino heart of Los Angeles and the Latino story of in fact this is a great Latino city, the way Mi Familia does. I'm very, very proud of that film, and I'm very proud of what we achieved in 237:00doing it. It was a tremendous success. Latinos love it, and as a matter of fact to this day, many people in the Latino community love Mi Familia even more than they love El Norte, because of the way it celebrates our family and the way it celebrates us actually being an integral part of this particular city.
GN: So when I came in to do Mi Familia, again, it's screenplay by Gregory Navaand Anna Thomas, original story by Gregory Nava. I wrote the first draft of Mi Familia, also, like I did El Norte and then Anna worked on it. You know, by that time, really we were personally separated but, you know, she needed a movie too 'cause, you know, so we collaborated on that. And I love working with her. She's a good producer and that was another tough film 'cause we had to make that for almost no money and that was another film that I wrote the script and I took it around to everybody and I had a marvelous agent at that time. And I have to say my, I do want to mention him because Jeff Berg has been my agent for almost 238:00[LAUGH] 40 years, you know, since El Norte and he is another one of these incredible, collaborators, you know, warrior to be with you as an agent. Because Jeff and, above and beyond the call of duty, you know. It's like Jeff always takes my phone calls. It doesn't matter whether I'm a hit, whether I'm a flop, doesn't matter. He takes my phone calls. He always works with me. He doesn't have to. Most agents, you're a flop... [INT: No loyalty.] ...[SPEAKS SPANISH]. They don't talk to you anymore. Not Jeff. To this day he answers my call. Most powerful guy in the film, one of the most powerful guys in the film business and he's always been a great supporter.
GN: So, you know, Jeff set us up for meetings for everybody in town.... andnobody wants to make the movie. Zero, okay. Complete strikeout I have nothing, all right. So I believe very strongly that there is always a way. If you think 239:00about it hard enough you will find the way. This is a great lesson that I've always learned, right. And so it's like no way to make this movie. It's completely impossible. And I'm like what do I do? What do I think? And then I think, again, you know, you have casting issues, right? And, you know, you can't bring big stars to the movie because it's all about a Latino family, right? So I'm' going, what is it, what is it, what is...And then I thought, how about if I get a name producer, a name executive producer? Who do I have access to? Francis Ford Coppola because I know Tom Luddy and Tom Luddy works for Francis, right, and does Telluride. So I call Tom Luddy up and he's the guy who picked El Norte. If he hadn't done that and hadn't shown it at Telluride, El Norte would have never happened. He's a great supporter. Another great warrior, collaborator and 240:00a good friend up to this day. So Tom goes, "Send me the script." So I sent him the script to Mi Famlia. And I didn't hear for [PH] him from [PH] a month. And I thought, well he obviously doesn't like it. And he calls and he says, "This is a great script. I really love this script. I'm sorry it took me a month to read it but I've been busy doing other stuff. I'm gonna pass this to Francis and see what he thinks." So they give the script to Francis Ford Coppola. Okay. So then I get a phone call, Francis Ford Coppola's on the phone. He goes, "Fly up here in Napa Valley." It's Sunday, you know, I'll, let me see. So I fly up. I meet with Francis. He goes, "I love this script. This is great. You know, and we should do this thing with the Latino community and..." You know what Francis is like, he's like [MAKES NOISE], you know, you ready and all this kind of stuff. So I say, "Yeah, but I gotta tell you something, Francis. Everybody has said no to this script." He goes, "Everybody?" And I said, "Everybody." I listed all the studios very studio, everybody. And so Francis goes, "What was the softest no?" [LAUGH] And I said, "Well the softest no was New Line. You know, they almost did 241:00it. They liked it and then the last minute they decided not to." He goes, "Okay. Meet me tomorrow at my building in San Francisco." So the next day I go to, Zoetrope Building in San Francisco and, you know, and with Tom Luddy, and Francis goes, "Okay." He says, "Wait out here in the room here." You know, and he tells his secretary to "Get me Bob Shaye on the phone." You know Bob Shaye was the head of New Line. Okay, we're waiting. Forty-five minutes later Francis comes out and he goes, "Okay. Your movie's a go." [LAUGH] He got on the phone with Bob Shaye and talked him into it. And one of the reasons that Bob Shaye wanted, said, hey, you know, 'cause we had two and a half million dollars from foreign with [Guy East?] and we needed two and a half million from domestic, right, for five million dollar budget, not a lot but it was what we had. And I 242:00thought, you know, Francis a big wine maker and Bob Shaye's a big wine collector and he thought, hey, it's worth two and a half million if I can go up and have wine with Francis in his vineyard. Who knows, you know, what gets a movie made. But we were a go. And we made Mi Famlia and, of course, it was a tremendous success, another big hit. And it got, did get, you know, I think it would have gotten nominated for many Oscar, I've been told this by a lot of people in the Academy, "Boy they loved this movie. It would have been nominated for a lot." But New Line did not want to pay for an Oscar campaign so there was none. They didn't send out screeners or anything. But it did get nominated for makeup so it did get one Oscar nomination. But it probably could have gotten more. But anyway, it was a very, very big success and suddenly, you know, here I was, you know, back in business as a, you know, as a filmmaker.
GN: I'll tell you one little story about shooting Mi Familia, which was chillingbecause you know, we talk about dream realism and the forces and the you know, 243:00ancestors, the antepasados and this whole ethos. When we were talking about El Norte and how things affect films in strange ways. Like when we were, you know, doing the washing machine scene in El Norte, it was like I was helping somebody, you know, get a job and then this happened to them and it was almost like, they're helping me do the script and then I help them get a job, and then something happens to them which becomes part of it. It's like it starts to write itself, you know? These strange things happen when you're making a movie, and I had a very strong experience like that when I was doing Mi Familia. One of the issues that we dealt with in Mi Familia, which has become a big deal now, with this Black Lives Matter, about the police gunning down African American youth. This is also a huge problem in the Latino community. That the police shoot so many of our young men. And I knew about that back then, of course Mi Familia's 244:00now 20 years ago, and we dealt with that in Mi Familia. You know, Chucho, the son of Jose and Maria, played by Esai Morales, is killed by the police. And of course his young brother witnesses this and this traumatizes his young brother Jimmy. And the police gun him down in the street and we staged this scene under this big bridge. Again, this image of the bridges that divide the city, and so we had this incredible location and they're hunting him in the street and suddenly there's this huge bridge and under this bridge the policeman you know, guns down Chucho. And we were staging this whole scene and shooting it, and when we were filming it there was this guy who kept hanging around the shoot. An older cholo, you know, like gang guy, older one, you know, tatted, tattooed. And 245:00he kept watching and watching and watching. We were shooting this whole scene, we shot Mi Familia in East LA, in the White Fence gang area. And the White Fence is the oldest gang in Los Angeles. We're talking about a gang that goes back to the Twenties. You know, these gangs are old in Los Angeles. And we were shooting in there, in their area and finally I asked him why he was watching this so intently. And what he told me was is that he believed that we were filming a recreation of something that had actually happened. And I was shocked because of course, we weren't. I had just written this and we found this location, and then we shot it there. But it turned out that in the 1950s, a White Fence gang member named Chewy [PH], which is Chucho, was killed by the police exactly at the place 246:00that we shot the scene, where Esai Morales was shot in the movie. And it gives me chills to this day, we didn't know. Somehow the synchronicity of it brought us there to do this, at that particular place.
INT: Would you talk a little bit about the themes of Mi Familia that you werehoping to address this multi-generational trauma and then maybe some of the ways that people understood or didn't understand what it is you were trying to accomplish?
GN: This is a great question because you make films like Mi Familia or El Norte,and of course because they're about Latinos and Hispanics and Los Angeles, and all of these issues which are very highly politicized issues, and they're very big cultural issues shall we say, more than political, in our society people always key on that. You know, is it stereotypic? Is this positive? Are you depicting people, you know, positive roles? And all these different things. And of course that's true and you want to do those things and you want to celebrate and put true images on the screen. But I'm a filmmaker that wants to talk about 247:00the human condition, in a universal way. I do films about Latinos and Hispanics because that's who I am. But I believe if you tell the story of your village you tell the story of the world. I believe in the universality of the human experience. So all the films I make, they're about things, real deep universal human things, other than just, ""Gee, what it's like to be a Latino in Los Angeles."" And Mi Familia is very profoundly about trauma, healing in families. Because I think this is something that most, almost all families experience and people. You know, trauma has become such a huge thing, and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. And how people heal from that, and how in fact we now know that this is passed down from one generation to the next. And sometimes it takes a multi-generational process to heal a family from a trauma. And this is at the foundation of what you see in the film Mi Familia, because 248:00starting from when Maria is deported, that starts a chain of events that leads to Chucho's death, and that eventually leads to you know, Jimmy witnessing this and then him going to prison and you know, then him having a child and then not being able to relate to his child because of all the trauma he has suffered. And all of this, right? Finally at the end it's all healed, after three generations of dealing with this issue. And this is something that I think gives the film, it's one of the reasons that people subconsciously, you know, they emotionally relate to the film because it's about something very deep and something very, very important. But when people review it or talk about it or you know, it's discussed in Chicano studies classes, they never talk about that. They're always talking about the fact that it's about the Chicano culture, and the creation of the Chicano culture. I mean the culture that Jose creates with El Californio and his family isn't Mexican, it's a whole new culture, that's what happened in Los 249:00Angeles, the Chicano culture was created, and that's what you see. And that's an important part of it. But this more universal human theme of trauma in families, it never gets discussed. And so I always say, ""You know, I hope that someday we reach a point where people can see my films and see films like my films, and see also what the more universal themes are that we're talking about in our films, and not just these cultural things, because they are so important in a society which obviously we have diversity issues and all kinds of issues."" And so that's what you see. I got an email recently from somebody who was, you know, works with Peter Levine, who has done the latest work on trauma healing in families, and they said, ""You know, this film Mi Familia is the most incredible film that's ever been made dealing with trauma in families and the healing of trauma in families, and how it goes from one generation to the next."" And they 250:00did this beautiful email talking about that aspect of the film, how insightful the film was in all of this, and complimenting me for having done this movie. Which they now use in their therapy with people who aren't Hispanic. You know? To work through trauma issues in trauma healing. Mi Familia. And I went, ""Oh my God, you know, finally after 20 years, somebody finally [LAUGHS] saw what this movie was about!"" And it was, you know, a wonderful moment for me, because we had put so much into the film. And that of course was one of the most important things to it, and I think is the backbone of the movie, and what gives the movie its strength."
