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Walter Dominguez's grandfather helped oust a hated dictator, a fact he never knew until three decades later.
He made the discovery during the making of a recently released documentary, Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery. The film, which he made with his wife, actress Shelley Morrison (best known as Rosario from her many years on the TV show “Will and Grace”), took 11 years to piece together.
The film took Dominguez on a voyage of familial exploration and a search for his grandfather’s past. Traveling through the rural Southwest, to Leon, Mexico, and many border towns in between, Dominguez found a history rich with intrigue.
I looked at my life and for the first time realized how fragile we all are. I had a calling and I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed an odyssey.
Finished this year, Dominguez’s film odyssey was originally inspired by both his curiosity about his grandfather Emilio's life—who everyone in the family called “Tata”—and his realization that many of his older family members wouldn’t be around forever to help him put the pieces together. Tata died in 1973, and it would be three decades later before Dominguez would begin filming.
Dominguez knew his grandfather was a much-loved Methodist minister and community leader who lived out the last years of his life in a small rural town called Santa Paula, located in Southern California. What Dominguez would discover was that Tata had also played a small but important role in the Mexican Revolution, fighting alongside some of Mexico’s most courageous citizen warriors in an effort to oust the hated dictator Porfirio Díaz.
Working with Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Best Director winner Spencer Averick, the film began showing recently to select audiences and has been getting rave reviews.
“It’s been a family affair since the start. Seventy five percent of the people who worked on this project we’ve known for over 20 years. These people all feel committed to and invested in this. We’ve been blessed. All of our collective spirits have been put together to create this film,” said Morrison.
Dominguez said he had to cull through 400 hours of footage to edit the documentary – a task he said was difficult and frustrating.
“I was lucky I had Shelley. She kept us focused on two things—character development and story structure. She shaped the film,” he said.
The film uses dramatic re-enactments; many of the “actors” were members of Dominguez’s family, as well as archival footage.
One of the most touching scenes was Dominguez meeting an elderly woman during one of his trips to Mexico and, within minutes, she told him she knew his great-grandmother. He says the film is sprinkled with moments of what he calls “divine intervention.”
“We literally heard voices and felt the presence of long gone relatives guiding us through the process,” Dominguez says.
He said there were many reasons why he wanted to create a documentary film about his family.
“I felt we were going through great turmoil in the world after 9/11. My wife, Shelley was suffering through cancer treatments. My father was very ill, and a close friend had recently died. I looked at my life and for the first time realized how fragile we all are. I had a calling and I couldn’t wait any longer,” Dominguez said. “I needed an odyssey.”
Starting her career playing the role of Sister Sixto on the 1960s television show the Flying Nun, Morrison was born to parents of Sephardic Jewish and Spanish descent.
“We need more Latinos writing better material. There are still a lot of cheap shots,” she said. “I’m offered a lot of junk. It’s better, but it’s frustrating.”
The couple said they enjoyed working together so much that they’re already at work on their second documentary called “Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles,” a story about the history of Los Angeles from 1850-1950.
“It’s really a love letter to the city of LA. It was a city built on dreams,” Dominguez said. “I think people will be surprised by the racial attitudes that have existed in L.A. for a long time. And it was a city built out of nothing into a major financial center in less than 100 years.”