The award-winning documentary, Singing Our Way to Freedom, will screen in Denver on June 4 and 5, in screenings free and open to the public. On Tuesday, June 4, the presentation is at Denver University in Davis Auditorium, Sturm Hall, 2000 E. Asbury, Denver with music and reception at 5 p.m. and film at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, June 5, the screening will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library, 1498 N. Irving Street, Denver (library opens at 10 a.m.). The feature-length film chronicles the life and music of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez from his humble beginnings as a farmworker in Blythe, California to the dramatic moment when he received one of his nation’s highest musical honors at the Library of Congress in Washington DC in 2013.
The film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Diego Latino Film Festival and was an official selection at many festivals including the Guadalajara International Film Festival and Cine Las Americas. The film’s Director, Paul Espinosa, will be present for a Q&A after the screenings. These screenings are a Denver Premiere in a city where Chunky and his band were regular visitors.
As a young man in the 1960s, Chunky joined the picket lines in the California fields with Cesar Chavez, demanding justice and better wages for farmworkers. Early on, he discovered that the music he was creating could be a powerful weapon in creating social change and overcoming prejudice and racism. “We went in there and did two or three songs and everybody was ready to go out and challenge the world” Chunky recalls, “It was powerful. It was penetrating to the soul.” He would eventually become Cesar Chavez’s favorite musician.
Chunky’s journey in the film is a remarkable lens on a time when young Mexican Americans became Chicanos, inspired to use collective action to improve the lives of their communities. His student activism began at San Diego State University with the community takeover of a section of public land that became Chicano Park in San Diego, an event which he memorialized in his enduring anthem, “Chicano Park Samba”. Later he performed on Joan Baez’s first Spanish language record and eventually formed a band, Los Alacranes Mojados (The “Wetback” Scorpions). Their first album included an iconic photo of the band crossing the barbwire fence at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana. Today that fence is a militarized zone.
Performing compelling songs, Chunky became a favorite at demonstrations and rallies for over 40 years, performing at schools, prisons, political events, quinceañeras and weddings. Through it all, Chunky used art to build community, learning how to employ honesty, humor and music to inspire folks to stand up and speak truth to power.
“Racism and discrimination haven’t disappeared,” says Paul Espinosa, the film’s producer, director and writer, “but Chunky’s arc of transformation from marginalized farm kid to charismatic activist shows how you can mobilize people to change the world through developing your talents and sense of purpose.” In today’s turbulent political and social landscape, young people continue to find their voices, making powerful and necessary contributions toward peaceful social change. In his songs and in his life, Chunky offers an inspiring narrative about what’s possible – what’s “penetrating to the soul” – reminding us that the battle for freedom has to be fought anew by every generation.
Espinosa is a longtime producer for PBS whose films have won eight Emmys (The Lemon Grove Incident, ...and the earth did not swallow him, The Hunt for Pancho Villa, The U.S.-Mexican War, Ballad of an Unsung Hero). Producers are Mark Day and Michael Bovee with Evan Apodaca as Associate Producer. The film is edited by Maria Zeiss, narrated by Alma Martinez with additional scored music by Quetzal Flores.