Reflections on the El Casino Ballroom documentary

DSC_7924-c8-sw-dbaI find myself oddly moved.

This past week my 2012 documentary, “Tucson’s Heart and Soul: El Casino Ballroom,” debuted at a gala fundraiser for the Mountain Empire Film Festival in Patagonia, Arizona, and at the Arizona International Film Festival in Tucson.

It has been months since I have looked at the film, which is typical for me. I was already started on my next film on how mariachis and folklórico dancers transformed Tucson while I was editing the El Casino film. And since its premiere in December, I have been working diligently on that next project.

So when a seat in the front row was offered at the Patagonia screening, I didn’t know if I should run and hide or sit there.

Like every filmmaker, at first I was focused on the little imperfections that I spotted that likely few others saw. But I very quickly found myself absorbed in the film.

Az-Film-Fest-credentials-sw-P1110333I was surprised at the folks some people in that audience reacted to. But it was a delightful kind of surprise. It was wonderful seeing them be tickled by the things that tickled me when I shot them. To see them laughing at the parts that cracked me up. To see tears in their eyes at the points where I myself could barely contain my emotions when it happened a few feet from me.

And there I was, laughing and tearing up as though I’d never seen it before, and wanting to jump out of my seat to say, “Watch this. This is one of my favorite parts.”

I loved that this audience looked at Fred Martinez, Jeb Schoonover, Javier Escalante and Paul Bear as the heroes I have known them to be.

When Luis Cruz said, “El Casino doesn’t make money. It makes memories,” near the end of the film, I knew they got it, and were moved by that.

I loved watching their surprise as the credits rolled and such odd El Casino occurrences as a luchador wrestling match and Zumba aerobics rolled by to the sounds of Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta. And their applause at the close was as genuine as it was loud.

Up until that moment, though, more often than not I was just enjoying the film with them. I knew what was coming but was occasionally surprised as well. And with a good space of time between its completion and seeing it again, the waves of emotion it evoked in me was both surprising and gratifying.

The dance floor of Tucson's El Casino Ballroom

The dance floor of Tucson’s El Casino Ballroom

I feel good about how this film turned out. I feel good about how it validated the lives of a lot of people, and how it told a great story about a place not everyone knows, but all should in my community.

I have never been prouder of anything I’ve done. And yet I know this is just the prelude to the mariachi film, which I feel confident will become the best film I likely will ever make.

In the end, a good documentary starts with a good story. El Casino Ballroom was a great one. I am honored that so many shared their moving stories with me for the making of this film. And humbled to realize that I did a halfway decent job putting that story together.


~ by Daniel Buckley on April 20, 2013.

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