Nov. 29, 2012 -- You may or may not know her name, but you surely know Lynn Fainchtein's work.
As a prolific music supervisor, and a radio host and MTV Latin America vet, she's a friend and frequent collaborator of some of Mexico's brightest filmmakers, including Oscar-nominated Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful, Babel, Amores Perros, 21 Grams). It's Fainchtein whom actor-turned-director Diego Luna turns to for musical expertise. In fact, she is overseeing the music for Luna's next project, the biopic Chavez, starring Michael Peña as the iconic labor activist Cesar Chavez and arriving in theaters in 2013.
But Fainchtein's work transcends Mexico – Hollywood directors such as Lee Daniels often call on her to create beautiful and haunting soundscapes, as she did for 2009's Precious and his upcoming film The Butler. Next month, we'll be able to appreciate her work in Walter Salles' On The Road, starring Kristen Stewart and based on the Jack Kerouac novel of the same name.
Fainchtein was in Los Angeles this week to promote her latest project, which she also produced, Hecho En Mexico, an 88-minute documentary directed by Englishman Duncan Bridgeman (1 Giant Leap, What About Me?) and executive produced by Televisa's Emilio Azcárraga. It's a musical road trip through contemporary Mexico and an exploration of the richness and vastness of the culture through original songs, reflections, humor, and conversations with thinkers from all walks of life.
Diego Luna, the late Chavela Vargas, Lila Downs, Café Tacvba, Carla Morrison, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Gloria Trevi, Molotov, Kinky, Alejandro Fernandez, and Julieta Venegas are just some of the familiar faces that pop up in the film, which opens Friday in select Los Angeles theaters.
I stole Fainchtein away for a few minutes and nerded out about her passion for Mexican music as manifested in the film (she is also the co-founder of Casete, which provides synching services of Latin American music for TV and films as well as a content agreggator for iTunes and other platforms.) It's amazing what you can learn about Mexico in a little over 10 minutes...
How many artists are in the movie?
It's hard to say. If we're counting every single person, I'd put it somewhere around 145. I know for sure we had 450 hours of footage to edit.
Can we talk about the Chavela Vargas interview specifically, in the chapter called "Alma"? It's so powerful, especially because she's no longer here.
That's a very personal story of mine. I used to own this bar in Tepoztlán around 1990 and I hired Chavela to sing there. I spent three years picking her up in a nearby town and bringing her to the bar and then driving her home at like 2 or 3 in the morning. Some time after that, I put this song called "Las Simples Cosas" in a movie called Morirse Un Domingo directed by Daniel Gruener. Martirio sings that version [a cover of a 1960s song], but I had heard Chavela sing that same song before. I wanted her in this movie no matter what, because I feel she has that thing that all Mexican musicians have - and Tom Waits - that is so heartrending, hitting you right in your sternum.
So when I went to see her, she agreed to be in the movie but only to be interviewed; not to sing. Once we were filming, I asked her if she'd sing a little of "Las Simples Cosas," and she did. That was a nice surprise.
Fainchtein with a Huichol tribesman in Mexico during the filming of 'Hecho En Mexico.'
How did you decide which non-Mexican artists to include in the movie, like Residente from Calle 13?
I picked people who are my friends, first and foremost, and people whose points of view matter to me. We were looking for thinkers – artists, yes, but thinkers more than anything. I knew René would be perfect for the chapter called "Libertad" because he has something to say on the subject on a Latin American level. I thought that wider point of view was important. He wrote the song "Soy Libre Por Que Pienso," specifically for this movie and he recorded it with Molotov.
Why open with Café Tacvba singing "Tiempos de Híbridos"?
That's a cover of a famous Rockdrigo song [from his posthumous 1986 album, El Profeta Del Nopal]. He's sort of the Bob Dylan of Mexico. That song also opens the soundtrack, which will be available some time in December and has 24 songs by the different artists. We have a few covers, but most are original songs that Duncan [who has a musical background that precedes his work in film] and the artists worked on together. I knew I wanted a Rockdrigo song in the movie, and they lyrics of that one say exactly what Mexico is going through today.
Why was Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba the right person to revive that Rockdrigo song?
Because to me Café Tacvba, even when they're not being political, they have such a clear point of view on things. I felt it was a voice that we needed. Rubén is a hippie and a social activist, and he really drove home what Rockdrigo was trying to say back then. If you notice, all of the songs in this movie are saying something.
How do you keep your musical memory bank fresh?
These days, I'm really thankful to Apple and iTunes because I'm able to do monthly playlists and keep it all organized. I always have thousands of new songs waiting to be heard, so it's actually rare that I listen to the same song twice these days. There's so much music in the world right now; everyone is a musician – it can be overwhelming. But whatever my time allows.
How many songs are in your collection?
I have no idea. I used to be able to keep track and say, I have this many CDs or LP's. Now I have multiple hard drives with music on them.
What's your process like on a movie?
I start with the script, and then I start to create playlists for specific scenes and I share that music with the director. For instance for Diego Luna's upcoming film Chavez, I have a list of songs for this tropical scene in Tijuana, another list of songs for the barbeque scene. Lee Daniels is another director I work with a lot, we worked on his new film The Butler together. Alejandro González Iñárritu – these are all guys who love music, so working with them is always fun.
What do you think of the younger musicians like 3Ball MTY coming out of Mexico? They weren't included in the movie, but I'm curious to know your thoughts.
I love them – and the botas picudas! I also love this group called Raul y Mexia [the sons of Hernan Hernandez of Los Tigres Del Norte]. These guys are mixing all sorts of sounds and genres in a fun way.
What's your personal take on the pointy boots – would you rock them?
As long as I can walk in them, sure. I don't believe in uncomfortable shoes or heels.