GN: I really wanted to also speak about Ed Lachman, who I made three movies251:00with. And the first movie I made with him was Mi Familia. I mean this was a very tough shoot, because we had to do this film for almost no money. I've already talked about how hard it was to get the budget together, and Francis Ford Coppola, you know, was the one who actually was able to help us turn the key to get the budget that we needed. And I recently saw Francis, he loves this film by the way, and with The Black Stallion, this is the favorite film that he was involved in producing, which really made me proud. He loved the way it turned out. And Ed came to do the film, and he's a great cinematographer, he's been nominated for Oscars many, many times. And his great gaffer, John DeBlau, who was Néstor Almendros' gaffer. Together they worked miracles, because we had such a low budget. You know, I talked earlier about doing this shot in which everybody's moving around the house, you know, for six minutes. Well you have to light the whole house, and as you know, Jimmy Smits and rather, Constance Marie 252:00are moving through the house, you know, there's guys lifting lights, pulling down lights, [LAUGHS] doing this, you know, there's all this activity around the set in order to keep the lighting continuity that we needed for every part of the house. It was a very difficult shot to do. And Ed is a brilliant cinematographer, and you know, he is one of the people who actually made the film look and be so wonderful. I subsequently did Selena with him, he did a magnificent job on Selena, and then Why Do Fools Fall in Love, and you know, he's one of my favorite guys, he's a fantastic talent. And you know, you don't make movies alone. You know, families make movies, and unless you have people like Ed Lachman on your side, you know, really going the extra mile to get you the things that you want, you're not going to be able to make films for the kind of budgets that we had for a film like Mi Familia and make it look as marvelous as it did. Also, that was the first film that I had, you know, editing is 253:00supremely important and Nancy Richardson has cut most of my movies and this was the first film that I worked together with Nancy on. And you know, her style, she's a great... you know, obviously she's a great cutter and she's done many films, but she has a real independent spirit. Her editing style is not, you know, slick, it's got edge to it, and it feels real, but it's always, you know, beautifully crafted and I like that combination. So she did a terrific job on editing Mi Familia, which is an epic film, that had to go through three different periods and three different generations. And you know, she changed her editing style like when we shot the first section which was set in the Twenties, we used old lenses and tried to shoot it almost like a Griffith film, you know? With these old Cooke lenses and then in the Fifties, tried to give it this three strip Technicolor look. And then in the final section used Zeiss lenses to make it look more like the Nineties, this kind of cooler, bluer feeling. So each 254:00period had its own look. You know, Ed and I designed this together, but then Nancy also changed her editing style so that it was be more originally edited more like a silent film and then more like a film in the Fifties, and then finally you know, more like a film done by Scorsese, in the modern era. So these are big challenges to pull off. And Ed and Nancy rose to the occasion and did an absolutely fantastic job with that. GN: It received a presidential premiere in Washington D.C., they were very rare. Clinton only gave two, one to you know Schindler’s List, and one to Mi Familia. And the, you know, all of the, you know the hoi polloi, Washington senators, and congressmen who were Hispanic, and all the Hispanic ambassadors, they were all there and the president was there, it was a big deal, you know. And my parents came to that. And there I was, with the President of the United States, you know, showing this movie. And it was 255:00very, very well received. And they told me, you know Bill Clinton and Hillary, and you know they and Chelsea, they’ll probably leave after 15 minutes. No they stayed the whole movie. They watched the whole thing, they loved it. And they talked about it that night, you know. And the next day we were taking a tour of the White House. And they invited me to come and do a tour of the White House, and I came with my mom and dad, and my two sons. And we went into the Oval Office, and they were showing us the Oval Office. Right, it was just a private tour, just my family, and in comes the President of the United States. He had just gotten off the golf course, and he was dressed in his golf things. And he wanted to talk to us. Because he loved the movie. And you know, I introduced him to my father and my mother. And here were these poor people. My father had fought in World War II for this country. And my mother, you know she 256:00was in the office of censorship, and she had been part of the war effort, and they had built their family, you know from nothing, you know after the war. And the country, the United States meant everything to my father. And to see him with the President of the United States, and shaking his hand, I felt so proud. That something I had done was able to honor my father in this way. Who deserved to be celebrated and honored, you know. And never was, you know, like I said, the first Latino GI story to ever be told was in my TV show. ‘Cause even though Latinos have been fighting in every war, they’re never in the movies, they’re never on TV, ever. And he’s such a great man, and there he was meeting the president, it meant the world to my father, you know. And that I had been able to make a film and to do something that had brought that. Him to 257:00there. I was so proud at that moment. I didn’t care so much, really about me meeting Bill Clinton. But my father and my mother, you know, and my kids, but really mainly my father, because he suffered so much for this country. And he was very proud. So I miss him. I miss him horribly. Really horribly. He was a great, great man, and as I say, in El Norte, and Mi Familia, I’ve had these beautiful Latino fathers who were great men, and loved their children, and were strong with them. And that’s a reflection of my father, and what he was like with me. And the way he raised me, and the love he had for me. And the support he gave me, and I’m blessed in that way. I’m very blessed. 258:00
GN: On Mi Famlia this is when Selena was killed, all right? And there was a lotof talk about this and, you know, the movie was released and of course the Quintanilla family really loved the movie, Mi Familia and AB and the whole, I just saw them recently in Miami. There was a huge tribute to Selena at the Latin Billboard Awards. I was there with Jennifer, very beautiful experience. So, you know, one thing led to another and, you know, I got asked to write and direct this film, and, about the life of Selena. I thought very hard about it, you know, because I wanted to do something very, you know, I didn't want to do a pot boiler or anything like that, you know. And I was thinking about it and I was walking in Venice and I met these two little girls, they were Latina, you know, 259:00Mexican girls and they had Selena t-shirts. And I asked 'em I said, "Why do you love Selena?" And they said to me, "Because she looks like us." And I realized all of our young people, our young girls, they don't have any images, in the movies or TV that are like them, you know. And she was their princess. And so I thought, I want to make this movie for these girls. I want to make them for our young so they can have an image that they can celebrate who they are. And therefore I didn't want to make a movie that would spill Selena's blood. I mean this is what the studio wanted, you know? They wanted the, you know, the president of the fan club kills the girl, you know, kills Selena and they wanted 260:00this sensationalized thing. And I said, "I don't want to do that. I can't do that, right. I want to make it a celebration of a family" you know. And I'd always had an idea in mind about making a movie because to me, when you see movies you're always in the head of the shooter, the killer and you see these innocent people getting killed and they're not even given a thought. They just get mowed down and the killer goes on and you don't, and what about that life that just got taken away? How about making a movie about an innocent victim who has a beautiful life, everything, and all of a sudden it's cut short. I thought that would be, because I'm always in the, thinking about the victim, not the abuser. And suddenly this, Selena could be that. So if we showed this beautiful family and this incredible trajectory and this brilliant light. The whole movie, really is about the family and their journey and her journey as a young woman, right. And claiming herself and who she is. And all of a sudden at the height of 261:00all this some idiot just bumps you off because they're a psycho, nuts, which, you know, Yolanda's crazy, right. And these crazy people are around. And it's a tragedy that hurts our community. But if you tell it in that way then you celebrate Selena and what she accomplished and who she was, right? So that's what I wanted to do. And of course that's not what the studio wanted but we had to fight for that. And then of course we had to fight for getting a Latina to play Selena because their idea was get a white girl to play Selena, you know, We got the Latinas coming anyway so if you get a white girl to play Selena the white people will come. And that's the way the studio thinks. And I said, "No." And I fought very hard to get a Latina. Now, we get to Jennifer Lopez. Because Jennifer Lopez, her very first movie was Mi Familia, okay. She is an extraordinary person and a brilliant talent, okay. And Jennifer, I had to cast 262:00this movie and I told New Line, okay, I said, "I will only put Latinos in Mi Familia." And so, you know, they wanted Robert De Niro to play the father and Robert De Niro was interested in doing it because he liked the script. I said, "No. We're not having Robert De Niro play the father." I wanted Eduardo Lopez Rojas, who was a Mexican actor who I knew and he was a wonderful actor and he spoke fluent English and he was the guy. And he's not a star, you know. Finally they kind of got along with, I got Eddie Olmos and Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales to play these male roles but the female roles, as you know, we've, are equally important in my films. And at that time there were no women stars. I know it's hard to believe that today but at the time none. And so I'm like, they said, "Okay. Well you, but you gotta cast a non-Latina for these women's roles. You know, get Annabella Sciorra or whoever it is, you know, Marisa Tomei." I said, 263:00"No. No Marisa Tomei, no Annabella Sciorra we're gonna get Latinas." And they go, "There aren't any." And I said, "They are. They just haven't been given an opportunity." So I fought with New Line and I finally won that battle.
