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True/False Conversations - Caretaking and Family Bonds in 'América'

Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Festival.  

Directors Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside took up residency in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, intending to make a film about tourism. Instead, a chance meeting at a party led them to the story at the center of América. It’s a film about caretaking, complicated family dynamics, and the bond between three brothers and their grandmother, América. 

Elena Rivera: I'd love to know how you first found out about this story in América.

Erick Stoll: So almost four years ago, Chase and I moved temporarily down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It's a big tourist town on the Pacific Ocean, with a concept about a film about tourism. But while we were there, we met Diego through some mutual friends, met him at a party. You know, our Spanish was terrible at the time, and he was possessed with very good English skills, so it was easy to get to know and get along with him. We had some similar interests in film and philosophy, anyways, very interesting guy. At the end of the night, just as we were saying goodbye, he suddenly asked if he could come live with Chase and I.  He revealed that earlier that day he had lost his home, he'd been kicked out of his apartment, he didn't have anywhere to crash, and could he come crash with us?

Chase: I was the more skeptical one, actually.

Erick: Yeah, Chase was against it, but we decided, okay, you can stay here one night. And we woke up and he was gone. He wasn't there, you know? So weren't sure if we'd see him again or what. But a couple days later he showed up, and he was kind of living with us part time. We became fast friends, sort of parallel to the project, the other project Chase and I were working on, and we'd film with him casually. He's a really charismatic person, great on screen, and so we filmed with him some, but weren't really sure where it was going. Then the situation with his grandma América unfolded and he had to return to Colima, and we followed him from there, and abandoned the other project.

Elena: What are you hoping people who watch the film take away from it? What are the lessons you're hoping they learn, or the people they fall in love with when watching?

Erick: Definitely for me, it's to just get people thinking about care, and the responsibilities people take on when they are responsible for caring for someone, whether it's a parent, a grandparent, someone with a disability, child, whatever, and complicate people's idea of care. It's so grounded in individual morality, how we talk about care. "Oh they're a good parent, they're a bad parent, they're this and that," and to just think a little bit bigger, like how our ability to care for and love those around us is influenced by our social, economic and political systems.

Chase: Caretaking is something that everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives, whether it's with their parents, someone else they love, or with themselves, eventually. And so I don't think it's a great leap for someone to watch this film and think about how their family has dealt with the very same issues. And you know, like Erick said, it's such a personal morality decision. I think even there, I think there are a lot of people who are going to watch the film and maybe feel differently about how they might have handled a caretaking situation.