Finding your cinematic voice

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Cinematic Arts and Technology Department hosted Mexican-American filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes on April 15. Reyes – whose works include documentaries “Purgatorio,” and “Lupe Under the Sun,” – spoke on finding your cinematic voice in today’s challenging and virtual times, as well as elements regarding his film “499.”

“499,” revolves around a 16th-century conquistador living in modern Mexico. Reyes feels a deep connection to Mexico, having spent time there and directing movies, he wanted to shine light on the 500-year anniversary of Spanish conquest in Mexico. 

Rodrigo commented on how he kept his cast and crew members comfortable during filming, mentioning that telling history is important and portraying the testimonies is commonly recognized within Mexican people. Mexican people suffering from trauma can help others heal when they have their story represented with dignity. 

“When you go out and ask people to participate in your films, you need to think about the relationship you are creating with them,” Reyes said. “You need to think about how it’s going to affect your relationship with others.”

Having specific roles for cast and crew members is crucial for sticking with deadlines and creating memorable performances. Reyes met with different cast members each night and re-wrote scripts, filmed scenes again months later after reviewing, and was flexible enough to try new ideas, even if they ended up being unsuccessful. 

“In the film, we were constantly trying to test different concepts,” Reyes said. “You have to keep seeing if the ingredients will finally click.”

Throughout the filming process, there were multiple challenges Reyes and his crew experienced. His cinematographer almost quit after dealing with severe frustrations. Reyes was unsure if there was going to be a final product two weeks before the festival. Despite the setbacks, keeping an optimistic attitude and believing in your work will produce quality results. 

Reyes utilized journalists and historians to make sure his film would accurately portray past and current events pertaining to the Spanish conquest and the aftermath that Mexican people are still enduring. When entering a new community in a respectful way, Reyes asks the audience to think of how they would like to be approached for a project. 

“There is no way we can only tell the stories we are perfectly suited to tell,” Reyes said. “That’s not what art is about. It’s about connecting with others.”


  1. Thanks for covering our event!! This is a great summary of Reyes talk!
    For anyone interested, the film ‘499’ is available to stream from the CSUMB Library.

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