GN: And so we started, you know, reading all these actresses who'd never been inmovies before. Like Constance Marie and Maria Canals and Jennifer Lopez. Never been in a film. And they were brilliant and they were beautiful and they were incredible. They'd never been given an opportunity. They all have had brilliant careers since then, you know. But that was their first thing for all of them, you know. And we got Jennifer to do this and, you know, and she was still living in her apartment in West Hollywood with her high school boyfriend. That's how long Jennifer and I go back. I've been to [LAUGH] all of her weddings, you know. [LAUGH] And she was absolutely fantastic. She was fantastic. And when we had to do that horrible river scene and she saw how bad the double was, she 264:00goes, "I'm getting in the water and I'm doing that. That double is ruining my performance." And she got in the water and she did that. You know, the big long shots are the double but you see her in there. And that's why that scene is so damn good in the river. 'Cause you see it's Jennifer in the river with that baby. You know, of course the baby was a dummy. We didn't have the baby in the river but, you know, we had a special set up for the baby with warm water for those close-ups. But it was Jennifer. That's the kind of moxie and spunk. I mean Jennifer is fantastic, absolutely brilliant. So I loved her, you know. But the family wanted to, they had say on the casting, you know, of that particular role. So I finally told the studio, has to be a Latina. We're not casting anybody other than a Latina. We decided to do an open casting call for the two roles, little Selena and grown up Selena, 22,000 people, 22,000 young women 265:00showed up for that casting call in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Antonio. Unbelievable. Nothing like it has ever been, you know. We tested all these actresses, you know, young and old for that particular part.
GN: Front page of the Los Angeles Times, 8,000 young women, little girls andyoung women at the, we did it at the Union Station in Los Angeles to be Selena. Can you imagine that? Right. And it got the front page of the Los Angeles Times. And somebody said to me, "Greg, this is the first time that something positive about Mexican-American people has been on the front page of the LA Times. Every other time we're on the front page it's always about gangs and negative stuff, murders and stuff. This is the first positive image ever, in the history of the 266:00LA Times." Look at that. Very proud of that. And I think the only. And, you know, so then we did this, we picked a bunch of these young girls who had talent and then we also approached professional actressesSo we had these things and we had, you know, people who had never been in a movie before that we picked from these things and we picked one of the girls, Becky Lee Meza, from the casting, open casting call. But when we looked at the, you know, the, I had a very rigorous thing designed for dancing and lip syncing and dramatic to see they could act, they could sing, it's a very complex role because you gotta move and you gotta lip sync and you gotta be dramatic, you know. I mean there was just no question. Jennifer Lopez was it. The same age, same background, same body type, 267:00brilliant actress, incredible dancer. I mean she was a professional dancer. And part of the amazing performance she did of Selena was to ape Selena's, you see Selena's dancing evolve in the course of the film, right? To being, by the end when she's, you know, the Houston Astrodome she's totally confident and you see her, you know. And Jennifer looked at all the tapes and she had the body language and ability to capture the physicality of the performance as well as the dramatic. And of course she could sing and we used Selena's voice but she could lip sync so beautifully that you thought it was her singing. I mean this is probably the greatest performance and it has been called this, of a performer in the history of musical biopics. Because no other performer has been asked to do so many things. You know, they do singing great and the drama great. But to add all that dancing and add that physical, I mean she dances like, she's a brilliant dancer, Jennifer. She'll never, ever get a part like that again. You 268:00know, it's a once in a lifetime kind of role and boy did she rise to the occasion and became a major star as a result of that incredible performance that she gave in that movie and she gave that movie life. And, of course, everybody was marvelous in the film. You know, Eddie was marvelous as the father and, you know, Jackie Guerra and everybody was, did a fantastic job and it was so emotional making the movie because another character in the movie of course were the people of Texas. We shot in Texas. The whole Tejano community they supported the movie. When we did that scene with 35,000 extras, we did not pay one of 'em. They came to support the movie. Thirty-five thousand people and they stayed all day shooting the Houston Astrodome scene. And we were shooting the Monterey scene, 5,000 people show up out in Poteet, Texas, fire ants, hot, they stayed. Because they were doing it for Selena.
GN: I've never seen such beauty and dedication on the part of a community to269:00support that film. And that infused all of us, me, Jennifer, everybody with a spirit that was unique and very moving. And of course the family was there so much of the time. Not the mother, Marcela, it was very hard for her, you know, to watch it. And, but, you know, the father was very wise to do the film. Because there was so much negative stuff coming out and all. He knew, you make a big movie you cement her legacy in a positive way. And he was right to do that choice because that is exactly what happened. And the movie was hugely successful, obviously, at the theaters but even more it continues to live. It's one of the most popular movies to this day on cable and for a long time it was the number one film on cable TV for year after year after year after year. And really in cable it crossed over to the whole country. I've met so many people from every imaginable background and they just love Selena. My cousin Dickie was 270:00backpacking in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian guy's favorite movie was Selena, you know. And I was just talking with the Quintanillas and with Abraham because of the big tribute that was just done at the Latin Billboard Awards. And they were telling me, you know, AB, was telling me, we get people from all over the world come to Corpus Christie, to the Selena Museum. It's 'cause of the movie. China, Japan, India, you know, Europe, they've seen this movie and they come and suddenly Selena has become this world figure. So I was very proud of being able to make that film. I think Selena was a great talent, marvelous talent. I conceived of it, you know, in a way she walked through barriers. I had that experience having done that as a filmmaker. You know, breaking down these barriers. To me she was like, you know, the Myth of Parsifal, you know. He walks 271:00through the barriers as if they don't exist, you know, and gets the holy grail and everybody's been trying to get it and they don't know how to do it and here she just takes it, you know, because she was so, such a light. I love that about her. Her death was tragic. And of course shooting the famous Houston Astrodome scene at the beginning of Selena was so emotional and that fueled Jennifer, you know. We had shot the whole thing without the audience and that made the studio happy. But that, none of that footage is in the movie. It's all with the 35,000 people because what that brought out of her was like amazing. And the people loved her and they were like, can she do it and is she right to play it and all this. And by the time she finished people were on their feet weeping. Cheering and weeping because that was Selena they felt on the stage. And I remember going to her dressing room, just her and me, and we were trembling with emotion after that day. And I held her and it was such a beautiful moment for both of us. And 272:00she told me that night that she wanted that. "I want that." That was the moment that she decided she wanted to have a music career was shooting the Houston Astrodome scene with, in front of the 35,000 people. And then she pursued it after that. Up until then she had no idea. She was an actress. She wasn't gonna do music. But doing that movie and doing that scene, she goes, "I want to have this career." And then she did it. And everybody told her not to. You know, I identify with that because everybody's telling me, "You're doing the wrong thing and you shouldn't do it." And same thing with her but she did it. And look what she accomplished with that amazing musical career. She's a great lady and I love, you know, she's ambitious in a good way. It's good for our community. 'Cause we so often go, "Oh, it's impossible. We won't ever be able to do it. Forget it." You know what it's like, 'cause it is so hard. And it, and, you 273:00know, ambition can be a bad thing but ambition can be a good thing, especially for our community. Our community needs more positive ambition, you follow? We can do it. [SPEAKS SPANISH] Let's go and do it. And if we all do it together, you know, it'll happen, you know. And Jennifer is a great warrior because she has that positive ambition in a good way and I think that's a good lesson for our community, yeah. [INT: Thank you.]
INT: And when you were making Selena, you had to make a decision in terms of theending and taking this figure who was so beloved in the community.
