ALEJANDRA VÁSQUEZ | Filmmaker debuts with inspiring Mariachi Documentary @SXSW
ALEJANDRA VÁSQUEZ standed out during SXSW Film Festival with her grand premiere in the Documentary Section Going Varsity in Mariachi showcasing a film about Mariachi bands as Varsity in South Texas. Mexican-American filmmaker Alejandra Vásquez transported the audience to the lively and emotional world of Mariachis. The Mariachi Team performed for the first time at the Paramount Theather entrance showcasing their beautiful Mariachi customs. You could hear the vibrant tones of the thrompets on Congress Avenue all the way to the Capitol.
This was a directorial debut for Vásquez, accompanied in this journey by Sam Osborn, Going Varsity in Mariachi is a testament to their ability to explore identity, cultural roots, and pressing social issues with a nuance that foregrounds frankness, boldness, and joy.
I interviewed interviewed Alejandra over the phone after their premier at SXSW FIlm Festival at the Paramount Theatre. She had a calm and paused voice and was passionate about her film
10 QUESTIONS FOR ALEJANDRA VÁSQUEZ
- HOLA ALEJANDRA, FIRST OF ALL TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOU, WHERE ARE YOU FROM, WHAT SCHOOL DID YOU GO T0?
I am from the El Paso – Juárez border area. I grew up in West Texas then moved to California to go to UT Berkeley to study film and after college I moved to New York, where I fell in love with documentary production.
2. DO YOU HAVE MUSIC BACKGROUND?
Not really, my [abuelo] grandfather was a singer who played the trumpet. But I loved music, and making films. If you grew up listening to mariachi music like myself, the carefully selected Mariachi songs this band performs are iconic, powerful and recognizable.
3. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO STUDY FILM?
I always loved film, movies, I felt a desire to be in film or to work in film. Originally, I studied to be a computer science major. But during college, I lost someone I care about, and decided to do something to honor that person through film.
ABOUT FEMALE DIRECTORS
4. THIS IS YOUR DIRECTOR’S DEBUT, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?
I felt pretty passionate about the story and I thought it was going to be a great film, I was happy with the process. However, we were pretty nervous when we premiered at SUNDANCE Film Festival in 2023, where our film won the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award for the U.S. Documentary Competition.
5. WHAT IS WHAT YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT DIRECTING FILMS?
I enjoyed living in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley and getting to know the community. Talking to the Mariachi student’s family was essential for the students to get comfortable with us and get the documentary done.
Co-direct Sam Osborn and myself moved to the Valley for nine months so we can make this documentary possible, which made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March 12, 2023.
6. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT FEMALE FILMMAKERS FROM THE VALLEY?
Actually there is a film collective ENTRE in the Valle and they are starting to make community programs. Documentaries, I feel like those programs really help.
7. WHAT WAS SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT THE TEAM HAD TO WORK WITH?
This documentary features the teenage captains of Mariachi Oro of Edinburg North HIgh School under the guidance of Coach Abel Acuña. Their main challenge was to compete with other high schools under a very limited budget and a diverse team of musicians with little or no experience and turn them into state champions.
Essentially we tried to tell a story where we could show the lives of Mexican American kids growing up along the border.
8. HOW DIFFICULT WAS TO FINANCE THE FILM?
We received several film Grants. There were three financiers to come to us earlier in the process, and Luis Miranda, they came to help and after a while they financed the film. I also had two Ford Foundation Grants for SF Film among others.
FEMALE MARIACHI BANDS
9. MARIACHI BANDS HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN COMPOSED OF MEN, WHAT IS THE FEMALE MARIACHI PARTICIPATION IN THIS FILM?
In this film we have almost half of the members being female Mariachi members. One of the students featured in the documentary is Bella Luna, a senior violin player and the captain of Mariachi Oro.
Bella finished high school and is currently a chemistry -pharmacist major at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.When she learned that filmmakers wanted to follow her mariachi group for a year to make a movie, she didn’t know what to expect. Now she is very proud of the results.
10. WHAT IS YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
I love fiction documentaries and to try and make more of that genre. Developing a new project – Green Card lottery. My step Mom is Peruvian, and the whole family came through the green card lottery. There is a story to tell.
ADVICE BY ALEJANDRA VÁSQUEZ
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVICE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO’S DREAM IS TO BE FILM DIRECTORS LIKE YOU?
I would say to look for your role model, and follow your instinct and passion for what you love. It is also important to be part of a community where they foster and develop your dreams.
Watch Alejandra Vásquez Mariachi Going in Varsity here
By: Lilia Davis, Editor in Chief