When God Goes to the Movies
The faith and roots of John Carlos Frey are reflected in the movies he directs.
"Write about what you know" is the advice any good English teacher gives. So when John Carlos Frey decided to write a screenplay, it was only natural that the subject matter be the U.S.-Mexico border, which lies less than 100 yards from the house where he grew up. On a daily basis he used to see immigrants crossing that line, being chased by border patrol agents, hiding in his family's garage and yard.
As a young teenager he watched his mother, a native of Mexico and legal immigrant to the U.S., get summarily deported because she was walking in their neighborhood without identification. It was a turning point for Frey. Prior to that, he had been ashamed of his Mexican heritage. He had avoided telling anyone that he was born in Mexico, that his mother was Mexican, or that his middle name was Carlos. Today, working in the entertainment industry, film, theater, TV, and countless commercials, he feels it's important to emphasize his Latino heritage and has dedicated his career as a filmmaker to serving the Latino population.
In his film The Gatekeeper, which Frey wrote and directed, he stars as a self-hating border patrol agent of Mexican descent who gets involved with a vigilante group and sees his fate turn to that of the immigrants he's persecuting. The film has won 10 national and international awards.
"When I started to make this film," says Frey, "I decided early on that I was going to make this a God project. If I ran into an obstacle or if it looked as if it was all about to fall apart, I would pray. As a result, I felt like I had a deal with God and I was being asked to become a better person, to speak as much as I possibly could the words and the wisdom of God." Today Frey frequently speaks about immigration issues, usually with a screening of the film and a discussion afterward.
At one screening, he was getting the usual questions"Are migrants really being treated this poorly?"—when a woman stood up. In broken English she identified herself as being in this country illegally. She said that the film was an accurate portrayal because the first day she came to America she was raped three times by U.S. border patrol agents and then set free. Frey says, "I'm sure that [the rest of the audience] will not think about the issue quite the same ever again."
On his list of coming film projects are a true story of the first Mexican-American to go to college in Texas and the life story of César Chávez.
Making the movie The Gatekeeper has deepened Frey's faith. "I have met many more of the migrants themselves," he says. "They wear their faith proudly, and they have taught me what it is to be a person of faith. When I sat down to write the screenplay, I didn't say I'm going to write a screenplay that's going to deepen my faith and give me a deeper understanding of God. That was just a really incredible side benefit."
—Excerpted from U.S. Catholic magazine
- How have your life experiences affected your faith?
- How could you use them to make a difference in the world?