GN: Yeah. [INT: And having to do something that happens in American films allthe time, which is a shooting and a death. And you approached it from a very different kind of angle and tried to communicate it in a different way.] That was a big challenge, because of course it was so sensational that a music star would be murdered by the president of her fan club, and this is why the studio 274:00and everybody wanted to make a movie about it. And it's not what I wanted to show, because I felt like, you know, I talked about seeing the young Mexican girls in Venice and you know, they love Selena because she looks like them. I'm not gonna spill their princess' blood on the screen, when they need this image to reinforce who they were. And I didn't want to do something dark like that. And yet it's a very important part of the story. So how do I tell this beautiful story of this young woman, who is cut short by a crazy person and this happens a lot in our society. And it's a tragedy. Be true to the story, and yet be true to those girls. How do I do this? And it does open up this larger question of violence in movies and you know, what is all of this about and so, I mean this is in a way a kind of an illustration of dream realism. Because... and what I was talking about earlier about trying to combine the dream realism and 275:00Aristotelian tragedy. In Greek tragedy, there's a lot of violence. You know, Oedipus rips his eyes out, you know, Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon in the bathtub with an axe! Chops him up. And there's lots of violence. But you never see it on stage. What you see on stage is the consequences of the violence, you see after the act, how it affects everybody. And suddenly I went, ""That's it. You know, that's what we need to do for Selena,"" but over and above that, that's what we don't get in American movies. You see the violence, but it doesn't have consequences. But all acts of violence have tremendous consequences. So in Selena, she's talking to her mother on the bus about having a child and about 276:00being able to sing in English finally. And doing an English tour. And hoping that the audience loves her singing in English. You know, the crossover audience, right? And her mother says, ""You will... they will love you."" And she goes to sleep, and she goes into a dream. And she goes into this dream and you see her singing in English. You know? Dreaming of you. Beautiful, we did it very [lush?]. And again, Ed Lachman did an incredible job, we got this special lens that created this amazing 3-D effect and to really give it this eerie and yet beautiful look, and then suddenly you know, this rose comes and there's something wrong. You know, like these images that burst in your dreams, you know, they just come out of nowhere. And they're like interrupting something, the dream gets interrupted. And then you start to hear this, you know, radio calls about the fact that she's been killed and you suddenly see this very 277:00grainy, we shot all different styles, a lot of different textures within Super 8 and different, you know, stocks and things. And you know, she's in the ambulance, and you hear from the radio calls that she's been shot. And the first person that you see the consequences of is the shooter, Yolanda. Who was for hours in the rain with a gun at her head, right? And Lupe Ontiveros did an amazing job, because we actually got the tapes, and she was on the phone with a detective trying to talk her out of not killing herself. We got those tapes and she imitated them perfectly, and at one point she bursts out, she says, ""I want my mother."" Yolanda says, ""I killed my best friend, I want my mother."" Lupe told me, ""I'm gonna do that."" And I said, ""Lupe, you'll never pull that off."" But she did, we used it in the movie, it's unbelievable. So first you see how killing this girl tears the killer apart! Then the next thing you see is the 278:00family in the hospital, like these scenes when I was a child with my Aunt Lucy [PH], and I knew how to do to this scene and they're weeping. You know, they've lost this light, their daughter, their wife, their sister. And then you know, we see the auditorium with the empty mic, and finally the fans gathered, thousands of fans gathered the night that Selena was killed with candles and photographs and weeping. So first you see the consequences of the act on the person that committed it, then on the family, and then on her fans. And so it becomes this kind of Greek tragedy, and you see how deeply it affects people. It becomes this dream real journey, there's no dialogue, just images and sound, the song, and then ultimately we see images of the real Selena as a tribute to her, and 279:00showing you things that we recreated in the movie. And at that point you know, people see how beautiful, you know, Jennifer was really in recreating her. But it was a way to do something I think, elevating it, taking it, you know, really into a big movie sequence. You know, 'cause a lot of people said, ""You know, this is like a movie for TV,"" and I said, ""I'm not gonna make it like a movie for TV,"" and nobody says that about Selena anymore, it's like an epic. But this end sequence I thought was a way to show the horror of the act, and the loss without having some you know, sensationalized bloody scene, doing it in this way, reaching into these styles like Greek tragedy and dream realism, and finding a way to do it that would be powerful and that would resonate with the audience. And that would elevate the image of this beautiful young woman who was 280:00a great light to the whole Latino community.
INT: Can you talk a little bit about a movie that came right after that in 1998,Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
GN: You know, this gets back to this point we were talking about, what is, youknow, the movie really about? And I've always been very interested in stories about the artist and the problem of the artist. You know, I love Tonio Kröger and Death in Venice, those novels by... or novellas by Thomas Mann, and dealing with the issue of the artist in society. And so [CLEARS THROAT] this project came, and the other thing is, is that I believe very strongly in bringing the Latino and the African American worlds together. We always talk about, whenever we talk about crossover, we always talk about crossing over to the white audience. Which is fine and I've done that, I mean obviously El Norte played in Beverly Hills for Christ's sake, and was a big hit there. And of course I want to reach the Anglo, the white audience, but you know, no one ever talks about 281:00Latino to black, black to Latino, why not? I mean our worlds are very close together, very similar in many, many respects. And really we're really part of each other, the African experience is a very important part of the Hispanic experience, it's you know, central to our experience, so we have a lot in common. And so I really wanted to, and I still do want to do this, and I still do do this, find ways to bring the African American and the Latino communities together, our audiences together. I mean if we get Latinos and African Americans going to the same movies, I mean you could make, you know, book commercially just with those two audiences, and making films that appeal to those audience. And so I believe in that very strongly, so here was this story about this, and I love oldies and I love, you know, if you're Latino you love los oldies, I mean that's it. So here was Frankie Lymon and the song Why Do Fools Fall in Love, and 282:00this incredible story about how he was married to three different women who didn't know about each other, and after he passes, they all fight for the rights to the song. And you know, one of 'em is a famous singer and one of 'em is a heroin addict and the other one is a pure, Southern teacher. [LAUGHS] You know? And to each one of them he was totally different. He was a junkie to the heroin addict, he was the God singer blessed talent, and to the Southern teacher he was this perfect Southern guy who was, you know, growing collard greens in the garden. And he's unrecognizable, and this is a true story. Unrecognizable to each of them. And it struck me as being a very interesting story because the artistic personality is a very fractured one. We have many, artists have many faces. And you can be totally different and people can see you and see you as a completely different person, than somebody else does. As these three women do, 283:00and each one of them appeals to a different part of him, right? So you know, it's told from their perspective, like in a trial, and each one of them tells their story with Frankie, and of course each story we shot, again I did this with Ed Lachman, we shot like in Mi Familia, each story differently. And you know, Larenz Tate did a wonderful job of acting the part of Frankie Lymon, and the three women, I mean they were [TRAILS OFF]. I mean Halle Berry, what a gift. I loved working with her, she played Zola Taylor, and Vivica Fox, you know, and Lela Rochon, who played Emira, the Southern teacher. I mean, it was a glorious experience for me, working with all this brilliant talent, and telling this fascinating story, and then dealing with all this incredible music. It's probably the most fun I've ever had on a film shoot. [LAUGHS] It was the only one that went smoothly. [LAUGHS] And we had the most fun working on that film, 284:00and it was you know, and recreating the Fifties and all the excitement of that particular era. So I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed dealing with this issue of the artistic personality. And then in a way it's a tragedy, you know, because he does eventually die, he overdoses, because he can't deal with it all. And as Frankie is dealing with all the issues that he must deal with, he has this beautiful gift, and yet the society, you know, he gets betrayed, he gets taken advantage of, and I wanted to show how these young... all this black talent was exploited horribly.
GN: We worked with Little Richard, that was an experience. He was in the movie,and I said, "Look," and he has a lot of strong feelings about how he got screwed over, so I said, "Richard, I'm gonna let you have your moment to say whatever you want to say." [LAUGHS] And I let him go off about, you know, the whole thing! And he got his moment to talk about his angst, and I felt that was 285:00something that I wanted to do, he was an iconic figure but he's never really gotten a chance to express his feelings about what was done to him. And he was terribly exploited, and he did that in the film very entertainingly. The guy is hilarious, okay? Absolutely hysterical. We had to re-record one of his songs, Keep A-Knockin' but You Can't Come In, and I said, "You know, when we do Keep A-Knockin' but You Can't Come In, when he records that I want to be there, I want to see this. I want to watch Little Richard record a record." You know. So I go to the recording studio, and Little Richard is like, you know, no one's gonna say anything to Little Richard. He's taking forever. He's going, "Nope, bring this mic over here. No, do you have this kind of mic?" "Yeah," they hustle in, bring him a certain mic that he's asking for. "Mm, you know, put the saxophone player over there in the corner. [MAKES NOISE] Mm, no, no, you know, put this guy over here." He's moving everybody around, he's putting up 286:00[baffles?], he's getting specific kind of mics, you know, it's just hours doing this. And you know, people are going like, "Well...," no one's gonna say boo to Little Richard, you know? So this session's like winding down to nothing, right? So [LAUGHS] he finally goes and he gets by his piano, you know, and he's in a booth and whatever, and does the [TRAILS OFF] "Okay, let's go." So he does this song, and the recording engineer is sitting there and he can't believe the stuff Little Richard's doing, where he's placing things and what mic, it's weird, right? But when you hear it, it sounded exactly like 1958. I mean exactly! Right? And the guy goes, "I cannot believe it. Nobody today can reproduce the sound from that era, and this guy, he knows how to do it. This is exactly the sound. Perfect, one take." Then Little Richard comes out and listens to it and goes, "Well, we're not gonna be able to do it better than that." Over. [LAUGHS] Once. And it was like, you were listening to it on your '56 Olds, or you know, 287:00'57 Chevy, you know? It was perfect. So that was a memory that I have that I'll never forget, you know, working with Little Richard. He was fantastic. And the movie was, you know, an extraordinary experience for me. And I loved working with the African American community, I learned so much from the African American community. One thing that the actors did always, which I'd never seen before, which we had not done is they would always... and have me, we all get together and the crew and everybody, and be thankful before we started shooting, to thank God, whoever, that we're working. And we're privileged to be able to do our art. And I thought that was the most beautiful thing. And that was something that they always wanted to do, and I said, "Yeah, let's do it." And I thought, "They're really right, it is a privilege to be able to work in this medium, to 288:00make a movie and to have these opportunities to tell these stories." And you should always, always, always be very, very thankful, you know? Always.
