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chapter 6 Traversing Cinematic Borders an interview with paul espinosa Daniel Bernardi (Arizona State University) Paul Espinosa is an acclaimed documentary and narrative filmmaker. He produces, directs, and writes much of his work, which focuses on the cultural and political lives of Latinos in, around, over, under, and through the U.S.-Mexico border. The recipient of one national and seven San Diego Emmys and five cine Golden Eagle awards, among others, he owns his own production company, Espinosa Productions; served as the director of the Office of Latino Affairs for kpbs-tv, San Diego, from 1980 to 1990; and later served as executive director for public affairs and ethnic issues. One of his first films, The Trail North (1983), told the story of immigration from the perspective of one family’s journey north to the United States over an extended period of time. He followed this work with several documentaries and narratives expanding on issues of Latino identity, immigration, and human rights, including Ballad of an Unsung Hero (1984), The Lemon Grove Incident (1986), In the Shadow of the Law (1988), and Uneasy Neighbors (1990), among others. His work has also addressed border politics and culture from a historical perspective , including most prominently The Hunt for Pancho Villa (1993), The U.S.-Mexican War: 1846–1848 (1998), and The Border (2000). At the same time, Espinosa has used film to engage Latina/o artistic expression , most notably in 1492 Revisited (1992) and Taco Shop Poets (2004), featured in Visiones: Latino Art in the U.S., a six-part documentary series examining the range of Latino art in the United States. And he’s still going at it. His most recent work, The Price of Renewal (2006), is an insightful documentary that examines the complex problems involving community development, philanthropy, and civic engagement in a run-down neighborhood in San Diego called City Heights, often referred to as the Ellis Island of San Diego. Tireless, Espinosa also has several projects in development.1 As one might tell from his body of work, a number of facts and facT4989 .indb 119 T4989.indb 119 2/27/09 6:57:28 AM 2/27/09 6:57:28 AM 120 ets make Espinosa a compelling filmmaker: his commitment to and knowledge of Latino history and life; his independence, which suggests a persistent and dedicated ethic seen in only the most successful filmmakers; and his training. Born and raised in the Southwest, Espinosa received two degrees in anthropology, a B.A. from Brown University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. At the same time, he has always been interested in both critiquing and making media. At Stanford, for example, his work specialized in the cultural analyses of television as a communication medium capable of both degrading and enlightening audiences. The films that he produces and directs today carry on this work, as we discuss in this interview. Espinosa is an intellectual who seeks to reveal the complexity of Latino lives. Despite being a productive filmmaker, Espinosa continues to extend his voice, vision, and community activism. After a long and successful career as an independent filmmaker in San Diego, he accepted a faculty position at Arizona State University (asu), Tempe, in the Department of Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies . That’s where we met. He and I started our faculty positions at asu in the fall of 2004. I came from the Department of Media Arts at the University of Arizona, excited to work in both Chicano and Chicana studies and film and media studies at the rival institution up the road. But I was also a bit anxious. I had never worked in an “ethnic studies” department , having always been in film and media programs. I’m also not Chicano but Puerto Rican and Italian. How was I going to fit in? My colleagues in both areas welcomed me with enthusiasm. After all, they had recruited and hired me in ways that suggested a profound understanding and distrust of all kinds of borders. Still, I was somewhat anxious until I realized I’d be working side by side with an acclaimed filmmaker, especially one who challenges viewers to see things differently , just as I hope my articles and books similarly challenge readers. Our interview took place over several months, mostly through conversations across the hall, through email, before and after faculty meetings , and over lunch. Community storeowner Juan Neri (left) of La Especial Produce, a mom-and-pop grocery...


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