Documentarian filmmaker Heidi Ewing combines a fictionalized narrative treatment blending with documentary filmmaking in her first narrative feature I CARRY YOU WITH ME and talks about the challenges of being an American filmmaker shooting in Mexico with Spanish speaking cast and crew
By Oliver Carnay
I CARRY YOU WITH ME is one of my personal favorites among the list of films I’ve seen at the recent 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi (it’s almost a parallel with my personal life!). The film is based on the true love story of IVAN GARCIA and GERARDO ZABALETA, spanning decades of romance that began in Mexico and both moving to New York as an undocumented gay couple.
Ivan was an aspiring chef while the latter was a teacher then who met and fell in love with Gerardo. Ivan, having a son with his previous relationship, is very private and afraid of her ex being found out of him being gay, he will lose the chance of seeing his child. His fear happened. With both already facing homophobia, racism and injustice in Mexico, Ivan left to make his dream of being a chef, going to New York hoping to have a better life as a chef. Ivan, weathering the perils of being undocumented while having a language barrier, Gerardo, unfortunately, had been declined in getting a visa. Until one day, he surprised Ivan at the door of his apartment in New York. It was endearing to see how Gerardo, who has more adequate in English helped Ivan learning reading and writing the English language and make both ends meet living in New York.
The film moves in fluidity where the story started, in Puebla, Mexico, until the relationship blossoms as years passed by when they moved to New York. The two, with realism and romanticism combines together in this artfully poignant first narrative feature from documentarian filmmaker Heidi Ewing. Ewing cleverly incorporates her non-fiction background, weaving in the real-life couple with the actors who play them in a lyrical, non-linear fashion. Ewing combines her first foray into narrative filmmaking but combines documentarian style. She hired two actors (Armando Espitia as Ivan and Christian Vasquez as Gerardo) to play the younger version of the two and incorporates the real-life New York footage of the real couple in the third act of the film.
Director HEIDI EWING shares about some insights about her film, she said “The type of documentary films I do is Cinema Verite (observational cinema) and the outcome is unknown I make things that are currently happening on camera so if i get there too late i don’t I want to be there when things are occurring .. that is what i do on the documentary space. The film is based on the true story of two very good friends of mine. When they told me their story, I couldn’t shake it. I knew I had to make a movie and hat to start writing the script right away. There were many challenges in making this film. First and foremost, is the fact that I’m an American director, making a film in Spanish, in Mexico. I only do documentary films and I’ve never hired actors to create a film. and I made a decision to use the real people about 3/4 the rest of my first feature film switching genres. I relied very heavily with cast and crew to help me make the film right.”
“I realized that I will basically be filming the third act of the story and there’s so many important milestones and dramatic occurrences of family, love, fatherhood, friendship and immigration have already happened. Really the story starts when they were ten years old. And since I don’t do recreations and don’t do struggle films I realized the best versions of their story was not documentary. It requires a fictionalized narrative treatment. And I used the word “epic” .. it is an epic! It happens over so many years and it’s also a film about memory. It’s hard for a documentary to capture the power, the triggering, the effect of memory has in a human being. So I thought a narrative is uniquely qualified for this particular story and so I decided to go in that direction.”
Heidi blended in the documentary part into the narrative part almost at the latter part of the story, which was seamlessly done so well. Asked how did she did it organically she relates, “My editor ENAT SIDI was very essential in finding a way, almost unconventional, and she edited almost all my work. It was a nine-month editing process and I kind of new already in advanced that I would need that kind of time because the documentary part of the film was early and in the end I end up in a small amount, in a linear fashion that comes in the third act, which catches up with the 40-ish Gerardo. So it was an editing feat. And we created really, really something special. I carry with me is about a memory, about love, lost, sacrifice, and I’ve never been more passionate about making a film, and I just cannot wait to share this to all of you!”
Lead star ARMANDO ESPITIA (who plays IVAN) relates that he got to meet the real Ivan only the second part of shooting the film in New York. “It’s amazing because he is likable and a nice guy. I was already guided by Heidi of how he is as a person and base on the character role that helped a lot. Ivan was very open with Heidi so through Heidi I got to know him better. I feel like I was respectful and not being invasive. With Heidi’s vision, the script and my own vision, that’s how I guess altogether how the richness of the character and the layers. Ivan is already at the later stage of his life and I am portraying the younger Ivan so people change.”
I CARRY YOU WITH ME won two awards at 2020 Sundance Film Festival for “Best of Next – Audience Award” and the NEXT Innovator award for director Heidi Ewing. The film is currently in festival circle.