Threads: Finding Home
Story by: Monica Solis with THREADS – The Stories That Bind Us
Tom Sanchez and Ron Judkins, two filmmakers, spoke with Monica Solis at the annual Austin Film Festival about how their films screened at the festival both expose and celebrate the places they call home.
“When I graduated from film school, my parents came out to the graduation and we went to the bar. My dad started talking about when his younger brother and him were 19 and 17 and they left a wedding, three in the morning, and they were walking down the street in their neighborhood, which was kind of sketchy. They were dressed in suits, ‘70’s-style suits, and they ran into a group of like, my dad says, 15 guys – I don’t know how many there really were. There was no way out, it was a long alley, and they were worried about getting robbed because that kind of happens down there. So my dad claims that they took their belts off and put them diagonally under their jackets to make it look like a holster, then stuck their hands inside, kind of like in ‘The Godfather.’ They stuck their hands inside their jackets to make it look like they were holding a gun, and supposedly that worked. My dad’s younger brother says he doesn’t remember this, and then my dad called him a liar,” says Sanchez.
This Peruvian family story and the brother dynamic involved is what inspired Tom Sanchez to create and direct the film “La Navaja de Don Juan.”
“The gentleman comes in and accuses them – the gay couple next door – of spying on him. That actually happened to me in my house in Los Angeles. The set-up is actually based on where we live in the neighborhood of Altwater Village. We have a gay couple that lives next door and on the other side, a woman who’s married but very flirtatious. And I just thought, ‘What a great kind of set up to explore a comedic drama among these very particular people,” explained Judkins.
“And I just thought, ‘What a great kind of set up to explore a comedic drama among these very particular people.’”
– Ron Judkins
This California neighborhood scenario was the inspiration for filmmaker Ron Judkins to create and direct “Finding Neighbors.” Ron Judkins, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, had experienced substantial success in the film industry before. His film “The Hi-Line” had received positive response at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and shortly after, was bought by Showtime. But after this career hallmark, Judkins found himself at a creative standstill.
“It took me 12 years to get another film together. There’s a whole culture in L.A. about talking about making films as opposed to making films. So you can be in development for eight, 10 years, and it’s great, except you lost six-to-eight years of your life trying to put this thing together. So I got to a point in my life where I just thought, ‘What can I do?’”
– Ron Judkins
Judkins decided to portray his frustrations of a creative mid-life crisis through a protagonist he developed named Sam Tucker. Sam Tucker would be a graphic novelist who had pioneered the literary movement but hadn’t done much since, and was feeling lackluster with his sense of place in the world. Tucker would end up turning to his flirtatious female neighbor as a distraction, but more so, to his gay, male neighbor for inspiration. The film would be called “Finding Neighbors.” As Judkins’ protagonist would be a close reflection of his own frustrations with the demanding film industry, he wanted the location of the film to be close to home as well. In fact, Judkins decided to shoot… at home.
“How can I green-light our own movie with the things we have at our disposal? Well, we have our house, and our neighbor Judy across the street has a house, and we know people on the other side. There’s a camera person down the street and … how do we leverage those assets and make a movie? And the coolest thing about it is when we started just putting that energy out there, everyone wanted to be part of it and it became a real sort of cause to make this movie,” shared Judkins
“And the coolest thing about it is when we started just putting that energy out there, everyone wanted to be part of it and it became a real sort of cause to make this movie.”
– Ron Judkins
Judkins shot at regular houses, two local bakeries, and a bar near his Altwater Village neighborhood in California. He says they even found the illustrator for the film through a Craigslist ad he posted. He describes using his neighborhood for the film as being both necessary and magical to the themes of the film – making connections in the most unlikely places and standing out.
Judkin’s protagonist, Sam Tucker, makes a speech towards the end of “Finding Neighbors” where he says, I’m doing all I can to keep from disappearing. Judkins says he felt most present and alive by shooting this film in his own neighborhood, by getting people together to work on a project he felt was meaningful to him.
Judkins says that in an industry that kind of just overlooks film veterans, you have to pave a path to make a name for yourself and where you’re coming from, and the same principles apply to anyone.
“Don’t disappear. Don’t give up. Don’t silence your voice.”
– Ron Judkins
Tom Sanchez, a California producer, was born in Lima, Peru, but at the age of eight moved to the U.S. Though Sanchez has produced and directed many award-winning music videos, “La Navaja de Don Juan” is his first feature film. “La Navaja’s” story focuses on the relationship between two teenage brothers trying to establish their place in the world as men. Sanchez developed this idea from stories he grew up hearing from his Peruvian father and uncle. It wasn’t just these stories that inspired Sanchez though. It was a certain observation of his that really propelled him to write the original screenplay.
“I just don’t think that there are that many films that show Peru.”
– Tom Sanchez
Sanchez says the films he did see just weren’t necessarily true to form of the home he and his family knew.
Thus, “La Navaja de Don Juan” was born and Sanchez got to work, knowing he had to be as realistic as possible to the Peru he knew to keep its story alive.
Sanchez said he felt lucky in finding great Peruvian film actors because most well-known actors there specialize in Telenovela-type acting. In fact, when two of the main actors were cast to play the leading roles of Walter and Mario, he says they pulled him aside just to inform him of the distinction: We’re not TV actors, they said – we’re film actors. All of “La Navaja” was shot on location on the streets of Peru.
“We hired a Peruvian guitarist who plays this type of music called Chi-Cha. If you go in Peru, you’ll hear that music on the streets. His name is Jose Luis Carvayo, and he was one of the pioneers of Chi-Cha music, so he kind of created the sound. He lives in L-A, so we hired him to do a Chi-Cha version of ‘Pedro Navaja’ at the end. The Chi-Cha sound is prevalent in the movie – there’s a version of ‘Fur Elise’ that they call ‘Para Elisa,’” said Shanchez
Sanchez says the location of Peru was central to the film’s storyline, though it included universally thematic elements like brotherhood and family loyalty.
“The main theme is ‘blood is thicker than water.’”
– Tom Sanchez
It’s a sentiment that Judkins portrays in his film as well; connections are important and strong connections can be found in the most unlikely places.
“… You find it in some of the most unusual places sometimes, when you don’t expect it. It influences how you see things, the way you compose things and the way you appreciate art.”
– Ron Judkins
It’s the connection of finding home through finding yourself, and of finally feeling at home with where you’re from.
Click here for the full interview!