Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Yesterday, this space featured an interview with Eduardo Verástegui (Bella)  in which he spoke about his riveting supporting role as Anacleto González Flores in the historical epic For Greater Glory which opens in U.S. theaters next Friday (June 1).  The story, as noted, chronicles the events of Mexico’s Cristero War, an (unfortunately) nearly-forgotten saga of a people’s rebellion to defend their religious liberty from government overreach. The film’s release seems especially timely given the recent lawsuit against our own federal government by 43 Catholic institutions protesting new government requirements that they include contraception in their employee healthcare packages.  While the intrusion of Mexico’s Calles regime was far more direct in that it actually banned public worship, the issue of government involvement in the affairs of religious institutions is clearly one that remains relevant.

While Verástegui’s performance as the fascinating brave Catholic pacifist is quite compelling, it’s Andy Garcia’s sturdy portrayal of  General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the agnostic military leader hired by the rebels to manage their resistance, that dominates the film. With a small group of other bloggers, I recently sat down with Garcia to talk about his role in the film. Here are some highlights:

Q: The movie was quite epic in scope. How much of the story had to be cut?

Andy Garcia: The first sub-cut I saw was the assembly of the film and that was like four hours long and then I saw three and a half and then I saw three hours.  We kept working to get it down. I’ve seen the movie many, many  many times. But the first time I saw it – just the assembly – I was very pleased with what we had been able to capture — the raw material of the film, how beautiful it was.  Especially, I was very proud of…the design elements of the film that were done by the Mexican designers (led by Salvador Parra), the photographer (Eduardo Martinez Solares)…(and) costume designer (Mariestela Fernandez) that was done to actually shoot this movie at these (Mexican) locations…For example, the main Cristero camp, that sort of looked like the Grand Canyon a little bit. To build that camp there — to actually access that valley –it was a 30 minute walk from  our trailers…It’s an hour and a half to get to that place just to the camp. We would get in our characters’ wardrobe and then hike in for thirty minutes.  Now, it’s easy for me  hike in there by myself but they carried cameras and cranes and equipment into that valley and then took it out every night.  That crew was making that effort to capture those images. It was like taking a boat over the mountain. So, the effort that was made for this movie was quite extraordinary. It’s something that has to be spoken about.

Q: How did you come to be involved with his project? 

Garcia: It was offered to me and then I met the director (Dean Wright) and producer (Pablo Jose Barroso) and we started chatting about its potential and how we saw accomplishing this thing, I was very taken by it – by the story that I knew nothing about . I called my friends. Mexican-Americans  from Mexico didn’t even know anything about it.  How is that possible?  They said it’s kind of taboo and not really spoken of. I thought, well then it’s got to be spoken of.

It was interesting because we opened the film in Mexico on April 20th.  I went down there. (It was promoted as) “the story they didn’t want you to know about” and it opened and it broke records…People now know about the story which is good.  It’s important to know about it.

Q: You’ve played many interesting fictional characters in your career. Is it harder playing a historical figure? 

Garcia: There’s a responsibility to be as truthful and honest to the character as you can.  Sometimes with these historical figures there’s not a lot of information  you can go by… In the case of Enrique Gorostieta Velarde there was a book by Jean Meyer…It spoke about who he was – that he was a decorated general, that he was not religious…then (some letters) but that was it…Because this war has been so taboo, it was swept under the rug and so was Gorostieta.

He was opposing the government. He fought in the Mexican Revolution and he was highly decorated. (Then) he was fighting against those people . So, he got swept under the rug with everybody else. So now he’s (being resurrected) with people finally understanding a little bit about who he was (and what he did because of the film.

So, you finally get a sense of the character and you have the script and you empower him in the way that you feel he should be empowered for his services. It’s a grand gesture to go in and lead an army for (the people). It takes a man of great courage. Also it’s noble cause because it’s not only religious freedom it’s the cause of absolute freedom — that man should have a right to be religious if he wants to. The government should not be involved in those decisions.

Q:  Does your Cuban background play a role in how you view a story involving the fight for freedom

Garcia: Yes, of course.  Freedom was taken away from my family until we landed in America and it was given back to us.  So, yes, of course. And, in fact, freedom is still being taken away from the Cuban people. Castro is still there. The same government is in power.  There hasn’t been that Cristero War there.

So, yes.  It’s not the reason why I made the movie but it certainly suffused my subconscious while I was doing it.

Q: So, it gave you a greater appreciation for what the characters were facing? 

Garcia: Sure, sure…You know, I had a well to tap into, a parallel story.

Q: Has this story had an impact on your personal outlook regarding faith? 

Has this project affected you personally in terms of your outlook or faith?

Garcia: No.

Q: How much was cut from the film?

Garcia: At least a good hour.

Q: Do you remember what scenes?

Garcia: Oh, yeah. I was there. Sometimes some of those things will come back on the DVD – not everything but things that could exist as a scene. Some of it is already incorporated into the movie. It’s just patterned or interlaced with something else in a sequence. So, some of it is in the movie. Scenes that are not in the movie that still exist as a whole can be put on a DVD. Maybe they’ll sell the movie as a miniseries where that stuff gets put back in. I don’t know what that plan is. I’m not a producer on the film, although I did work enough on it to be one. But the scenario is usually they put some of it back. The people who release the DVDs want that stuff in it.

Q: The death scene involving José Luis Sánchez del Rio, the young Cristero boy who was put to death for refusing to renounce his faith, is heart-wrenching. Was there any thought given to toning it down to avoid receiving an “R” rating?

Garcia: I think they scaled back a little bit on some of the more graphic images in that sequence. You know they cut the feet, they skinned the feet. That was part of the whole thing that they used to do to the priests and stuff.  So, some of those images were cut back.  But the sequence is as is. There are just a couple of shots here and there (cut). It doesn’t need it. I mean the imagination is more powerful…Sometimes it’s best not to show.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take from this film?

Garcia: You want a movie to have resonance  You want people to go home and say “Wow!…You gotta go see that movie!” You want that kind of reaction – things that stick with you for weeks to come.  That’s the key as a filmmaker. It’s not a piece of propaganda. I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything. I just want (the audience) to have an experience that moves them. Let their feelings fall where they want to fall but we’re not on a preacher’s box or anything.  This is a historical drama. That’s what it is, you know, and, of course, you can get affected by a movie and have a greater appreciation for the things that you have as opposed to the things that you don’t have and appreciate, you know, that here that we have certain liberties – that we can go out and protest, that we can go out and practice our religion. We’re not going to be put in jail because of it — which is happening all over the world today. It won’t “make” you think that way  but it’s a natural question as you watch a movie like this  — that you go “Wow!…I’m not worried about walking the streets  and looking over my shoulder because of something I might have said.”

Note: I’ll be talking about this film on today’s edition The Great Campaign with Jason Jones on Maria Radio which airs at noon eastern time.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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