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BY Tim Drake
Yesterday, journalists were given an opportunity to talk with several individuals involved in the production of the film For Greater Glory, which opens in theaters in the U.S. on June 1. They sat down with director Dean Wright, and actors Andy Garcia (General Enrique Gorostieta), Eduardo Verastegui (Anacleto Gonzalez Flores), and Mauricio Kuri (Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio).
The film opened in Mexico last week. How has it been received?
Andy Garcia: It broke all records in Mexico as the second highest grossing film since Titanic. It’s a universal, international story for the world. It’s a story that needs to be told.
I received a letter from the grand daughter of General Gorostieta. She said that she was emotional in watching the film and that it honored him. She felt his endeavors had never received any credit. The story was really taboo in Mexico. No one talked about it. The Gorostieta name and his journey in the Cristero War fell under the rug along with the rest of the story. She felt that finally her grandfather’s efforts were brought to light, and sent an excerpt of a letter that General Gorostieta had sent to his wife. In it he said, “I know that we’ve spent all this time apart and that because of the cause I’m fighting, I might never see you again. That is a possibility, but I know that the Gorostieta name will always be preserved for our children.
You’ve been in many films. Do you have a favorite?
Andy Garcia: Personally, The Lost City was a favorite in that it deals with my culture and that of many Cubans. Being in The Untouchables was very commercial for me, and being in The Godfather Part III was a dream for me. The original Godfather was the final stroke for why I wanted to be in movies. I said, “That’s it. I want to be in that movie.” Destiny put me in a version of that movie. Talk about having faith.
What drew you to this project?
Eduardo Verastegui: While looking for my next project someone asked me if I had ever thought of doing a movie on the Cristero War. I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know about this time from my own country. I called other friends and they didn’t know about it either. The more I learned about this period of time, the more passionate I became. More than 200,000 people died. I learned that the reason we weren’t taught this in public schools is because it was an embarrassment to the government. We’re not proud of this. It’s a wound that we’ve buried. I felt we should bring this wound out, learn from it, and show some of the heroes of Mexico who gave their lives for what they believed.
When I read the script I fell in love with the character of Anacleto. He’s known as the Mexican Gandhi. He was a true inspiration for me. He gave his life and his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey.” Doing research on who he was, I was able to receive far more from him than what I gave to his character.
How did working on this film affect you?
Eduardo Verastegui: When I’m exposed to art that is designed to heal, I get healed. This film is like the Schindler’s List of Mexico. Working on it helps me to do the right things.
My hope is that when people see it they will leave entertained, with a spark in their heart, and not afraid to be heroes. I hope they will leave inspired to do the right thing, that they will love more, and that they’ll fight for something bigger than themselves and ready to die to self, and to learn from the mistakes of the past so that we will not repeat them.
In the film, the martyrdom of Jose Sanchez del Rio is quite evocative of the death of Christ. Were the similarities purposeful?
Dean Wright: Movies are a great tool for communicating story and inspiring people with individual feats of courage and sacrifice. They can move an audience. The film focuses on the themes of faith and sacrifice. Throughout the film there is visual imagery and visual motifs that are repeated. The character of Jose was brutalized in a way that we only hint at in the film. It was much worse. Shooting it the way we did was absolutely his way of following the path that Christ took, because that’s what he knew he needed to do. It was deliberate.
There’s a clear link in the film between the death of Father Christopher and that of Jose. Tell me about the choice you made in shooting both deaths from above.
Dean Wright: It was a God’s-eye view perhaps.
Shooting the death of Jose was the most brutal day of the shoot for me. When we got to that day, there was a light rain as we started to shoot. This light rain continued all day, and it provided the imagery we were trying to convey – of Golgotha. It was very somber and as we shot it, I felt like I was killing myself. After we shot it everyone was quiet. I slept for two hours and then sat on my balcony and didn’t know what to say.
When I recounted to Peter O’Toole this and why I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way, he told the story of Alexandre Dumas crying after he had written the death of Aremis in "The Three Musketeers." These characters live in your heart and then you kill them.
How did you prepare for the role of Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio?
Mauricio Kuri: I studied this character and read a Spanish biography of him. The book told me a lot of his story. Before each scene I listened to a lot of dramatic music, like Cold Play.
Jose’s role is amazing. He was 14. I’m 14. He wanted to join the Cristero army to fight for God, for his freedom, and his liberty. That made me think if I would have done the same thing. At 14 he wanted to give his life for Christ.
There was also the opportunity to go to Mass every day on the set.
What did it mean to play this role?
Mauricio Kuri: It represented a big challenge and responsibility because he is a martyr who gave his life for Christ and he’s Mexican. Why don’t people know about him? His life is beautiful. This is the real Jose. I wear a medal of him. This little chain is from the place where was killed. The world needs to know about him and his story. We know about the persecution of the Nazis, the Chinese, and in Cuba, but we don’t know about this. The movie is a good opportunity for people to learn about this.