EXCLUSIVE: Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is known for groundbreaking indie fare like El Mariachi and Desperado as well as fun fanboy/girl action pics like Sin City, Spy Kids, and the forthcoming Alita: Battle Angel. But Rodriguez is switching gears with the El Rey Network documentary Stand United, which chronicles the lives of unsung heroes from the backroads of America. The special documentary debuts at 8 PM EST on April 29.
Rodriguez, who served as producer of the documentary, worked with Sarah Cordial, David Telles and Matt Schlef, three up and coming filmmakers as they take us on three different journeys that show us real-life examples of American grit, integrity, and courage.
From nomadic linemen in Livermore, Calif., who go from town to town to build and repair America’s power grid, to the Native American basketball coach in Chinle, Ariz. who dedicates his life to mentoring kids on the reservation where he lives, Stand United offers a portrait of the American spirit – capturing the country’s inner and outer beauty with both breathtaking cinematography and the emotional resonance of real-life people and their inspiring stories.
Stand United is an original documentary produced by Content & Co. in partnership with Fathom Communications. Deadline spoke to Rodriguez about the documentary and what he hopes will come from these three stories in one of the most divisive times in America.
DEADLINE: What was the process of finding the directors for Stand United? And was it a difficult decision?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: In choosing our directors, El Rey and our production studio, Content & Co., set out to find three young, up-and-coming filmmakers that reflect both the diversity of America, as well as the American values of hard work, integrity and dedication — just like we were looking to illuminate in the documentary.
Basically, we wanted their stories and personalities to mesh with those they’d be tasked with documenting in the film. We needed them to be authentic as well as humble and understanding. That way, they’d be able to really capture these towns and their everyday heroes in their truest light.
One of the filmmakers had been a top contender for my Rebel without a Crew series, so I was already familiar with his work.
When we interviewed people and got to know them and their stories better, it was pretty clear to us who was best cut-out for the job — and most deserving of the opportunity at hand.
DEADLINE: Why do you think a documentary like this important right now?
RODRIGUEZ: Right now, it seems like many of us are on opposing teams. Whether it’s national politics or a local news story, it seems people are taking sides and drawing lines. And when you add today’s increasingly divisive political climate on top of that, it’s easy to get discouraged about how we treat each other as Americans — and to feel like we’re growing further and further apart from each other.
That’s why the message of unity and community in Stand United feels so timely, and really necessary right now. By showcasing thematically linked stories across a diverse array of hometowns and backgrounds, the power of our onscreen voices is undeniable. They remind us that despite what we see on the news and on our social media feeds today, there is so much more that unites us than divides us as Americans — and that our values are in action and on display every day and in every way throughout our country.
DEADLINE: What do you hope people will get out of Stand United?
I hope Stand United reminds people that we encounter real heroes in our lives every day and that each of us has the power to be that hero, too — for our families and for our greater communities. With everything that’s happening today, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and overwhelmed about how you – just one person – can really help and make a difference. But this film highlights how there’s glory in the everyday small victories.
After watching this film, I hope people are inspired and that it instills them with the raw and real patriotic spirit of what it truly means to be an American by showcasing the individuals and small towns that make this nation so great.
DEADLINE: You are really known for doing more genre-driven narrative features. Stand United seems like a different venture for you. What made you want to tackle a project like this?
RODRIGUEZ: I actually do see a throughline. I’m a storyteller and tell stories about unexpected heroes in the community, whether it’s a migrant worker turned fighter for Justice, a couple of seemingly helpless little kids becoming spies and saving the world. I feel like this project is true to my brand, in that we encounter superheroes in our everyday lives who step up for the greater good.
As far as process, I really do enjoy working with brands, they support storytelling and when they have values that I agree with they are the best partners for creating content you sometimes can’t make any other way.
DEADLINE: Can we expect more projects like Stand United from you in the future?
RODRIGUEZ: When you work with partners like the Ram Truck brand whose passion and goals align with your brand the result is always good work because we have creative freedom to allow the content to speak for itself. We enjoy working with brands and especially to experiment to develop new ideas. The market and the audience demands constant innovation.