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Gregory Nava’s ‘El Norte’ returns to theaters for Sept. 15 screenings


Gregory Nava, center with hat, films a scene of the Oscar-nominated film, “El Norte.” The film is being re-released in theaters on Sunday, Sept. 15, in Albuquerque as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Gregory Nava is a storyteller.

Through film, the director has told plenty of Latino stories.

From “My Family” to “Frida” to “Bordertown” and “Selena,” he’s opened up the window so that Latino stories can be seen by the masses.

Yet, 1984’s “El Norte” was one of the most difficult films for the filmmaker to complete.

Thirty-five years later, the film is still very much relevant in today’s social climate. At 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, “El Norte,” is being released into theaters as part of the Fathom Events presentation. It is also being shown to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

“We’re excited to be a Latino film helping to kick off this celebration,” Nava says. “The film that will be showing is the beautiful restoration.”

The Oscar-nominated drama features Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, as Rosa and Enrique, who are indigenous youths who flee Guatemala in the early 1980s due to the ethnic and political persecution of the Guatemalan Civil War.

They head north and travel through Mexico to the United States, arriving in Los Angeles.

“It’s all very bittersweet,” Nava says of the film. “The situation on the border with refugees is much worse than when we made the film. The film has always been a message of compassion and humanity.”

The film was made with very little money.

There was a crew of five people.

“We had to face off with guys with machine guns while filming,” Nava recalls. “It was very threatening and they shut the movie down. It was an outlaw film. The unions didn’t want to bring Rosa and Enrique to the United States. They had to come here illegally and they were playing undocumented people.”

When the film shot in the slums in Tijuana, it also was scary.

“We shot with a hidden camera,” Nava says. “We were so fueled with passion to finish the project. At one point, our negatives were taken and we had to make a payoff to get it back. I was terrified.”

Nava, who has lived in New Mexico for 14 years, felt that he needed to tell this story.

Growing up in San Diego, near the international border, his family story deals with immigration. It begins in the early 1930s, when President Herbert Hoover’s administration deported almost 2 million people from the United States. Sixty percent of those were citizens of the United States.

“One of the families broken up was mine,” Nava says.

His grandfather was a refugee and he was fleeing the violence.

Though he had asylum and was legal, Nava’s grandfather was deported to Mexico.

“That left my grandmother by herself with seven children to take care of,” Nava says. “Because I was raised on the border, I know what it means to have family broken up. When I see these families separated, I understand the pain. My grandmother is buried in the U.S. and my grandfather is buried in Mexico. It should have never been this way.”

As a young filmmaker, Nava felt it was important to tell this story — a feeling he strongly agrees with today.

“‘El Norte’ is a plea to build bridges, not walls,” Nava says. “I hope the screening will start a dialog. It’s been 35 years since the film and when you look at what is happening at the border, it’s nothing new. But we have to stand up and make a change. There is a right way to do everything.”

David Villalpando and Zaide Silvia Gutirrez in a scene from the 1984 release, “El Norte.” (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

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