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EL HALCÓN, a tribute to wrestling films: Interview with Eduardo Valenzuela

During his glory days, El Halcón (Guillermo Quintanilla) fought for justice. One day, a terrible event changes the course of his life and that of all the wrestlers, who are forced to withdraw from the public eye. Ramón remains far from the ring and continues his life with his son Pancho (Ianis Guerrero), as the owner of a taqueria where they must deal with the gang of thugs terrorizing Tijuana. 

When Pancho wants to end crime and puts on his mask, he is kidnapped by his father’s old nemesis: The captain (Héctor Soberón). Ramon will have to wear the mask again to rescue his son with the help of Detective Reyes (Ana Jimena Villanueva). After thirty years, El Halcón will fly again, this time seeking revenge.

El Halcón (2023, dir. Eduardo Valenzuela)

Inspired by the world’s heavyweight champion José Luis Melchor Ortiz, also known as Danny Ortiz, director Eduardo Valenzuela, released in theaters the film El Halcón, which was part of the program of the 21st Morelia International Film Festival (FICM).

We had the chance to talk with the director, who shared the creative process behind his most recent film. From the origins of the idea to the challenges and achievements he faced during the production of this film that pays homage to the cinema of wrestlers.

According to the filmmaker, the inspiration for El Halcón came from his desire to reinvent the Mexican superhero, a symbol that had ceased to be relevant amid the invasion of American superheroes on the big screen. With deep admiration for Mexican wrestlers such as El Santo and Tinieblas, Valenzuela embarked on an arduous research process, delving into the world of wrestling and exploring classic films of the genre that led him to conceive this story.

FICM: How did you start writing this story? Where did the idea come from to make a fiction based on a character like El Halcón?

Eduardo Valenzuela: It was one of those things that suddenly pops into your head. I became obsessed with the idea of reinventing the Mexican superhero. Uh. When I grew up, I. Well, my first superheroes were El Santo and Tinieblas, even before Batman or Spiderman. They were the first superheroes. I also realized that Hollywood had overrun us with a lot of American superheroes, and I always wanted to make a story about a washed-up retired wrestler.

Many wrestlers, as you know, set up their food stalls when they retire, such as El super muñeco, and El super Astro, which are very famous sandwiches in downtown Mexico City.

Also, for my research, I watched many movies of El Santo that I had already watched in my childhood. Some are very good, some are very bad, and some are so bad that they are good. I started to take references to do more research. I took wrestling classes at Arena Mexico. I interviewed many retired wrestlers and others who were just starting, legends such as Blue DemonMístico, and others. All this nurtured me so that I could write this story. In my opinion, it is very endearing and pays a great tribute to the wrestling movies of the seventies, sixties, and even eighties, which were so popular in our country.

El Halcón (2023, dir. Eduardo Valenzuela)

FICM: Which films did you use as a reference for El Halcón?

EV: Well, look, I used a lot of them. El Santo versus las mujeres vampiro (1961, dir. Alfonso Corona Blake) for example, is one of my favorites. It's so crazy that nothing makes sense. I also love the movie The Wrestler  (2008, dir. Darren Aronofsky). I feel it's a great portrait of a wrestler who has gone through his glory days. I think that is a very good reference. I also watched Nacho Libre (2005, dir. Jared Hess). I watched several wrestling movies, some very Hollywood-like, some very Mexican-like. I was inspired. I think there are good things in all of them.

Once, someone at Cinépolis told me that it was a mix between Nacho Libre and Taken (2008, dir. Pierre Morel) con Liam Neeson. I liked that reference.

FICM: What challenges did you face during production?

EV: I made this film with less than 4 million pesos, 3.7 million pesos. The average cost of Mexican films is around 20, 24, 25 million pesos. The film was made with a quarter of that. Not to brag, but I am very proud to have made a film that was featured at your festival. A film that was screened in more than 400 theaters throughout Mexico. FICM is a great platform for new filmmakers. Young people need to realize that they can make films even with less than that. It's my debut feature film, and I called in all the favors I had to call in.

I once went to dinner with Robert Rodriguez. It's one of those things that happens in your life, and you don't even believe it. We were face to face, and he told me the story of his first film, El Mariachi (1992), which cost 7,000 USD. He earned that money by getting blood transfusions and participating in experiments with who knows what American drugs. He made a lot of sacrifices and ended up making that film that caused tremendous commotion in Hollywood and at festivals. No one could believe he had made this film with so little money. At dinner, he told me: "I have many talented friends who never got to direct their movie because they were always waiting for that big break, as Hollywood calls it, that they get $20 million or $100 million to make their movie." That was the best advice he could give me: "Make your film with the money you get."

We shot it in ten days. I'm also very proud that we all rolled up our sleeves, tightened our belts, and worked neck and neck to achieve this wonderful project. I'm happy, and I think it's important for the audience, particularly young people studying film, to know that if they have a story to tell, make it with the money they get.

If it must take years, it will take years. It's a little bit at a time; you make commercials, save up, and make your film. At the end of the day, I think you can also create some very spectacular things. The easiest thing in life is to solve problems with money. The hardest thing is to solve problems creatively. And I think we did that very well with El Halcón.

FICM: I noticed many actors from soap operas. Did you have that idea from the beginning, or was it something that came up during the process? 

EV: Because I had a low budget, I wanted to bring in people who believed in the project. For example, Maestro Quintanilla. Guillermo Quintanilla, who plays El Halcón, was a must in my head. I had already worked with Quintanilla. He's been working for over 40 years. He has done a lot of action. There was no money for stunt doubles, but he could do his stunts like Tom Cruise. We formed a great family, and we were joined by great actors like Miguel Pizarro, who is a theater legend, and Oscar López, who is also a legend. It was a lot of fun because many characters were coming from different places, from different media, and even from different cities from different parts of Mexico. We all came together to create this.

I'm also a big believer in collaboration. So, I gave them a lot of free reins to do their own thing and try it out on set. And even though we had limited time, I always tried to give the actors and the creative team space to propose. At the end of the day, filmmaking is a very collaborative thing. For my taste, it is better to give free rein to imagination and creativity.

FICM: Could you tell us a little about the next adventures of El Halcón?

EV: El Halcón was always intended to be a trilogy. It did quite well in theaters these past two weeks. Over 50,000 people! Not bad for a Mexican film. I have many ideas in my head. I want to take a couple of months to think. The second part is already written, but I am also interested in making horror and action movies. I’ll see where life takes me, where my ideas take me and then I’ll decide. I would like to film it next year, so hopefully we can raise money to film it soon.