While some would disagree on the title, VH1 coined the term “Supreme Diva of Mexican Pop” to describe Gloria Trevi, the Mexican singer and songwriter born in 1968. Her trademark: controversy. Trevi has always been polemical, but what really touched off a media storm was her arrest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2000. She was charged for corrupting minors alongside her agent, Sergio Andrade, and her backup singer, Maria Raquenel Portillo. It was not until her release in 2005 that her path crossed that of Swiss filmmaker Christian Keller, who read about her in a Los Angeles newspaper. The next ten years of his life would be spent submerged in Trevi’s life, her story, and her music.
This year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, the movie Gloria premiered at the Topfer Theater in Austin, Texas, directed by Christian Keller and based on Sabina Berman’s book, Gloria: una historia sobre la fama y la infamia, published by Planeta in 2014. Those who arrived at the theater early enough got to see a glimpse of Trevi’s face, signing autographs and smiling for the cameras. Trevi has made it very clear that she was not happy with the way the book was written. In an interview with Berman, the award-winning writer confessed, “She [Trevi] sues me because the screenplay is not based on what she told me. What she wanted was propaganda, not the truth. Propaganda is not the same as truth. Gloria sued me over this, but this is the real story. And so it continues, she has just sued me again. She has sued me three times.” Her revelation takes the surprise away from learning how difficult it was for the filmmakers to acquire the rights to the film. In a conversation with Uncollege, Keller recounted the story of losing 60 pounds after camping out near McAllen, Texas (Trevi’s current home city) for six months in order to get all his papers signed for the movie.
No matter how many lawsuits or how many pounds were sacrificed in the making of this film, it is safe to say they were well worth it. Gloria is a captivating story, featuring incredible talent on all sides. As for the truth, it is neither hidden nor handed out freely. One of the better aspects of the film is that it allows viewers to come to their own conclusions.
Lorís Simón: As a Swiss national, what interested you about Gloria Trevi’s story? How did you come to know her?
Christian Keller: I read about Gloria’s story in the LA Times in early 2005, shortly after she had been released from jail. I had never heard of her but was moved and intrigued by her story. I decided right away that I wanted to make this film. As I started to do more research and listened to her music, I came to respect her different way of thinking and her strength.
LS: Through her story, what did you take away about Mexican culture?
CK: I think Mexicans have a fighter mentality. After a defeat, they get up again and fight on. That’s very admirable.
LS: How did you approach Gloria with this idea? Was it easy to convince her? What were her thoughts?
CK: I called up her manager and told them I wanted to make a film based on her story. It was a bit bizarre, I was this 19-year old kid from Switzerland, and they must have thought I was mad, but we had a conversation about the way the story should be told. I thought it needed to be very human and relatable, and Gloria agreed.
LS: Gloria has become a sort of archetype for Mexico: people have all sorts of ideas about her and have constructed a relationship based on her image, either positive or negative. Did you face any difficulties in telling her story objectively?
CK: I think this is where it helped being an outsider. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of who Gloria Trevi was, or her story, and I could just look at it as the story of a woman who had a dream, was in love, and overcame many obstacles.
Having said that, we worked very hard to tell the story in an objective manner, and spent many years interviewing not just Gloria, but a lot of the people involved in her story. We wanted to get it right.
LS: Can you tell us a little bit more about the interview process with Gloria and her family and friends?
CK: We met many times over a period of years. It was fascinating to learn how much her music really told her life story. She said that she was “an open book” and that we only needed to look at her music to understand what she was going through at any particular moment in her life. That’s actually true, and we worked hard to bring that to the movie.
LS: How long did it take for you to complete the film?
CK: It took almost ten years. It took a lot of time to do the research and to find the right team to make the film with, especially the cast. I knew we had to find an actress who could embody this unique strength and energy Gloria has, and I’m absolutely certain only Sofia could have done it. She even sings all the songs herself in the film.
LS: Was it difficult for you to work with a Mexican cast? Were there any moments where you felt lost in translation?
CK: Quite the contrary, we were never lost in translation, we were lost in the magnitude of the production, and we got great performances.
LS: Did Trevi have an opinion about the movie after she had seen it?
CK: She came to the premiere and to do a panel, and she recommended the movie. I was very happy about that.
Lorís Simón Salum is the Creative Director for Literal Magazine. Some of her projects include Literally Short Film Awards, Literal’s short film festival, Literally Everything, Literal’s podcast, and Ensoulment: A Diverse Analysis of the Feminine in Western Culture, Literal’s first feature documentary. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorissimonsalum.
Posted: May 7, 2015 at 7:12 am