by Alex Hernandez | Staff writer
Lucha libre is a sport filled with larger-than-life mystical men, masked superheroes, and evil demons from the underworld. But what drives undoubtedly-human men and women into a business like this one?
Filmmakers Ian Markiewicz and Alex Hammond decided that what happens behind the scenes of the lucha libre spectacle was a story worth telling, and now they're presenting that story via their new documentary, Lucha Mexico.
With the participation of Mexican lucha icons such as Shocker, Blue Demon Jr., and Perro Aguayo Jr., Lucha Mexico provides an unprecedented look into what actually happens backstage one of the most beloved traditions in Hispanic culture.
Markiewicz and Hammond talked to Shoulders Up about their movie-making process, the mysticism of lucha libre, and the importance of Mexico in their film.
Hammond admits that making a film about lucha libre wasn't something she planned to do. The filmmaker had always wanted to work on a project in Mexico, but her ideas were centered around bullfighting, not wrestling.
It took some convincing from Markiewicz, a longtime wrestling fan, to change her mind.
“Then I realized that the spirit in lucha was similar to the one in bullfighting,” says Hammond. “These people being leaders and, quite possibly, risking their lives every night. That was definitely the spirit I wanted to explore in a film.”
After making their decision, Hammond and Markiewicz went to Mexico in order to figure out their filming, as well as the people participating in it. Hammond says that it wasn't an easy process, because both of them went there with “virtually” no contacts. The filmmakers went to house shows, talked to different promotions, and contacted several luchadores.
“We had to show everyone that we were serious about it,” says Hammond. “I think that after they saw how committed we were, that's when everything started falling into place.”
And even when they were granted access, they faced some obstacles.
Openness in secrecy
“The lucha business is still kinda secretive,” explains Markiewicz. “They're very protective of it.”
One of the best examples of lucha secrecy in the film is the appearance of Blue Demon Jr. Although he talks about his role in the business and what it means to him to be a wrestler, he's always tight-lipped about everything else in his life.
“We don't even know his legal name,” says Hammond. “He made it clear from the beginning that he wasn't going to show us much about his personal side.”
Markiewicz adds that much of it has to do with wanting to maintain the mysticism of masked wrestlers, to keep the tradition alive. However, the film also shows wrestlers who are extremely open about their personal lives and struggles, such as Shocker and Jon “Strongman” Andersen.
“A guy like Shocker is very open because his face is already well-known in Mexico, that's the kind of guy he is,” says Markiewicz. “Maybe Blue Demon [Jr.] didn't take off his mask or say much, but he also kinda opened up. Both guys opened up a lot, just differently.”
One of the biggest challenges for Hammond and Markiewicz had nothing to do with lucha tradition, but with life itself. Perro Aguayo Jr. and Fabian “El Gitano”, two of the most charismatic luchadores in Lucha Mexico, passed away before the film's release.
Fabian, who is shown in the film as an easygoing gym owner/wrestler, passed away during the actual filming. Both filmmakers admit that they were distraught and sad by his passing, but they were determined to keep his scenes as an homage.
Aguayo Jr.'s death proved to be slightly more complicated to deal with. The wrestler died in the ring during a match in 2015, and his death occurred after filming had already ended. The filmmakers had to decide what to do with the footage of Aguayo, since his appearance was particularly significant to the film.
“We wanted it to be honorable for him and his family,” says Markiewicz. “But we also didn't want to betray the thing we had been building for him, which was very honest. We wanted it to be honest, not exploitative.”
In the end, the filmmakers added Aguayo's death and its aftermath.
“We just wanted people to see how amazing these guys were,” says Markiewicz. “It was so sad to lose them.”
The Lucha Mexico experience
It was important for both Markiewicz and Hammond to show Mexico under a different light. Hammond says that most films focused on Mexico are about the drug war or immigration issues, which are important, but they wanted the audience to see Mexico through the art of their “local superheroes.”
The family narrative in lucha culture fascinated Markiewicz from the very beginning. This didn't change throughout the filming process, in which they got to witness just how important lucha it to Mexican families.
“You see all these huge families going to lucha shows, and it's amazing,” says Markiewicz. “I knew lucha was a big deal in Mexico, but it's still incredible to see. And not only the families who are fans, but also the families around the wrestlers. It's all very human.”
For Hammond, witnessing the men and women in the ring every night was what impacted her the most.
“I don't know how their bodies withstand all the hits and falls,” says Hammond. “I have so much respect for what they have to do and the commitment to give it all to this career.”
After four years working on Lucha Mexico, lucha means something completely different to the initially-skeptic Hammond now. She hopes that this translates on screen as well for those who aren't fans yet, or who think that wrestling shouldn't be taken seriously.
“[Lucha/wrestling] is a big part of my life now,” admits Hammond. “It's hard not to work on something like this, witness it for so long, and not fall in love with it.”
Lucha Mexico, directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz, opens Friday, Jul. 15. For more information on screenings, click here.