Berlin Film Festival: Michael Peña & Diego Luna Interviews on Cesar Chavez

As the title might suggest, César Chávez sets out to tell the story of a historical hero, which has never been told on film before: The story of Mexican American civil rights activist César Chávez. With a strong will, peaceful mind and hope for a change for the better, Chávez was one of the most important defenders of the rights of Latino farm workers.

The film spans the 40s to the 70s, from the start of the movement to the signing of an agreement for better terms and a promising future on the 20 July 1970, and shows how Chávez brought his ideas of a peaceful strike and passive resistance to his community to achieve an era of better living and working conditions for farm workers all over the country. The biopic combines real-life images and broadcasts from the time with the acted film scenes, mingling the formats of documentary and narrative feature film.

American actor Michael Peña, whose parents became factory workers after they immigrated to the US from Mexico, took on the lead as César Chávez. While the part is an honour to play for any child of Latino immigrants, Peña dealt well with the pressures that came with such a role and managed to give a believable and honest portrayal of César Chávez as a farm worker, husband and father. While John Malkovich plays the role of his opponent, a greedy owner of a grape-growing business, the movie also pays tribute to the ladies who played a major part in the rebellion of the American farm workers. Co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association Dolores Huerta is played by Rosario Dawson and César Chávez’s wife is portrayed by America Ferrera, who, as director Diego Luna says, “With her whole heart, gave so much humanity to the role.”

César Chávez is the first English-language film Mexican actor and director Diego Luna has directed, but presenting his film at the Berlin Film Festival is certainly a worthy start for this successful debut.

One very special guest who was present at the premiere of the film was one of the surviving heroes of the farm workers’ movement, Dolores Huerta herself. After the movie finished, leaving the ghost of rebellion in the screening theatre, the director and the actors took to the stage, but quickly handed the mic over to Huerta, the real star of the evening. A respected lady, she surprised the audience with her young and unbroken spirit even in old age. She immediately got the audience to join her in shouting “Sí, se puede”, which translates to the American phrase “Yes, we can”, and revived the rebellious thoughts of her day.

Flicks And The City talked to Diego Luna about the pressures of being the first person to tell the story of César Chávez on film and to Michael Peña about the honour of playing the lead role as well as his future plans including the soon-to-be-released Fury.