Continuing my doc-by-doc look at Sundance 2014 docs: Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee’s US Documentary Competition entry, CESAR’S LAST FAST, about the life and death of influential labor organizer Cesar Chavez.
Sundance Program Description:
In 1988, Cesar Chavez embarked on what would be his last act of protest in his remarkable life. Driven in part to pay penance for feeling he had not done enough, Chavez began his “Fast for Life,” a 36-day water-only hunger strike, to draw attention to the horrific effects of unfettered pesticide use on farm workers, their families, and their communities.
Using never-before-seen footage of Chavez during his fast and testimony from those closest to him, directors Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee weave together the larger story of Chavez’s life, vision, and legacy. A deeply religious man, Chavez’s moral clarity in organizing and standing with farmworkers at risk of his own life humbled his family, friends, and the world. CESAR’S LAST FAST is a moving and definitive portrait of the leader of a people who became an American icon of struggle and freedom.
Perez’s filmmaking background includes producing or shooting several shorts and television series on social, political, and environmental issues, as well as directing the 2002 political doc UNPRECEDENTED: THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. He serves as the Producer of Creative Partnership on the staff of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. As a young boy, Perez joined his father, a farm worker, in Chavez’s historic United Farm Workers’ grape boycott. Before her death in 2006, his fellow director/producer, Professor of Mexican and Chicano History Lorena Parlee, worked as Chavez’s press secretary in addition to creating advocacy videos for the UFW. Joining them as the film’s producer and executive producer is Emmy-award winner Molly O’Brien, who has previously collaborated with Perez, and executive producer Lyn Lear, a philanthropist and arts and environmental activist who also serves on the Sundance Institute Board of Trustees. The project’s editors are Jean-Philippe Boucicaut, who edited and co-produced Sundance special jury prize winner AMERICAN BLACKOUT (2006) and edited Sundance alum CITIZEN KING (2004); Lewis Erskine, whose past Sundance editing credits include FREEDOM RIDERS (2010), THE FIGHT (2004), THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL (2003), MARCUS GARVEY: LOOK FOR ME IN THE WHIRLWIND (2001), and THE BLACK PRESS: SOLDIERS WITHOUT SWORDS (1999); Carla Gutierrez, who served as second editor on Sundance alum THE FALL OF FUJIMORI (2005); and Christopher S Johnson. Sundance alums among the film’s cinematographers include James Chressanthis (THE GO-GETTER (2007)), Stephen McCarthy (THE LAST MOUNTAIN (2011), WOUNDED KNEE (2009), and SECRECY (2008)), and Jonathan Schell (COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (2010)).
Why You Should Watch:
A full-time migrant farm worker since his teens, Chavez became involved in Latino civil rights activism in his mid-twenties, later focusing his efforts on worker’s rights, leading to his co-founding with Dolores Huerta of what would become the United Farm Workers. The nationwide attention and reform enabled by his organizing, including the famed five-year grape boycott, cemented Chavez’s iconic status, as detailed in Perez and Parlee’s film through a wealth of archival material and the reflections of those who knew him best. Despite his victories, Chavez held himself to a higher moral standard, motivating his final, principled fast that here structures the film and offers remarkable, and unforgettable, insight into his character.
Check out the film’s trailer and Perez’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile. To keep updated on the doc, check out its website and Facebook page. For those interested in supporting the project, Perez has launched a $5000 GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds for publicity and promotion costs at the festival. As it becomes available, I’ll also link to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.