Cesar Chavez: Diego Luna’s Biopic Starring Michael Pena

“We’re coming out with ‘Cesar Chavez’ at the right moment in the U.S.,” said director Diego Luna, of the celebration of the civil rights activist and his legacy, which world premieres in Berlin Film Fest.

“There’s a big debate in the U.S. about immigration reform,” he went on. “We need to reflect on who’s feeding this country today, why this community has been ignored. There’s still much injustice and inequality.”

Produced by Mexico City/L.A. based Canana, run by Gael Garcia Bernal, Luna, Pablo Cruz and Julian Levin, the Berlinale Special Gala stars Michael Pena as Chavez, a first-generation American who from the early ‘60s fought and finally won basic rights in the U.S. for migrant farm workers, such as minimum wages and collective bargaining.

America Ferrara plays his wife, Rosario Dawson fellow labor-leader Dolores Huerta, John Malkovich an industrial grape farm boss, Chavez’s would-be nemesis.

Part of Chavez’s legacy was his example. Influenced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, sidestepping politicians, he promoted non-violence: strikes, hunger-strikes (his own), boycotts, pickets.

Also, Luna argued, he connected with consumers: “Chavez posed the question: If your kid eats a grape why should that grape exist at the expense of other kids’ not going to school?”

Chavez’s argument finally won out.  He “showed that if even the weakest, most abused community raises its voice at the same time, it will be heard,” Luna said.

Two generations later, in film and TV, Canana is also empowering a new generation of Mexicans and Latin Americans, young filmmakers, with ever-greater impact in the U.S.

“Cesar Chavez” is co-produced with Malkovich’s L.A.-based label, Mr Mudd. Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media, with whom Canana has launched a Participant PanAmerica production fund, acquired U.S. rights. Pantelion, a Lionsgate joint venture with Mexico’s Televisa, releases “Cesar Chavez” March 28 Stateside. Mundial, a Canana-IM Global partnership, sells international rights at Berlin.

“Cesar Chavez” isn’t just a story for Mexicans, Luna insisted  “It’s a story about America. The boycott worked not just in California but in all the country. They collapsed the whole food industry by saying: ‘My issues matter.’ Hopefully we’ll achieve this with the film.”