Diego Luna on Cesar Chavez
By Michael Bergeron
Diego Luna may be best known to movie audiences through his acting in Mexican and American films alike. Movies like Y Tu Mamá También, Rudo y Cursi (Both co-starring with Gael García Bernal and each directed by one of the Cuarón brothers, Alfonso and Carlos.), Elysium, and Open Range have made him a familiar face. Perhaps less familiar is the fact that Luna has extensive producer and directing credits.
Free Press Houston spoke to Luna last week about his latest directorial effort Cesar Chavez (1927 - 1993), a film biography of the most important labor activist of our time with Michael Peña in the lead. “Getting the film made is a story of struggle just as much as the film is about struggle,” Luna said. “When we sat down with the family and got permission to do the story we thought the financing would be easy. This is a powerful story about a hero of this country. Every heroic story in this country is celebrated in cinema.”
But every pitch was turned down. “So we went to Mexico and it was the exact opposite. In a week we had financing for the film.” Once that was secured Luna made a deal to distribute with Participant Media and Pantelion Films. Still, Luna maintains the film was made for very little. “We shot in Mexico, every penny is in front of the camera. We also shot in fields in conditions that weren’t easy. One day it was 117-degrees with no shadows in the middle of the fields, it was hard,” maintained Luna. “But we always knew we were making something that mattered.”
Stylistically Luna found the way he wanted the film to look on the second day of shooting. “I had a plan, I talked to the D.P., we had references we wanted to make, and then we arrived on location and every thing changed,” said Luna. “We had a Stedicam and a crane but they stayed on the trucks. We used a hand held camera because it didn’t romanticize the story. We realized that we didn’t want the fields to look beautiful, which is what they look like from an airplane or a car with your AC on. When you’re standing in the field working you’re like an ant in the jungle. It’s an oppressing experience.”
Cesar Chavez also co-stars Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, Wes Bentley, and John Malkovich.
“Everybody thought Chavez was on a hunger strike,” said Luna about one section of the story. “He wasn’t, he was on a fast; it was more of a spiritual purification. It’s a way of telling yourself I don’t want to be a part of this, I’m as guilty as everyone around me because I am in the middle of this.” Cesar Chavez opens this weekend in area theaters.