‘The Long Game’ hits theaters next week

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

America loves an underdog, right?

Claremont’s Joel Gonzales sure hopes so. The film producer’s latest project, “The Long Game,” which is being released nationwide April 12, is “an aspirational, inspirational true story.”

Claremont resident Joel Gonzales is a co-producer of “The Long Game.” Courier photo/Matthew Weinberger

Gonzales calls the film a “Field of Dreams” set in the world of golf. Directed by Julio Quintana (“Blue Miracle”), “The Long Game” stars Dennis Quaid and Jay Hernandez, with a supporting cast of Cheech Marin, Oscar Nuñez, Julian Works, Jaina Lee Ortiz, Gillian Vigman, Brett Cullen, and Paulina Chávez.

The film won South by Southwest’s Film and TV Festival’s “Narrative Spotlight Audience Award” in 2023. The filmmakers and actors have also been invited to screen “The Long Game” for President Biden at the White House on Monday, April 8. A special Hollywood red carpet screening at the Montalban Theatre follows on Wednesday, April 10, with the film opening on more than 1,000 screens across the country on Friday, April 12.

The story takes place in 1955, and centers on five young Mexican American high school-aged boys who are sought after golf caddies at a country club in their hometown of Del Rio, Texas. While many of The Long Game’s central characters are Mexican American, it is not, as Gonzales is quick to point out, a “Latino story.”

“It is a Latino-led, true American underdog story,” Gonzales said. “All these kids were all real people — real adults now — all American born, [who were] treated like the help at the time, which was the mentality at the time. They loved the game of golf, but were really not allowed to play or practice or even have fun on the greens.”

Desperate to play, the boys created their own green in the countryside brush of Del Rio with a coffee can for a hole. They used outdated clubs and gear, some of it found, some fished out of the water hazards at the Del Rio Country Club and deemed unusable by its previous owners.

One day the superintendent of the Del Rio school district and a veteran of World War II, portrayed by Hernandez, is driving on a country road when a golf ball shatters his driver’s side window. It turns out a group of local high school-aged boys playing on their makeshift “course” had made a bet that with one of them that he couldn’t hit the moving car. After watching the boys hit the ball for a while, Hernandez’s character endeavors to recruit them to form the first Del Rio High School golf team. Predictably, the plan is met by skepticism in mid-1950s Texas, years before the Civil Rights Movement codified equal treatment for minorities across the land.

“One of the character’s father is very closed minded and says, ‘Look, that’s a white man’s game. Why are you going to go try to play that?’” Gonzales said.

Quaid’s character is the golf pro at Del Rio Country Club. He and Hernandez served together in the 141st Regiment of the U.S. Marines infantry. Despite the “in,” Quaid is unable to help his friend get admitted to the private club. The man who interviews him at the country club tells him, “I know you hear this all the time, but thank you for service.” Knowing he’s about to be denied, Hernandez responds, “I don’t hear that all the time, but I was proud to serve my country.”

“So, there’s these little subtleties of the importance of all seeing each other as Americans and nothing else,” Gonzales said.

A pivotal plot point occurs when the boys travel across the border to Mexico for some fun, only to face discrimination there as well for being American.

“This movie brings so many layers of that to it,” Gonzales said. “For us it was really important for this movie not to be another story about the border, or people with better lives. It was just these five young men, a true American underdog story.”

Gonzales, 50, has produced more than 20 films in the family, faith, and urban genres. Most of his recent work has been in the family faith arena, including “My Brother’s Keeper,” in 2020. “The Long Game” came about after Gonzales read “Mustang Miracle,” a 2012 book by Humberto G. Garcia. He then connected with producer Javier Chapa, of Mucho Mas Media. They optioned the book, hired the writers, and after multiple drafts and years of planning, film studio Endeavor Content stepped up to the plate, as did executive producer and famed Mexican boxer Canelo Álvarez, director Quintana signed on, other producers — and most importantly, more financing — came aboard, and in 2023 film was completed.

Gonzales, his schoolteacher wife, and their children, now 7 and 8, moved to Claremont in December 2020. He grew up in Watts, and had been a long admirer of the City of Trees.

“My wife has always loved Claremont,” Gonzales said. “We would always come to dinner out here, we would do the trails out here, our date nights when we were first dating were out here.”

Gonzales has taken that good will toward his adopted city and combined it with his expertise to create the Claremont Crossroads International Film Festival, which he will launch in 2025.

“I’ve already partnered with different bigger festivals so that they curate the films for us, so it’s really just a showcase of films that are doing so well around the country at film festivals and then they showcase here with us,” he said.

Along with producing movies, Gonzales was named president of Nosotros in 2011. Founded in 1970 by the late actor Ricardo Montalban, the nonprofit it is the oldest Latino arts organization in the country, Gonzales said. Its focus is to enhance the image of Latinos and other underrepresented demographics in media.

“A lot of what you hear today, these buzzwords of diversity, inclusion, well Ricardo was talking about that in 1970 and actually got blacklisted by Hollywood after doing that,” Gonzales said. Montalban was eventually hired again, starring from 1977 to 1984 in the television series “Fantasy Island,” as well as in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Nosotros works with film studios and streamers to advocate for its constituents, and hosts workshops and learning events for executives and other industry players.

“There’s such a well of talent, from creators to actors, out there. And that’s what Nosotros is really focused on. You’re going to see a lot of that talent in the film.”

A special Hollywood red carpet screening of “The Long Game” takes place April 10 at the Montalban Theatre. The film opens on more than 1,000 screens across the country on Friday, April 12. The film will be streaming on Peacock after its theatrical run. Go to thelonggame.movie for more information.



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