A few years ago on a trip to Mexico, longtime Santa Cruz residents Consuelo Alba and John Speyer were introduced to a local Chiapas hero, Sergio Castro, a “one-man, mobile burn and wound unit.”
Alba and Speyer were so inspired by Castro’s exhaustive humanitarian efforts that they decided to film a documentary, which resulted in the 30-minute El Andalón (The Healer). The film will be shown at the Santa Cruz Film Festival (SCFF) this Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Nickelodeon Theater.
Here, Santa Cruz Patch learns more about the documentary, Castro and the film makers themselves.
Santa Cruz Patch: What inspired you to become film makers focusing on documentaries of Latino culture and issues?
Consuelo Alba and John Speyer: We don’t see a complete picture about Latinos in this country. We get bits and pieces, and the media presents a lot of misinformation and negative stereotypes. We want to share real stories that are inspiring, that cover complex situations where harsh realities and joy can exist, often side by side.
Patch: Is El Andalón the first film for Veremos Productions?
Alba and Speyer: Yes, El Andalón is our opera prima. Filming and editing El Andalón has been such an amazing learning experience. It was our “hands-on” film school.
Patch: How does it feel to have the film shown in your own town?
Alba and Speyer: We were thrilled when we received the acceptance letter from the SCFF. El Andalón has been in 15 festivals so far, from L.A. to Spain to Australia, but this is our first screening in the Bay Area. Now our local friends and family can finally see the film on a big screen!
Patch: Sergio Castro sounds like such an amazing person. How and when did you meet him?
Alba and Speyer: We took a road trip to México a few years ago. In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, we met up with our friend, Betsy McNair of My Mexico Tours. She told us: “You have to meet my hero.” So she took us to meet Don Sergio on a chilly January night in 2009. He gave us a personal tour of his museum of traditional Mayan clothing, and talked about the medical work he does during the day.
We returned on another evening and met some of his patients. He was the real deal, a hero very few people know about. We were so inspired by him, his personal commitment and his philosophy, that we decided to return someday to film a documentary.
Patch: How much time did you spend with him in Chiapas?
Alba and Speyer: Almost a year after our initial visit, we spent three weeks following him with the camera wherever he went. It was exhausting! He works 6½ days a week, nonstop. And he’s 70 years old! Last year, we returned for two weeks and filmed a little more.
Patch: Was he receptive to being filmed?
Alba and Speyer: When we first spoke about doing a documentary, his first reaction was disbelief. Other people have approached him about doing films and projects, but most don’t follow through. I think he was surprised when he opened the door to his clinic/museum, and there we were, with camera in hand. Despite the fact that he’s a very private person, he was a good sport about it.
Patch: Castro spends most of his time treating burn victims. Why are there so many?
Alba and Speyer: In traditional Mayan homes, the cooking is often done on a hearth in the middle of the house. So there are accidents with mostly children and men falling into the fire. Fires in the fields, shocks from electrical malfunctions, homemade fireworks add to the danger.
In addition, there’s no capacity in the health care system to provide long-term care to wound and burn victims. Hospitals and doctors usually offer the quick fix: amputation.
Patch: How has recognition of your film helped Sergio Castro and Veremos Productions?
Alba and Speyer: We’re thrilled that our first film has been so well received. He [Castro] has received several thousands of dollars donated by kind audiences on the festival circuit. For example in Waukegan, IL, folks passed around a popcorn bucket for cash donations and raised over a thousand dollars for medical supplies!
It’s very fulfilling for us, playing in well-established film festivals like Santa Cruz, and receiving awards is the icing on the cake. Hopefully, it will help us get funding for our next projects.
Patch: Do you have any plans to make a documentary about Santa Cruz or California Latinos?
Alba and Speyer: Yes, our current project, already in post-production, takes place in Watsonville. We filmed the annual “Mi casa es tu casa” exhibit at the Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery.
It’s a wonderful event! It not only shows the influence of Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration in our community but also brings people of all cultures together at Watsonville’s only public art space. We have a rough cut and are currently looking for finishing and community engagement funds.
If you go:
What: Screening of El Andalón (The Healer) at the Santa Cruz Film Festival
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Cost: $8 general; $6 student/senior (65+)
FYI: After-screening celebration and fundraising for Sergio Castro’s humanitarian work in Chiapas at from 4-7 p.m. There will be a small cover charge for appetizers. Event co-sponsored by My Mexico Tours.