Another thing that sets Ewing’s film apart is that it’s essentially a Mexican production with a binational support system behind it. Most of the crew and top collaborators were Mexican, including producer Edher Campos, cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramírez, casting director Isabel Cortázar and Mexico-based Bolivian producer Gabriela Maire. Members of the US team, such as producer Mynette Louie and editor Enat Sidi, completed a touring effort in both countries.
“I am a foreign director. I am a white woman in Mexico and I am making a film in Spanish. I am not weird. I am entering a culture that is not mine, ”says Ewing. “But I was trying to tell my friends’ story in an authentic way, by making a Mexican film that Mexicans would identify with and see as theirs, and it’s not easy.”
She would lose sleep over seemingly trivial details: the good Mexican slang of the 1990s, the popular pop groups of the era like Moenia, or even the recreation of places, like a pulque bar called La Oficina that García’s father frequented.
“The key was that Heidi led with humility, accepting that she didn’t know any more about the nuances and details of culture than we do,” says actor Armando Espitia, who plays Iván García. “I don’t think this is a movie told by a straight white woman; I really believe we all said it with her.
As a gay man from a working-class family, Espitia was intrinsically linked to García’s struggles with homophobia.
“My character leaves trying to become a full person,” says Espitia. “In Mexico he can’t because he’s gay, but when he comes to the US being gay doesn’t matter that much, but now he’s an undocumented immigrant so he’s only ‘to 50% of his potential as a person. . It pains me to know that many of us cannot find a place to fully be who we are.
To ensure that the portrayal of her real-life counterpart was as accurate as possible, Espitia got an incognito job at a restaurant.
He also wanted to meet García in order to study the voice models and manners of the leader. But Ewing was against it.
“I was afraid that the actors would start to imitate,” she explains. “If you play Margaret Thatcher and we all know what Margaret Thatcher is like, maybe you should emulate Margaret Thatcher. But these are not famous people. I was looking for actors who had the essence of Iván and Gerardo. I wasn’t looking for look-alikes.
Eventually, she gave in when the production moved to New York, but Espitia and García’s meeting was not as successful as the actor had imagined. That’s because Espitia’s job was less about playing today’s García and more about remembering himself. It’s not the same person anymore.
“We are staging the lives of real characters, and that weighed on me,” says Christian Vazquez, the actor responsible for bringing a young Zabaleta to the screen. “There have been a lot of movies based on real events, but what was special about this one is that it’s being made, it’s still being told.”
The chemistry between Espitia and Vazquez testifies to Ewing’s casting intuition, especially because the actors did not know each other before. “I felt really lucky to make my first fictional film in a country that knows cinema, knows how to train actors,” Ewing said.
For Espitia and Michelle Rodriguez, an actress and comedian who plays Sandra, García’s best friend and travel companion, the filming of the traumatic crossing of the desert was a defining moment. Even though they were in a nature reserve with all the necessary protective measures, Ewing’s directing style of feeling the scenes and letting the action unfold almost like a documentary made them feel, if only partially, the fear and helplessness of this ordeal.
At one point, while filming this scene, Rodriguez had an eye-opening and said, “This is happening right now somewhere on the border. There are people who experience this for real. This recognition left everyone on set speechless.
“To put me in the situation of so many Mexicans and so many Latinos, there is no way for you not to feel moved and engaged with this subject,” said Rodriguez, who is best known for her comedy. and who cherished the opportunity to play a complex character like Sandra. “Sometimes a lot of us feel removed from the topic because we think it’s only relevant to certain places near the border, but I found out that was not true. We all know someone who is gone.
Of course, for García, the actual border crossing was terrifying. “At one point Sandra and I put our lives in God’s hands because we didn’t think we were going to get there. We thought we were going to die there, ”he says of his real life experience. “But I really believe love saved me, because Gerardo was in Mexico praying for me all night.”
“The responsibility for playing this character was not just for Iván,” adds Espitia. “To signify this story had more to do with family members who live in the United States and have had the same experience, for everyone else I know in Mexico affected by migration, and for all the immigrants that I have. met in New York while making this movie.
“I see migrants as superheroes with superpowers,” says Vazquez, “because they leave everything behind, risking everything for the unknown. They leave behind a family, a culture, a country – it’s like being born again without knowing what your destiny will be, without knowing how strong you are to fight day in and day out, and even more so in a city like New York.
As the cast saw the finished film for the first time at the Sundance premiere, Ewing showed García and Zabaleta a nice haircut a few days earlier from the safety of their home.
“I was overwhelmed in a good way. I never imagined how she was going to put four decades of our lives into one story, ”Zabaleta said. “She made me feel my whole life again in an hour and a half: all the emotions, the frustrations, the fears and the smiles. To look at him was a catharsis.
And now the film that was conceived during the Obama administration and shot during the Trump years is finally coming out under Biden with a different title from its original name, “The Arrivals”, in part to reflect the cultural changes on the immigration that took place. .
For Ewing, the deep line “I Carry You With Me” or “Te llevo conmigo” sums up García and Zabaleta’s proven, evolving and unwavering devotion to each other, and their determination to remember where they came from. .
“Every relationship is complicated,” García says, “but we fought together and we tried to overcome the obstacles that sometimes bring us down. That’s love, supporting each other. When one feels depressed, the other saves you and gives you hope.
Of all the things that make him feel helpless, what gnaws at him the most about García is that he hasn’t seen his son in the 20 years since he came to the United States. The young man got married and now has a daughter. He never got a tourist visa to visit his father in New York. García does not know if or when he will be able to kiss his son and meet his granddaughter.
Despite the countless disappointments, they trust the new administration and urge the president and lawmakers to see their contributions to their foster home. For now, as Ewing says, García and Zabaleta are in an endless loop of memories that she tried to evoke in the film. She understands that those hard-earned nostalgia nuggets keep them mentally afloat.
“The only thing that saves you, that keeps us going, that gives us hope, is using those memories to bring back the scent of the ranch soil where I grew up,” Zabaleta says, “ and through those memories, being able to hug my family, even if it’s not physically.
“Sometimes I dream of when I was a kid in Mexico and that makes my day,” says García, “because all day long I carry that feeling of being there. That’s all we have left. to live off our memories and our dreams.