LatinaLista — People living south of the border have always been coming to the United States or “El Norte.” Yet, unlike the stories of the Irish or the Italians, Hispanic immigrant stories didn’t really start becoming part of the collective consciousness until illegal immigration was put on the political radar in the last few years.
That’s not to say the stories weren’t out there or movies about the arrival of Hispanic immigrants weren’t being made because they were. People, back then, just weren’t interested.
One of those films that was produced back then and quietly disappeared into Hollywood’s archives was a film considered the “abuelo” of all Latino immigrant films. It starred Latinos as the lead characters and is now being reissued to a new audience in a new format Â — 25 years after it debuted in theatres.
El Norte by well known Latino director and writer Gregory Nava has been restored into high-definition DVD and Blue-ray formats by Criterion Collections.
The 1983 film follows the lives of a Guatemalan brother and sister who flee persecution at home and make their way to the United States to work in Los Angeles. The award-winning film is packaged with new material for its anniversary release.
Some of the bonus materials included with the film are: New audio commentary featuring Nava; “The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva,” Nava’s 1972 award-winning student film; In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of “El Norte”: a new video program featuring interviews with Nava, producer and co-writer Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutierrez and David Villalpando, and set designer David Wasco and a booklet featuring an essay by novelist Hector Tobar.
El Norte can be purchased at the Criterion Collections website through the site’s online store.
Although the movie might draw criticism on a couple of small fronts if it were released today — the dialogue makes its message unnecessarily explicit once or twice; action scenes aren’t wholly convincing — “El Norte” still excels at its main goal, which is to force Anglo viewers to see Latino immigrants as individual human beings rather than as the generic menace Lou Dobbs rails against.
As Enrique and Rosa, David Villalpando and Zaide Silvia Gutierrez manage (despite having little or no screen-acting experience) to make their earnest, innocent characters believable, to shift the film’s balance from liberal agitprop toward the fablelike territory its makers intended. More than most films its age, “El Norte” continues to speak directly, and movingly, to our time.
a review by John DeFore