Patricia Riggen – Miracles from Heaven

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

No matter what your religious background may be, director Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) says her new faith-based film “Miracles from Heaven” is a story everyone can relate to and be inspired by. In the film, Riggen, 45, tells the true story of Annabel Beam, a 12-year-old girl in Texas who many people believe was saved by the power of God.

Suffering from an intestinal condition that did not allow her to digest food properly, Annabel was inexplicably found to no longer have the disease after falling 30 feet from a tree. She later reveals to her parents that after her fall, she visited Heaven. The film was adapted from the book “Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing,” written by Annabel’s mother, Christy.

During our interview, Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, talked about the recent rise in productions of faith-based movies and whether or not a belief in God is necessary to enjoy her new film.

Why do you think we’ve seen more faith-based films hit theaters in the last few years?

I think there are a lot of bad movies out there and a lot of movies that don’t have a meaning or a message. There are a lot of movies that just don’t communicate anything to the audience and don’t make you grow into a better person. I think people really want to have an option to see things that are inspirational and have a good message and that you can take your kids to see. I think people are yearning for movies that have some goodness as opposed to really violent stories.

Do you think it’s your job as a filmmaker to communicate something with meaning to an audience?

Every director is different. I have a lot of respect for all of them. There are a lot of great movies out there in different genres. I, personally, have always made movies that are very optimistic and have a big heart and that are emotional. The kinds of movies I like to make are ones that make you grow and make you learn something. I like to show the good side of human beings, not the dark side. I did that in other movies like “Under the Same Moon” (“La Misma Luna”) and “The 33.” [“Miracles from Heaven”] allowed me to do that once again. This one is particularly uplifting.

What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the Beam family’s story?

The first time I heard about it, I thought it was absolutely incredible. I’m a big believer in things that are unusual and cannot be explained. I think it is part of my upbringing and my culture to believe in miracles. I was very interested in exploring it. I wanted to make sure this event was very rooted in reality and was not a supernatural thing.

Did your religious background play a part in deciding to make this film?

Not really. I was raised Catholic. I’m a filmmaker and a storyteller, so when I see a good story, that is the most important thing for me. That’s why I make all kinds of movies, not just religious movies. In fact, this movie is not very religious. It’s very spiritual. I think it allows anyone from any faith or no faith at all to see it and understand it and relate to it. That was my intention from the very beginning – to really find the universality of the event.

Do you think what the Beam family’s experienced was proof that God exists?

I don’t know if we need to prove that God is real. I think what [Annabel’s experience] proved is that amazing and beautiful things happen in our world. It proves that you must not lose hope. I think [the film] really conveys the message that there is a lot of goodness around us and that we need to keep our eyes open to it.

What would you say to people who don’t believe what the Beam family experienced was a miracle?

I respect that. I think it’s open to interpretation. For some of us it’s a miracle. For others it might be a coincidence or something that happens by chance. That’s fine, too. Everyone is allowed to think whatever they want. The movie allows us to do that. For some people, there could be a scientific explanation to it. I’ve seen people from all faiths watch [“Miracles from Heaven”] and they all have a very emotional, very human reaction to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not. It’s a very inclusive movie. You don’t have to believe in God to believe that something like this can happen.

Were you disappointed that your last film, “The 33,” did not get a bigger reception? I’m assuming it was released late in the year because the studio thought it might have a chance at awards consideration.

I think the movie might not have come out at the right time. I think it’s a beautiful movie, but I’m saddened by the fact that not many people watched it. I hope it gets discovered later on in its life like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” I hope “The 33” gets a second chance. Like many other movies in the history of cinema, it just didn’t have the right [release] date or the right kind of marketing.

Patricia Riggen – Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

After introducing herself to audiences in 2007 with the heartwarming drama “Under the Same Moon” (“La misma luna”), the story of a young son’s journey from Mexico to the U.S. to find his mother, director Patricia Riggen, 41, returns to theaters with a coming-ofage film about the conflict between a rebellious teenage daughter (Cierra Ramirez) and her preoccupied mother (Eva Mendes) in “Girl in Progress.”

During an interview with me last week, Riggen talked about the challenges she faced growing up as an independent spirit in a conservative home in Guadalajara, Mexico and what currently worries her about her own 4-year-old daughter.

Were you a rebellious teenager like the main character in “Girl in Progress?”

Well, I grew up in a very conservative family. I wanted to be independent. I loved going out to parties and dancing and being with my friends and boyfriend – everything a normal teen would do. I just wanted to live my life. I never got into anything really bad. That was already bad enough in a conservative family.

Do you think it was harder for you as a teen growing up in a Latino family?

Oh my God, yes. Especially in a very machista society like Mexico, women are meant to get married. That’s the goal in life. It’s not a bad goal, but I always thought, “Why not combine that with getting a career and being a professional?” That was my struggle. Thankfully, I was able to do that. I am a female Latina director. I am a very rare species.

If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you tell her?

I would tell her to be more self-assured and to enjoy life while it lasts, especially those younger years. Life is hard, but you just have to keep going and make the best of it.

It is just a coincidence that your movie about mothers and daughters will be released just in time for Mother’s Day weekend?