INT: You've talked about a couple of actors that you discovered and others whowere established that you've worked with. What is your approach to the casting process and ultimately working with your actors?
GN: Oh wow. That's a incredible, you know, casting... you know, Sydney Pollackused to say, ""Casting is 90 percent [LAUGHS] of your, you know, of directing."" It's very important to get the right person in the right role. When you get the right person in the right role, kaboom, you know, the world opens up. You know, Zaide and David in El Norte, I mean that was one of the reasons that movie was so successful, they were so terrific and Zaide was just amazing. This 20 year old girl, and my God what a talent, and she was perfect for that part, you know? So you put the right person in the role and it's just like kaboom, right? But 289:00finding them, you know? It's so hard and you make the wrong choice, and you know, it just doesn't work. Casting is you really have to have your intuitive side, you have to trust your intuition. And you have to have a good casting director, and I've worked with Roger Mussenden, and he's the one that cast Mi Familia, and he, you know, I get credit for finding Jennifer Lopez, but he brought Jennifer Lopez to me. And he brought Michael Peña, he brought Constance Marie, he brought María Canals. He's an amazing casting director and he has a great eye for talent, so you do rely on your casting director, who has a fantastic eye for talent and really can bring you people that have got the chops to do what you want. The films that I make, the things I do, you can't have a pretty face, that's not enough. They've got to have the talent, all right? Now that's the other thing that Meisner taught me, is how to detect if they've got 290:00it or not. You know, and a good actor is always going to be somebody that knows how, that gets out of their head and is not sitting here, you know, somebody would do a scene in front of Sandy and he's sit there, and it was like terrible. [LAUGHS] The scene was terrible and they go, ""Oh Sandy, what's wrong?"" And he'd go, [CLAPS HANDS]. And by that he meant, they were acting to get an applause. And if you act trying to be good to get an applause, over. It's no good. You've got to not act to [TRAILS OFF]. You have to be in what you're doing, working off the other person, out of your head, and making interesting choices. You always want to find the person that's making an interesting choice, you want to... basic, simple things. It's a very big Meisner thing. Making an interesting choice, someone who knows how to listen and respond. Basic stuff. But people that can really do that, then things start to come out and flow out 291:00of them, and the minute that happens then you see what they've got in them, right? And as a director in an audition, you can tell. I don't like actors that come in with this big prepared thing, and they've gone to a coach, and they've [TRAILS OFF]. You know, the minute that happens I'm gone. I'm out. I want the spontaneity, that's what I'm always looking for in the performance. Sandy used to say, and this is really true, ""The humanity of a performance is in the spontaneity."" I think we mentioned this before when I was talking about Kate del Castillo. Every time is the first time. I never tell an actor to do something like they did on take three, ""Now, you know, do it here like you did before."" Never. Because then they're in their head, thinking about what they did in take three! As opposed to in the moment, working off the person right then. Once that spontaneous moment happens and that fire happens, you've got in the can. You know? And that spontaneity, it's weird. You sit in a preview with 292:00an audience, and that audience sees a movie and you've got some rehearsed reality, and they're acting, and the audience is like this. And then you see a scene in which it's spontaneous, something just happens. And the minute it's spontaneous, the audience just comes alive and they love it. That's what you're looking for, so you're looking in casting for people who can do that. Who have that ability and so people who are calculated, who are in their head, who've planned everything out, those are actors that I don't want. All right? So people like Jennifer Lopez and Constance... I mean, these folks, Melissa, [MAKES NOISE], I mean you know, they'll go, you throw fireballs at them, the actor throws stuff at them, and they adjust and they're in there. They're in the moment, they're not in their head thinking about what the script says. So when you're casting you're looking for people who know how to do that. " GN: I'll tell you an interesting story about casting, actually now that it's come up. We 293:00talk about all of these things and this Popol Vuh and these things that have been preserved. Something that got preserved which is unbelievable is that you know, in the pre-Columbian days, the Mayans and the Aztecs, they had theatre. They had plays, all right? And most of these are gone, they've been destroyed. One theatre play from the ancient Mayan days as it turns out has survived. And is still performed to this day. It's called the Rabinal Achí. And we know that this is the only extant example of a pre-Columbian play. And I traveled to the Highlands of Guatemala, very isolated. Barbara came with me, very isolated, she got amoebic dysentery going to this village, okay? To see the Rabinal Achí 294:00performed. I wanted to see a pre-Columbian play. I mean they have the trumpets, they had the drum, the dancing, the whole thing. Three hour long play with dialogue and it's a complex plot. And it wasn't a mythic thing, it was a historical event. They would... The Mayans, they would preserve their history through these plays, it talks about real events. This amazing thing, okay? Unbelievable. And I was sitting there flabbergasted. I saw it many times and I got to know the players. And I was telling the master, the director of the play, you know, about you know, that I was, you know, did [TRAILS OFF]. And I was interested in Mayan art and culture and spirituality and I wanted to learn about those things. And he goes, "Well you're the perfect thing, I mean you're a dramatist and so this is the way in, you know, to the Mayan world, you know. It's a Mayan drama, [LAUGHS] right?" So I was talking to the lead actor of the Rabinal Achí and I was saying, you know, "How did you get cast?" Right? And 295:00this guy says to me, "You know, that's so funny you should ask that because we've had anthropologists come here to study this, and no anthropologist has ever asked that question." I mean, that's a filmmaker question, isn't it? I ask a whole different bunch of questions to this director and the actors, than any anthropologist had ever asked. I was like, "How do you cast this thing?" Right? 'Cause they're all just villagers. And you know how they do it? I thought, "This is interesting." They, you know, José Coloch who's the master, the guy who has the play, and it's been passed down through his family for generations. He, you know, the guy says, "Well, you know," he says, "I'm out working on the farm, you know, [TRAILS OFF] with the cornfield in it. I'm poor, I got that, I gotta work day and night. I got my kids, I'm home, I'm exhausted, you know?" And so he hears a knock at the door. [MAKES NOISE] In the evening, at night. And here's the old man, you know, He'll say, "Coloch." And he says, "Okay," and they're 296:00very polite and they come down, sit down, you know, have something to drink. And he says, "You know, I dreamed you last night." Right? "And I dreamed you and so you're going to play K’iche Achí in this play. You're going to do this, 'cause I dreamed you." And the guy goes, "The last thing I wanted to do was you know, work on this thing, it takes forever, it's three hours long, it's an enormous role," right? He has to learn this part, he's gotta do all this stuff and this dancing and the whole big costuming and the whole thing. "And I got kids to feed and [MAKES NOISE], but he dreamed me! I don't have a choice, I have to do it." And he did it. 'Cause he got dreamed. [LAUGHS] You know, we talk about the dream realism and the world of, you know, the ancestors and all this. And you think it's something from books or something, no it's still alive with these communities to this day. So that's how they cast their theatre, was they would dream who in the village, it would come to them in a dream, and then 297:00they'd go and they'd say, "I dreamed you, and you have to do it." And they have no choice. If you got dreamed, you gotta do it. So I thought, "I don't know if this casting method would work in Hollywood." [LAUGHS] But in some kind of a crazy way, that is kind of really the way we do it. You know, we have auditions and we have casting directors and then the studio is telling you, "Look, here's the star person that'll get us the box office in China," or whatever we need to get the financing to do the movie. And there's all that stuff, but finally when it gets right down to it, when you're looking at the actors, when you're meeting them, the actor is an artistic person and has that artistic sensibility. Just like those people in Rabinal, you do. And it is kind of like a dream, isn't it? It's, do you have a connection there with the role? With the other person? You 298:00feel that. You know what I mean? And it is kind of the same, isn't it? And when the dream comes together, then the right person who should do that part is doing that part, and when they do, it works! So it is kind of the same, and it is kind of a dream like intuitive process, casting. [INT: That's very cool.]
INT: You brought that understanding very much to your documentary work, withAmerican Tapestry and it'd be interesting to talk about.
