Filmmaker Q&A with Director Rodrigo Reyes

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

There are many wonderful filmmakers, but I really love the work of Alan Berliner. He is a curious and wonderful artist who loves people deeply. His energy has been very inspiring to my own practice.

What motivated you to make this film?

ABUELOS is a film that lives very close to my heart. Shot in both Michoacán and Northern California, a path that follows the journey of my family’s own migrant story. The making of this film was like stepping back into the life of my own people and their struggle.

Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Blackmagic Pocket 4K, with Nikkor lenses

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

We shot the film with a fixed camera and a classic, academy aspect ratio. By making the frame closer to a square, we were able to create beautiful portraits, where every moment feels like a postcard and every face becomes iconic.

This look also takes us back to older films, especially the golden age of Mexican cinema.

The resulting effect is a style that makes us think of the past while looking at the present, and this fits the story very well.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

With a documentary, you never know what is going to happen once you are in the world, with your camera in-hand, trying to tell a story. If you are lucky, your inspiration is reflected in life itself and your story will blossom. This is what makes nonfiction filmmaking so wonderful! In the beginning, I knew the logistics of the visa process and the trip, but the film did not come alive until I visited the community. Luckily, ABUELOS evolved organically, as we started to connect with families and learn about their experience. Slowly, moments started to emerge that reflected my motivations for the story.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

The pain of that exodus continues to echo through generations. I remember distinctly, as a kid, trying to make sense of the distance that had pulled at the seams of our family, threatening to tear us apart. Years go by and we continue to miss each other deeply, even though we have the privilege of traveling across the border. Thus, when I heard about the reunification program to bring elderly grandparents to California so they could see their children and meet their grandkids for the first time, I connected with their hope and their anguish. It is unimaginably cruel for families to undergo this trauma. I can only celebrate the resilience of the family featured in Abuelos, who are driven by undying hope to meet their loved ones again.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

We worked closely to the community, just myself and the cinematographer. The hope was to stay small and work on building trust with the protagonists. We all love our grandparents, right? So we were really careful to respect this affection and make sure the families could feel safe with us. This is key! You cannot make an impact with a story if you do not have a good relationship with the people living through it!

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

We go out into the world with ideas and inspiration, hoping to tell a story. I love that moment of surprise that comes suddenly, when the real world elevates and improves what I had in my mind. That’s when the real poetry can happen.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A diary.

Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

I remember asking the grandma who is the protagonist of the film, what do you share with your grandkids that is special? How do you connect with them? She told me she loves to cook, and that she was preparing a going-away dinner for her loved ones. Would it be OK to include it in the film? This was an incredible idea and it helped give our story shape and direction. Grandma cooks to show her love, for her people on both sides of the border.

Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

It is always difficult to distribute a film, but we are fortunate that Abuelos has been seen widely thanks to the online platform Topic.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I hope that this work echoes with viewers, touching them far deeper than the everyday politics around migration, which in their virulence, have erased the human beings at the heart of the story.

Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

  1. Family. How do we stay connected to each other when we are separated by so many borders?
  2. Does anyone in the class have a direct experience of immigration? How does it feel to have a loved one far away? What are some of the ways that we try to heal and come together?
  3. Why are grandparents important in our lives? How do kids benefit from being close to their elders? What do we do to show that we love them?

Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

The grandmother in the film still has her visa and can visit her family regularly. So things are better!

What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

  1. Support the elders in your community. Visit them, volunteer to help, pay attention to their needs.
  2. Find ways to support healing in immigrant communities. This can mean policy-change, volunteering or just being kind to each other 🙂

Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):




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