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'Weaving the Past' to make a better future

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Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery

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When your grandparents immigrated from abroad, you're not that far removed from the traditions of another country. Even if you're not, even if generations of your family have been in America or even originated from America, it's worth looking back. The rear view may be a window into your own family. First-time director/writer Walter Dominguez went on a journey into his past that set him into a new determined direction into a better future as he describes in his documentary "Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery."

Going back to Japan, I found distinctive connections between the person I am now and my ancestors, and that's Walter Dominguez discovered when the events of September 11, 2001 sent him into a deep despair. Looking back into his past, and fulfilling his maternal grandfather's last wish, Dominguez found himself and a new direction, one that led him back to filmmaking.

Born in the small town of Santa Paula, California in 1947, Dominguez was raised in the Pasadena area. He was student body president at John Muir High School and he went on to graduate from Occidental College and did graduate studies in cinema at USC.

Dominguez went on to work as an assistant director ("The Andromeda Strain"), but had mostly left filmmaking since the 1970s. In 1973, he married Shelley Morrison, best known for her role on the sitcom "Will & Grace" as Rosario, the maid to the title characters' rich friend. Morrison is the executive producer of this movie.

Yet he moved away from directing movies in the 1970s, about the same time that his grandfather passed away. Only by looking back did he discover his grandfather Methodist Rev. Emilio "Tata" Hernandez had been part of a social movement, one that strove to end oppression of Native Americans and exploded into a bloody revolution that touched both sides of the border.

Like many people of Mexican background, Dominguez is part Native American, meaning that he has roots that extend further into the history of North America than most. While the Spanish and well-to-do Mexicans oppressed the Native Americans, on the other side of the border, white Americans exploited both the Mexicans and the Native Americans.

We also see how young men grow old quickly with war. After leaving the battles in Mexico, Tata, tired and ill, was only in his early twenties when he was drunk and homeless in Los Angeles, but the kindness of a stranger, a Norwegian minister brought him back to the world of the living. Through that man's guidance, Tata became part of a different kind of revolution--one of giving and caring through faith and God. And although Tata's association with the respected Mexican revolutionary writer, political organizer and outlaw Praxedis G. Guerrero ended with Guerrero's death, Tata kept a life-long correspondence with a mysterious spinster in Mexico who tied him to Guerrero.

In the end, Dominguez renewed his interest in filmmaking and carrying on the tradition of his grandfather, became a social activist, one determined to record the personal histories of Latin Americans in Los Angeles and the Soutwest.

"Weaving the Past" is, in many ways, the beginning of that journey. Previously shown for a benefit at the Los Angeles United Methodist Museum of Social Justice in May of last year, the documentary opens on August 15 (Friday), but the 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. screenings have already sold out. Director Walter Dominguez and executive producer Shelley Morrison as well as other members of the production team will be present for a Q&A following the Sunday, August 17, 2014 4 p.m. screening.

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