Detroiter behind ‘I Carry You With Me’ praised for gay romance

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When Heidi Ewing was at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her documentary on Detroit’s economic hardship, “Detropia,” she ended up having a long conversation with two friends who came to Park City, Utah, to support her.

“One night, they told me all about their lives, after six years of friendship,” Ewing recalls.

Their moving and poignant lived experiences inspired “I Carry You With Me”, a gay love story that tells how two men from Mexico fell in love and made the difficult decision to come to the United States as immigrants without papers, leaving crucial pieces behind. of their life.

The film, which debuted at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills on Friday, is the first narrative feature film by Ewing, who grew up in Farmington Hills and is a leading force in documentary films. She has co-directed several award-winning documentaries in this genre with Rachel Grady, including 2007 Oscar-nominated “Jesus Camp”.

“I Carry You With Me” is a visually stunning, often emotionally painful film that chronicles a decades-long romance by jumping in time. It follows Ivan, an aspiring chef (Armando Espitia) with a young son, who meets and falls in love with Gerardo (Christian Vázquez), a teacher from a herding family.

The two men hide their relationship in public to avoid becoming the target of homophobic violence. They also keep their sexual orientation a secret from family members who don’t approve of it. In one particularly grueling scene, Gerardo is portrayed as a little boy led into the middle of nowhere at night by his furious father, who leaves him to return home alone.

When Ivan makes the difficult decision to walk across the border to the United States for a better job, Gerardo stays put. Deprived of a visa and beaten by thugs, he ends up joining Ivan and they build a life together in New York, where memories of Mexico linger.

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“I Carry You With Me” is a kind of hybrid vehicle. It uses scenes of Espitia and Vazquez (as well as two child actors) as the two main characters and mixes up images of real men, Ivan Garcia and Gerardo Zabaleta, who now have two restaurants in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The mix is ​​so successful that viewers might confuse Garcia and Zabaleta with actors portrayed as the middle-aged version of their characters. That’s what director Rodrigo Garcia from HBO’s “In Treatment” reboot assumed when he saw the movie, according to Ewing.

“He was (like), ‘Heidi, I didn’t know until the credits roll!” “She said.

The film has been praised for the sensitive portrayal of its main characters and for depicting the personal costs to those who leave their countries and lose the chance to visit their families – an aspect of undocumented immigration that is often overlooked in the fire of political debates.

Heidi Ewing, Director of "I carry you with me."

“In the hands of Ewing and anchored by two superb performances, the romance of Ivan and Gerardo becomes an epic, a searing saga of the undocumented experience in which love is the binding force,” Entertainment Weekly said.

Ewing says she was so moved by Garcia and Zabaleta’s real story that she originally wanted to make a documentary about them. But she quickly changed direction.

“I realized that what I was actually shooting was the third act of a movie. Because everything else was from the past – the romance, the epic and epic nature, the childhood memories. There was no way I could satisfactorily bring this into a documentary. “

Ewing adds, “I was like, I don’t want to settle for a good documentary.” So she set out to make a scripted drama, in collaboration with her co-writer, Alan Page Arriaga.

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Filming began in Mexico in October 2018 and moved in December of the same year to New York. Throughout filming, Ewing said, “My inner dialogue was like, ‘Don’t get me wrong. Make it authentic. “”

There were some unexpected art-imitation-life moments. While filming scenes in Mexico of Ivan’s border crossing, Ewing and his team spotted people from the real migrant caravan that became a campaign issue for then-President Donald Trump. not to mention a frequent target of his verbal tirades.

Undocumented immigration was a hot spot that divided so much during the Trump administration that Ewing at one point considered changing the names of the main characters to protect their identities.

“The chance of who was kicked out under Trump was terrifying, like the roundups that happen in New York City, random people,” Ewing said. “Conventional wisdom was thrown out of the window of who was in danger.”

Garcia and Zabaleta wouldn’t let her change a thing. “It really propelled me forward,” she says of their willingness to tell their story.

The film’s love scenes between Espitia and Vazquez are filmed to convey the hidden nature of their first romance in Mexico. “They would never dare to hold hands or touch a shoulder, anything in public,” Ewing explains. “We filmed these things in a very voyeuristic and clandestine way, almost claustrophobic, because it’s really about stealing moments. They were stealing moments together and my camera was stealing them.”

The temporal element of the film reflects how Ivan and Gerardo, like millions of other undocumented residents of this country, retain their memories of home.

According to Ewing, “Many, many, many immigrants who have seen this movie tell me, with or without papers, especially people who cannot go back … ‘I live like this. I think, I remember the scent or the chirping of a bird. ‘ … It’s like a constant loop and that’s what I was trying to show. “

The film premiered in January 2020 at Sundance. It won the Audience and Innovation Awards in the festival’s NEXT category, which is dedicated to independent films that take an avant-garde approach to storytelling.

It was due to arrive in theaters in June 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put everything on hold. There was, however, a drive-through screening at the New York Film Festival in September 2020 which Ewing said “was amazing.”

Meanwhile, Ewing spent much of her forties working on an HBO documentary that she and Grady are directing with reporter Ronan Farrow. These are investigative journalists around the world and the personal risks posed by such reporting.

“We started shooting it before the pandemic, and then all of our film subjects, the reporters themselves, started covering COVID and were out on the streets and in the mix, doing their jobs,” she says. “For us, obviously not following them was not the right thing to do.”

CHRISTIAN VÁZQUEZ as Gerardo, ARMANDO ESPITIA as Iván in I CARRY YOU WITH ME.

Ewing and Grady will lead the project, with executive production from Farrow.

For Ewing, the weight of getting it right was just as heavy during the making of “I Carry You With Me” as when she was making a documentary.

“It was a very heavy burden to make movies about friends. I tell others not to do it and then I broke my own rule,” she says. Garcia and Zabaleta granted him full creative control, a leap of faith that Ewing describes as “an act of friendship with me.”

As much as Ewing wants to make great movies, she doesn’t want to sacrifice her friendships in the process.

“I literally lost a lot of sleep because of it,” says Ewing, who remains good friends with Garcia and Zabaleta. “I thought if I got out of this thing and lost my friends, it was for nothing. It’s not worth it.”

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at [email protected]

‘I’m taking you with me’

Opening Friday July 2 at Maple Theater

R (for language and brief nudity)

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