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Director shares his life story, dispenses advice to Victoria community

By Gheni_Platenburg
April 20, 2011 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 19, 2011 at 11:20 p.m.

Growing up, Jesus Salvador Treviño was constantly told he would never be anything more than a farm worker or a janitor.

Trevino hails from East Los Angeles, where as a Mexican-American in the 1950s he was told that people of his ethnicity should only aspire to get labor-intensive, blue collar jobs. In addition, positive, high-achieving Mexican-American role models were non-existent.

"This kind of bred into me the sense that I wasn't going to accomplish much," Trevino said. "I began to hate myself for being Mexican."

However, keeping Mexican-Americans down and the negativity geared toward them eventually spurred the Chicano movement and with it, Trevino's career as a film and television director.

That is the story Trevino shared during a presentation to a group of Introduction to Cinema students in the University of Houston-Victoria's Alcorn Auditorium on Wednesday. The event was part of Centro Victoria's Community Pachanga.

"Be who you are," said Trevino, who considers himself to be a director, activist and pioneer. "Who you are is a good thing."

Macarena Hernandez, co-founder of Centro Victoria, said, "We are so grateful to Jesus Trevino, who has been on a very extensive tour all over Victoria. We are so blessed to have someone of his caliber available to students throughout the city and the community," Hernandez said. "He is not only a great director, but he is also a teacher and leader of the Chicano movement."

With more than 40 years in the film and television business, Trevino, who declined to give his exact age, has worked on a number of award-winning television shows and feature films.

But the road to the big screen was neither easy nor one heavily traveled by other Mexican-Americans.

Born in El Paso, Trevino moved to Los Angeles at the age of 2.

He and his siblings grew up poor with their mother, who worked odd jobs, and his stepfather, who worked in the commissary at a local drive-in movie theater.

Although his stepfather's job barely helped the family to make ends meet, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, giving Trevino his first taste of Hollywood movies.

"I would sit there scared by myself," said Trevino as he described watching movies like "House of Wax" and "The Mummy" in the car, while his stepfather worked his late night shift at the movie's commissary. "... My love of cinema started there."

Despite the urgings of his high school counselor to disregard thoughts about going to college or to only consider attending a two-year college, Trevino applied to and got accepted to Occidental College in 1964.

He graduated four years later with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.

And he had begun to dabble in shooting videos while in his undergraduate days, shooting footage of demonstrations and picket lines with a Super-8 camera during the height of what became known as the Chicano Movement.

Over time, he progressed to shooting and editing short movies to show at community centers.

"As I utilized these little films, it brought about the possibility of using media for social change," he said.

With ambitions of attending graduate school to become a college professor of philosophy, Trevino applied to five graduate schools.

After being rejected by all five schools, he turned his thoughts to filmmaking as a career choice.

Shortly after making his decision, he enrolled in New Communicators, a Los Angeles -based federal program created to increase the number of minorities working in the film industry.

After the program, Trevino spent 15 years creating documentaries both on his own and for the Public Broadcasting Service on topics related to the Latino experience such as gangs, literature, education and health.

The opportunity to do his first feature film came in 1976 when he traveled to Mexico to direct a film he wrote titled "Raices de Sangres," which told the story of the exploitation of Mexican-American/Chicano workers by multinational corporations on the U.S.-Mexico border.

His big break in Hollywood, which Trevino said had historically been closed to blacks and Mexicans, did not come until 1988 when he directed the CBS after school special, "Gangs," which was told the story of the gang problem in Latino barrios.

The program won the Imagenes Award of Merit, the best one-hour drama award at the New York Latino Film Festival and was recognized as Best Daytime Television drama by the Director's Guild of America.

Trevino began making a name for himself, not only for his good quality of work but also for the fact that he and others continually worked to further integrate the film and television industry.

Eventually, Trevino went on to do episodic work, directing television episodes for sitcoms including "Babylon 5," "New York Undercover," "Law and Order Criminal Intent," "Prison Break" and "Bones."

Trevino's film credits include "Resurrection Boulevard" and "Seguin."

"It's a gift to be able to do this," he said.

While speaking to the students, Trevino shared details of the important role episodic directors play in productions and what a directors' job entails.

These details include directors having only seven days to prepare an episode, eight days to produce it and only four days to edit it.

Additionally, he discussed the damaging effects that piracy has had on the directors.

"Seven percent of the money that goes into (directors) retirement funds come from residuals from movies," Trevino said. "It's a big deal that movies are being stolen and being downloaded. People are not paying for them and that money is not going into our pensions."

Students and teachers appreciated hearing Trevino's life story.

"I was quite impressed to hear about where he started out, not believing in himself, to working with "Bones," "Deep Space 9" and all those big name shows," said 19-year-old Sean Swoboda, a freshman at UHV. "Just to see what is possible whenever you set your mind to it and not care what anyone else thinks."

"He was very informative, especially for this group of students in regards to how directing actually works," said Kim Herzinger, a professor at UHV. "He's giving his time to students not only here at UHV but to students throughout the community."

Trevino also made it a point to encourage minorities to continue entering the film and television industry.

"TV tends to be all white, but if you look at the United States, we are a very mixed group of people. Minorities play a very important part in that," he said. "A great deal of progress has been made. Not to say that enough progress has been made, but certainly we have come a long way."


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