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Diego Luna on ‘Cesar Chavez’: ‘The Story of Farm Workers Matters’

The life and works of activist Cesar Chavez were remembered both on the big screen and through the testimonies of those who knew him at the Los Angeles premiere of helmer Diego Luna’s biopic “Cesar Chavez.”

In addition to cast members Michael Peña, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson, Luna was also joined Thursday at the TCL Chinese Theatre by Chavez’s son Paul and 83-year-old Dolores Huerta, who founded the National Farmworkers Assn. with Chavez.

Paul Chavez said this film, produced by Mexico’s Canana Films, distributed by Pantelion Films and co-financed by Participant Media, was made after 30 years of searching for the right opportunity to tell his father’s story of standing up for the rights and dignity of migrant workers.

“Shortly after my father passed away, we were approached by people that knew my father, marched with him and loved him. But for different reasons it didn’t happen,” he said. “Sometimes they couldn’t get the screenplay right, other times they couldn’t get the financing together or put together the production team.”

Chavez added that working with scribe Keir Pearson, who also penned “Hotel Rwanda,” helped bring out the humanity in his father’s story.

Huerta said seeing the film for the first time was a very emotional experience, and she is glad that audiences will get to learn about the story of Chavez’s wife, Helen, played by Ferrera.

Though he described the process of helming this film as tough and “painful at times,” Luna said the daily reminders of the importance of the Latino community and Chavez’s story kept him and the crew going.

“We were shooting in the fields looking at the actual workers going through that struggle, and (we had) the reminder of making sure everyone knows that the story of farm workers matters,” Luna said. “Our community needs to be not just represented in film, but there should be a chance for us to go to the cinema and reflect on who we are. Cinema in this country celebrates almost every heroic story, but I don’t think they have been fair with the Latino experience.”

Luna also cited the White House screening of the film on March 19 as the highlight of his experience.

Both Peña and Dawson, who play Chavez and Huerta, described their roles as “intimidating,” but Dawson said she hopes this film could lead to more opportunities to tell Huerta’s story in the future.

“She’s in her eighties and she’s still on the frontline of this work,” Dawson explained. “I really hope that this film is successful if only just for the fact that maybe we could open up the doors to maybe doing a film about Dolores, because I think she deserves it.”

In an effort to continue bring the Latino experience to the big screen, Participant CEO Jim Berk said the company’s social action advocacy campaign will work to ensure that “Cesar Chavez” lives on and is shown in schools.

Pantelion CEO Paul Presburger said “Cesar Chavez” will be the studio’s biggest release to date, to be followed up by “La Vida Robot,” starring George Lopez, at the end of this year.

In his introduction of the film, Luna wasn’t shy about asking the audience to promote the film via Twitter, Facebook or “whatever you guys fancy doing.”

“Talk about it when you’re having sex, when you go out. It’s a great way to start a conversation in a bar, for example. I promise you no one does it,” Luna joked, before adding, “If you don’t like the film, you just have to promise you’ll shut up until April 15.”

Following the screening, guests made their way across the street to the Hollywood Roosevelt for the after party, where attendees enjoyed tacos and sangria and showed off their salsa moves on the dance floor. Peña, Ferrera and Huerta posed for photos while Luna mingled with guests. Later in the evening, Grammy-winning alternative rock group La Santa Cecilia took the stage for a special performance.

Other guests in attendance included “Cesar Chavez” cast members Gabriel Mann, Yancey Arias and Jacob Vargas as well as actress Amber Tamblyn, Mexican singer and former “X-Factor” judge Paulina Rubio and actress Dayanara Torres.

“Cesar Chavez” bows in theaters nationwide March 28.

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