Saying goodbye is hard for a family with an illness.
In A Sacred Journey, director and producer Ernesto Quintero documented his own life when his brother is diagnosed with a shattering illness. He had to face his demons as the family struggles to pick up the pieces and stay together in this compelling portrait about love and what it means to care for each other.
Quintero used the film to advocate positive change in the story of his brother’s fight with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) since his diagnosis in 2005. He started to edit this journey in 2013 and locking in the final product in May 2019. The documentary won Best Film at DOCUTAH International Film Festival 2019.
LRM Online spoke with Ernesto Quintero earlier this week about the film.
Read the exclusive interview below.
LRM Online: Ernesto, could you tell me on what initiated this documentary called A Sacred Journey?
Ernesto Quintero: Part of what you see in the film is my nephew’s story, which started 20 years ago when my nephew was diagnosed with a chronic illness. About five years into my nephew’s diagnosis, my brother’s father gets diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The camera work went from my nephew’s story to my brother’s story.
But, I never intended it to be a full-length documentary. It was thought of as something I could use at a backyard barbecue party with friends to celebrate my brother. That celebration grown into a feature film with competing a few awards at film festivals. The reason that happened because of producer of mine saw the short version. She said, “I needed to show this to everyone.”
LRM Online: You said you developed the short film first. How long was that?
Ernesto Quintero: I used many short versions. The first version was 26-minutes in length. I showed at a few screenings, and we raised the money to keep going. A few months later, back in 2014, I expanded it to a 44-minute version to show at LA Live at the Regal. That showing got us another couple of thousands of dollars to keep us going. That was my pattern for this is this version here. The finished product is 75-minutes long. We’re pretty much done.
LRM Online: For with this a longer version, itself, when did this actually start?
We launched the picture in May of this year. At some point, I realized, my brother’s story was a lot of value to me as an individual. My brother was my best friend. We grew up together. We went through life with each other. I wanted to honor him this way.
I’ll be vulnerable with you. I’ll reflect 15 years before that when my brother was diagnosed. I was really suffering from a really bad drug addiction.
Watching my brother wanting to live another day made me realized that I had something. It made me realize the value that I have, and I started to look at myself more deeply. I used the film to help me to tell my part of the story within that story.
LRM Online: It’s not just the struggle of your relative; it’s also about your struggle itself.
Ernesto Quintero: It is the struggle my brother dealing and living with Lou Gehrig’s disease. You’ll see him start healthy and then slowly deteriorate with his body one arm at a time. Then it spread to his second arm and his leg. Afterward, it moved on to his neck muscles. You also see my story of personal disease and with him helping me. You’ll see the other blessings of miracles that have happened around that prognosis.
LRM Online: How did you manage to film all of this yourself? It’s always tough to shoot yourself in your production.
Ernesto Quintero: This is pretty interesting. I have a powerful support group with producers that were backing me to this moment. There were instances where I didn’t want to tell my story. I was a little ashamed on my part. One of the producers has a daughter who was suffering from drug addiction. The daughter overdosed a few times. From the hospital, she called me, “If you want to tell your story, we’re going to go with something that can help our kids, nephews, or friends.” She inspired me to tell that part of it. She helped me. She helped me with the cameras. She did the interviews. She pulled out these vulnerable moments of my life that made me who I was during that time. That’s why it was vital for me to come out of that answer to share my story.
LRM Online: The entire family was very supportive of doing this documentary?
Ernesto Quintero: That’s one of the messages that that was discussed in the film. My family, in the 15 years of my brother living with Lou Gehrig’s, has managed to stay together. It’s common for people to say, “Wow. It’s rare for a Latino family not fighting over these situations.” So yes, they’ve been very supportive. Every time I do these screenings or fundraisers, they spread the word. They show up. They are part of the Q&A after we screen it. They back me 100%. It’s a family story. It’s not a story about a brother and myself. It’s a story about a Latino family here in Lincoln Heights. Thankfully we are supported by the community at large.
LRM Online: Are there anything you have to cut it out? Is there anything like that in your documentary?
Ernesto Quintero: I’ll tell you this much that the most vulnerable is the moment we have to say goodbye to our brother. Believe it or not, the camera was running on that. We were in as a family. I even my brother, I asked him, “Do you mind if I document this? The family’s going come by You’re going say your last words to us.” He said, “You can use this film so that other families can use it if they go through something like this. Go ahead and use it.”
Some of that I didn’t use. To be honest to you, I felt like I was exploiting the story a little too much. It’s hard to see my mom at that moment. It broke her heart when she had to say goodbye to my brother. It’s going to ruin the surprise, but I may as well tell you. My brother decided to stay with us. In that moment, we were all saying goodbye to him. He decided to change his mind and surprise us as well. Some moments felt as if they were meant for us and not for the story. I pulled some of those out.
LRM Online: These things are tough.
Ernesto Quintero: Very difficult, yeah. There is also footage of me on drugs. [Laughs] I’m not going to share that.
LRM Online: It sounds like you had an enduring experience. Do you want to film another documentary in the future for yourself?
Ernesto Quintero: We have a few projects lined up that are interesting. I’ve built myself up to be a good storyteller in this format. Some stories are significant to tell. We screen this film in Philadelphia for the American Public Association convention. There were a few people that were honored. One person had a beautiful story about public health. What they’re doing is amazing.
Now, if you’re asking me if I’m going to another story about someone suffering from an illness like my brother–I probably not. I’ve been told many times that a project like A Sacred Journey is something that you do at the end of your career. [Laughs] It was intense, really personal. I want to get into more narrative filmmaking, but we do have some documentaries we’re working on as we speak.
LRM Online: One last question. When people see your film A Sacred Journey, what is the one most important lesson that you hope that they would learn?
Ernesto Quintero: A lot of times we complain about traffic, or we complain about everything. I couldn’t get my coffee or my coffee cold. They’re all insignificant. These are all the unimportant things we complain about in our daily lives. If you could see my brother going through what he goes through, then it can wake you up as he woke me up. He saved my life. My life was over. I struggled with giving up drugs for six years with being in and out of rehab. I thought I was going to die. Use his life as a barometer–check yourself and understand the value of life–then I think I’ve done my work.
LRM Online: Excellent answer. Hey, thank you very much, Ernesto. I appreciate taking the time to speak with me.
Ernesto Quintero: Thank you.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive