During the summer film season, the types of films you typically find hitting the big screen are tales of superheroes, massive car chases, pending apocalyptic destruction, and basically anything that can fill a theater with explosions galore. While it's rare for a quieter film with more of a message to send than new CGI effects to open in this time period, sometimes one appears and leaves its mark on audiences. This summer, it's Open Road Entertainment's "Little Boy" battling against the summer movie masses.
The period film takes place during World War II and centers on 7-year-old Pepper Busbee (played by newcomer Jakob Salvati) and his belief that by following a few rules from Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson), he can bring his father (Michael Rappaport) home from the war. One of these rules is to befriend one's enemy, which inspires Jakob to befriend Hashimoto (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), the Japanese man who lives in town. The film touches on the power of belief, and it also deals with the rampant racism that existed in that era that, in many ways, is sadly still existent today. We had a chance to talk to Mexican writer-director Alejandro Monteverde about his new film, "Little Boy," his inspiration, talking about racism with his young star, and fatherhood (he's got three adorable kids with wife Ali Landry).
Q: What inspired you to not only co-write, but direct 'Little Boy'?
Alejandro Monteverde: Well, I love to tell stories. I'm a director, and I wanted to write a movie that explores these kinds of themes. And I like to write movies that propose a theme but don't really impose a theme. This movie explores very important themes of the human core, the human soul; so it's pretty much a story about believing in the impossible. It's a story that proposes tolerance as an answer to many of the problems and issues that we face in our society. So even though it's a period movie, it's very relevant today.
Q: Aside from 'Little Boy' having a very inspirational message, the film also dealt with racism. But the way you dealt with it was very delicate because it was seen through a child's mind. How did you write that, and how did you convey that to your 7-year-old actor?
Alejandro Monteverde: Pretty much, while I was working with him, it was literally scene by scene. He's such a natural actor and he just wanted to know what's going on at that particular moment. So I would try to explain the old internal arcs of the character and the whole story in itself, and he'd be like "no, no, no — just tell me what's going on right now." Then I realized that the way to navigate through the scene throughout the entire shoot was to literally go day by day and just explain to him what was happening at that particular moment. And he's a natural, he's amazing, so he was able to channel all the internal arcs of the character beautifully. I knew that, as a filmmaker, when you make a movie, a lot of things go wrong and there's room for mistakes, however I knew that could not make a mistake on casting the wrong kid, because he's 90 percent himself.
Q: How do you think families should approach discussing this subject, especially with what's going on with discrimination against Latinos and other minorities in the U.S. today?
Alejandro Monteverde: One of the main problems that I see with our society, personally, is I think we live in a society that ... has become experts in labeling people, labeling everything. Politics divide. I like to make movies that unite. And, you know, this story kind of proposes faith as a theme, but it's not a film for the faith-based audience only. It's a film for everybody. It's about tolerance. Hashimoto who has the face of the enemy at that time, because you know, we were in war against Japan, but today many people, we deal with racism all the time and just a certain face can ... be the enemy, to be the bad guy.
We live in a society that's very divisive, and they want to put you in a box. It's like, "OK, you belong in this box" and once you're in a box, it's really hard to have a genuine and honest conversation. And I'm always fighting that box because I like to tell stories that are very honest – but stories are important to the human heart. Stories for the audience — and this movie is for the audience — because we are heart. I made this movie from my heart to the audience's heart.
Q: How has being a father impacted your work, and how does fatherhood translate into your projects?
Alejandro Monteverde: It gives me perspective on what's important in life, what's important in my work. So now that I have children, my priorities have shifted. Before, I wanted to build a career. Before, I called myself a director; a filmmaker first. Now, I call myself a father and a husband first, then I'm a filmmaker. So everything has kind of switched gears and so ... I think family is the foundation of our societies. Family doesn't have to be perfect, but it's always family first.
"Little Boy" is rated PG-13 and is playing in theaters everywhere.