What does it mean to be a Mexican living in Austin? Or a Venezuelan, for that matter? Ask Sergio Carvajal. Born in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, he picked up and moved to Austin 13 years ago. “When you get to Austin, you are by default a Mexican. That’s what I am now, that’s what I’ve been for the past 13 years,” he says.
The experience of being thrown into this culture and community had a strong impact on Carvajal; he wanted to know more about the people who had embraced him as their own. He wanted to delve inside their stories and explore what it truly means to be Mexican. After realizing his own ties to the Mexican culture in Austin, he wanted to share what he learned with the community. He wanted to show the humor, break the archetypes and bring together the people around him. That is how the inspiration behind El Gallo, a fictional mini series Carvajal writes and directs, came to be.
El Gallo stars a rounded out cast of Austin celebrities and non-actors featuring Ramon Maldonado, Candelario Palma, John Diaz, Mayra Leal and, of course, Sietecueros, the magic rooster that brings all the characters together.
When you get to Austin, you are by default a Mexican. That’s what I am now, that’s what I’ve been for the past 13 years.
The story begins with Pepe, played by Ramon Maldonado, who loses his undefeated (22 years and counting) cock-fighting rooster. Sietecureros is then discovered by John Diaz, a drunk mariachi crooner waiting to unlock his potential. What follows is a wild rooster chase, involving love, blood, pride and madness. Every character has a reason to get their hands on the rooster, whether it’s because they think he is the key to saving the world or they just heard a rumor that he has the power to grant his possessor a wish. When asked about the symbolism behind the magical Sietecuerro, Carvajal says, “He crosses the line between magic and religion, just like life itself. It’s for you to believe if you want, if not there are scientific explanations for everything the rooster is making happen.”
The writing is a collaboration between the actors and Carvajal. “All the stories are tied to the actor representing them, it’s a lot of back and forth,” he says. To make sure Austin stories are told, Carvajal and his team have been campaigning, literally door to door, collecting stories from people kind enough to share their authentic experiences of what it means to be a Mexican living in Austin. Carvajal then tweaks the stories to fit inside the world of El Gallo; he wants people to feel connected to the series, to feel like they are a part of it.
The project is part of the new community cinema movement—making a series that is created by the community, with stories straight from the people living in it and, finally, distributed and financed all within the community. So, instead of paying for a ticket to Hollywood’s next big Blockbuster, you are funding the richness, diversity and culture of Austin and keeping it alive and healthy by seeing El Gallo.
Carvajal is aware of the exploitive nature a production can have on the location it’s filming. Rather than harm, he wants to enrich the community through the process of filming.
Filmed in different locations all around Austin, Carvajal is aware of the exploitive nature a production can have on the location it’s filming. Rather than harm, he wants to enrich the community through the process of filming; be it by bringing out the potential in an actor that wouldn’t have had an opportunity to shine or by telling a story that would otherwise never have been told.
Though El Gallo has been well received by critics in town, Carvajal endured a disappointing experience with Kickstarter and is now looking for new ways to educate audiences on the importance of funding something they believe in. At the end of August, the El Gallo team is planning on visiting a few cities around Texas, with one stop in New Orleans to give a 35-minute panel on new community cinema movement. “Right now we are focusing on educating people, we want the audience to understand their role and how to be active in the sense that they are putting their money towards something they want to see and want to be apart of.”
Carvajal is clearly passionate about these stories. “I want to create something that makes me understand what it is to be Mexican. Something that everyone, no matter the race, can enjoy and be a part of,” he says. Once people realize that cultural differences exist even within the borders of Mexico, they’ll soon be able to see and understand the differences between their neighbors and themselves.
Watch the video below to see what El Gallo is up to now.
If you are interested in contributing to the effort behind the new community cinema movement, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org