Project description

Project description

The documentary film “Chapito!” chronicles the life and career of Arizona musician and bandleader Rafael “Chapito” Chavarria.  Now 99 years old, Chapito Chavarria’s signature musical style combines popular Mexico City tropical rhythms of the 1940s and 1950s with American swing and jitterbug music.  Chapito’s music was cherished by generations of Arizona Latinos who danced to his romantic music at their weddings and at the glamorous Calderon and Riverside Ballrooms of central Phoenix during their heyday.  Set in post-WWII Phoenix, the film reveals how the local Hispanic community worked to achieve civic equality and an American middle-class lifestyle without compromising their cultural identity.

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Filmmaker’s statement of purpose

Filmmaker’s statement of purpose

“Chapito!” is part of a larger goal to preserve Hispanic legacies that provide powerful Latino leadership models in a documentary film format. An example is “El Senador,” a PBS documentary film on United States Senator from New Mexico, Dennis Chávez, written and directed by Paige Martínez, 2001.  [LINK for segment of El Senador.] The intention is to create a series of dynamic blueprints for today’s rapidly growing Hispanic population by highlighting Latino role models and community leaders of earlier generations.

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Why is this story important?

Why is this story important?

In this rich personal history, Mr. Chavarria shares his account of significant events that shaped Arizona and U.S. history from 1923 to 1978. The story includes the history of early Hispanic settlers to Arizona, the movement of rural Latino populations from agricultural and mining communities to urban centers, and the social-political gains achieved by the Chicano community after WWII.  The program contains details of the once vital Mexican American neighborhoods/barrios located in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona, now lost to powerful institutions such as Arizona State University and Sky Harbor Airport, and of significant roles to assist Arizona Latinos played by influential non-Hispanic Arizona citizens, such as Senator Barry Goldwater and Red Harkins.

“Chapito!” provides insight into a richly textured, vibrant history of the Chicano community that inhabited Arizona long before statehood and whose labor paved the way for Arizona’s massive economic growth. It is the story of a people who in Chapito’s youth, built the irrigation canals and dams, cultivated the agricultural fields; labored in the cotton industry, flour mills, railroads, mines, and ranches.  As a young adult, Chapito was part of the GI generation who became skilled technicians in the public work sector of the state’s university system, municipal governments and Cold War industries. It is his generation that succeeded in breaking down barriers in every layer of society.

“Chapito!” is the story of a unique and talented individual whose life experience and musical contributions dynamically informed the Latino Experience of several generations of Arizonans in unexpected and under-acknowledged ways.

While his story is personal and local, Chapito’s life is full of events that were experienced by many Hispanics across the country.  This film will serve to document the lasting contributions of an earlier generation of Latino Americans to our shared American community.

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Project status

Project status

Spring 2013 interviews with Chapito and other witness participants to this story were filmed using a RED Scarlet camera shooting at 4k. September 15, 2013 the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) located in Phoenix, Arizona presented a two-hour, afternoon concert of Chapito’s original arrangements with a 10-piece orchestra made with some of Phoenix’s finest musicians, many who played with Chapito in their youth. This concert and the rehearsals leading up to the concert were filmed for inclusion in the documentary. Spring 2014, additional interviews were filmed and the editing of a 17-minute segment of the documentary was completed. This sneak peak of the documentary previewed at the MIM on April 6, 2014 for the opening of the Chapito Chavarria exhibit. The exhibit opening coincided with the public celebration of Chapito’s 100th Birthday, his actual birthday being April 7th. The celebration, sponsored by Bank of America, included two hours of live music by Chapito’s orchestra in the main courtyard so that attendees could dance. It was a wonderful afternoon attended by over 1,000 new museum guests. Please, if you have not seen it, go to the MIM and see the Chapito exhibit! Now it is September 2014, a year since the first Chapito Chavarria concert took place at the MIM. Editing of the film is nearly complete. We are still in need of funds to pay for photo and music rights. At the present we are hopeful that the funds to record Chapito’s orchestra in a professional recording studio will be raised. In line with this, you will soon be able to purchase a copy of the 17-minute DVD which covers some Chapito’s experiences during the 1950′s and early 1960′s and the history of the Latin Music Scene at that time. Very fun!

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