Opinion: As a young filmmaker, creating a feature film to honor my Yucatecan culture was a dream

Vargas-Madrigal is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles.

“In the Mayab [the original name of the Yucatan peninsula], when a girl is born, the birds cry of melancholy” is a quote from renowned author Conchi León’s “Del Manantial del Corazón,” a Yucatecan theater play which by something of a miracle became the basis of a project on which I dedicated five years of my life. As a young filmmaker, it is a dream experience to have had this be my feature directorial debut.

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Mérida, Yucatán, sits at the opposite end of Tijuana, Baja California, where I was born and raised. At the age of 19, I emigrated to San Diego, and after graduating from UCSD in 2015 with a degree in visual arts and media, I moved with a group of friends to Los Angeles, where we would all eventually find jobs in the media industry .

It was during these days that I found myself visiting my mom, Gisela Madrigal, a film and theater actress who at the time was reading for an upcoming choral adaptation of “Del Manantial Del Corazón,” to be performed in CECUT (Centro Cultural Tijuana) . As I happened to walk by, I overheard my mom reading with a funny accent and she briefly mentioned to me the material she was preparing for, and in that moment a slew of fascinating images flew through my head. My first thought was “someone important must be adapting this into film, it’s so visually and dramatically arresting.” This all probably happened within the space of 15 minutes.

I am by no means a theater buff, and had never visited Yucatán state, but I immediately imagined this as a movie.

I pondered the idea for a few days and around the end of 2016, I decided to look up Conchi on Facebook and sent a friend request. After being accepted, I sent her a long, detailed message explaining my ideas and offering to begin developing the project myself as an independent feature. After a few phone calls, she gave me the go-ahead — an extremely generous project to award to a 26-year-old filmmaker who at the time had only a few deep-underground shorts.

After finishing a draft of the script in early 2017, I visited and met with Conchi for the first time in Mérida, Yucatán, her hometown and what would eventually become our home base for the production. I returned in 2018, and, with the help of associate producers Adriana Santos and Nayeli Del Toro, both from my hometown of Tijuana, we created a two-minute proof of concept teaser.

After long months of planning, development, and lots of missed lunches and dinners in order to save enough money for the production, we ventured out in March 2019 and fast-tracked the film in an intense schedule that included casting, scouting and putting a crew together.

We found an immense amount of local support through Conchi León, as well as our local co-producers Jorge Ivan Rubio and Mario Suarez, who connected us with local resources and authorities who kindly assisted us in the production.

“Del Manantial del Corazón” tells the stories of three mestiza women of the Yucatán, who all experience difficulties surrounding their motherhood.

The film differs from the theater play in how its stories are presented. While the play has three actresses performing a variety of characters as they narrate sections of the story, the film operates in a type of anthology format. Transitioning between different characters, places and time periods in Yucatán, it tells the stories of Betty, Eduvrigidas and Socorro.

The intention was to portray the uniqueness of Yucatecan cultures and how they mesh and exist together. It shows these women overcome different situations, often on their own. It’s all set against the backdrop of “El Mayab,” the region of Yucatán, which almost functions as a character in itself in the film.

Working on this project has been a very emotional experience for myself and most others involved, the nature of the material being very powerful; I recall shedding tears during the writing of the script, shooting of certain scenes and while editing the movie.

In the upcoming 29th San Diego Latino Film Festival, the film will see its US and public premiere, and we could not be more excited and thankful for the opportunity to share our movie. Many of the artists involved are from the San Diego/Tijuana region, including executive producer Edwin Cruz, cinematographer Jo Kamimura, art director Frida Reyes and composer Pedro Vargas Madrigal.

“From the Source of the Heart”

Showing: 9 pm Friday, at AMC Mission Valley, screen six

Available online: Sunday at sdlatinofilm.com

This essay is in the print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 16, 2022, with the headline, My feature debut is a dream come true

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