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An FTDM alum’s co-produced short film is now a competition finalist

Voting ends Feb. 11
Still from “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Gutiérrez)

A TCU alum co-produced a short film that is now one of the three finalists in a national film competition.

The Spotlight Dorado competition, sponsored by McDonald’s, aims to showcase Hispanic/Latino filmmaking and creative talent, like that of up-and-coming Hollywood producer Gabriel Gutiérrez, a 2017 FTDM alum.

“Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Gutiérrez).

The short film, “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” follows wealthy space scientist Marcel M. Garnet as he simulates a mission on Mars. When two Latino immigrants stumble over his mission site in the desert, Garnet refuses to give them water in favor of a scientific discovery for humanity.

“I thought there was good satire to be found between the meeting of an uber rich man who’s using his resources to leave the planet and two people who are actually trying to find a better life for themselves and a better opportunity,” said Pablo Riesgo Almonacid, the director and co-writer. “I thought that would show a lot of what’s happening right now and it’s a good look at ourselves.”

Talking about heavy issues with a lighter, more satirical tone was the main goal of the project, co-producer Mon Castro said.

While Gutiérrez co-produced this project with Castro, he said he didn’t always think he was going to be a producer.

A change in direction

“I was so set on directing, but then, once I got into Lonestar and was running the festival with Chad, that basically was producing,” Gutiérrez said. “I loved doing all the logistics and bringing people together to make this event happen.”

As a producer, Gutiérrez works with films from the earliest stages to the final screening and manages all the people involved. TCU professor Richard Allen said he encouraged Gutiérrez to be a producer because of his people skills and general likeability that everyone seems to see.

Gabriel Gutiérrez (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Gutiérrez)

Growing up, Gutiérrez attended the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. He has connections with the TCU community because his father, Dr. Germán Augusto Gutiérrez, is TCU’s director of orchestras. After graduating from TCU, Gutiérrez worked at the Lonestar Film Festival.

During his time with Lonestar, he created Cine-Más, Fort Worth’s first Latino film festival. It paralleled Spotlight Dorado’s goals to give Latino filmmakers a voice in the industry.

According to a 2021 study done by USC Annenberg of just under 4,000 producers across a little over 1,000 films, only 3% are Latino men. Less than 1% are Latina.

Falling in that 1% is Gutiérrez’s co-producer for “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra,” Mon Castro, whom he met at American Film Institute (AFI).

Moving to L.A.

“Gabe and I have known each other for years now — we met in the summer of 2021 when we both started our masters in producing at the American Film Institute Conservatory,” Castro said. “We became really close friends ever since and we have helped each other in other sets with different roles, but this is the first time that we worked together as both producers.”

AFI is where the two met the director of the film as well. Castro and Gutiérrez said they were happy to work on a short film project together, especially one with such potential to impact the viewer.

Cast and crew prepare for shooting in the 100 degree desert day (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Gutiérrez).

“It’s kind of our own commentary on the space race all these billionaires are taking at the moment,” Gutiérrez said. “So basically, they’re the only ones who care about this race and they’re so focused on it that they don’t see that we have issues here on Earth that need to be addressed first.”

Gutiérrez spoke very highly of the team he worked with on “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra,” and said that the small cast was fantastic. The actor portraying Garnet even made an appearance in “Barbie” as the corporate man.

TCU mentors

Gutiérrez also credited Allen and Dr. Tricia Jenkins for their mentorship and continual support.

“Gabe had showed me the film before it was totally complete and I was very impressed by it,” Allen said. “I think it looks great and makes its point well.”

Allen also said he was able to provide constructive feedback early on in the production process.

Now, the future of “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” is in the hands of its creator, Pablo Riesgo Almonacid.

The executive team holds the finalist check giving them the money to produce Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Gutiérrez).

“I thought of making an anthology series of short films that are all based in the same realm of sci-fi satire and I’m working with the same writer, Pablo Cervera, on these stories,” Almonacid said. “It’s basically a collection of six short films that also includes ‘Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra’ and I’m trying to make it into an apology feature film.”

As for Gutiérrez, the success of “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” is just another step in his success story. His AFI thesis film, “Dosh,” already won awards at Slamdance and Tasveer, the only Oscar-qualifying South Asian film festival.

The team for “Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra” received $75,000 to produce it. The grand prize is still up for the taking: it includes filmmaking equipment and resources, an active role in the next Spotlight Dorado campaign and a cash prize of $5,500.

The grand prize winner is determined by a public vote on the Spotlight Dorado website. Voting is open until Feb. 11.

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