Julio Cesar Cedillo, left, and director Merced Elizondo talk shop on the set. Exploredinary

Movies

An Oak Cliff Short Film Finds Universality in Latino Father-Son Dynamics

Dallas filmmaker Merced Elizondo's evocative black-and-white drama Manos de Oro will screen this week as part of the USA Film Festival.

On a Saturday morning, inside a Cedar Hill coffee shop, Merced Elizondo sat down to write the final scene of Manos de Oro. Then he began to weep.

Elizondo couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Perhaps it was the sense of personal responsibility that came with crafting a project about a father and son growing up in Oak Cliff. Or that he was flashing back to his inspirations along the way.

“Something overwhelmed me. I just couldn’t take it,” Elizondo said. “I knew I had to get this right. I had invested so much of my time and my emotion. This was the hardest I ever worked on anything. I felt a sense of responsibility to myself, my family, and my culture.”

The 33-minute, black-and-white drama will debut on the big screen this weekend as part of the annual USA Film Festival, a five-day showcase beginning Wednesday at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station.

Elizondo’s third short film — the title translates to “Hands of Gold” — is also his most ambitious, chronicling a mechanic (Julio Cesar Cedillo) whose struggles with arthritis hinder his ability to work, and threaten his mental health in the process. That leads to a confrontation with his son (Jero Medina), further testing an already strained relationship.

“It borrows from a lot of the truths that I’ve experienced,” Elizondo said. “I want my films to speak to everybody through a lens and perspective that is my own.”

Elizondo, 26, hatched the idea after his father became ill with a severe nerve condition in 2018 that kept him bedridden in a hospital for weeks. At the time, the pain he felt from the affliction almost paled in comparison to his loss of purpose and self-worth.

“His pain was not being able to work, not being able to get dirty, and not being with his friends at the shop. He felt like he was rendered useless,” Elizondo said. “He was an obsessed workaholic who didn’t take help from anyone. He was the man of the house and the provider. In our Latino culture, that machismo is very present and very real.”

The filmmaker emphasized that although the story is semiautobiographical, the specifics of the characters are fictional. His father, who has since recovered and returned to work at his Dallas mechanic shop, plans to watch the film for the first time this week.

Elizondo now lives in DeSoto but his filmmaking roots remain planted firmly in the blue-collar, Spanish-speaking neighborhood where he was born and raised.

For the six-day shoot in fall 2019, he called in favors with aunts and uncles. Neighbors and co-workers are among the extras. A gas station owned by a family friend became a primary location.

“My films are very homemade and handcrafted. I’ve always been very proud of that,” he said. “I have so many people who helped me get there. This is a Texas film. It’s a Dallas film. It’s an Oak Cliff film.”

The project attracted some high-profile collaborators including veteran character actor Cedillo (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), a Fort Worth native who helped shape Elizondo’s outlook on cross-cultural storytelling that he hopes to take forward in his career.

“We don’t want to be pigeonholed to telling only certain kinds of stories, or only see ourselves on screen as the immigrants or these traditional stereotypes. I don’t want to be labeled,” Elizondo said. “I would rather see films and work on films that are universal. I want to put people who look like me in real-world, everyday scenarios. Our stories are relatable. You can be Latino or not, but you still get the same message.”

Manos de Oro will screen on Friday as part of a package of Texas-based short films. Admission is free, but advanced tickets are required. More than a dozen features and other festival programs are scheduled through Sunday.

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