It’s not often we get to see people on our screens that look like us, which is why we found it important to keep our eye on all things cultura during the South by Southwest Film Festival. We’re glad that SXSW brought diverse selections to the festival.
To celebrate the return of SXSW to Austin, we would like to highlight five films that stuck out to us. The following films all hit close to home, with lessons about facing your fears and persevering when you face adversity.
Flamin’ Hot tells the story of the creation of the staple snack around the world, the Hot Cheetos. More importantly, it’s the story of its creator, Richard Montañez. Eva Longoria makes her directorial debut with “Flamin’ Hot,” which she decided to do after she read the story of Montañez.
After years of running with the wrong crowds and dealing on the streets, Montañez starts searching for a new job because his wife Judy is pregnant. He gets hired at the Frito-Lay factory as a janitor. He is determined to learn and grow at his new job. When the factory is on the verge of closing down, he looks for ideas to save their jobs. With the help of his family, he uses his culture and heritage and experiments with different spices to create a new flavor for the products at Frito-Lay.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Montañez at the world premiere at SXSW. “There has been a lot of pain in our lives, but this movie showed me the purpose of all the pain.” Montañez’s story shows us to persevere and to have faith in ourselves.
“Flamin’ Hot” teaches us to believe in yourself enough to be willing to take risks. Montañez took the risk of getting in trouble by calling the CEO directly to pitch him the idea of selling spicy cheetos. His direct call disregarded the protocol of talking to his higher ups first and he received backlash from his employers. His coworkers accuse him and say he is the reason that their plant will shut down, saying that his call brought attention to their slow production. Montañez learns to have faith in himself, something that Judy always encourages.
The diversity of the cast and crew at the premiere is refreshing. Eva Longoria says that celebrating diversity and inclusion is important to her, especially because Hollywood has a long way to go in terms of representation.
We all have moments in life where we doubt our abilities. Seeing Montañez’s story unfold shows us that we can be more than janitors, gardeners, farmworkers, etc. It is important to persevere and continue working towards your goal, even when that little voice in your head says “I can’t,” or “it’s not worth it.”
Not many know the story behind the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.Montañez’s story reminds us that success stories happen all the time. During the Q&A after the film, cast member Jesse Garcia mentions this project is for all the untold stories and the ones who are currently doing it. “Flamin’ Hot” shows us how it can be done. Garcia said that we have the power to create our own stories.
“Flamin’ Hot” releases on Hulu on June 9.
Think about your teenage years, the excitement, the embarrassment, the disappointment. Being a teenager means having emotions that you aren’t exactly sure how to navigate. “You Were My First Boyfriend,” forces us to reflect on the uncertainty of those years. Co-Directors Cecilia Aldarondo and Sarah Enid Hagey take us back to Aldarondo’s teenage years in this hybrid documentary that mixes the past and present. After Aldarondo is invited to her high school reunion, she explores her past and tries to understand the memories and relationships that shape her.
Diving into the past brings back all the uncomfortable, fulfilling, and beautiful feelings. After the screening, Aldarondo discussed the way things happened to her during her adolescence and continued to hold power over her after so many years. Bad memories ingrained into her mind while her good memories are a blur like a movie montage. Reliving these memories brought a new appreciation to her life.
Although this documentary is personal and brings us into the life of Aldarondo, we relate to memories that stick with us, both good and bad. Aldarondo’s healing journey involves reliving moments in her teenage years to try and understand her feelings behind those memories. She asked herself, “what really matters” as she looked for answers and explored what was important to her then now, through a new lens.
Being vulnerable is hard. Facing memories that “haunt” us is scary, but it’s important to note how they shaped us into who we are today. We must understand why we felt a certain way in order to start healing. We are our toughest critics, but we have the ability to give ourselves grace. During the documentary, Aldarondo’s sister described her as fearless. Let’s be fearless and face our past so that we continue moving forward.
You can still catch a screening of “You Were My First Boyfriend” at :
- Alamo Lamar on March 15 at 11:45 a.m.