GN: Yes, yes. [LAUGHS] You know, it was funny... Well, let me just talk verybriefly about the documentary. You know, I'm not a documentary filmmaker, I've never done a documentary and so when we... it was 2000, the change of the millienium, Showtime asked a series of filmmakers to make films about something at the turn of the millenium. And so I, they asked me and they had a budget, so 299:00I said, ""I've never done a documentary, but I'll do this."" And I wanted to do this tapestry, the American Tapestry, about people immigrating and migrating, in other words searching for the promised land, looking for the American dream. And so we started out contrasting people that came, and we actually got this guy who went through Ellis Island, you know, from Poland, a Jewish fellow, as a boy. And contrasted that with this young Chinese woman who came through Angel Island, from China. And of course it was interesting because they were welcoming people from Europe, they welcomed the guy from Poland, but the Chinese they were trying to keep out. So people don't realize that, they thought that we had an open immigration policy. We didn't. It was only open to Europeans, it wasn't open to Asians, they had Chinese Exclusion Act, and that was a fascinating story because only people could bring their relatives in, but they couldn't bring their wives. 300:00If men were here working, this guy had been here working, he couldn't bring his wife in. 'Cause they didn't want them to breed. So he had to bring his wife in as his sister, right? And the children had to say that their mother was their aunt. It's this woman, it's like five years old and she's being grilled. ""This is my aunt. Not my mother."" She couldn't say it was her mother. So an unbelievable story. [CLEARS THROAT] So we contrasted them, and then we spoke about African American people migrating up to the North from the South during the Great Migration period. And we finished with a modern day story of a woman, Eva Canseco, who was in Tijuana, to cross into the United States. Whether or not she was going to cross into the United States as an undocumented worker and here I have to give a big shout out to Barbara Martinez Jitner, who was my partner on this documentary. And also has been my second unit director, you know, that's 301:00another big thing that's very important when you're a director, is the second unit director. They do a lot of the work that you get credit for, they do. And Barbara has done my second unit work. She did second unit work for me on Selena, she did second unit work for me on Why Do Fools Fall in Love, she did second unit work for me on Bordertown, and of course she executive produced by TV show along with me, and she made this documentary along with me, and she found Eva. She was doing research in Tijuana and had a flat tire out in one of these cardboard cities, one of these horrible slums that pop up. And this lady had came and helped her with her tire. Well, I went down and one of the big things I've always had in my life was, ""What's it like when I was a kid?"" And I go to Tijuana, and you'd see these shacks. You go, ""What's it like to live in one of those? What would it be like?"" And suddenly, because of this documentary and because Barbara made this connection, I actually went to Tijuana, and I lived in one of those shacks with Eva and her family. And I saw what it was like to 302:00really live in a cardboard shack. And it was an unbelievably chilling experience. The poverty is... you know, you talk about dream realism, you must show this. And so I did that. And we couldn't influence her whether or not to cross to the United States, we wanted her to do, so we could film her, as the climax of the piece and then you wouldn't know what happened to her. But we couldn't influence her to do this, so she said, ""You know, I have to go down to Oaxaca,"" she was from Oaxaca, ""And talk to my mother about whether or not I should go, and abandon my children,"" because she had to abandon her children to cross into the United States, to provide for her children. It's horrible what people... the choices that people have to make. So Eva goes, ""I have to go down to Oaxaca to talk to my mother to get advice from her about whether or not I 303:00should do this."" And so Barbara, I couldn't go, 'cause I was filming. And Barbara goes, ""Can I come and shoot this?"" And this is what Barbara's like, I mean she's intrepid, you know, she's just like fearless, and she goes, ""Yes, you can come with me and do it. And it's okay."" So they get on a bus and they go from Tijuana to Oaxaca, takes them five days to get down there. And here was this moment, you see, the conquest didn't conquer this, all of these things, they live, they're living things. Because they get to Oaxaca, and it turns out that Eva's mother is dead. She knew, Eva knew she was dead, she died many years before. Barbara didn't know this. And it's like, she has to go and commune with her, the spirit of her mother. Just like these, you know, lintels from Yaxchilan where they're conjuring their ancestors, their antepasados, I mean this thing 304:00about your antepasados, your ancestors, is so powerful. And it's real! It's not you know, some figurative thing. So they go down there and they eat mushrooms and they have this big, huge... she films all this, this unbelievable procession out to the graveyard, and Eva communes with her dead mother to ask her dead mother if she should cross into [LAUGHS] the United States! It's unbelievable. We have all this in this documentary. And her mother tells her that she cannot answer her, that she must go and ask permission from the Virgen de la Soledad, the you know, Virgin of Soledad, which is the big virgin in Oaxaca. And it had to be a particular virgin in a particular church. You know, because we talked already about how the image was real, so this particular one is the one to go to. So then Barbara films Eva weeping in front of this statue of the Virgen de la Soledad, and the Virgen gives her permission to go. To cross and tells her 305:00that she's okay for her to abandon her children to provide for her children, and so the climax of the documentary is we film Eva crossing with a Coyotaje under the fence and into the United States, and we don't know what happened to her. And we really don't know what happened to her. It's an incredible thing, and Barbara, I mean showed unbelievable courage you know, to do such a thing and film that and get those images. And the other thing about it that was overwhelming to me is you know, you look at all the discussion about, ""They're illegal and we're a country of [MAKES NOISE]."" Look, this woman had permission from the virgin. [LAUGHS] I mean what is all the laws of the United States, what is all this nonsense to her? La Virgen told her to go! To provide for her children. That's a powerful human reality that I think people need to understand if we're going to ever come up with any ways to deal with the situation of 306:00immigration in the United States right now in a humane way. It gets back to what we were doing with El Norte. You must see the heart and soul of the people. And understand that. And as long as you do not do that, you're never going to get anywhere. But that image of Eva weeping in front of the virgin, and speaking to her dead mother, I mean these are things that are unbelievable. Barbara, you know, she has the courage to do that. I'll tell you one other thing about an incredibly courageous thing that Barbara did, when we were shooting Bordertown, which was about the maquiladoras, those are factories, border factories where these young women work and we did this movie Bordertown about women who were being killed in Juárez. Barbara signed up to work in a maquiladora. She did that. And got a job in a maquiladora. And went in there with a camera in a pair 307:00of glasses attached to her, and they didn't detect it, and she went in and worked for a day, and shot footage in secret of the factory with the women. And we used some of that footage in the movie. I mean, who would do that? Now that's a second unit director. You know? Who will really go the extra mile [LAUGHS] to get you unbelievable images that you need to really add you know, power and importance to your, you know, to your film."
GN: Every 10 years or so, Spike Lee said this, you know, there's this thingabout, "We need diversity," you know? And then it goes away and then 10 years later it comes back again and you know, but 15 years ago we were going through one of those and so there was all this interest in doing a Latino TV show. And so people came to me and said, "Greg, you know, do a TV show as a movie maker." And I said, "All right, this sounds like a noble thing to do, I've never done TV 308:00but I'll do it." So I went around and I pitched this idea for a Latino family movie, I mean TV show that was, you know, everybody loved the movie Selena and they loved the movie Mi Familia, they wanted a TV show that had those qualities, so I came up with this concept and we pitched it, and you know, the networks all wanted to buy it. Finally we made a deal with CBS. We wrote the script and we made the pilot. I got the greatest people to be in it, you know, Edward James Olmos and Sônia Braga and Raquel Welch and Esai Morales and Constance Marie. An amazing, beautiful cast. And we made this wonderful pilot, it was fantastic. Wonderful show. It... we know, you know, was their highest rated dramatic pilot tested, you know? And they didn't put it on the air. You know, they wanted to 309:00develop it, they wanted to do it, you know, ultimately for whatever their reason is, you know, they didn't want to do this show and put it on the air. And it was heartbreaking because you know, it's like, "What do you have to do?" You get the very best people that we have. You make a wonderful show. You get... the public rates it higher than anything else! And they still don't want put you on. It was so hard for all of us, you know, to take that rejection, that was a tough one. And I really have to, you know, [TRAILS OFF]. You know, what they did do is they said, But look, you can take this anywhere else you want, and set it up, and we will donate it, we won't ask them to pay us for the cost of this thing." Which was a nice thing to do. But it was still very hard, you know, if you don't develop it yourself and make it yourself, you know, 'cause normally networks if 310:00they develop a thing they don't let anybody else have a shot at it. But they did, and that was... so I have to you know, compliment them for that. [CLEARS THROAT] But it was very hard and it was like, nobody... we couldn't get anybody to do it. Eddie says, "It's over, forget it." But Barbara Martinez Jitner, my partner, she executive produced that with me. She did not give up on that show. Everybody else abandoned it, including me. I think I have more stick-to-itiveness than anybody in the world, right? And I walked away, 'cause it was too hard to do. But she did not, she's tougher than me. And she goes out there, and she knocks on doors, and she sits all night in places. She got that show on the air with PBS. She got them to pick it up. And we were just had a meeting with... Bob Greenblatt was our executive producer with us on this show, and he, we just had a meeting with him at NBC 'cause he's the head of NBC now, 311:00and that was the first thing he said. He goes, "I couldn't believe that. Barbara got that show on the air! She's amazing." You know, it's the very first thing he said. He remembered that. We all do. She got the show on the air entirely. Through her stick-to-itiveness and toughness. So now we're shooting the show for PBS. And it's a tremendous amount of work doing a TV show, I really learned a lot about how to run a show and do all these things, and I had this idea, you know, and like I am going to bring telenovela stars, Kate del Castillo, right? That's the one that got involved with Chapo Guzmán. I brought her here, you know, [LAUGHS] from Mexico. So I was down in Mexico City doing the deal with Televisa to bring Kate del Castillo to be part of our show, and to do co-production with Fox Studios and PBS and Televisa. So I'm down there when 312:0009/11 happens. I'm in Mexico City. I'm in my hotel room in Mexico City, watching the World Trade Centers come down. Now we have, we're in pre-production to go shoot a bunch of episodes. They closed the border! I can't get back to the United States, right? It was insane. I had to fly from Mexico City to Tijuana and then, and I don't want to say how, but I had to get across the border that was closed, somehow. All right? And I did, all right? So I have experience crossing the border illegally. Anyway. We all thought Eddie Olmos was dead, because Eddie Olmos was on one of those planes, he was scheduled to be on one of those planes that had flown into the World Trade Center. And people were freaked out when I got back there, 'cause it's like, Eddie Olmos is dead, and it was on 313:00the radio that they announced it. Right? And he was the star of our show, and it was crazy. And then suddenly we get this phone call [LAUGHS] late, you know, and it was Eddie Olmos, and he had missed the plane. Can you believe that? He's never missed a plane in his life. He missed that plane. Unbelievable. That changed Eddie completely, as a person. You know, when you have that close of a brush with