Rosalino Sánchez Félix, better known as Chalino Sánchez, was a Mexican immigrant from a small ranch named Las Flechas near Culiacan, Sinaloa. He became a narcocorrido star in Los Angeles during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s before an untimely, violent death. His valiant songs chronicled the lives of fearless self-made men in clandestine businesses and resonated with the Latino communities of Southern California, even stronger posthumously.
Growing up in the city of Watts, prolific Salvadoran-American filmmaker Michael Flores remembers that a recurrent topic of playground conversation was whether Tupac or Chalino was more “gangster.” The Meixcan singer-songwriter had achieved legendary status by transforming an underground music scene of mixtapes sold in swap meets into a popular and profitable subgenre.
Flores’ short film Chalino, which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), documents a day in the life of the ambitious performer in 1992, as he simultaneously reached the end of the line and made national headlines. “He is so legendary in terms of being a symbol for the American dream. He came to the U.S. for opportunities, le queria comprar la casita a su vieja.’ That’s the dream that everybody comes here to do, but unfortunately destiny had different plans for him,” the director told Remezcla.
Wearing the artist’s emblematic white cowboy hat, Matias Ponce, Flores’ longtime friend, plays Chalino, who’s shown discussing the future with his brother Lazaro Sánchez (Manny H. Hernandez). They were getting ready to head out for a show after receiving repeated death threats. Flores’ filmed the sequences that construct this 15-minute story with dynamic handheld cinematography, walking behind his characters and later using the camera as Chalino’s point of view.
For Flores, it was important to shoot his fictional account of the events in the cities in Southeast and South Los Angeles, Chalino’s own stomping grounds. “We shot it all where I grew up, so my aunt’s house in Watts, the house I grew up in Watts, my grandfather’s beauty salon right next to Huntington Park, we went to HP to shoot the exteriors of las cantinas out there, and then we went to Paramount to pick up [footage of] the horses that many Latino families have there.”
Besides the authenticity of the locations, Flores was also concerned with the nuance in language that making a movie with Culichi characters entailed. Having previously directed two shorts in El Salvador, Mi tesoro and La campana, he knew that having actors speak with the right accent and jargon is key to accurately representing a specific community. Flores first wrote the screenplay in Salvadoran Spanish, and then enlisted his comadre Marta Espinoza, a Sinaloa native, to rewrite the dialogue with the right phrases. Espinoza was also in charge of finding the costumes that would resemble what men in Chalino’s circles wore at the time, particularly their extravagant shirts.
Evidently, like with any other narrative about a famed musician, Flores needed access to at least one of Chalino’s tracks. To secure this, he met with prominent producer Pedro Rivera, the owner of the pioneering, family-owned record label Cintas Acuario, who signed Chalino in his heyday, and who is the patriarch of the Rivera family. Described by Flores as a “big cultural monument in South Central,” Cintas Acuario was around even before its hip-hop counterpart Death Row Records, and served as a platform for Latino artists to reach their fan base. Convinced by Flores’ vision, Rivera granted him the rights to Chalino’s song “Régulo Sánchez,” performed with Los Amables del Norte.
“It’s a glimpse of the aesthetic of that world, of these people, and of the circumstances,” said Flores about his intentions with Chalino, which he based on publicly available information, since he didn’t have access to the family or those close to him. It’s his intention, however, to expand the short into a larger production that will hopefully allow him to dig deeper into who the star was. “If we do manage to get a long-from version I can bring in the real people, interview them, bring them in as co-writers, and try to do the story more justice.”