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A Day in the Ring with Diego Luna

Diego Luna
courtesy of ChristianProducciones.com

Although the 11th International Latino Film Fest opened on Friday, November 2, with a night of cinematic revelry, it was on Saturday afternoon that the two-week long fest really kicked things off A-list style. The majestic Castro Theatre was abuzz with anticipation while a throng of expectant fans lined-up around the block for the screening of Mexican actor—and festival guest of honor—Diego Luna’s directorial debut Chávez, an evocative documentary about the tumultuous life of legendary Mexican boxer and cultural icon Julio César Chávez .

Luna, who’s best known for his steamy performance in Y tu Mamá También—along with his best friend Gael Garcia-Bernal, who is the executive producer of Chávez—was welcomed by roaring applause and female audience members shrieking “Aye, Diego!” in the midst of a cacophony of savage wolf whistles as he took his place on the stage to introduce the film. The actor, who donned a director-appropriate casual suit and vest and a scraggly "take-my-movie-seriously" beard, joked about his habitual tardiness (“This is the first time I’ve been on time”) and modestly promised attendees that the film wouldn’t cut into their precious time (“It’s short, don’t worry”).

Chavez
courtesy of Canana Films

The movie itself was a heartfelt portrayal of Luna’s childhood idol Chavez, as well as a glimpse into the cultural landscape of Mexico. The film opens with a modern-day Chavez in the back of a taxi; the camera focusing on his face that’s weathered by time and repeated boxing-related injuries. “ The life of a boxer is difficult,” says Chavez with complete conviction, “ It is better to be an amateur, so families don’t suffer.” It’s this raw and honest portrayal of this larger-than-life idol that makes Luna’s Chávez compelling and engaging. Between the real-life, visceral footage of Chavez's boxing matches, the hypnotic music (there’s even a Cumbia song written for Chavez) and the touching moments where Chavez coaches his son, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., to be a king in the ring. By examining the ideas of masculinity, legacy, the dark side of fame and the father-son dynamic; Luna voyages deep into the heart and soul of Chavez to find the humanity and vulnerability of this unassailable legend.

After the film, the audience was given the rare opportunity to hear Luna discuss Chávez with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Delfin Vigil where Luna described his subject as “ the man who gave us the only good news in Mexico” as well as the major themes of the film as “the relationship between a father and a son, the relationship between fame and power and the biggest battle that everyone has, which is the battle with yourself—the only one you really have to win.”

Diego Luna
courtesy of ChristianProducciones.com

At a press conference, I asked Luna why he chose the medium of documentary film to portray Chavez’s story. After he joked that 7x7 sounded like name of a grocery store (probably a la 7-11) Luna answered: “I wanted you to realize that he lives in the same world that we are living. And also, documentaries are a great way to find your own voice as a director.  The story happens outside and you have to be ready and aware and open, but you can grow in the process. It’s a very organic way to become a director.”

Luna exited the theatre in a frenetic haze of flashing cameras, with desperate fans almost climbing over each other for a photo-op or autograph. I also left the Castro, in a light-headed punch-drunk way. I guess that’s what happens when you spend a day in the ring with Diego Luna.

For more information about the International Latino Film Festival’s screening times and locations, check the website for details.