GER | 2016 | Documentary | about 30 min. | Postproduction
Language En Production Countries USA, GER
Director Christopher Hawkins Editor Susanne Bohlmann
Camera Lars Filthaut
Synopsis One day in the life of a Mariachi.
Adam Ramirez lies to everybody he meets but mostly himself. This extraordinary man‘s inherent qualities and need to entertain compel him toward paths that a good man should not take. But his goodness and discomfort at any person‘s unhappinness always seems to shine through. Like a little boy with chocolate caked around his mouth, denying he ate all the cookies, every half-truth is charmingly transparent.
Destined to seek attention and new highs since the very beginning, Adam is a violinist, singer, father of 4, recoverring drug addict and alcoholic. He has found a new direction and sense of responsibility and we follow him to see where it could lead.
Though backed by his loving family it is clear that his grip on a positive future is fragile and his support is not without conditions.
The Mission Adam Ramirez is a 45 year old Mariachi from a middle class family and a nice area of Los Angeles. When he began doing crack cocaine to get to know his estranged Father, things became a little confused. He ended up having a short stay in Jail on a weapons charge. There, in the stark environment, filled with hate, pressed into performance, music saved his life. An unlikely epiphany, now he’s turning his life around, trying to make up with his family and himself. But he’s wasted so many years and so much talent. He’s decided on a musical mission to take positivity back to the men in LA County Prison. He, with his loyal band, will bid to play a concert inside the confines of his local maximum security prison. He will battle bureaucracy, immovable ideology and he will find his views on everything exploded. As he hits concrete walls and hopeless opposition he searches within himself for strength, calling upon family, friends, band and even God for support, his mission remains. He is to give hope and escape to those trapped in a cycle of incarceration. He will make his family proud and mostly, you can’t help thinking, find a small measure of personal glory. This film is a journey through the rich layers of Latino American culture. Our guide is an extraordinary man who’s led a life punctuated with disappointment and hedonism as he tries to realise a project which may or may not work.
Director´s Note This is a great protagonist. I met him whilst filming another feature documentary. He impressed me so much with his story and presence that I set aside some time to create a portrait, filming him for a couple of weeks. I shot around 20 hours of prep and background material. A couple of weeks ago he came to me with his plan and asked that I come on the mission with him.
Adam is a Mariachi, of course this most Latino of cultural icons could and probably will raise a whole load of problems for the governor of the prison due to racial tension inside the walls. But that is the background and catalyst for the film; cultural starvation and the ‘informal’ segregation within the prison system. Far from being an anomaly, separate from outside society, it is a visible, ignored reflection of the fault lines which run through the multicultural dream which is America.
As I researched the position and context of Latino’s in California, in particular within the prison system, I was shocked by the level of incarceration. My perception of the experience within prison culture was also rocked to the foundation. I had a general belief that I knew exactly how it worked, mainly gleaned from fiction and documentary series which are briefed toward the sensational. I knew about the pervasive influence of prison gangs and their purely negative effect. But the question which always arose in my mind was, why does the racial segregation which supports gang culture gain tacit approval from the institutions which govern them? I dug deeper. The answer is by no means simple but it may be that the gangs, though abhorrent and powerful, actually do the job of the institution; imposing stability and discipline through their ranks. Indeed, shadowing the rise of the prison gang in California between 1973 and 2003, prison homicide has declined 94%, at which point it was lower than outside.
In broader terms, watching the race for the Whitehouse and in particular Donald J Trump, I am reminded how awkward it is to be a proud Latino in today‘s America. „Building that wall“, even its mention as a sensible policy, aludes to a metaphor of separation within a nation rather than a protection from without. When you journey around Los Angeles the „servant class“ and menial labourers are almost exclusively Latino. Access to the American dream seems barred to them, their culture belittled and carricatured. Under such circumstance, the vitality of musical tradition and its unifying influence is essential succour to its subculture. So too it is vital, paradoxically, to the broader American culture which rejects it. For what has it promised to stand for? The possibility of “The Dream”, available to all who’d work hard and contribute. When that open invitation, illusory though it may be, evaporates then Americana’s engine goes with it.