Back to IndieWire

Diego Quemada-Díez on His Heartbreakingly Beautiful Debut ‘La Jaula de Oro’

Diego Quemada-Díez on His Heartbreakingly Beautiful Debut 'La Jaula de Oro'

La Jaula de Oro
which translates to “The Golden Cage” now goes under the title “The Golden Dream”. The film, repped by Films Boutique, has sold widely. In U.S. it was acquired by HBO, but this
week it is playing in L.A. at the TCM Chinese and Cinepolis Pico Rivera in East L.A. If you want an extra special treat, you will see it. It will also open
Friday, September 4 at Village East Cinema in NYC and in DC at Cinema Pop-Up after Sept 11th.

Watch the Trailer


Showtimes and Tickets

Q&A with filmmaker Fri 9/4, Sat 9/5, Sun 9/6 at the 7pm show.

It will continue through more cities before HBO puts it on cable. It has won awards at every festival screening, starting with Cannes 2013 where it played
in Un Certain Regard and won A Certain Talent Prize for the ensemble and the Gillo Pontecorvo Award and François Chalais Award – Special Mention for the
strength of the visual aspect, the violence of truth and its emotional intensity. It won 9 Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent to the Oscar.

“La Jaula” transcends the usual depiction of young immigrants taking La Bestia through Central America and illegally entering the United States.
After “El Norte”, “Sin Nombre” and “Mary Full of Grace”, we have become inured to this long festering problem of immigration. However, this poetic yet
realistic and heartbreakingly beautiful depiction of three teenagers (one is a girl) from the slums of Guatemala traveling to the U.S. in search of a
better life is pure heart. On their journey through Mexico they meet Chauk, an Indian from Chiapas who doesn’t speak Spanish. Traveling together in cargo
trains, walking on the railroad tracks, they form bonds that create the magic of this film.

The beauty of every shot is proof that Diego Quemada-Díez was a cinematographer before this debut
directorial tour de force.

Diego was interviewed at the premiere by
Ian Bernie,
festival programmer for Bombay and the New Orleans Film Festivals, former director of the renowned LACMA film program.


The social reality in Latin America requires cinema to be deeply engaged with the world as it is. I am interested in making films firmly rooted in our
contemporary society.

True realism has it all: fantasy and reason, suffering and utopia, the happiness and pain of our existence. I want to give voice to migrants – human beings
who challenge a system established by impassive national and international authorities by crossing borders illegally, risking their own lives in the hope
of overcoming dire poverty.

This film is not a documentary, rather it is a fiction based on reality, reenacting it from a place of authenticity and integrity. We constructed the
narrative and poetics of this odyssey from the testimony of hundreds of migrants and
from the personal sentiments of each and every person who participated in the creative process.

As we identify with Juan and Chauk, we depart from our own daily lives and embark on a grand emotional adventure that delivers us to profound discovery – a
journey dispelling the notion that happiness awaits us in a distant place, a
journey offering reflection on the borders that divide nations, a journey towards awareness of what separates us as human beings.

We made this adventure in the hope of deconstructing those conventions that imprison us so we can reinvent our own reality. My dream is that these
boundaries that separate us dissolve, allowing us to board another train.

One whose destination doesn’t matter, a train whose passengers all know our all existence is interconnected, a train whose obstacles inspire us to
celebrate our existence with respect and conscience that transcends nationalities, races, classes and beliefs.

The words of a Mexican man named Juan Menéndez López, spoken just before boarding a moving cargo train with seven of his companions, became the intention I
wanted to communicate with the film, “You learn a lot along the path. Here, we are all brothers. We all have the same need. What’s important is that we
learn to share. Only in this way can we move ahead, only in this way can we reach our destination, only a united people can survive. As human beings, there
is no place in the world where we are illegal.”

Once you have the intention it acts like a magnet, the film starts speaking and we follow it. But to articulate an idea on film we need to do it thru
actions, characters, conflict. A metaphor can help us articulate the idea.

In the painting called American Progress from Manifest Destiny, the unquestioned western model of “Progress” or “Civilization” spreads through the land.
Then I discovered that behind migration there is a territorial conflict, still current in America. Two ways of looking at the world, with very diferent
belief systems, still clashing.

So I thought “I will tell the story of the conflict of two cultures”, a story of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ through the clash between a Tzotzil Indian and a
mixed race Guatemalan who believes in the Western model. They have completely opposite views of the world, one more materialistic and mental, the other
more grounded, more in touch with his soul, his feelings. Throughout the story there is a transformation of the protagonist due to the Indian, not the
other way around as the western societies usually expect.

I wanted to question our model of “Progress”.

What if it is the western model that needs to change and not the indigenous way?

The opening ten minutes were without words.

Show me, don’t tell me.

The ending seven minutes themselves are incredible, filmed in a cold, dehumanized Colorado meat-packing warehouse where our hero ends his journey,
transformed within himself

He was alone; migrants have a lot of loneliness. Many testimonies I gathered ended in ‘We were 15 when we left and none of us arrived’ or ‘one of us
arrived’. Very few make it and I wanted to convey this.

