The neo-noir premieres at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 13 and plays again on June 17 and tells of a young actress and an aging cowboy in a small Texan town on the Mexican border. Emmanuelle Charlier saddles up.
Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia talk about our cultural obsession with celebrity and Hollywood while being grounded in the larger narrative of the American Latino experience and the unique – and mystic – nature of life in a border town.
The film is based on actual events – what’s the story there?
Rania Attieh: Part of the film, the part of the actress going to Del Rio. When Daniel and I met 14 years ago we were in undergrad and we hadn’t made films or anything and Daniel said that he knew someone making a film in a small town on the border of Mexico in Texas… So just to make the story short, we went three months to Del Rio and we were 19 at the time, and the set was just teenagers, 15-year-old kids. The director was 35, he showed up very rarely and would say he was going to LA to get money.
There was no script – it was like a B Movie horror shoot. [The director] thought he was the son of God. He was tricking some people in town to get money. They caught onto it but we still spent the summer involved in the production and every now and then he would hire these up-and-coming actresses that he would find in Austin and would get them to go down to Del Rio. They would get there and there was no director and they’d spend three days hanging out with pretty much kids telling them what to do on a film that really made absolutely no sense. We went back to Del Rio years later and recreated a lot of the memories.
Was it important to go back to Del Rio to shoot the film?
RA: Yes, it was very important. We wanted to recreate the scenes in the same place that they happened because the town itself has its own mystical feel to it [because] of the Latino culture too, [where] people believe in spirits and ghosts.
Daniel Garcia: I think ultimately, ever since this original scenario happened to us, we had always had a desire to make a film based off of that. At the beginning it may not have been directly tied to Del Rio but when it actually happened it seemed like it had to be. To this day we still thank that director – the missing director – of this first film set experience because it really shaped our film lives.
How did you finance your film?
RA: When we had the idea to go to Del Rio to do it we just called a bunch of friends. [W]e’re really lucky to know a community of filmmakers and technicians so we called a bunch of friends and people came and worked for free. We had people that came from Argentina, from France, from New York, from Portland. Locations are all really donated by the town itself. We wrote scenes for all the locations that all exist … and we cast it all locally.
So, ultimately, what was your final budget?
RA: It was below $100,000 and most of it went to music licensing.
How did you cast the main roles?
RA: The actress we found on YouTube… and we had seen her for a while and she has this channel where she makes these acting drills. [We] flew her to Del Rio and kind of put her in the same experience as one of those actresses that would come on the original set. Daniel’s great uncle ended up being [the older cowboy character] because we really liked the way he looked and we tested him and he did well so we went with him.
Do you consider Recommended By Enrique to be a Latino film?
DG: Technically, because it’s a predominately Latino cast and it’s set in South Texas on the border of Mexico. I think that in and of itself makes it a quote-unquote Latino film, but I think we’d hesitate to put labels or put it inside of any category. It is mixed with genres – you know, film noir and stuff like that. I think ultimately it was important for us to celebrate Latino culture. A lot of my family is from Del Rio and Rania has spent time there since that initial experience in Del Rio.
Rania is from Lebanon and our first feature we made in Lebanon and it was set in the town she was born and raised in and so it was a lot of that – being infatuated with memories of a place and wanting to celebrate that culture.
RA: Also the fact maybe for us was [we also wanted] to show how far the “celebrity” idea and celebrity culture could have far reaches – even into small border towns.
Following your premiere at LAFF what’s next for the film?
DG: Well, that’s really up to the film itself; how it plays, and hopefully it does well and we can go more places with it and show it to more people. We’ll definitely have screenings in Texas, in Del Rio. We’re currently working to finish another feature that we shot earlier this year.
So… who is Enrique?
DG: [Laughs] In the film we wanted to keep that open and never specifically answer it.
RA: Maybe the cowboy, the guy that comes [to Del Rio]…you wonder if he is Enrique or if Enrique is the boss that pays him or so on and so forth. It’s like this entity that moves the pieces, but you don’t really know who he is – just like the real Enrique who recommended the restaurant is also a mysterious entity that no one knows.