By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
When local San Diego filmmaker Jeanne McKinney started learning about Aztec history, she said she knew she wanted to take that knowledge and turn it into a children’s animated film.
“I wanted to connect the pictures, artifacts and archa-eologist’s theories in a story that would not only entertain, but educate,” she said. “For over 7 years, I have researched indigenous art, architecture, history, religion, trade and foreign relations.
“Also, the ancient Valley of Mexico is an exotic setting, a land of great beauty and great challenge, ever threatened by a ring of active volcanos. I thought it would make outstanding backdrops for animation.”
The result is “City of GoldAn Eagle is Born,” an animatic film short that is a showcase of scenes from the first story of an epic trilogy set in 16th Century Mesoamerica.
The short will be screened this weekend at the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival (SDICFF), which will feature more than 60 children’s films from 20 countries. The fest will be at the WorldBeat Center, in Balboa Park, Friday, July 27, and Saturday, July 28.
Then on Sunday, July 29, it will be at the children’s area of Comic-Con International, at the San Diego Convention Center.
“City of Gold An Eagle is Born” tells the story of Tetoca, a teenager who, with the help of Mother Eagle, tries to become a great warrior in order to help preserve and protect his nation’s freedom.
Other short films with Latino films in the festival include “Open A Door in Ecuador,” about a group of children that create a music orchestra in their frontyard, and “Roberto the Insect Architect,” a story about an insect that, besides being Latino, is an architect.
The festival features children’s films that, although they don’t have the huge budgets like Disney or Dreamworks productions, have a lot to offer.
“We give kids and their parents an alternative in their moviegoing experience. They are excellent films, very creative,” said Dan Bennett, director of the SDICFF.
McKinney, who wrote and directed “City of Gold,” said that she chose Aztec times to tell her story because she wants children, especially Mexican children, to learn about the advanced Aztec civilization.
“City of Gold - An Eagle is Born” has tracked success as an award-winning screenplay, a finalist in mutilple film festivals, and a premiere screening as an animatic film short.
It was chosen for the SDICFF because of its quality, Bennett said.
“The animatic enjoys superior animation, fantastic story-telling, and history, giving it multiple dimensions,” he said. “The historical period is also important, because we rarely see projects covering this period in North American history, especially from the perspective of the people who originally lived here.”
While countless Hollywood films have presented Native Americans as noble savages or bloodthirsty savages, “City of Gold” gives a different point of view to the Pre-Columbian history of the Americas.
“My goal with ‘City of Gold’ was to present a different perspective about the people of Mesoamerica in an enlightening, uplifting, fun, and ad-venterous way,” McKinney said. “I wanted to portray their lives as meaningful, not tragic. I stayed away from human sacrifice, because it becomes a blinding cultural barrier to appreciate the people as a whole.”
“City of Gold” was also featured in this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival, because the Indigenous themes are important for Latinos, said Ethan van Thillo, director of the SDLFF.
“It’s important that young Latinos recognize their indigenous heritage. It’s also important for general audiences to get a different and unique point-of-view of pre-Columbian history. It’s also important that audiences around the world have different options from independent animators that are not only the ‘Disney’ vision of the world.”
McKinney is currently looking for investors who could finance the feature-length film.
“The key to taking the animatic all the way to a feature is funding, and we’re actively seeking that. In the meantime, my hope is that ‘City of Gold - An Eagle is Born’ will begin to shine a light on the past, offering inspiration and hope for the future.”
People can buy tickets for the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival’s WorldBeat Center events online at the web site www.sdchildrensfilm.org, but they are also welcome to show up at the door and buy. And remember children under 3 are free to all of the events.