As an alumnus of San Jose State University and a resident of nearby San Juan Bautista, Luis Valdez's presence at Cinequest is a special occasion. As a child of Mexican descent, Mr. Valdez spent his early days as a migrant farm worker; an arduous education of considerable value which would spur him on to become a theater and film artist. After graduating from college, he spent a year with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, during which time he also traveled to Cuba with the group as part of a cultural exchange program. Returning to the turbulent atmosphere of early 1970's United States, Valdez joined Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers and created the now prestigious El Teatro Campesino, a theater company of fellow workers who performed small skits based on their unique and largely untold experiences as an American under-class. The success of these small sketches prompted Valdez to expand his creative horizons into the wider vistas of the conventional theater.
Zoot Suit, written and directed by Valdez and starring his brother Daniel (who also composed the musical numbers) opened in Los Angeles in 1978. Based loosely on the Sleepy Lagoon murder case, where a stylish and proud, street-smart "pachuco" gang leader, is falsely arrested and convicted of a murder he did not commit, Zootsuit was a huge and immediate hit. Feeling that the play would translate well into a film, Valdez hired a then-unknown Edward James Olmos to play the lead and with a $2.5 million budget got the picture made. It too, enjoyed excellent box-office and critical success. Valdez's next project ventured even deeper into the mainstream of movies, using a more traditional narrative form to tell the story of America's first Chicano rock and roll star, Ritchie Valens. With Lou Diamond Phillips in the lead role, the film found a large audience, not only with Hispanics, but also with Anglos and rock and roll fans of all ethnic backgrounds. In 1987 Mr. Valdez wrote and directed a television adaptation of his play, Corridos! Tales of Passion and Revolution. Combining both English and Spanish, Valdez's play speaks to both Chicanos and Anglos, shedding light, through his selected details of the pain and suffering and joy of the Mexican-American experience.
Comfortable with both theatrical and cinematic forms, Valdez uses his considerable talent to fulfill his distinctive role as master story-teller and modern oral historian. Throughout his distinguished career he has remained true to his vision: that of honestly portraying a noble and vibrant culture of which many of us Californians are still woefully ignorant. -- P.D. Crane