Thursday, July 31, 2014

Must-See Documentary Chronicles Fimmaker's Revolutionary Grandfather

Documentaries come and go, some hit theatrically, some air on PBS, and then some actually never see the light-of-day until they make it out into the world on home video via DVD.   In the age of D-I-Y filmmaking and the ability to make a film for almost no money whatsoever, how do you find the films that are worth your while when the creative output of filmmakers is up and outlets to show the films are increasing just as quickly?   Do you comb the internet and read reviews hoping to find some good recommendations?  Or do you click through the Documentary category on Netflix Instant and hope that you'll find something that may peak your interests amidst their vast catalog?  It can be a challenge, especially if you're not into the current trend of documentaries on music groups or on films that were never made, almost made, or never released.    Perhaps, the answers aren't known yet, so for the time being I guess we can consider ourselves lucky that WEAVING THE PAST (2014) somehow and someway has shown itself public and is on the path to finding a audience.

Set to be released this August, WEAVING THE PAST,  written and directed by Walter Dominguez and Executive Produced by actress Shelley Morrison (Will & Grace), tells of the filmmakers own personal promise, made to his dying grandfather to search out his long lost relatives. 

Along the way, director Dominguez discovers not only that his grandfather, Emilio "Tata" Hernandez was not just a philanthropist and well respected Reverend in his community but that he too, as a young man had ties to the Mexican Revolution which brought major social and economic justice to the people of the impoverished country decades prior.  

WEAVING THE PAST is a worthwhile film, but more importantly, it is a personal film above everything else.  Director Walter Dominguez has really captured the soul in PAST, and the beautiful thing here is that he has not only captured the soul of his Grandfather Tata but that of himself the journeyman as well.   WEAVING THE PAST leads us on a journey of discovery of family, faith, and hope. It rewards its audience in spades.  Films are art, and Dominguez has really taken this idea to heart.  With PAST he has created something so personal and something so true that it is difficult to resign to any preconceived ideas that one might have about what a film is "supposed to be".  Dominguez explores and tinkers with the traditional documentary format in PAST by including dramatic recreations of emotional moments, while at the same time including talking heads, one-on-one encounters, and dream-like aesthetics.   This is a beautiful work, and Dominguez has really captured an unspoken emotion in his film, and it is really something rather difficult to articulate in words.  Experience WEAVING THE PAST.

For more information about WEAVING THE PAST and to see the trailer click HERE:

What follows is a interview conducted with Walter Dominguez and Shelley Morrison last month:

TV STORE ONLINE:  Thanks so much for the opportunity to take a look at your film before it gets officially released.... I thought the film was just wonderful.

WALTER & SHELLY:  Thanks.

SHELLEY:  You know, this film is our child.  We've been working on it for about thirteen years actually.  We financed this film on our own so we could make it our way.   It is really Walter's film, I'm just the Executive Producer and chief cook and bottle washer.

TV STORE ONLINE:  It's a great film, and for me it really transcends the traditional documentary that we're all familiar with because of just how personal of a film it actually is, and I love the dream-like quality that the film has as well as the reenactments used to tell the story...

WALTER:  You know, so much of the film and the making of it, we were making decisions surrounding the film that were based on deep, powerful and intuitive gut feelings. We just needed to put ourselves back in the time that were looking at in the film.   I really wanted to feel what it was like for those people in that time. I cast professional actors as well as family descendents in the film so we could re-create the feeling of that time.   As I was exploring, I heard some amazing stories and there was just no way to convey those through talking heads and there weren't any photographs to help us either, so  we had to recreate some of it to help convey the drama that these people had to endure.

SHELLEY:  It really was a journey for Walter.   He was led to the people that he needed to be with.   The young boy who plays Walter's Grandfather in the film is fourteen-years-old now.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When you're traveling down these different roads exploring this story...Did you run into dead-ends?  What were some of the obstacles you encountered as you were making the journey to uncover the story of the film?

SHELLEY:   We did.   We hit some very expensive dead-ends.   During a great portion of the shooting, I was still doing Will & Grace (NBC; 1998-2006)  and Walter was traveling back and forth to Mexico with our Cinematographer.   Seventy-five percent of the people that worked on this film with us, either behind the camera or in front of it, we have known for over twenty-five years. 

WALTER:  The film really was a spiritual journey for me, and I really felt that I was being guided in some way.   There were certainly times when I thought that I had reached a dead end.  There were also times when I didn't know where to go next, or how we were going to locate the descendents of our ancestors.   When I first went down to Mexico, I was only in touch with one person, he was a historian that I was planning to interview and that was all.      The rest of the people, were found because I chose to trust my gut and pursue the story. I had to tell this story.    I'm a very spiritually oriented person, as I'm sure you can tell from watching the film, and I put up photographs of ancestors around me with the idea that I was going to need help from the other side, and I do think that we do get help on different levels.   Life is a multi-leveled experience.   It really became a detective story for me, and the help I got was mind-boggling.  People started to come forward and they'd give me some information and that would lead to even more information.  I was really running on blind faith in order to complete the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:   One of the most powerful moments in the film is when you get to see the diary of your Grandfather from the early '50s....What do you think was the biggest surprise that you learned about your Grandfather while you were making the film?

SHELLEY:  I think that it was when Walter realized just how much he was exactly like his Grandfather.   My job was to direct his narration because Walter takes you on a journey in the film.  He really has a remarkable ability to attract all types of people and animals to him in his life and I really wanted that to come across in the film as well...

TV STORE ONLINE:  You know, I think that worked out well...  As I was watching the film I did remark to myself just how calming his voice was...

WALTER:   Thanks.  I was very worried about having to do the narration.  I had considered getting someone else for it, and then I just realized that it was my journey and that I had to do it myself.  I was worried that people would get tried of my voice over the course of the film but I tried to make it as compelling as I could.   I think it worked out well.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I know editing a documentary can be quite a long process considering all of the footage you may shoot over the course of the journey....

SHELLEY:   Walter's first cut of the film was over four hours long..

WALTER:  Well,  we had hundreds of hours of footage.

SHELLEY:   We butted heads on the editing of the film, but we really listened to each other.   We worked on the edit of the film for over six months.   Finally, he came into our bedroom and put a DVD into the player one evening and said, "Honey, this is the last one."  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Was it difficult to trim it down?  Was it instinctual in regards to the footage used versus what was important to the story?

WALTER:   I did go a lot by instinct and by what footage was the most interesting to me.  I knew we couldn't release a four hour movie.   The film is called WEAVING THE PAST (2014) and I wanted the editing to weave the story.  It was a really difficult process to get through all of the footage.  I was able to do most of it without turning to others for guidance, and when it really came down to it, you ask yourself about what is most important regarding the story.  After a while you can get lost in the weeds when you're working on something like this, so thankfully, I had Shelley to take my edits to.  She is very good with story structure and she pointed out what were key and important moments, but also the things that were fascinating while at the same time would be able to exist as something like a extra feature on the DVD release. So that was really helpful in cutting the film down.    It was a very collaborative process.