It wasn’t intended as a cinematic epitaph. My Name is Lopez was supposed to be accompanied by a cross-county tour enabling octogenarian Dallas-born musician Trini Lopez, as charismatic and gregarious as ever, to reconnect with his fans.
After Lopez died in August at age 83 from COVID-19 complications, however, the documentary became a posthumous tribute to a pioneering entertainer whose fame spanned several decades.
The film will screen on Sunday at the Kessler Theater as part of the Oak Cliff Film Festival, with several family members and friends in attendance.
“It’s bittersweet that Trini can’t be with us to enjoy the fans or the people seeing his story,” said David Ebersole, who directed the film alongside his husband, Todd Hughes. “But without having done what we did, his legacy might not be alive in the same way.”
A portion of the film focuses on Lopez’s impoverished upbringing as the son of immigrants in the Little Mexico neighborhood (now Uptown). He attended Crozier Tech High School and cut his first record in the late 1950s at Dallas-based Volk Records.
“His Dallas roots were with him throughout his career,” Hughes said.
Lopez retained ties to Dallas even after gaining celebrity status in Hollywood and Las Vegas during the 1960s and 1970s. He was a regular on television variety shows — including his own — became a protégé of Frank Sinatra, scored chart-topping hits including “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree,” appeared in movies such as The Dirty Dozen, and later designed two guitars for Gibson that have since become collectors’ items.
The documentary’s title comes from Lopez’s refusal to change his last name early in his career, like other Latino stars were pressured to do for bankability over ties to cultural heritage.
“No other Latino was willing to sacrifice everything to keep their name,” said Oralee Walker, his longtime friend and biographer. “They all changed their name until him. He was proud of what he had done.”
In all, Lopez finished more than 80 albums in various genres and languages, with more than 1,000 songs to his credit. Scenes from his final concert, in 2019 near his home in Palm Springs, California, are intercut throughout the film.
“He loved to perform. He loved to entertain, and he was never too busy to talk to his fans,” Walker said. “He was a great storyteller. Whenever we would go to a party or a function, he would always be in a crowd of people telling stories. He knew celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and royalty from around the world.”
Ebersole and Hughes, who also live in Palm Springs, were approached by Lopez’s friends about directing the project during a break in production of their 2019 documentary House of Cardin.
The filmmakers planned to show Lopez a rough cut of the film at his home on Aug. 1, 2020, but he was admitted to the hospital that same day and died less than two weeks later.
After debuting with a drive-in screening in March in Palm Springs, the Dallas screening will mark the film’s indoor theatrical premiere. Although it hasn’t yet secured wider distribution, plans call for a gala screening this summer at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Ebersole hopes the documentary not only preserves Lopez’s legacy, but introduces his story to a younger generation.
“It’s not our responsibility to make you see the entirety of Trini’s work,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to make you hungry for who he is as an artist, so you can go seek it out.”
The 10th installment of the festival, which runs through Sunday at multiple Oak Cliff venues, includes 23 features and 34 short films, a handful of which have significant local ties. They include:
- Color of a Toy — Denton toy collector Taylor Lymbery’s efforts to persuade Mattel to diversify He-Man action figures are the focus of this documentary from director Oscar Lopez.
- Doretha’s Blues — The latest narrative short from Fort Worth director Channing Godfrey Peoples (Miss Juneteenth) explores police violence through the story of a blues singer.
- How to Run in a Straight Line with Your Eyes Closed — Local filmmaker Christian Vasquez’s documentary is a meditation on the June 2020 protests in Dallas against police brutality.
- Our Stories — SMU student Alexa May directed this glimpse into the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of three college students navigating an uncertain future.
- The Unlikely Fan — This documentary portrait of 78-year-old basketball fanatic Gita Selvarajan, a Sri Lankan immigrant and retired teacher, was directed by her son, Sai.