Pablo Miralles, Roberto Donati, and Michael Whalen waded into a border war in their film "Gringos at the Gate," which has its World Premiere Wednesday, June 27, opening night of K+S New York 2012. (GET TICKETS HERE.)
The movie depicts the intense rivalry between the United States and Mexico soccer teams, taking a look at the long, complex history, the recent trends, and the fans on both sides who live and die with every match.
The trio talked to K+S's Noah Davis about filming in the chaos of supporters sections, the differences between the two fanbases, and whether US-Mexico is the best rivalry in the world.
K+S: There are so many different story angles you could have chosen about the US-Mexico rivalry. How did you choose which ones to focus on?
MIRALLES -- We focused on the parts of the story that are unique to the rivalry. Different sporting culture, history of conflict, demographics, and immigration are touched on, but it’s the unique relationship that Latinos and, primarily, Mexican-Americans and their conflicting sporting loyalties and generational cultural identities that makes the story special. It is the only way to explain the phenomenon of US and Mexico’s soccer rivalry. Finding the subjects that best illustrate these themes -- Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres, John Santos and the Hernandez Family -- was the biggest challenge we had as filmmakers.
K+S: Do you think there's a point in the future where the passion for the game in the US rivals the passion in Mexico? Maybe not for the entire population but for a subset of US fans? (Or are we already there?)
DONATI -- The passion Mexico has for futbol is the same as the passion the US has for football, baseball, and basketball combined. In Mexico, futbol is not only a diversion or a sport, it's a way of life and for some a religion. And it's been that way for generations. Passion for the game in the US will never equal the passion Mexico has. However, there are many Americans and fan groups like American Outlaws and Sam’s Army that love soccer and follow it with the passion of anyone else in the world. Moreover, the future success of US soccer will undoubtedly translate into more American fans, but to reach the fervor that Mexico has for the sport... highly unlikely.
K+S: How hard is filming in massive groups of supporters, either in a stadium or outside the stadium?
WHALEN -- It's not too bad before the game, but once people start drinking it gets a lot harder. In Columbus the weather was the biggest hurdle. Trying to operate a camera in near freezing temperature and driving rain while also conducting interviews was extremely difficult. At Estadio Azteca the reality of running around at altitude with a camera quickly set in but the real challenge in Mexico City was at La Reforma -- in the middle of the "mob." People were really excited, some too much so. At one point I found myself shielding a 10-year old girl, who just wanted to look at the camera, from bottles that were being thrown at me.
K+S: What was your favorite supporter story that you had to cut?
WHALEN -- The Tony and Danny story from Sacramento was the hardest to cut from the film. They are both first generation Mexican-Americans with young sons, but Tony supports Mexico and Danny is a die-hard U.S. fan. Tony wants his son to choose who he will eventually follow, but Danny is adamant that his son has no choice -- it's USA all the way. Their friendship and personal stories reflect a lot of the identity issues that Mexican-Americans are going through right now. Danny even has a twin brother who roots for Mexico. We included their man-on-the-street interviews in Columbus but in order to tell their full stories would have required too much screen time that we just didn't have room for in the final cut.
K+S: So is US-Mexico the best rivalry in the world?
DONATI -- Tell that to a Real Madrid fan about to play Barcelona. Or a Brazilian fan about to play Argentina. Rivalries are subjective, but this rivalry is unlike any other rivalry in the world -- the fact that both countries share a unique history, the fact that both countries are different in so many ways, the fact that the underdog nation for many years was the most powerful nation on the planet, and the fact that the relationship is so interdependent, interconnected and complex. For all these reasons, the US-Mexico rivalry is undoubtedly the most interesting.
WHALEN -- The US-Mexico rivalry is the best international rivalry in the world because it combines the issues that club rivalries have (like Celtic-Rangers or Boca Juniors-River Plate) with the intensity of the national teams. It's not just about the shared history it's about the cultural and political issues going on right now in the United States. For Mexican-Americans its about choosing your identity, your allegiance, and no other international rivalry does that.
MIRALLES -- US-Mexico is the most interesting and complex rivalry on the planet. Until there is another situation where 90,000 out of 92,000 soccer fans are cheering for the visiting team, this is the one to watch.