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Member Spotlight: Rodrigo Reyes

By Andrea Granera

Headshot of Rodrigo Reyes


Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes (Mexico City, 1983), makes films deeply grounded in his identity as an immigrant artist, crafting a poetic gaze from the margins, using striking imagery to portray the contradictory nature of our shared world, while revealing the potential for transformative change. He has received the support of The Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE), Sundance, and Tribeca Institutes, while his films have screened on PBS and Netflix. His film “499,” won Best Cinematography at Tribeca and the Special Jury Award at Hot Docs. Rodrigo is a recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim and Creative Capital Awards, as well as the Rainin Fellowship and the SF Indie Vanguard Award. For years, he has worked to mentor the next generation of diverse artists through his work as a member of the Board of Directors for Video Consortium and Co-Director of the BAVC Mediamaker Fellowship, and teaching masterclasses at renowned institutions such as Berkeley's Journalism School, Princeton, The New School, UCLA and Stanford. In 2022, Rodrigo won the Best Film Award at Sheffield DocFest with his latest feature, “Sansón and Me,” distributed by Cinema Guild, which will broadcast on Independent Lens in 2023.

Please tell us a little about yourself, how and when did you start to work in the documentary field? 

I did not study filmmaking, mostly because as the first to attend college in this country, I had a great responsibility to my family. They wanted me to succeed and open a path for others. This meant choosing the “respectable” major of International Relations. At the time, I was very frustrated with these expectations, but now I can appreciate the wealth of ideas that I encountered. Living abroad in Mexico and Spain, studying bilingually, wrestling with concepts and problems all of this later fed into my work as a filmmaker and enriched my vision. 

Once I got my diploma, I began making films as a way to respond to the world around me and the stories in my community universe. At first, my approach was very much self-taught and I learned on-the-fly, without really understanding the rules or the nature of the film industry. I am so grateful for holding this ignorance inside me and trying to make work on my own terms. Everything I’ve learned has been hard-won. 

Your filmography is incredible! Please tell us a little bit about your trajectory. What is the main driver behind your films?

As a documentary filmmaker, I ground my work in my identity as a Latinx immigrant, crafting cinema rooted in the margins of Mexico and the United States.I am interested in how systems of control and power interact with reality and impact the lives of individuals whose voices have been erased. While often vast in scope, grappling with issues as complex as immigration, the legacy of colonialism or the carceral system, I always build my stories on a deep bond with real people. I engage their lives with active listening and respect, helping to construct bonds of deep trust and collaboration that aim for artistic excellence. My goal is for audiences to feel moved, outraged and empowered to reimagine our world.

Congratulations on the world premiere of your film Sansón and Me at the Tribeca Film Festival! Please tell us a little bit about the project. How and why did you want to make this film?

Why did I commit a decade of my life to making this film? The short answer is that Sansón is a poet, a man of strength and wisdom, whose words peel back the layers of reality and take us into the heart of a very broken system. Once I got to know him, I could not walk away. The long answer has to do with brown immigrant boys who didn’t catch a break, boys that have been with us for generations, walking through our world, hoping to build something for themselves through sheer grit and carve out a piece of the American Dream we are so fond of celebrating. We think we know what these guys are all about, but in reality, we have no idea. The truth is that we dare not stop and listen, afraid of what they have to say. Maybe our world is much more broken than we believe. Maybe we are not as compassionate as we thought. 

What is wonderful about Sansón, is that beyond his story of incarceration, past his immigrant tale, lives the story of a kid trying to make sense of his journey. Who am I? How did I get here? Where do I want to go? His odyssey is timeless and universal, and he shares it with grace and beauty.

In 2022 you were one of the recipients of the Awards Campaign Access Initiative (ACAI) at IDA. Congratulations! How was your experience with the ACAI program?

ACAI was a wonderful opportunity to boost the profile of SANSÓN and help us build momentum. The work we did with the program has now blossomed in our distribution campaign, helping us open in theaters across the country and bring this blazing story into the communities that will resonate with it. 

Lastly is there anything you would like to share with our members? 

The power of listening is at the very heart of cinema. In a film, we witness the lives of others, enter their world and connect our experiences to their stories. This action is transgressive and brave. This art is capable of helping us reimagine our world.