I didn’t know at first, so when they told me I thought it was perfect. What I like about the movie is that it speaks to moms and daughters and the struggles they face together. I don’t see that very much in movies today. I like that the movie is fun and entertaining, but at the same time it has a message about teenage pregnancy and bullying and how to understand each other. [Latinas] are an underserved audience. There aren’t very many movies out there that speak to us. It’s a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.

It’s interesting that a movie like this was written by a male screenwriter. How did that change the perspective of the story?

I think [screenwriter] Hiriam [Martinez] did a nice job. He has a very nice style and is very smart. I came in and gave the characters more of a female perspective, which is something I usually do with writers. I did the same with “Under the Same Moon” so I could bring in my own vision. Hiriam is a very talented guy. These movies are hard to make with Latinas and female main characters. They’re not easily financed. We’re lucky that we were able to make this one.

Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Cierra Ramirez, Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”)
Written by: Hiram Martinez (debut)

It’s a term every high school freshman English class has covered since teachers started passing out copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Whether reading Charlotte Bronte’s original novel “Jane Eyre” or watching director Cary Fukunaga’s dark and elegant film adaptation from last year, the coming-of-age story has outlined the transition from childhood to adulthood for a countless number of literary and cinematic characters over generations. Adding itself into the already crowded film genre is “Girl in Progress,” a sort of meta coming-of-age tale that attempts to stand out from the pack by making its lead protagonist self-aware of her own maturation. It’s a sometimes clever albeit limiting little concept from director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) and first-time feature screenwriter Hiram Martínez that never rises above the initial setup. There may be a serious need for more well-structured, Latino-themed movies of this brand (consider “Raising Victor Vargas,” “Real Women Have Curves,” and “Quinceañera” admirable examples), but “Girl in Progress” is sadly not one of them.

Meet Ansiedad (newcomer Cierra Ramírez in a likeable role), a frustrated teenager living in Seattle who is tired of being treated like a kid by her often negligent mother Grace (Eva Mendes), whose current relationship with a married doctor (Matthew Modine) doesn’t make her an ideal role model for her daughter. When Ansiedad (Spanish for anxiety) learns what a coming-of-age story is in school, she decides she will fast-track her way through adolescence by checking off a list of things she must experience to reach adulthood (first kiss, bad-girl phase, loss of virginity, running away to NYC, etcetera).

The approach “Girl in Progress” takes might’ve worked if it didn’t play right into the hand it wanted to avoid. By giving Ansiedad the freedom to map out her own transformative journey, there aren’t any scenes of insight or ambition except on an artificial level. Instead, Martínez fashions the script in the same manner Ansiedad would if she chose to ever document her unrealistic strategy on paper, cliché after cliché.

In one particular scene that had the potential of being a very sweet moment between mother and daughter, Grace kneels at the base of a bathtub to wash Ansiedad’s hair and have a heart-to-heart talk. The scene is interrupted by Grace’s ringing cell phone, which she promptly answers to unnecessarily reiterate how self-involved her character is. It’s only one example of the many pointless plot devices misused in “Girl in Progress,” a family film that defines the word epiphany so someone can actually have an epiphany. If that’s considered forward-thinking filmmaking, here’s to always staying a step behind.

Under the Same Moon

March 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kate del Castillo, Adrian Alonso, Eugino Derbez
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (debut)
Written by: Ligiah Villalobos (“One World”)

It would be easy to say that “Under the Same Moon” places a spotlight on the immigration issues the U.S. and Mexico are dealing with today, but that’s not all it does. The film follows Carlitos (Alonso), a young boy who journeys across the border to find his mother who has moved to Los Angeles to work for a better life for her and her son.

There is, however, more to this tender drama than talking about border fences, amnesty, and working visas. According to director Patricia Riggen, four million immigrant women leave at least one child behind to come to the U.S. to work. “Under the Same Moon” embraces all the love, sacrifice, heartbreak, and frustration behind this universal story. As a first-time director, it is amazing to see the courage and distinctive style Riggen has injected into the film.

When Carlitos’s grandmother passes away in Mexico, he sets off to reunite with his beautiful mother Rosario (del Castillo) who is earning money as a cleaning lady in L.A. Unfamiliar with the new world he has entered when he crosses the border, Carlitos develops a friendship with Enrique (Derbez), an undocumented worker who initially doesn’t like the idea of a little kid following him around everywhere.

But who can say no to someone as endearing as Carlitos? As the young lead character, Alonso is miraculous. If you don’t recognize him, he played the son of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2005’s “The Legend of Zorro.” Here, he steals every single scene he is in, which is basically all of them. As he and Enrique make their way to California together, the bond that they share is humorous and memorable.

As Rosario, del Castillo provides the best performance of her new-found American career. Known mostly for her work as an actress in Mexico (she stared in telenovelas such as “Azul” and “El derecho del nacer”), del Castillo’s emotions run high to portray this strong and dedicated mother. Unlike her last film, “Trade,” which felt misguided and phony, “Moon” is beautifully written by Ligiah Villalobos, who’s only other work has come from her TV scripts for “Go Diego Go!” Her debut as a feature screenwriter, however, is impressive.

It’s no surprise why “Under the Same Moon” received a standing ovation at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Along with the effective music provided by Los Tigres del Norte (their song “Superman es un ilegal,” which compares a Mexican immigrant to the superhero, is great), the film is a celebration of life, family and the pursuit of happiness.