Sundance documentary reintroduces Cesar Chavez to a new generation |

Sundance documentary reintroduces Cesar Chavez to a new generation

Nan Chalat Noaker, The Park Record

When "Cesar’s Last Fast" premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, it will be both exhilarating and bittersweet. Completing the documentary fulfills a promise the director, Richard Perez, made to Lorena Parlee before she died of breast cancer in 2006.

Parlee was Cesar Chavez’s press secretary at the height of the United Farm Workers union protests in the 1960s. She was also a filmmaker and, while at his side, captured rare footage of Chavez at some of his most unguarded and vulnerable moments.

Parlee’s intent was to make her own film about the famous Latino farm labor advocate but as her health deteriorated she reached out to Perez for help. Unfortunately, Perez was working on another project at the time, but he promised he would follow up when he was finished, to see if she still needed him. The story had special meaning for him – his father had been a Mexican migrant worker for over 22 years.

Nine months later Perez heard from Parlee’s stepfather. Parlee had passed away but had left behind a request that all of her materials, including 85 hours of footage, be turned over to Perez in hopes that he would complete her film.

"I was incredibly moved by her act to leave the documentary to me to finish. I thought of my family and my connection to Chavez and said, ‘Of course.’"

Much of the footage Parlee left to Perez contained images never seen by the public, including glimpses of Chavez as he hovered near death during his 36-day fast to highlight the plight of the migrant farm workers in California.

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Perez said he was deeply moved by the images and how they underscored Chavez’s spiritual commitment to the cause. He also believes the story needs to be retold, that the issues – labor rights and farm workers’ exposure to pesticides — are still extremely relevant.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the United Farm Workers movement, the film also contains news footage of Chavez’s early efforts as a community organizer in the migrant worker camps, the dramatic march from Delano, Calif. to the state capital, the violent confrontations between striking workers and the growers, and the success of the famous grape boycott.

"The film speaks to a new generation of low-wage workers," he said, adding that he hopes to reach out to Latino communities in Park City and Utah during the festival.

"With this film we hope to put them in touch with the history they may not be familiar with, to empower them and show them a model of community organizing to show them the capacity that working people have to better their lives," Perez said.

To that end, a number of Latino leaders in Salt Lake City have been invited to see the film. Additionally, there will be a free community screening of "Cesar’s Last Fast" at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Park City at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26. Following the film, local students from Latinos in Action and the filmmaker will participate in panel discussion.

"The goal is to get this film in front of the people who need it most. To empower communities to show they can change conditions around them for the better," said Perez.

"Cesar’s Last Fast" is screening in the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary Competition at the following times:

Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City

Monday, Jan. 20, at 8:30 a.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City

Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 3 p.m., Sundance Resort Screening Room, Sundance Resort

Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8:30 p.m., The MARC, Park City

Friday, Jan. 24, at 12:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1, Park City

Saturday, Jan. 25, at 3 p.m., Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City