Art Works Blog

Art Talk with Diego Luna

by Guiomar Ochoa

Diego Luna at a September screening of The Invisibles by Ambulante co-founder Gael Garcia Bernal, hosted by Washington Office of Latin America. Photo courtesy of Pennie Ojeda

"Whenever you tell a real story, it ends up making a social statement. We believe that the more a film raises questions, the better it is." --- Diego Luna

One of Mexico's most acclaimed actors, Diego Luna became an international sensation with his starring role in the film Y tu mamá también. In the U.S., he is best known for his roles in Frida and Milk. But there’s more to this actor/director than just good looks. Luna and his best friend, actor Gael García Bernal, are on a mission to bring educational and ground-breaking documentaries and films to underserved populations in their native Mexico. We caught up with Luna when he was in Washington, DC to receive the Washington Office of Latin American Human Rights Award on behalf of Ambulante, the not-for-profit he created with Bernal to advance their vision of accessible, socially-significant films.

NEA: What is your version of the artist’s life?

DIEGO LUNA: The amazing thing about art is that it can be connected to everything you are no matter what you do. If you paint, tell stories or make music, it’s directly connected to who you are and what you think. It needs to come from honesty, and it’s fantastic because then it’s always about who you are. The chance to express yourself through art is also a great way to connect and be part of something bigger. Everyone believes art is an introspective process---which it is---but it can also be about connecting with someone else. It’s an introspective process to find out who you are in relation to everything else.

NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience in with the arts?

LUNA: My father is a set designer and my mother was a painter and a costume designer. My mother died when I was two years old so a way to connect with her was to look at her paintings. In my father’s house, almost every wall had something that my mother painted. We didn’t talk much about her, but her presence was there and that’s when I realized that through an image or a sound or what I do, which is a mixture of images and sounds, a lot can be said. Your relation with an image can bring the comfort that a hug can bring you.

NEA: What has been your most transformative art experience to date?

LUNA: The most significant thing I’ve ever done is direct a film. That is a complete experience. That is the most of me that I’ve put in a project. When you direct, you’re telling a story. You’re letting the audience have a little piece of you. As an actor you’re just a tool for someone else. Yes, you work with your emotions and feelings and body, but you’re a tool for someone else’s point of view. I believe Abel---a film I directed a few years ago---has been the most important thing I’ve ever done.

NEA: Why do you think the general public needs the art of film?

LUNA: Many times through listening to other people’s stories, you find out who you really are. Cinema is like a mirror. You reflect your own image. It is powerful. It is a tool that can change your life. It becomes a reference of where you are. I find myself remembering moments of my life, where I can relate to that moment, when I sit down to watch a film. Film also stays forever. I come from theater, which is an experience between an audience and an actor, and it just belongs to them. It dies as soon as the clapping starts whereas cinema is there forever. For good and bad. It haunts you all your life, and it’s amazing to stop time like that.

NEA: When it comes to the field of motion pictures---or even the arts as a whole---what things do you see as missing?

LUNA: That’s a complex question. There’s a lot missing. What is sad to me is that every day we lose spaces that show the films that I like. I see less money invested in these films. I see fewer venues playing these films. I see less support. I’m scared the films I like are just going to be shown in festivals to a tiny group of people. I am fighting back and making sure the films I like to see in the cinema are the films we are showing through Ambulante.

NEA: Tell me a little bit about Ambulante, the not-for-profit organization you founded with Gael García Bernal, which focuses on producing, distributing, and exhibiting documentaries in Mexico.

LUNA: Ambulante came from the necessity to say what we wanted for the cinematic audience. While we had access to many films in festivals and other cities, Gael and I would come back to Mexico thinking we were never going to see the films there that we had seen outside. The idea behind Ambulante is to make sure the films we believe are important and raise themes that need to be discussed are seen in our country. Ambulante is a film festival but not a competition. The idea is to travel to thirteen states around Mexico. We go to each state for a week and show documentaries in cinemas, plazas, schools, and jails. The festival goes to a city or state and reaches a lot of people. Ambulante is in its seventh year and is the most successful project I’ve done and the one I feel proudest of.

NEA: A lot of the documentaries you show have social justice themes. Can you talk a little about that?

LUNA: Whenever you tell a real story, it ends up making a social statement. We believe that the more a film raises questions, the better it is. Through the selection of a film, we end up saying what we believe in.

NEA: Do you believe that the role of the artist in the community is to take a stance on social justice issues?

LUNA: I believe the responsibility is not just of the artist but of everyone to have a point of view. I believe art gives you the chance to do something that makes you connect to someone else. Through art we find out we’re not alone.

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