The long-running film “Radical,” about the efforts of a teacher and his group of sixth grade students to get ahead despite the adversities of a hostile environment on Mexico’s northern border, continues to expand with its premiere in streaming format on the ViX service.
The film debuted this weekend in digital format in Mexico, the United States and more than a dozen Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Upon its theatrical release a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, “Radical” won the festival’s audience favorite award.
It was also honored by audiences at the Latino Film Festival, Mill Valley, Hola Mexico and Newport Beach in addition to being rewarded with the Richard D. Propes Award for Narrative Social Impact at the Heartland International Film Festival and the Miami Film Festival’s GEMS Impact Award for Derbez.
“So well did it do with audiences that it won six festivals,” the actor said in a recent video call interview. “When they win the audience award, they’re usually films that travel perfectly between art cinema and commercial cinema and I think ‘Radical’ is one of them.”
In November, “Radical” surpassed “El Crimen del Padre Amaro” in Mexico as the highest-grossing Mexican drama film in history, grossing more than 167 million pesos ($9.6 million) and selling more than 2.5 million tickets.
Behind all this success is a moving but no less realistic story. It features a group of sixth-grade students in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the border city of Matamoros, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, one of the hardest hit by drug violence.
And the efforts of teacher Sergio Juarez (played by Derbez) to keep these children in school and get them interested in science and the arts, achieving the best grades in the country and discovering a child genius in the process.
“The experience of being there while the filming was done was exciting, to see the story reflected…. It was a very motivating experience,” said Juarez in an interview, who was pleased with the portrayal of her story. “It makes me even more eager to look for new experiences, new strategies with my students”.
To the students
The film was written and directed by American filmmaker Christopher Zalla. It is based on a 2012 newspaper article about Paloma Noyola, one of Juarez’s students with impressive math skills and an enormous curiosity for astronomy.
In the film Noyola, who is the daughter of a garbage collector, is played by Jennifer Trejo, who previously had experience in short films and had worked as an extra and in theater.
“We forgot about that casting, it happens to all actors, you do 20 castings and sometimes you stay in one,” recalled Trejo about her selection process.
Months later he was called to audition with Danilo Guardiola, who plays Nico, a boy who lives alone with his brother and has contact with organized crime. Nico is hesitant to stay in school, but the classes with Sergio make him want to study, and he also wants to be close to Paloma, who he likes.
Guardiola lives in Monterrey, his father works in casting and one day he asked him for help. While he was there, he told him to participate in the audition.
He planned to continue his life normally until he was called to Mexico City for a final audition with Trejo. It wasn’t until they confirmed that they had been chosen for the role that they were told that the film was with Derbez.
To do Nico’s strongest scenes, Guardiola counted on his dad.
“At all times he was with me supporting me,” said the then 15-year-old actor. “In the strong scenes I basically let myself go.”
Trejo was almost 12 when filming began and Mia Fernanda Solis, who plays his classmate Lupe, had just turned 10.
In the film Lupe has a great interest in philosophy, so much so that in a free moment, when she is not obliged to take care of her younger siblings, she goes to a university library so she can read more.
In the library a young woman helps her find the books she is looking for, she is played by Paloma Noyola in a curious cameo.
“I would ask her ‘how did it go, what are you studying now, do you like college?’ I liked her a lot,” Solís recalled.
Noyola studied law and is about to graduate. He has been present at some of Radical’s special functions and, like Juárez, was close to the film crew during the shooting to guide them in order to achieve a faithful portrayal of the story.
Trejo asked that people be left with the impression that she is very good at mathematics like the role she plays. But she also thanked Paloma for being an inspiration in her high school studies.
“After ‘Radical’ I did start to kind of take a certain liking to it,” she said. “Sometimes I say, ‘I saw this, Paloma said this, I already know it,’ I like it a lot more.”
“I realized what great minds we can have in Mexico that we don’t know and don’t realize,” he added about the potential reflected in the film.
“Education has been the same as ‘Radical’ stresses to us for years and we have never changed or done anything to discover if there are geniuses.”
For Juarez, the main thing is to support education, especially in environments like his school, and change the model to be in line with the current reality of children.
“I believe that in every child there is a hidden talent, that when they are given the space and the opportunity, as shown in the story, is when they really reach this level of capacity for results,” he said.
“Yes you can do things, yes you can believe in your dreams.”
Late last year, Derbez caused a stir, as there were reports that he would be taking a break from acting. He clarified that he will slow down and even had to turn down some projects, but he does not plan to stop creating.
“It was brutal for me,” he said. “I filmed five series, nothing more in one year, I was not at home more than a month, or month and a half in a whole year, yes I felt a slave to my own work…. This year it was similar and yes, I told them ‘stop it, I don’t feel happy, I feel I have no life, I can’t do anything else but work'”.
“I’m not retiring, I just slowed down a little more.