The Golden Dream: teen heroes in a world of double standards

Diego Quemada-Díez’s heartbreaking film about Guatemalan youngsters who journey to LA studies the interconnectedness of human beings. The director’s mentor, Ken Loach, would be proud

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 01:00

Never mind The Fault in Our Stars. If you really want screen teens to break your heart this summer, don’t miss Diego Quemada-Díez’s superb new drama, The Golden Dream. The film, a nail-biting and unsentimental tale of three youngsters as they journey from the slums of Guatemala city towards Los Angeles, has already garnered dozens of major prizes on the festival circuit, including silverware from Cannes and Dublin.

It is, reputedly, the most heavily decorated film to emerge from any region of the Americas. That, one feels, is only right and proper: the film’s themes sing with urgency, and its emotional impact is unrivalled among this year’s releases.

“I wanted to make something like an epic poem,” says the film-maker, who spent many years collecting testimonies from migrants. “I wanted to give a voice to those risking their lives to help their loved ones to solve the problems of inequality. They are heroes but they are also human beings living in a world of double standards. The circumstances that create people’s desire to migrate are more and more prevalent, just as borders are increasingly militarised. Post-Berlin we thought we were tearing down walls. But the walls between us – races, nationalities, languages – are still there and more reinforced than ever.”

For Quemada-Díez, the theme of interconnectedness at the heart of The Golden Dream isn’t merely some ill-defined, new-age blather. It’s a genuine social and aesthetic manifesto: “The clothes you and I are wearing, the furniture you’re sitting on: somebody made those things. Somebody else transported them. Somebody else collected the food we eat. This isn’t an illusion. What happens to one of us happens to all of us. Part of the journey in the film is the move away from our western concept of individuality toward a recognition of our interconnectedness as human beings.”


Collecting stories

Sure enough, there’s something of the folk ballad about The Golden Dream. All told, the Spanish-born Quemada-Díez spent more than six years collecting stories from some 600 migrants to weave into the fabric of the screenplay.

“The details that you use to construct the story are very important,” he says. “The girl who cuts her hair and covers her breasts and dresses like a boy – that’s a detail that comes from testimony. All the details are from life. But you have to have something to say about them. You have to have hope, a utopian concept. I don’t buy the idea that an artist should be neutral. If you need to express yourself, then you must have something to say. I am not interested in naturalism for naturalism’s sake. I love that idea of Robert Louis Stevenson that a work of art must be equal parts realism and idealism.”

In this same spirit, the film-maker saw more than 8,000 kids before he settled on the three non-professional lead actors. The youngsters – Karen Martínez, Brandon López and Rodolfo Domínguez – would ultimately win a special ensemble award at the Cannes Film Festival.

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