Break of Dawn (1988): Artenstein’s Sundance Indie Film

Sundance Film Festival 1988 (Dramatic Competition)–Like other recent Latino movies, Isaac Artenstein’s “Break of Dawn” also pays tribute to a misunderstood hero, Pedro J. Gonzalez, a star in the Latino community.

When the movie was made, Gonzalez, 96, was living with his wife of 70 years in Lodi, California.

Based in San Diego, director Artenstein first made a documentary about Gonzalez, then decided to treat the story as a feature. One of the century’s more remarkable characters, Gonzales lived a rich, diverse life. Over the course of his existence, he was Pancho Villa’s telegrapher, illegal alien, singing host of a celebrated radio show, victim of a bogus rape charge, inmate at San Quentin before the “rapee” recanted, and then border radio star for 30 years.

“Break of Dawn” describes racism of the most blatant kind. When politicians railed against Mexican migrants for stealing American jobs, reportedly half a million people were deported in a fury of hateful retaliation. Gonzalez’s radio show rallied the Spanish language-audience, creating a political force. When Gonzales protested the deportation policy, the power structure fought back.

While the film’s star, Mexican Oscar Chavez, is credible as Gonzalez, the villain is too simplistically written and acted.

Despite shortcoming, addressing itself to a little known persona in the US., the movie displays charm and and benefits from affecting music from Chavez.