A migrant starts the journey looking for the gold (for the money) and as soon as he/ she arrives is trapped due to current legislation. Many pay a high
price to get to the U.S. For many it becomes a trap.

Tell us about the genesis of this project.

I spent seven years researching the story, finding locations, speaking with migrants, gathering their testimonies that the screenplay is based on.

In the production itself, I followed Ken Loach’s techniques, filming in chronological order, without the actors knowing what would happen next. That way
they have a life experience instead of acting. I would read them the script five minutes before we shot. We would do this every day, for every scene and
based on their words I would rewrite it on the set.

Tell us more about your technique for shooting this film.

We worked with over 600 migrants in this movie and many people from the villages we passed by. We incorporated our actors into each location surrounded by
real people and real locations, then we just filmed like a documentary, becoming an observer of what was happening on front of us. I tried to get the best
from fiction and the best from documentary: Dramatic structure, to be able to reenact events instead of talking about them, working with real people, real
locations, showing contemporary events that speak about issues of our time.

The hero’s internal journey is a metaphor of our own life and our death. Each of us in our own journey of life meets obstacles; we fall, we stand up, we
learn things, we grow or we give up. We are never the same when we arrive at the destination where we believed our dreams would be fulfilled.

I believe we can learn a lot from migrants, from their extreme odyssey. They are people who risk their lives to help their loved ones. They are heroes so I
wanted to tell their story through an epic poem.

On a deeper level, I talk of my own life through others. Like twenty years ago when my mother died and I had to keep going. Things happen to you but you go
on, you continue however you can. Migrants do that; some people stumble and fall in the journey and still they keep going as best as they can.

How did you find the migrants?

Diego: In regards to the extras in the film, the casting crew would arrive three days before we arrived at each location, so when we got there we could
include migrants and people from the villages.

How was this film financed?

Through a Mexican tax incentive. That is why there are so many movies now being made in Mexico. Last year 140 films. Each very different.


Born in the Iberian peninsula, Diego has lived in the American continent for the past two decades as nationalized Mexican. His first job in the film
industry was in 1995, in Ken Loach’s film “Land and Freedom” as a camera assistant to the director of cinematography. A year later, he migrated to the U.S.
where he continued his career in film. His graduation film at the American Film Institute (AFI) as writer/director/DOP, “A Table is a Table”, won the Best
Cinematography award given by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).

He has collaborated as camera operator with directors Spike lee, Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñarritu, Tony Scott, Fernando Meirelles, among others, as he wrote and
directed his own short films and documentaries. In 2006 he premiered his second short film “I Want to Be A Pilot” at the Sundance Film Festival. The film
played at over 200 festivals and won over 50 awards, including Audience Award at La Mostra Sao Paulo Film Festival, Special Mention at the Amiens Film

That same year he directed in Mexico his short documentary “La Morena”, that premiered at Morelia Film Festival in 2007. In 2010 he won one of the
scholarship awarded by Cinéfondation, which enabled him to participate in the Cannes Film Festival Atelier workshop with his first long-feature film, “La
Jaula de Oro”. As we said above, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard’s Official Selection and won Un Certain Talent Award
and The Gillo Pontecorvo Award and François Chalais Special Mention Award. In its Mexican premiere at the Morelia Film Festival, the film won three awards:
Audience Award, Best First Film and Press Guerrero Award. As a Director he has won Best Director at Vladivostock FF, Best New Director at the Chicago FF,
Best Director at Thessaloniki FF, Best Director at Havana New York FF, Best Director at Luis Buñuel Calanda FF in Spain, Best Director from Satjavit Ray
Foundation at the London FF and Jean Renoir Award in France. It also won Best First Film in Lima, La Habana, República Dominicana and Best Film in Mumbai,
Mar de Plata,Thessaloniki, Zurich.

It won nine Ariel Awards from the Mexican Film Academy, including Best Film, Best First Film and Best Original Screenplay, as well as Best Iberoamerican Film at
the Fenix Iberoamerican Awards held in Mexico City. Up to now the film has received over 80 awards.

As a writer, aside from his screenplays, he has also written a poetry book called I “Dreamed I Found My Octogonal Room”.

More information on the film below:

“La Jaula de Oro” 
(The Golden Dream)

A film by Diego Quemada-Diez
(Mexico/Spain, 102 min. In Spanish and Tzotzil with English subtitles)

Opens Friday, September 4
Village East Cinema

181-189 Second Avenue (at 12th Street)
New York City, (212) 529-6998

Watch the Trailer


Showtimes and Tickets

Q&A with filmmaker Fri 9/4 and Sat 9/5 at the 7pm show.

The most awarded Mexican film in history -with over 80 international accolades- Diego Quemada-Diez’s acclaimed debut
feature “La Jaula de Oro” tells
the story of three teenagers from the slums of Guatemala travel to the
US in search
of a better life. On their journey
through Mexico they meet Chauk, a Tzotzil kid from Chiapas who doesn’t
speak Spanish.
Travelling together in cargo trains,
walking on the railroad tracks, they soon have to face a harsh reality.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,