Julio César Chávez and Oscar de la Hoya were once two of boxing’s biggest names, and their 1996 bout dubbed “Ultimate Glory” was a flashpoint for the rift between Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals. . Combining archival footage with interviews with the boxers themselves, The Civil War examines combat, rivalry and its cultural dimension. Editor Luis Alvarez y Alvarez discusses his memories of the fight and how the filmmakers were able to capture and illuminate one of the defining sporting moments of the 1990s.
Director: How and why did you become the editor of your film? What factors and attributes led you to be hired for this position?
Alvarez: I had previously worked with producer Bernardo Ruiz on a documentary series. He thought of me for the editing Civil war. The film is about these two legendary boxers and how their “Ultimate Glory” fights divided the Mexican community in the United States. At the root of this rivalry is a historic conflict between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans, something many Americans are unfamiliar with. Even though we are all of Mexican descent, generations growing up in the United States and Mexicans raised in Mexico have distinct cultures and don’t always get along. I grew up in Mexico City and Tijuana and after college moved to the United States where I have now lived half my life. I was exposed to the cultures and the conflicts that we deal with in the film. I am aware of cultural nuances and feelings on both sides. My dad’s family were big boxing fans, so I grew up watching and loving the sport. Julio César Chávez became a boxing star in Tijuana in the late 80s, when I was living there while finishing high school, so I knew his career and cultural significance very well. I believe these factors, in addition to my experience editing documentaries, made me a natural choice when it came time for director Eva Longoria to choose an editor.
Director: Regarding the progress of your film from its first cut to your final cut, what were your objectives as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to improve, or preserve, or disentangle or totally reshape?
Alvarez: The scope of the film was ambitious. We cover the biographies of two legendary boxers, the events leading up to their fights, and the cultural divide that ensued. There was such a wealth of material. As I edited, I felt we could easily do a very entertaining three-part series, something in the format of the last dance, but we were making a feature film and breaking it down into episodes was not an option.
Many of Julio and Oscar’s fights were epic, but there was no time to include all the highlights. I had to boil down many sections to their core, but I always aimed to preserve the sense of drama and leave room for the boxers to express the emotions they were going through.
Director: How did you achieve these goals? What kinds of editing techniques or processes or commentary projections allowed this work to happen?
Alvarez: We had some great interviews, so by combining first-hand voices with some powerful short archival footage, I think we were able to get some very distilled story elements that spoke the truth for every historical moment we tackle. .
When I started editing, I immediately realized that playing through a biography or the full 1996 fight prep wouldn’t be as interesting as putting all the storylines together. It involved finding the right moment to jump from one plot to another, which also involved going back and forth in time. The challenge here was to maintain clarity and keep the audience oriented. I first relied on the dates appearing on the screen to mark the transitions in time. It worked for me, but when I was sharing cuts with Eva and our producers, they were asking for more clarity in those transitions. What helped in this case was that a number of our interviews took place after the cut was already in an advanced stage of editing. This allowed us to prepare questions to get lines from the interviewees that would mark the transitions.
For me, “feeling the part” during a feedback session is the best way to gauge what works and what doesn’t in a film. It wasn’t an isolated work option due to the pandemic, so we had to rely on sharing cuts and meeting on Zoom to discuss grades. I feel that in the case of Civil war we flew by instruments, and by that I mean we had to trust that the collaboration and feedback within our team, led by Eva, would refine the storytelling. I can’t wait to see the film with a live audience!
Director: As an editor, how did you get into the business and what influences influenced your work?
Alvarez: I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from college in Mexico with a business degree, but was not interested in a business career. I loved films, but the cinema seemed very distant to me at that time. I was very lucky to meet mentors who opened doors for me. That and taking a little risk going forward were key.
In the Bay Area, I first did an internship and started doing independent documentaries. Shirley Thompson, one of the editors I was assisting at the time, referred me to Pixar, a (then) small animated filmmaking studio. I consider Pixar to be my film school. The technology was state of the art, many of the filmmakers who worked there came from nearby outposts of Francis Coppola and George Lucas and the story and art folks were the next generation of the CalArts stable. / Disney, all in a first Silicon Valley type incubator. . It was so much fun. As assistant editor, I attended many editorial and story meetings that made many of the now classic scenes from toy story 2, The world of Nemo and Monsters Inc. This period really taught me how to create a story and characters.
But I never saw myself working solely in animation. So, on the advice of editor Edie Ichioka, another mentor, I moved to Los Angeles to work in live action films. My first assistant job turned into my first publishing credit, and there I met editor Pietro Scalia. Pietro then brought me to cut The 11th hour, a film that Leonardo DiCaprio was producing, and since then I have been editing documentaries. My time in the editing room with Pietro Scalia also played a decisive role in my training as an editor. He is a big influence.
Director: What mounting system did you use and why?
Alvarez: We cut Civil war on Avid Media Composer. It’s my favorite tool. I’ve been using it for so long that it’s the one that comes most naturally to me. I love the feel of a timeline that stays in place. I find the other software too wobbly. In Avid, the script tool is very handy for finding lines in transcriptions.
Director: What was the hardest scene to cut and why? And how did you do?
Alvarez: The transitions between the boxers’ biographical stories and the build-up to the ’96 fight I mentioned above were tricky. Another challenge was to build sections of the early lives of the two boxers. There was very little material from that time. There was nothing from Julio’s childhood and just a few shabby photos for Oscar. I had to get creative with how to visually represent these stages of their lives. I must also give credit here to our producer Andrea Córdoba, who has worn many hats, one of which was that of the archive producer. She continued to reach out to boxers’ families and other sources to acquire materials. His tenacity really paid off.
Director: Finally, now that the process is complete, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how did your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding you started with?
Alvarez: Boxers are incredible athletes, and the very good ones are very intelligent. They are lively and very good at strategy. When you have intelligence and charisma, you get a phenomenon like Julio César Chávez. I spent so many hours watching his interviews, and often I found myself with a big smile on my face. He wears his heart on his sleeve. It made me realize why he is so loved.
I also became much more aware of the importance of Oscar de la Hoya to a generation of Mexican-Americans. They saw themselves represented in him, which was not common at the time. As the children of immigrants, often faced with scorn in their adopted country, seeing Oscar win a gold medal gave them an elusive sense of pride. Oscar was also a likely unreleased crossover hit since Desi Arnaz. He also got women interested in boxing because he was as handsome as he was super talented in the ring.
Another thing worth mentioning is that at the root of the cultural conflict in the film is this idea of being “Mexican enough.” Oscar really tried to prove he was. Julio didn’t care. This fueled their rivalry. But if you think about it, it’s kind of a schoolyard mockery that works like wood to start a fight. But in the end it’s not really a problem. There was nothing to prove. They are both Mexican in their own way.