By María Margarita López
"The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," restored by the Academy Film Archive in 2016, was the closing night film of the fourth annual Cinema Culturas Film Festival held Sunday in Moreno Valley. Those in attendance witnessed a special moment as actors Pepe Serna, Tom Bower and Edward James Olmos joined director Robert Young for an intimate Q&A session by Dr. Carlos E. Cortés following the film.
Based on true events, the film’s themes of family, police brutality, and the importance of language continue to resonate in today’s social climate. The western, now beautifully restored, was released in 1982 and produced by American Playhouse. Originally shot in Super 16mm format and blown up to 35mm, the original materials presented a considerable technical challenge in restoring the print. The result is beautiful, crisp images transporting the audience through time and space to Gonzalez, Texas, in 1901 to witness the Texas Rangers on a manhunt for a killer, Gregorio Cortez.
Director Robert Young’s richly layered scenes provide unvarnished information for each viewer to digest. “This film is better now than it was when it first came out,” said Dr. Cortés. “It’s absolutely visionary. I was transfixed back there with so many things you almost predicted about America and about language, police relations, law enforcement, all kinds of stuff...This film will be there 100 years from now. It’s magical.”
When asked why Edward James Olmos wanted to work with director Robert Young, he noted what he learned about the director when they worked together on the film "Alambrista." “I was exposed to an aesthetic,” recalls Olmos. “His aesthetic is so simple that when you say it people grasp it, but to try to do it is immensely difficult in art form. He doesn’t gratuitize. He doesn’t romanticize. He doesn’t glamorize. He doesn’t exploit."
“He doesn’t manipulate you and he doesn’t play any results with his script, his directing, his camera, his actors, anything,” he added. “Those six simple aesthetical pieces are so difficult to do that most people can’t do it… This film – everyone walks out with their own understanding, their own feeling and their own idea. That’s a Robert Young film. I’ve never met another artist that has ever given more to the understanding of how to document human behavior.”
“Audience reaction has been terrific,” said Randy Haberkamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “There’s nothing more gratifying to me than seeing people respond to movies in a positive way. To see Gregorio Cortez, which we restored back on the big screen and to have the filmmakers – Robert Young the director and Edward James Olmos the star tell us it’s never looked this good before. To have the cinematographer tell us that – that’s where you have a sense of pride. This is one of those films that I remember when it came out. It was a big deal. It was very different subject matter for movies at that time…so it’s great to bring it back.”
Above: Actor Pepe Serna, CCFF Founder & Director Dr. Cony Martínez,
Edward James Olmos, Robert Young, Tom Bower and Dr. Carlos E. Cortés.
EXTRA FOOTAGE: Randy Haberkamp (above), Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. About the Academy’s Experience working with the Getty on the Pacific Standard Time LA/LA Initiative" “They’ve been a great partner. We wanted it to be all encompassing for the Academy because we have a library, we have an archive, we have an oral history program, we have public screenings, we have film preservation, and so all of those things are involved in our initiative here. We recorded 26 oral histories with filmmakers from all over Los Angeles and Latin America including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico City. Everyone from Alfonso Cuarón and Edward James Olmos to Mexican directors who might not be as well known here whose work we are showcasing in the coming weeks. We have Lucrecia Martel coming from Argentina, we have Arturo Ripstein coming in from Mexico and more.
The audiences have been terrific. This is like a demographer’s dream because I was seeing young people of all different colors, shapes and sizes and men and women. It’s a different audience for the Academy to be reaching out to, which is why we’re very happy to be involved.
We’re restoring 'El Norte', which is going to be our closing film in the series. Needless to say that movie unfortunately is more timely than ever so it’s very interesting for us to see another generation discovering those films."
"The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" was screened as part of the
Getty’s Pacific Standard Time LA/LA initiative
at the Cinema Culturas Film Festival.
More on the film restoration:
More on the Academy’s upcoming screenings (tickets still available).