While Hollywood struggles to include Latinos behind and in front of the camera, it's imperative to raise up the efforts of Latino filmmakers working outside of the studio system with their independent films. One such project, screening in time for the Cinco de Mayo bacchanal to come this weekend, is a film that focuses on Mexican history, culture, and one person's quest to uncover his lost grandfather's family lineage. Weaving the Past, directed by Walter Dominguez, finishes its run TONIGHT.
Weaving the Past is director Walter Dominguez's documentary about his journey in discovering the lost insights on his grandfather, Methodist minister Emilio Hernandez. The film is a great odyssey into the man's extraordinary life, as well as the lives of those around him, including his best friend and writer-activist Praxedis Guerrero. While the film centers on the personal discovery for Dominguez, who made the film as a means to cope with his own life struggles, it's an engrossing history lesson.
The film takes a little while in getting to its central plot, but introduces the viewer to Dominguez, who relates to the viewer in voiceover about the personal life struggles that led to his mission of finding out information about his grandfather, Emilio Hernandez. Hernandez lived as a Methodist minister in Southern California after having fought in the Mexican Revolution. But so much is missing about his past, like why he left home at age 5 to live with a wealthy hacienda owner, and where the descendants of that hacienda family remained.
There's so much history and family history to learn that at times it's a little overwhelming to retain all the information and names, but nonetheless we're engaged with some dramatization scenes to help the viewer imagine and understand the life of young Hernandez at different points of his life, from running around as a fighter in the Partido Liberal Mexicano, the Mexican anarchist movement, to the state of depression he went through after his best friend and activist Praxedis Guerrero was slain in battle. Dominguez goes through great lengths to flesh out the memory of his grandfather, and thankfully his efforts aren't in vain.
In making his film, Dominguez certainly gambled to move forward in his journey without a clear idea of where it was going, but he states that he was glad to have documented his search, because it made the stakes higher. "We could see the potential, think of this as something to share with the public, finding [my] family became more of a 'must do,' Dominguez says. "The film was really necessary to have the gumption and miracles happen."
Dominguez's wife, actress Shelley Morrison, served as executive producer on the film snd reinforces that 'miracles' went on in the filmmaking process, such as a lost lead reaching out or stumbling upon meeting an old family friend. "The film took a life of it's own, it's almost as if we were led by those on the other side, we were led to where we needed to be, and that's the miraculous thing about this film; it appeals to people of all backgrounds, says Morrison. The end result is a satisfying, uplifting resolution for Dominguez, and for us who have joined him on his quest.
Weaving the Past first screened at the Frida back in February as part of a Cal State Fullerton professor's class on ethnic and gender studies. Although the screening was created for an educational context, the former Fiesta Twin theater was packed with viewers outside of the class, including non-students and families. Dominguez even recalls that after the Q&A session following the screening, people stayed to talk to the director about their own experiences in finding their family history. By the end, it was clear how much the film resonated with the audience. Says Morrison, "Young people who see the film want to sit with their elders and record them and that's connection, we're helping people make connections with film, that's what film or music or literature is supposed to do."