“The Long Game”, directed by Austin’s own Julio Quintana, tells the story of five Mexican-American teens who join the first golf team at Del Rio High School at the encouragement of their Superintendent, who becomes their Coach.
The adaptation of the book “Mustang Miracle,” by Humberto G. Garcia brings us the true story of Coach J.B. Peña and team members Felipe Romero, Guadalupe Felan, Joe Treviño, Mario Lomas, and Gene Vasquez. The underdogs go from practicing on a makeshift course to winning the championship in the 50’s.
The opening scene shows a sign that says “No dogs, No Mexicans,” and we learn a major obstacle for the team is racism. The team must prove that they belong among the other white teams, who often mock them and try to provoke them.
The film also touches on the narrative that surrounds Latino Americans, the feeling that we aren’t Latino enough yet not American enough. The film shows that no matter what we look or speak like, we are Americans. “It’s like we aren’t fully one thing or another,” said actor Jay Hernandez at the premiere, “but it’s an American story. We are American.”
It’s inspiring to watch the team go from golf caddies at a course where they were not allowed to play, to winning the state championship played on the same course. “The Long Game” reminds us to continue working towards our goals, even when they tell us that we don’t deserve it or when we feel like we don’t belong. The story teaches us we are stronger than our obstacles and the importance of perseverance. During the film, Coach Peña drove home this lesson by saying your strongest competition is your brain, yourself.
You can still catch a screening of “The Long Game,” at:
- Rollins Theatre on March 15 at 5:45 p.m.
“Going Varsity in Mariachi,” directed by Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn, follows the Mariachi Oro de Edinburg North High School, as they head toward the state competition. Vasquez and Osborn transport us into the world of Mariachi through this high school team.
The documentary gives us a peek into the competition side of the band. Mariachi Oro faces different obstacles, such as having new, younger members on the team competing for the first time, and getting back into the swing of things after COVID lockdowns. Coach Abel Acuña successfully led the Mariachi to win in the past, but he’s unsure if the team is ready to compete this year.
The documentary keeps us on our toes as we wonder if their hard work will result in a win at the state competition. It also shows the personal journeys of each member from navigating relationships to balancing life with their rehearsals. We see the seniors on the team considering their future plans as graduation approaches.
“Going Varsity in Mariachi,” not only shows the significance of Mariachi, it shows the importance of teamwork and perseverance. The members of this Mariachi never give up on improving. Their setbacks, such as receiving low scores at a practice competition, seems to only motivate them rather than discourage them.
During the documentary, team member Bella shared the lessons she learned from Mariachi that continue to translate to everything else in her life. The documentary reminds us to take mistakes as a learning experience instead of allowing them to completely shut us down, the importance of working as a team, and most importantly, we learn that hard work pays off.
The next screenings of “Going Varsity in Mariachi.”
- Stateside Theater, March 15 at 5:30 p.m.
- Alamo Lamar, March 18 at 2:30 p.m.
“Sister & Sister,” a semi-autobiographical film directed by Kattia G. Zúñiga, brings us the story of two Costa Rican sisters who travel to Panama to find their estranged father. While in Panama, the girls embark on a journey from making new friends to trying new things, and finding comfort in being together.
Zúñiga and her older sister did travel to Panama in their teens to reunite with their father, which gave her the idea for her directorial debut. However, the fictional film doesn’t portray the events as they occurred on their trip. “I like the idea of using fiction to give these girls more power, giving them a space where they can explore their desires, address their concerns, and get to know themselves better,” said Zúñiga in her director’s statement.
During their journey, the girls learn things about themselves and each other. It initially drives a wedge between them, but after their trip, they are closer than ever. This film reminds us that it is okay to be ourselves around the people we love. Everyone experiences change; it doesn’t mean that we are being left behind. We can embrace our differences because that’s what makes life beautiful.
The next screenings at SXSW:
- Alamo Lamar, March 16 at 5 p.m.