Documentarian Heidi Ewing, director of the new film “I Carry You With Me,” describes her childhood in Farmington Hills as “wonderful.”
“I’d watched a lot of movies, and I used to go to the old Redford Theater and see Hitchcock movies there. So, it was always a part of my life,” she tells Pride Source. “But I never thought I’d be a filmmaker until I was living in Los Angeles.”
Growing up, Ewing says, “It was a lot of classical music. My mother was an amateur opera singer, and my father would play the piano for her, and we’d always watch Humphrey Bogart movies and Bellini movies. It was pretty great.”
Ewing says that a night course taught by Ram Dass triggered her interest in documentary filmmaking. “I just caught the bug in his class. He had just got back from seeing the Dalai Lama, and he was showing us outtakes,” she says. “I realized how much it opened your world, making documentaries. So, I just became very fascinated with the craft. It’s for curious people.”
Ewing’s curiosity led her to go on and co-direct several documentaries, including “The Boys of Baraka,” “Jesus Camp” and “Detropia.” Now, her first narrative feature is opening in theaters across the country.
The film centers on the love story between Ewing’s friends Ivan (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), who immigrated separately from Mexico so they could live freely together in the U.S.
“We were friends for many, many years, and then one night, about seven years into our friendship, we had a couple of drinks, and they felt like they wanted to tell me their story, and it was illuminating,” Ewing recalls. “There was so much I didn’t know about them. And I was also shocked. They went through so much to get to the United States and become what they became.”
Ewing initially thought she’d tell the couple’s story through another documentary and began filming them immediately.
“After a few months, I realized I was shooting the third act of a movie. How they met, their early lives in Mexico in a conservative city had already happened,” she says. “I didn’t want to rely on interviews and pictures, and a lot of the drama had already happened, and the best way to tell a love story is not a documentary. I thought it was better served in a narrative medium.”
Ewing co-wrote the screenplay and shot the Spanish language film in Mexico and New York.
“Directing actors is really different,” Ewing says. “Learning how to direct actors and communicate with actors and how to talk them into the performance that you’re looking for – that was the challenge. That was the thing that was most different. … But storytelling is storytelling and emotion is emotion, and a good story is a good story.”
Telling an accurate story was extremely important to Ewing as the film was a way of honoring her friends and their journey. “I tried to preserve the feeling I had when they told me the story. I was really awestruck by what it takes to accomplish a dream and how much you have to give up,” she says.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to talk about the American Dream, and this film, I think, talks about the price of the American Dream and how you can’t have everything,” she says. The characters pay a high price for coming to the United States.”
“Not that they have regrets, but they are nostalgic, and they realize they left a lot behind. It’s a meditation on ‘Is it worth it?'” Ewing says. “I think that’s a conversation a lot of immigrants do have, and you don’t see a lot of films about it.”
“I Carry You With Me” won the NEXT Competition Innovator Award and the NEXT Competition Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It was also an official selection of the New York Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. Though it’s her first time directing a narrative film, Ewing says it will not be her last.
“I’m writing a new movie. Nothing is quite ready to discuss yet,” she says. “But I’ve got the bug, and I want to do more. I got the bug; I have to admit. If the story deserves a narrative treatment, it should get it. I think it just opened up the possibilities of all of the other stories I might be able to tell, and that’s a good feeling.”