By Sebastian Georgescu for Indie Beat Magazine
Studio City, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 05/20/2015 -- It's said that to complete an independent film requires nothing short of a successive series of miracles. With his captivating first feature ROAD TO JUAREZ entering its fourth consecutive week in theaters, writer-director David Ponce de Leon could not agree more.Indie Beat Magazine attended a recent showing of the film in Austin and had a chance to interview th eup and coming helmer.
The Los Angeles born Ponce de Leon remarked"movies at this budget level seldom get any theatrical play, let alone a full four week run." Spanning over five years from script to screen, Ponce de Leon decided from the outset that his debut film would be "a lot more ambitious than the majority of films at this budget level…I wanted a movie that I would want to go see as an audience member… a visceral ride with high production values, topical sensibilities and a great heart." Shooting on location in Lancaster, CA and Mexico city,the grueling process of completing this noteworthy opera prima was well worth the ride.
ROAD TO JUAREZ is a provocative gallop and brilliantly told saga about friendship, family, betrayal, loyalty and Karma. This film fires off like a cannon and keeps you guessing from start to finish. We are immediately thrust into a treacherous and effervescent world as the forlorn trio meanders through the slums of Mexico like piranhas dumped into the Salton Sea. Adal Ramones is superb as the vicious henchman and Romina Peniche is remarkable as the conflicted love interest. Charley Koontz from CSI CYBER is hilarious as sidekick to the strapping lead, played by Walter Perez. William Forsy the plays a gruff cowboy at the end of his rope, though one cannot escape the feeling that the 'larger than life' character actors' best days are behind him.
The process of getting the indie film made and into a four week theatrical run in over a dozen theaters was "truly miraculous". The project's origins go back to 2010when Ponce de Leon was introduced to veteran producer Scott Rosenfelt, who had produced studio films like HOME ALONE, MYSTIC PIZZA and TEEN WOLF as well as indie films such as the critically acclaimed SMOKE SIGNALS. Rosenfelt read the script and after several meetings with the writer-director, finally agreed to take on the project. A year later, Cesar R. Ramirez, came on board and the trio raised the seed money. Thus,ROAD TO JUAREZ was born.
Principal photography was in a word, "brutal". Less than 30 shooting days, half of which were in 112 degree heat… in the desert town of Lancaster…in the dead of summer. "More than one crew member fainted while on location, but that was the least of it." Because the director wanted authentic looking locations and the art department budget was stretched so thin, a local Lancaster scout was hired.This "quite shady character" found an abandoned desert communities that resembled something out of THE GRAPES OF WRATH. What the scout neglected to mention was that he had not had time to fumigate or further ready the locations for cast & crew, and that the rattlesnake population was at an all time high that year.
At least three instances of rattlesnakes were encountered by the crew during the Lancaster shoot, forcing many of them to opt to remain on the truck beds for safety. "Especially after hour 18 of the final Lancaster shooting day, as exhaustion set in." Inside the abandoned garage (where all torture scenes were shot) it was discovered during filming that nestled within the walls surrounding cast and crew, were golf ball sized, Black Widow spiders. Miraculously, the spiders cooperated, as did the snakes, and no one was hurt during production. "If you don't face mutiny at least once during the filming of an indie, you're not doing it right."
After surviving the California section of the shoot, the creative team needed to complete the Mexico City portion of the shoot. Being that two thirds of the film takes place in Mexico, much "location cheating" was required. "Taking all cast and crew to Mexico was not just cost prohibitive, but a dubious idea at best, considering the huge amount of negative press in recent years."
A petite second unit produced by Sergio Solares of Fungi Films, shot for over a week in the streets of Mexico City, as well as in several rural farming communities south of the capital. The Los Angeles footage was then inter cut with the Mexico plates to achieve a seamless tapestry. "So when we see William Forsy the sitting in downtown Los Angeles, his POV is second unit Mexico footage."
From an outsider's perspective and former Mexico City resident, I can tell you that not once did I ever doubt the authenticity of the Mexico scenes. The film enveloped me completely and even forced me to rethink my stance on international crime…yet another miracle. Some of the acting borders on the melodramatic, though perhaps this feeling came from the Spanish speaking characters going through perpetually heavy emotions,coupled with my memories of the famed Mexican telenovelas. That said,ROAD TO JUAREZ is an immensely entertaining ride and one you'll want to experience on the big screen…or at least on Blu-ray.
4 out of 5 stars
Writer-Director: David Ponce de Leon
Cast: Walter Perez, William Forsythe, Adal Ramones, Charley Koontz, Romina Peniche and Joshua Ponce de Leon
Distributor: Mousetrap Films/Film Festival Flix
Currently playing at Regal Metropolitan 14 in Austin and selected theatres
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