Pedro Ultreras Makes Filmmaking Debut With ‘7 Soles’9 Sep, 2009 By: Angelique Flores
For 16 years, Pedro Ultreras had a successful career as a television reporter creating three-minute news bits. He took his knowledge as a cameraman and a news reporter to make the drama 7 Soles, about a group of illegal Mexican immigrants crossing the U.S. border.
“It’s all related,” Ultreras said about his career switch three years ago. “Writing is what I’ve been doing for my career as a news reporter. I know how to tell a story. Now I’m just bringing it to an hour and a half.”
Ultreras wrote and directed his debut film 7 Soles (7 Suns), which Venevision International releases on DVD Sept. 15 for $16.98.
“It was a beautiful experience,” he said. “But it was very painful.”
7 Soles tells the story of Negro (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), a coyote hired to smuggle a group of undocumented migrants into the United States. Wanting out of the smuggling business, he decides this will be his last trip. His suspicious boss, however, sends a young coyote Gavilán to watch him. During the arduous crossing, which lasts an unexpected seven days across the Arizona desert, the coyotes fight and some of the immigrants are killed or left for dead.
“Pretty much every story you see was based on something real,” Ultreras said. “I had to change the names and played a little with fiction to make sure people go unrecognized. … It’s pretty close to reality. But reality is way, way worse than that.”
As a reporter in Phoenix, Ultreras covered border issues and did in-depth interviews with migrants, coyotes, border patrol agents and the families of migrants who died on the way over.
“My movie was done by a journalist who happened to see most of the stories and get close to the protagonist,” said Ultreras, who was nominated for an Emmy and has had assignments all over the world. “People think it’s a documentary because it’s so painful and real.”
Ultreras said his film is different from other immigration movies over the years because the immigration problem has evolved.
“What we have now is not what we had 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “The laws have changed. People have been forced to take new routes. Life in the United States is not the same after 9/11. What happened to the migrants from Guatemala in El Norte is not how it is now.”
Ultreras recognizes that he doesn’t yet think like a filmmaker, but rather like a journalist still.
“I’m more of a social journalist, an activist,” he said. “I made this movie trying to get a message out there and raise some awareness to people, both the migrants, those here who pay for coyotes, to the politicians making laws. I think human smuggling should be erased.”
And he is also getting that message out through a book. Ultreras called on his friend, journalist Mirna Pineda, to write a book based on the original script. The book, published in 2007 under the same name, has more details than the films and includes all the scenes that were cut.
“The more avenues I have to tell the story and promote this issue, the better,” Ultreras said.
Ultreras’ next projects are two more documentaries. The Beast/La Bestia is another immigrant story about migrants moving from Guatemala through Mexico to the U.S. border. Sounds of the Subway is about New York City subway musicians, many of which are immigrants.
“Then I want to take a break,” he said. “I want to prove I can do something else [besides immigrant films].”