Photo: Lucha Libre
Tales of Masked Men, a new documentary about the colorful, fascinating and mysterious world of lucha libre — Mexican wrestling — will be the season opener for VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. Shot in Mexico and the United States and filled with the passion and excitement that defines its subject, the film explores the history of lucha libre and what has made this eighty-year-old phenomenon endure. Directed by Carlos Avila, Tales of Masked Men premieres on VOCES on Friday, September 28, 2012 from 10:00–11:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings) in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month.
Described by cultural anthropologist Heather Levi as “a sport in the key of melodrama,” lucha libre springs from the same root as American professional wrestling (i.e. Olympic and Greco-Roman style competitive wrestling), but has taken on the unique characteristics of Mexico and the country’s long-standing fascination with masks. Masks conceal faces but not feelings, allowing luchadors to transform themselves into either the character of a rudo, the rule-breaking villain, or a técnico, the fair and square, technically-proficient hero. Practiced in large and small arenas throughout Mexico and the U.S. as well as other countries, this “working class” sport is truly interactive, with multigenerational fans passionately involved in the high drama of the ring.
Tales of Masked Men introduces three wrestlers, each of whom embodies different aspects of the sport and its traditions. The most revered and famous masked Mexican wrestler of all time is El Santo, once a journeyman wrestler who struggled to find a place in the lucha libre world. El Santo rose to prominence in the ring, eventually becoming an international film and television star whose persona and humanity deeply resonated with Mexicans. Originally a rudo, El Santo ultimately transformed into an icon signifying the triumph of good over evil, a national hero in Mexico whose presence is still felt today.
Standing just 4’ 5” tall, Mascarita Sagrada is one of the most dynamic and acrobatic wrestlers working in lucha libre today. The film examines the evolution of this personcita (little person) from his early life as the sheltered child of protective parents to becoming a masked wrestler. We hear the stories of how other mini-luchadores helped Mascarita develop into the wrestling great he is today.
Finally, we meet the classic wrestler Solar. Solar is in his fourth decade as a luchador and continues to wrestle throughout the world, regularly travelling to Japan, England, the United States and other parts of Europe. Rising out of a childhood of rural poverty, Solar found an identity and a livelihood in lucha libre. Sensing that the end of his career is near, Solar trains and prepares his son, Solar Jr., to step into the ring. Ultimately he may pass the Solar persona and mask on to his son, a lucha libre tradition that ensures immortality for the character.
Featuring interviews with cultural commentators, wrestlers, and observers of the sport as well as archival footage and clips from the “masked wrestler” adventure films, Tales of Masked Men is the vibrant story of how lucha libre has taken root in Mexican and Latino culture and become an integral part of its very identify.
Tales of Masked Men is available on DVD from PBS Distribution at pbs.org/shop. The film was funded by Latino Public Broadcasting and ITVS.
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Produced by Latino Public Broadcasting, VOCES is the only national television series devoted to exploring and celebrating the rich diversity of the Latino cultural experience.
The series will air on four consecutive Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET, beginning on September 28, 2012. Other films in the series include Escaramuza (October 5), Unfinished Spaces (October 12), and Lemon (October 19). Funding for VOCES was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In addition to its national broadcast, VOCES will also be available for free viewing online via the VOCES website. For complete information, visit www.pbs.org/voces.
Lourdes Grobet, Photographer
Solar, Luchador / Wrestler
Heather Levi, Cultural Anthropologist
Dan Madigan, Author / Screenwriter
Rubén Hernández-León, Sociologist
Christian Cymet, Lucha Libre archivist
Ulises Jimenez (DJ Spectro), Blogger / Journalist
Marta Turok, Folk Art Specialist
William Nericcio, Film Theorist
Xavier Garza, Author / Artist
Angel Mondragon “Gulliver,” Luchador / Wrestler
Rosa, Sister of Mascarita Sagrada
Mascarita Sagrada, Luchador / Wrestler
Negro Navarro, Luchador / Wrestler
Antonia, Solar’s wife
Solar Jr., Luchador / Wrestler
About the Filmmakers
CARLOS AVILA (Director / Producer) is an award-winning director for film and television. He grew up in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles to Mexican and Peruvian parents. Carlos received his film training at Loyola Marymount University and UCLA’s Graduate School of Theatre, Film and Television. Carlos made his feature film directing debut with New Line Cinema’s 2000 release, Price of Glory starring Jimmy Smits, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Ron Perlman. This family drama set against the world of amateur and professional boxing was developed at the Sundance Institute’s Director and Writer Labs. Carlos also served as Executive Producer on the film’s groundbreaking soundtrack album that helped introduce Latin rock and hip-hop to a wide audience. In 2001, he was awarded the ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) award for Best Director for his work on this film. Carlos is the creator of Foto-Novelas, a Humanitas Prize-nominated PBS television series comprised of half-hour dramas in the spirit of The Twilight Zone. Foto-Novelas was recently added to the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Television and Radio. His award-winning short films, Distant Water and La Carpa have screened at numerous film festivals in the United States and worldwide. Carlos directed the pilot to the Sony Television / Telemundo detective series, Reyes y Rey and directed the “Street Money” episode of the long-running CBS series, Cold Case. Tales of Masked Men is Carlos’s first long form documentary. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America.
THOM CALDERON (Co-Producer / Editor) Credited on dozens of films over twenty years, Thom has worked extensively in Hollywood feature film post-production on projects ranging from comedies and action to dramas. Besides a long association with Carlos Avila, he has worked with such directors as John Singleton, Michael Apted, Taylor Hackford, Gregory Nava, and Billy Crystal. As First Assistant Editor, Thom has contributed to big budget Hollywood releases including Captain America, First Avenger, Dragonball: Evolution, Enough and My Family. Most recently, Thom edited Fox International’s Spanish/Argentine co-production, Todos Tenemos un Plan starring Viggo Mortensen.