death and you know, with that situation, you know? So you know, we made the show and it was very successful. And we did I think three seasons, you know, of the show. GN: But one of the aspects of the show was that what I wanted to do one of the concepts was, is that I wanted to do a real American family that was involved with whatever was really happening in the society. I thought 314:00this is the wonderful thing about TV. You know, a movie you make it and you develop it, it's years before the thing comes out. On American Family, I would write an episode over the weekend, and on Monday we'd be shooting it. That's how immediate television is. So I thought, "Hey, you can show what's happening right now, have it affect the family and be on the air while the events are really happening." Everybody loved that idea. It had never been done in TV before, by the way. Critics loved that idea, but guess what happened? Now I really have to deliver on that. Well we got 09/11, we have the war in Iraq, so then we do this miniseries. I conceived of this big 13 part miniseries in which the son of the family who's a doctor, signs up for the war in Iraq to be a doctor in Iraq, and he serves in the Iraq war. So we're filming a show about the Iraq war while the Iraq war is happening. Amazing. And it also at the same time talks about how the 315:00family came up to the United States during the Mexican revolution, so we're cutting these scenes of the Mexican revolution with scenes of the war in Iraq. I did this Chilam Balam, where it was the past and present were one, the same thing. In other words, these events of the Mexican revolution aren't flashbacks, they are happening as the events of the present are happening, all right? So like in one scene, Jess walks into the living room and there's a guy on a horse, you know, with a gun, you know? [LAUGHS] Right? And it's like the past and present are invading each other in the course of the story, it's very dream realist, and it was very beautifully done. And it was very, very powerful. And my God, it got... I mean, landmark television, incredible reviews. It got nominated for Emmys, tons of them, it got Golden Globe nominations, I mean it was a very, very well reviewed and well received and well awarded show. We did get in trouble with the Bush administration because they were still, Bush was 316:00still president, and here we're showing these things, we had a funeral scene, which they didn't want to see. We shot that. And of course within the family there are conservatives and liberals. Like Jess played by Eddie Olmos, he's a right-winger. 'Cause we do have right-wingers in the Latino community, and Nina, played by Constance Marie, she's a liberal, and they're always arguing and so you know, we have this scene were she's saying, you know, "There are no weapons of mass destruction." And of course, there weren't. [LAUGHS] We turned out to be right. You know? But at the time, you know, they didn't want that said on TV, but I had final control of the show, so you know, but we got some [TRAILS OFF]. You know, I always get in trouble telling the truth, you know? I always do controversial things, like with El Norte having the Chicano turn, you know, and with Bordertown, dealing with the femicide in Juárez and you know, the death threats and things. But the show was, you know, tremendously well received and it was considered, you know, a very important [BACKGROUND NOISE] piece of 317:00television work. And I was very proud of that piece, I think it's one of the most, you know, powerful pieces I've done.There's a scene in the piece, where his son is killed in Iraq. And I studied how do they tell somebody that your child has been killed in Iraq, and what they do is, they have somebody who served with them go to your home and then you know, talk to you. You know, and they have a thing that they say. It's written out. So I got a hold of this, and we did it exactly the way it really happens. This character, you know, she is his officer, African American. And she comes to Jess' house and the scene is 318:00just exactly what they really say when they tell you that you've had somebody killed. It's excruciating, you know? And also in TV, you know, since it was a 13 hour piece, you can really, you know, have the time. We let it really play. And Eddie's performance is unbelievable. It's like the greatest... He'll tell you. Most incredible thing he's ever done. Powerful scene. Very, very powerful scene. I'm very, very proud of that piece, and you know, getting those Emmy nominations was such a triumph and you know, for us, for all the work that we had put in, and for the television academy to recognize the piece in that way was you know, really, really important. You know, really, really important. And I did learn about the power of TV. And it is powerful. It's a powerful media, it really is.
GN: And I went from that to then Bordertown. And what I really wanted to do for319:00the women of Juarez was what I had done for the Kanjobals that we did in El Norte. Was to bring this issue of, you know, the femicide to the world in a way that would, you know, save lives, you know. And we worked really hard on that film. And Jennifer came, Lopez did that and Antonio Banderas. First time they were put together in a movie to do that 'cause they cared so much about the issue. Again it was very controversial subject matter. You don't believe how invested people are in this information not getting out, you know. And you made a marvelous film about it that was terrific, right. About the same issue. And I had a lot of death threats, you know, for that film. And they took the form of a white dove that was like killed, bloody, right. And I'd been in Mexico. We were 320:00doing the location scouting. We shot in Nogales, you know, we shot in New Mexico and Nogales and we'd be out looking for locations in Mexico and here, I'd get back to the car and there on the side where I'd get in for the location scout, here'd be this dove, you know, broken and bleeding, right. And then, I'm back in LA and at that time I was living in Venice Canals, I had a house in the Venice Canals. One day I come home, to my home in Venice, and there's the bloody dove on the doorstep of my home in Venice, you know. This is a deep issue, the femicide in Juarez. Deeper than you know, you know, that we realized. We got emails from the killers. And we worked with this group of mothers, you know, and one of them has subsequently gotten killed since we made the film, in, at the Palacio de Gobierno in Chihuahua, you know. And, you know, the film, and we 321:00previewed it and, to a Latino audience and it scored higher than Selena. People loved that movie. You know, it was really designed for a domestic Latino audience who understood everything that was going on. And again we got this whole thing about, you know, it's about a reporter, played by Jennifer Lopez, who goes to Juarez and, you know, confronts this woman who, it's based on a true story, who had been killed, was buried and rose from her grave, you know. And that was played by Maya Zapata, who's a brilliant actress. And, you know, they form this relationship. And here we have this other very powerful, pre-Columbian spiritual concept that was involved in this movie, which is In Lak'ech. You are my other self. Tú eres mi otro yo. I cannot find who I am. Again, it's this duality thing. Alone I can't find anything. I need you, through you like, 322:00[SPEAKS SPANISH] Rosa and Enrique, you know? I find who I am through another and they through me. And you don't know who that person's gonna be. And so when Lauren, played by Jennifer, goes to Juarez, and she doesn't want to go, and she meets this girl, played by Maya, suddenly, In Lak'ech. She finds who she is then, you know. And again the criticism of the script was, it should be Jennifer Connelly. It should be a white, you know, a reporter, a fish out of water. What do you have a Latina going to a Latina thing, you know. And I'm going like, "No, you know, she's playing, she's, sure she's Latina and people know she's Latina but she's playing the white game with her newspaper in Chicago." Like we all have to pay, right, in order to be jobs and in certain environment, right. We are Latino but we have to be as if we are not, you know. We play this thing. And that's what Latinos responded to when they saw the movie because we all have to 323:00do this. Our challenge as Latinos in this world right now, yes, we can be successful and we can do things but we haven't reached a point where we can be successful being us [LAUGH], who we are. We have to put on another jacket, another hat, right, when you walk into the board room, when you walk into the executive's office. You put on another hat. And you know you have to, right, or you're not gonna cut it. 'Cause it's finally not your world. It's not run by you and it isn't you. It's somebody else and you've gotta put that hat on, you know. And that's what Lauren does, you know. I thought, I'm gonna deal with a character like me. What, you know, where am I at? You know, I'm this director, I do this. We all see successful Latinos. How do we respond to the femicide in Juarez or to undocumented coming in? These are our people, right. You know, I've got this wonderful career and you see doctors and all these Latinos and they are successful and yet, how do we respond to what's happening to our community? And 324:00that's what Lauren is like. She's a character now for the first time dealing with, you know, not a family in East LA, not indigenous people who are undocumented but a successful Latina in the newspaper business, journalist. And she's intelligent and she's made it and now how does someone like that respond to something like the femicide in Juarez and she doesn't want to go because she wants to go and be a reporter in Europe, [LAUGH] right. And, you know, go to London and be a foreign correspondent and they send her to Juarez. But when she's in Juarez, she meets her destiny. She meets Eva and that's In Lak'ech and she suddenly finds out who she is and that makes her look at herself and realize she could have been her. GN: You know, all of us, me, you, all Latinos, we're that close from being an undocumented, right? If when my grandfather had been taken away during the deportations and my grandmother, my Mexican grandmother, 325:00Raquel [PH], stayed in the United States with my father. You know, if she had been deported, right, then I would have been born in Mexico. I could have, I'm that close to being like Rosa and Enrique. And that's what Lauren finds out. She finds out she's this close to having been a maquiladora worker, 'cause that's her background, you know, she came as an orphan to the United States, right, in the story. It could be me. That is me. That is my other self, right. So it was a beautiful story. But it never got to its intended audience because of all the crazy machinations. We premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. They didn't like it, [LAUGH] the Germans, you know. And people were put in there, we know, to boo the movie at the press screening. And I can't say that the German people didn't like it because it got a 15 minute standing ovation at the screening, you know, 326:00to the public, you know. But it just didn't happen. We couldn't get a distributor because the, you know, this producer guy, the money guy, he couldn't make a deal. People wanted to distribute it but he couldn't make a deal with them. There were all kinds of things going on that we don't understand so the movie, you know, unfortunately went direct to DVD and it became a really sad story because I was, this is the biggest professional disappointment I have ever had. I was not able to, with all my power and all my talent, give to the women of Juarez what I was able to give to the Kanjobal people when I made El Norte and I wanted to do that so badly, you know. I just desperately wanted to do it. And it was a shame. The movie did get distributed in Mexico and when they showed that movie in Juarez, they machine-gunned the theater. Drive bys machine-gunning it so nobody would go see it. You follow? That's true. And the billboards, they 327:00machine-gunned the billboards. In the movie, and I got criticized for this in the film, but I felt it was important, Eva kills her attacker. You know, she has that fight at the end and she kills the son of a bitch who raped her and thought he had murdered her. He take, she takes this flaming thing and she pummels the shit out of this guy at the end of the movie. And I thought about that, you know, I thought, should I really do this or not? And I thought, no. I want to make a film that empowers the women. You know these guys are doing this with impunidad, impunity, and they just get away with it and the government and the courts they don't do shit, right. And you have to pick up, you know what I mean? Like in Rio Escondido, the movie with Maria Felix, you have to stand up for yourself in a situation like that. And I thought, I am gonna have her do that, Eva, because I know these women and I've spent time with these women and they're indigenous and she's Mishtech [PH], and most of them are down there. And they're not weak and they're not shy and they're not retiring. They're strong, okay. So 328:00I said, "I'm gonna have her pick up this thing and kill the guy." And that's the strength, don't be a victim.
