Tomorrow the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest) will present a screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1932 silent film ¡Que Viva México!, with Sones de México Ensemble performing a live score comprised of traditional Mexican as well as original music. This screening/performance is an encore of the immensely popular presentation that was given at the National Museum of Mexican Art last April, and is a holiday fundraiser for the next season of CIMMfest.

It will take place tomorrow, December 5th, at the Music Box Theatre. Tickets are available here, but Gozamos is giving away a FREE pair of tickets to the performance! Provide your information in the form to enter and a winner will be picked Saturday morning.

In anticipation of this event, we discussed how the score came to be with Sones de México ensemble member, Juan Dies.

ILENE: The live musical score that Sones de México will be performing for ¡Qué viva México! contains traditional Mexican music as well as original theme music composed by ensemble member, Zacbé Pichardo. I saw in the event description that the original score “did not accurately reflect the people and culture being portrayed.” What was the previous music for the film like?

JUAN: The film was shot in 1932, and no sound was recorded during shoot. The film was completed almost 50 years later in Russia by a colleague of the filmmaker. At that time, it was set with a hopscotch selection of music from records and some original Russian music. When I saw the film, I felt that the pieces they used did not always correspond to the places in Mexico where Eisenstein had filmed: Oaxaca, Puebla, Hidalgo, etc. For example, there is a scene representing pre-columbian Mexico that is accompanied by a Moog synthesizer that sounds like a “spaghetti Western,” and then you hear some conchero dancers on screen accompanied by a ballroom polka. At times, I also felt that during the film, some of the music the music didn’t support the emotions in the story.

I: Can you tell us more about the process of selecting the traditional music for this score?

J: I may have found the film and had the idea for the project, but it was my bandmate Zacbe Pichardo who ran with it. He took the lead role as music director for this project. He had prior experience doing music for theater, so he was a logical choice. The first thing he did was to create a skeleton script and a set list of songs we could use in different parts of the film. We added a time stamp to the bottom left corner of the film to mark all of our cues. Finally, Zacbe wrote an original theme (a recurring motif) that ties the whole film together. After about one month of planning and one month of rehearsals we were ready to present this material in public. This Saturday will be our fourth performance of this material.

I: How was the original portion of music created? Was it made specifically for this film or was it variations of previous work?

J: The original theme song for this film is called “Madre Tierra” (motherland). It was composed specifically for this film by Zacbe Pichardo. He drew his inspiration from two sources: first, he borrowed a chord progression form a Russian folk song, and then, he developed it in the style of a “minuete,” which is a traditional style of harp music from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, that has strong European roots. It is a very catchy tune. You could easily walk out of the theater humming it after the movie is over.

I:  Did you intend for the new score to contribute to the narration of the film, or is its presence more like ‘background’ music, a context that is historically and culturally accurate?

J: Our score is very integral to the narrative. In my opinion, it is more integrated to the narrative than the music that was used for the 1979 edition of the film. In most drama films, the soundtrack has the role of leading you through the emotional arc of the movie. It tells you how you should feel at each moment in the plot: mystic, festive, suffering, defiant, etc. Yes, our soundtrack is informed by the traditional music from each of the regions in Mexico where Sergei Eisenstein shot his film. I think that it is also effective in creating the different moods called for in the movie and Zacbe’s theme is great for creating the feeling of growing tension that led to Mexico’s peasant revolt and the Revolution of 1910.

I: What was your relationship to the film ¡Qué viva México! before working on the music for it?

J: I only discovered this film last year. I was surfing the net and ran across the story about how it was made. A distinguished soviet filmmaker met Diego Rivera in Moscow in the early 1930s, and a couple of years later ended up in Mexico driving through Mexico’s most rugged terrains and making a docu-drama about Mexico’s Revolution. It sounded fascinating. I found it online on DVD. I ordered it, and I watched it at home.

I: How does this event fit into the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest)?

J: A couple months after watching the film, I had a chance meeting with Josh Chicoine, co-founder of CIMM Fest. We had coffee. He told me what his festival was about, and he invited me to submit a project for his festival. This movie was still fresh in my mind, and it immediately came to mind as a good project Sones de Mexico Ensemble could do. I proposed it to my bandmates, and they all loved the idea. Josh also loved the idea, and he presented it to his team who also liked it. I applied for an IAP Creative Projects Grant from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and we won a stipend that allowed us to develop this film project. Everything just came together!

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