Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Golden Dream

Film is a language that everyone speaks. The medium offers insight into other cultures, new discoveries, and allows its viewers to experience new ways of thinking. Every year, the Chicago International Film Festival screens over one hundred films from 55 countries; some of which go on to become major blockbusters while others receive little screen time once they leave the festival. Regardless of the reception a film receives, a filmmaker always swells with pride as the product of years of teamwork is finally projected on screen for the first time.

At last year's festival, I had the privilege to hear Diego Quemada-Diez (director and chief writer) present and speak about his first feature length film "La Jaula de Oro" (translated as both "The Golden Cage" and "The Golden Dream"). The film follows the story of four Guatemalan teenagers and their journey as they immigrate to the United States. Quemada-Diez held a Q&A after the film, and discussed the process of making the film. I soon learned that much more work went into this film than most others. One could arguably say that this is one of the most collaborative films ever created.

Quemada-Diez hadn't gone to film school, and started work as a cameraman on various projects. As he learned new technical and directorial skills, the beginnings of "La Jaula de Oro" were never far from the back of his mind. He began with idea of making a documentary about Central American immigrants and their stories about their journeys to the U.S. As he discussed with other filmmakers and started preliminary research, he realized a fictional story might better serve his purposes. He wanted to create a connection with the audience, and to take them on a journey with his immigrants. He came to the realization that neither a documentary or a fictional original script would be enough to convey the emotions and experiences he hoped to capture. Quemada-Diez wanted more than the "talking heads" portrayed in documentaries; he argued that they keep too much distance between the subject and the audience. He wanted his viewers to feel what his characters felt, and to accompany them on their journey. After multiple discussions and brainstorming sessions with other filmmakers he met through different project he worked on, he decided to combine the factual, realistic aspects of a documentary with the narrative quality of a drama.

Over the course of six years, Quemada-Diez interviewed over 600 immigrants who were in the process of, or had already embarked on the journey that the teenagers in "La Jaula de Oro" were about to begin. Quemada-Diez and his team of writers had to somehow pick and choose which details to include when they began to weave the stories of the fictional immigrants together. The writers worked together and spent extensive amounts of time collaborating and discussing in order to make each character's story and experience just right.

While many filmmakers do heavy research and conduct numerous interviews when making a documentary or a movie based on a true story, few, if any, have ever gone to the lengths that Quemada-Diez has to write their script. Not only did Quemada-Diez work with four other writers on the script for "La Jaula de Oro", he had included contributions from over 600 others. With so many different minds offering their opinions, a script can lose its coherence, and the writer risks losing his voice. At the end of the film as the credits rolled,  I sat in silence, unable to come up with words to describe how beautiful and moving the past two hours had been. During the Q&A, Quemada-Diez explained the painstaking process of how he and his writing team recorded interviews and collaborated throughout the years as the script was written. His voice full of sincerity as he explained that he owed his deepest gratitude to all those who told their stories. He never once referred to "La Jaula de Oro" as "my film"; the emphasis was always placed on our creation. As a director, he could have easily taken sole credit for the success of the film. Yet, as the credits rolled behind him, the name of each and every person who shared their story with him filled the screen as a reminder of the greatness and wonder that can come from collaborative thinking.

The film's IMDB page is here
You can find out more about the Chicago International Film Festival here
Unfortunately, there is no word on a possible wide release date or distribution of the film. Oftentimes, movies like "La Jaula de Oro" find their only screen time on the festival circuit, and aren't made widely available afterwards. That's part of the magic of film festivals, because it allows us the opportunity to see movies we might never have a chance to see again. However, the film won the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2013 Cannes Festival for the cast and has won twelve other awards, so there is hope that one of the independent theaters in Chicago could pick it up. 

1 comment:

  1. I love movies and I think your blog post really captures one of the many struggles of filmmakers. Film is such a collaborative effort and working with others on a movie like "La Jaula de Oro" took a lot of creativity because so many people had so much insight and personal experience to add not only to the writing of the film but also the artistic direction as well. Diego Quemada-Diez seemed to take plenty of time to make sure he thoroughly researched his subject matter so as not to lose the reality of the issue but also allow for audiences to maintain a connection to his characters. To see a director go so in depth and create a unique style of film takes a certain level of creativity.


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