Cesar Chavez comes as one of the more visually and emotionally striking films of the SXSW Film program for 2014. Set for US release on March 28th, the film documents the life of the famed American labour rights leader, Cesar Chavez. Directed by Diego Luna and starring the likes of Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich, the film stands to raise more awareness about the social issues which affected this part of the American population and to an extent, still do today.
Coming from an Australian perspective, films such as this one offer not only some great pieces of drama to become immersed in, but also an avenue to become educated on such issues which have been whirling around so far away from home. Attending the press junket for the film in Austin, it was evident just how impassioned the crew behind Cesar Chavez are about their project – this isn’t simply a product they’ve been hitting film festivals up to sell, this is an important marker in their cultural backgrounds. A story that needs to be heard.
“The way to bring change is by people connecting with other people and the great tool used is the telling of their personal stories face to face.” Luna notes, discussing the power of raising awareness through film, especially for audiences with limited knowledge of the film’s subject matter.
“Mothers talking to mothers, parents talking to parents. That’s what we do with film; we go out there and we tell you stories and we try to be very specific about the story of a family or a character, but to also raise awareness of topics that matter to us. Hopefully for you, you can become inspired and touched by a personal story, but then reflect on what that has to do with your life. Where are you in relation to what you just saw? It changes you somehow. We are a part of the same struggle. Film has become a tool of change in many ways. They didn’t have this tool but today, you can put a video up and start sending messages to people saying, “Please help me, share this message; share my reality and my story”. Film is really something we’re not using the way we should, because the world would be a better place if we knew the power of film.”
Dawson, who plays the role of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, a strong character in her own right agrees, adding how her upbringing and creative drive affected her performance within the context of this film.
“The only thing that was hard for me, was that my grandmother had passed the before and as we were filming, we were coming upon her anniversary.” she begins. “This was a film I know would’ve meant a lot to her; she was really inspired by Dolores and she’s the reason I’m an activist. My great-grandmother worked for the Ladies International Farmer Workers Union and so my grandmother used to march for labour rights for her mother and for herself. Being a single mum with five children, it really influenced me in wanting to play this role. She took my mum to marches with her and in turn, my mum took me to marches – everything I do in my advocacy is because of that.”
Tearing up considerably and understably, Dawson goes further in explaining how Cesar Chavez is more than just a movie documenting an important chapter in US industrial history.
“There’s a part in the film when there are just faces in the crowd and you go, “Those people are people. These are individuals.” That just meant a lot to me because so many of my family were those people – it’s a really big deal to tell those stories.”
The film, although experiencing its North American premiere in Austin for SXSW, has already grown into something more than a piece of cinema, with calls for it to be introduced into the school system for children to learn about. Luna acknowledges the change in the perception of Latino culture and how progression is clearly noticeable in today’s society.
“Latinos are in key positions today, they’re making decisions and there are many who are doing fantastically. They’re part of this and this belongs to them. One amazing thing that has been happening is that people have been calling for copies to be put into school communities. There are more than 500 screenings already bought for people who just want to share the story and I hope it keeps growing.”
“I was in Capitol Hill presenting the film and there were many important people in powerful positions sitting there and suddenly I look at them and go, “Wow! You’re all here because of these people. You all got that chair because of the fight of these people, because they decided to take it really far, to places where no one imagined they would. Now you’ve got a chance to be there because of them”. This is a film that matters – it’s about the sacrifice they made.”