GN: And this woman crawled out of her grave. She was dead. She crawled out ofher grave. The scene where Eva calls out of her grave, believe me, when we showed it to the mothers of Juarez, they went, freaked out at that scene because they all have that dream, that their daughters will come back to them and they see them crawling out of their grave. And this woman, it's based on a real woman, she really did that, okay. So yes. Could she pick up a flaming cudgel and beat the shit out of the guy and kill him? Yeah. I wanted to make a message of empowerment. And I hope someday it gets a fair screening for people to see it and to what it's trying to say and the way we made it, which I thought was 329:00marvelous and I thought Jennifer was marvelous and Antonio was and all the people who made it. And of course Maya Zapata is a stunning actress and I used her in my TV show American Family and she's one of the greatest young Latina actresses there is, without doubt and her performance in Bordertown is unreal, so great. So I hope some day that it gets a proper airing. But the fact that it did not do for the women of Juarez what I wanted to do is my greatest heartbreak as a film director. 'Cause I really, really wanted to help those women.
INT: You wanted to talk a little bit about how filmmaking has changed since thetime when you were making El Norte and Mi Familia, and whether or not you think you could make those movies today?
GN: Oh. [LAUGHS] Yeah. You know, it's funny. You know, things have changed a lotsince then and it was impossible to make El Norte and Mi Familia in its day and 330:00it was, took years and we really had, you know, and you think those are great hits, they're great successes, and so that will make it easier, 'cause you see this audience exists and people want this kind of material. And yet, it seems like it's harder to get them... I don't think you could do El Norte and Mi Familia today. Sad. And there's so many reasons for that. It seems it's harder to get [TRAILS OFF]. I pray this situation changes, I really do. Because we need these stories, society needs these stories. They need our heart there, and African American and other communities there. You know, it tears at you when you see things like the election today with you know, someone like Trump. You know, you blame the media, you know, Trump says, you know, ""Mexicans are murderers and rapists,"" you know, and he should be squelched. He should say that and he 331:00should be over, you know, nobody should give him the time of day after that. But what happens? He becomes popular. And the media keeps putting this stuff on the air, and that validates what he's saying, and suddenly people go, ""Well, I guess this is okay to think this."" Right? I mean before Trump, 72 percent of the population was in favor of you know, extending citizenship to undocumented and were very pro immigration. Today, 62 percent of the American public thinks immigration is a mistake, and is wrong for the United States. What's happened in those six months, it's been Trump. And it's been the media validating him, and that's wrong. It shouldn't be allowed to happen. But they do because they get ratings. But the problem is much deeper than that, it goes back to this thing that I was talking about, you know, Latinos fighting in World War II and in every war and never being on the screen. You know, or movies about Los Angeles, we're never there. Although it is our city! Right? We're the heart of this city, 332:00but they never show us, they never put us there. So what do you see? What do people see? They don't see my father fighting in World War II. They don't see my grandfather living in Los Angeles and being deported and coming from families that have been here forever and working hard. They don't see that. They see some drug dealer, you know, some monster guy, or nothing at all, and they just see these negative images, or no images at all. Right? And so it's easy for them to accept stuff like what Trump is saying, because we have such a long history of never having us be there, and the media is guilty of this, of creating this environment by not letting Latinos and African Americans and Asian Americans be part of the story of America that's being told through the movies and through TV. If we had always been there, if my father had been in the movies fighting in World War II with all those World War II movies, if we had a lot, you know, and 333:00I'm not saying that movies like Mildred Pierce or LA Confidential shouldn't be made, of course they should be made. But movies like Mi Familia should be made, and many more movies like Mi Familia should be made. So that people know, ""Gosh, Latinos they really founded half this country, half the United States was part of Mexico, you know, and Spain and we built it and we built the country and we've suffered and we've spilled our blood and we're a part of it."" And they would go, ""No, we don't [TRAILS OFF]. Rapists and murderers? We know that's not true."" Because they've been seeing this their whole life, but they haven't! You see? So the problem is so much deeper and I've worked so hard to make these stories and to bring these stories to the screen and to television. And I've been, you know, I've just made a few things, I mean a lot for what it is, it's impressive, and yet it's harder for me now to get them made than when I made them 10, 20, 30 years ago. And that speaks that, you know, the business 334:00because now it's more foreign oriented and not as, you know, 'cause we made Mi Familia, nobody thought about what they'd think about a movie in China, they didn't care. You know, 'cause 75 percent of your money was from the United States. Now 75 percent of your money comes from abroad, and it you know, makes the financing of this more difficult. So there are just so many factors that make it harder. You know, but like I say, I just don't believe in seeing it, looking at it that way, right? There is always a way, we will find the way, I will make more stories. I'll make more films, I will tell this story, I'll tell the story of my people. Which is everybody's story. It is a universal story. And people see themselves in that. That is the most important thing to do. The most beautiful thing that a movie can do is to put you in somebody else's shoes. So 335:00that you feel somebody else's humanity, right? When I made El Norte it was like, just statistics in newspapers about undocumented, but how about if you meet Rosa and Enrique and you feel their heart and you put yourself in their place. Then that's doing a lot, 'cause now you see the situation differently, and a movie can do that. To be another gender, to be another culture, to be a son as opposed to a father, a father as opposed to a son. Putting yourself somewhere else, another country, another culture. And feel that humanity, right? That is a noble thing to do, and what we must do, and what I have done, and what I dedicate my career to doing, and what I will continue to do. And no matter what the difficulties, and they have all these reasons. You know, I spit in the face of those difficulties, I will find a way to overcome them, and I will get these 336:00things made because this is what I was put here to do, what I was meant to do, and what I'm going to continue to do. And I will never ever give up. [LAUGHS]
GN: I am a very passionate high energy person and I have a very loud voice. Andboth of those characteristics are really helpful for me as a director. [LAUGH] I don't need a megaphone. When I was doing my CB DeMille moment with 35,000 extras in the Alamo Dome... [INT: They could hear you?] ...didn't need a microphone, didn't need a, they could hear me [LAUGH] and also, you know, you need to infuse your family, your crew and cast with this energy, with this passion that what you're doing is important. This whole idea of letting the life flow through you and when you infuse your crew, which I like to think of as a family, with that 337:00energy, you know, the shoot goes much better and that is your job as a director, I think, is to make people feel that way and when I was a young director I believed that a director's job was to give orders. Now I've learned that a director's job is to receive order. People give you gifts. And your job as a director is to focus everybody's energy and to take the beautiful gifts that your actors, your technicians, that everybody gives you to tell the story that you want to tell.
GN: I wanted to say one more thing. There are two ways to make movies. Okay? Ortelevision. And be successful, and make, you know, be commercially successful and artistically successful. You can do them so that you build up walls that 338:00exist between people. You know, POV, you know, point of view violence against women, like the shower murder in Psycho, you know? Or you know, movies in which all these horrible Muslims are drug dealers, you know? And you know, you can make money doing that, people like that, they pay for that. Right? Or you can make films that bring down the walls that exist between people. And people want that as well. They pay to see that as well. They want that experience, to feel somebody else's heart. And I'm not just talking about between you know, white and black or Anglo and Latino, but between men and women. Between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. Between people. And you can make films that bring these barriers down, and bring people together, you know? And this is the 339:00kind of film that I want to make. This is what I dedicate my life to doing and to making, right? It is my [oline?] to be a storyteller. My path. And to tell the stories of my people, and to make them... for the world. Because ultimately we are all one. And it's a beautiful thing no matter what problems, I've had triumphs, I've had successes. No failures, I've had films that weren't successful, but you know, like Harold Clurman says, you know, "Out of your flops is the shit that your hits grow from," you know, I really believe in that. So you know, I've had things that weren't successful, I've had tremendous triumphs, 340:00and but through it all, I've always maintained that I want to tell these stories, that bring the walls down. And I want to tell the story of my people. And we're great people. And the stories are so beautiful, and so wonderful, and it is my great privilege and honor to be able to have told the stories that I've told, and I will continue with all my heart and soul to continue to tell these stories, and to bring them to the world.