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How the ‘Mucho Mucho Amor’ Cinematographer Filmed an Intimate Portrait of the Last Days of Walter Mercado

Mucho Mucho Amor Walter Mercado Documentary
Courtesy of Netflix

Documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor,” from Latinx filmmakers Cristina Costantini (“Science Fair”) and Kareem Tabsch (“The Last Resort”), focuses on the legacy of Walter Mercado, the iconic gender-nonconforming Hispanic astrologer who disappeared from the public eye, choosing to live off the grid in Puerto Rico, before resurfacing to prepare for the opening of a late-in-life exhibition at the HistoryMiami Museum. 

Cinematographer Peter Alton had worked with Costantini on “Science Fair” and was her first choice to capture Mercado’s intimate moments for the doc, now streaming on Netflix, as the octogenarian grapples with aging and how he wants to be remembered during what prove to be the final two years of his life.

What was your awareness of who Mercado was? It was pretty minimal. I think I had seen him on TV in the ’90s. Sort of like on the Psychic Network.

What was the challenge in filming him so intimately? It was finding Walter, and getting him to stop [displaying] his public persona even in private. He was getting older, and it was more difficult for him to sort of peel back the earlier performative layers. Another challenge was earning his trust and [the trust of those in] his immediate intimate circle, such as his nieces and his assistant, Willy Acosta. 

How did you tap into the man behind the celebrity? It was about being there and dealing with their reservations. They eventually forget that you’re there after a while. We decided that the people who were important to Walter were important to our story. We had strong relationships with Willy and Mercado’s nieces, Wilma and Ivonne. They were the gatekeepers. 

How did you frame Mercado for the documentary? In his bedroom there was a huge mirror, and he spent so much time getting himself together in front of that. His appearance was a very important thing for him. I saw him relating to the mirror, and that became compelling to me with how he presented himself and created this persona. 

What was the toughest scene for you to shoot? When we were in Walter’s house, it was an overwhelming experience. It’s part museum because he kept everything. It’s also part hospital room. Everywhere you look in the house, there’s a statue or a painting, and I was afraid I’d bump or even break something. That was the toughest aspect, navigating the space. What was funny, and an insight into who he was, were his books. You’d have his high-minded books about religion and philosophy next to the gay Kama Sutra. 

What was it like filming him the day of the museum opening? There was sort of a calm-before-the-storm kind of vibe. Cristina mentioned to me once that she thought this would be his last hurrah. We did shoot with him again in Puerto Rico after that, and it did seem that might be the end. It felt very culminating.

What Walter wore mattered more because it was this big emergence, but it was also like a final chapter. The process in the hotel room with the makeup artist, with Willy, choosing the jewelry and all of that stuff became extra heavy but sweet.