Podcast from Intelatin: Wolf Totem + The Cult

This month at Intelatin, I am featuring A Brave Heart by Sara Hirsch Bordo and starring Lizzie Velásquez. Also, Wolf Totem by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Music for the podcast is performed by kd lang, Mark Kopfler and Emmylou Harris, Rod Stewart, Daniel Lanois and Emmylou Harris, The Cult, Ian Astbury, Holy Barbarians and The Chamanes.

In my interview, I asked Lizzie Velásquez a question about her identity as a Mexican American given that her story is set in Texas and given that her father is a Guadalupano and given that her last name is Velásquez. Lizzie wasn’t sure how to respond to me about her identity. I think it became a question that made her uncomfortable and thus it made me uncomfortable because I didn’t mean for it to make her uncomfortable.

I on the other hand have never questioned my identity and I take pleasure in taking deep dives into the identities of the indigenous peoples, the African peoples and the people from all over the Americas. But, watching Wolf Totem, I did question one aspect of my identity that has gone unresolved: My spirituality.

I have this certainty inside of me that forces me to believe that I am a Jew. It is not because my father is a Jew nor because my mother is a Jew. There are absolutely no clues at all on either side of family tree for at least ten generations that showcase that I am a Jew. The only thing that it shows clearly is that for the last ten generations, 95% of my family were born in Mexico and 5% were born in Germany. Still, when I look in the mirror, I see a Jewish Mexican living in southern California.

Being baptized into a very lazy form of Catholicism, I studied Catholicism for five years as an adult and I did not find my way. I was mentored by Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries for 12 months and although I admired his way, it was clear that his way was not to be my way. I did, however, adopt two of his ideals:

Love, no matter what.
Be compassionate for the less fortunate.

These two ideals have shaped my unresolved spirituality tremendously.

Still, the strength of my spirit is weak compared to the Mongols featured in Wolf Totem. Their ability to nurture the needs of wolves and gazelles and rabbits and grasslands in ways that further define their connection to God left me with a question that I wish to answer. It is a question that I also posed to Lizzie which she also did not answer in our interview: What happens next?

For Jean Jacques Annaud, he knows that for the next year, he will tour the world to promote this magnificent film. Eventually, he will come back home and begin his next project which will likely be equally interesting. For Lizzie, what she did say was that she would continue advocating for the Safe Schools Improvement Act to pass Congress and that she would get to what happens next after this happening first.

With us on Intelatin is the director of Wolf Totem, Jean Jacques Annaud. For our audience unfamiliar with his catalog, he began making films in 1976. In 1981, he directed an incredible film called Quest for Fire and then in 1991, he directed what I consider to be the greatest love story ever told on film, The Lover, adapted from the novella of the same name by Marguerite Duras. In 1997, the director went mainstream when he casted Brad Pitt in his film called Seven Years in Tibet. Throughout the years, he has consistently continued making epic films in conflicted territories and he has also developed his craft while working with animals on-set. Several years ago, he was asked to direct an important Chinese memoir set in Inner Mongolia and centered around the spirituality of the lifechain surrounding the Mongolian grasslands.

In the memoir, a young Chinese student from the capital travels to the country to educate the folks living in inner Mongolia on the Chinese way. Quickly, he is educated on the representations of God in inner Mongolia and the cultural differences between the Mongols and the Chinese. The narrative says:

The grassland contains the most extensive primitivism and freedom anywhere. He sensed that only by gaining an understanding of the wolves would he be able to comprehend the Mongolian grassland and the people who lived there.

Questions for Maestro Annaud:

You were born outside of Paris and you have filmed in Cameroon, Vietnam, Tunisia and now in Mongolia, among other places. How do you approach obtaining a historical understanding of the people and the cultures you encounter on-location?

For the characters in this film, there is a connection between the wolves, the gazelles and the grasslands, all living under the domain of Tengger. In your opinion, is this culture unique in how they understand themselves in relation to nature?

There is a correlation between the symbolic wolves of Mongolia and the symbolic sheep of China and this creates a metaphor for cultural advancement and progress or lackthereof. How do you understand the connection between primitivism and progress?

Join me next month on Intelatin and I thank you for listening to our podcast.


About Intelatin: The radio broadcast for Intelatin was started in 2012 at California State University Long Beach as outreach for their majority Latin@ campus. The broadcast aired on KBeach Global and KKJZ 88.1 FM. It podcasts in 2015 on iTunes and Audioboom. The next Intelatin episode will be released at the end of October. Connect on Twitter: @Intelatin.