Richard Ray Perez, an independent documentary filmmaker from California, visited the campus of Texas A&M-Kingsville, to present a workshop on filmmaking and screen his latest documentary, César’s Last Fast, Tuesday, March 21.
The Sigma Delta Pi Academic Symposium hosted the events. The workshop was held at the Blue Room in Fore Hall and the film was shown in the Memorial Student Union Building in Room 219.
During the workshop, Perez gave advice and information and provided insight into the documentary filmmaking industry that not many people are familiar with.
Sharing stories from his own personal life, Perez acknowledged the actual film that inspired him to get into filmmaking, Los Olivdados.
He spoke of the people who inspired him, including the communication professor at Harvard who told him that his story was just as important of a story to tell than anyone else’s. He also related a few of the opportunities that were presented to him as he made progress as a filmmaker. A big aspect of the workshop was the power of storytelling and how important it is to film.
The main character of Perez’s documentary César’s Last Fast is labor leader and civil rights activist César Chavez. Chavez is one of the most well-known Latino figures in civil activism.
Chavez led thousands of farmers in their fight for humane working conditions in the fields where they worked.
Perez said the film took seven years to complete the film. “He’s such an important figure; you have to make a film worthy of him,” Perez said when asked about what he thought personally of Céser Chavez.
In the film, Perez captures the sacrifice along with the spiritual conviction of Chavez and his actions for his people. The story is formed around Chavez’s “Fast for Life,” the 36-day penance Chavez took for not doing enough to stop growers from spraying pesticides on farm workers. “Chavez has this intense spiritual commitment that few people in the modern era have, but he fully trusted in his spirituality in his cause to stop eating for 36 days, ” Perez said.
Perez spoke of the footage he reviewed and used of Chavez and the 36-day fast for his documentary. Strong emotions are felt as César’s Last Fast shows the impact that Chavez had on the people who looked to him for guidance and leadership. Something that many documentaries are accustomed to is just giving information and having people sit in front of a camera and talk, he said.
“There have been many old school films about him, what I would call video textbooks. It looks like your looking at homework. I noticed that documentary storytelling has become very sophisticated and I didn’t want make an old school textbook telling people what they already knew. I wanted to make a sophisticated story,” Perez said.
It wasn’t until the passing of Lorena Parlee, the press secretary for Chavez and the person who filmed the never before-seen footage used in Perez’s documentary that the film was planned.
When Parlee passed away, she left her footage and notes to Perez to make the documentary. The two had discussed making the film nine months earlier.
As for the impact of the film, Perez said, “People even our heroes are not perfect but that doesn’t make their achievements any less positive. “
Follow Bobby Puentes on Twitter: @paperboybob