Not many Hungarians have heard of you before. Could you tell me a little bit about your background, how did you become a director?
I was born and raised in Mexico in a little town called Tampico in the Gulf of Mexico. I lived there until I was around 18 years old, then I moved to study English in the US, in Austin, Texas. At that point, I did not know I wanted to make movies yet. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life.
It was not until I was there that I started exploring. I knew I kind of liked anything that had to do with storytelling. Since I can remember, since I was a kid, I loved telling, reading, or listening to stories.
I wasn’t necessarily a film consumer.
I was reading a lot of books because I like to imagine my own story. Then eventually when it was time to pick, there was not an option not to go to university. My parents said I must go to university. So, I said, well, if I'm going to go to university, why don’t I go to something I'm attracted to? In the beginning, I thought it was acting.
Eventually, I ended up in film school. That's how everything began. I started making short films and they started getting a lot of attention in the film festival world. Then, right before I graduated, I saw Schindler's List by Spielberg, and it had a very deep impact on me as an artist.
I remember walking out of the theater saying, that's the kind of cinema I want to make. That's how I ended up looking for projects that had that DNA, films that not only entertain but also explore deeper themes, and existential questions.
I don't like to make movies that give answers, but ones that propose questions, so we can answer them together as a society.
Sound of Freedom is one of those films.
José Alejandro Gómez Monteverde born 13 July 1977, is a Mexican film director. His first film, Bella, took top prize at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival by winning the "People's Choice Award". After US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush saw the film, Monteverde was invited to sit with the First Lady in her private box during the annual State of the Union speech in 2007. He directed and co-wrote Little Boy, a film set during World War II, released in 2015, then came Sound of Freedom which he directed and co-wrote, starring Jim Caviezel, Mira Sorvino, and Bill Camp. It was shot in 2018 and was set to be released by 2020, but because of the acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney and the film's subsequent shelving, it was not released until Angel Studios acquired it. He has also directed an upcoming film Cabrini, which is based on the life of Frances Xavier Cabrini. Monteverde is married to American actress Ali Landry and they have three children. His father and brother were found dead with fatal head wounds in 2015, approximately two weeks after they were kidnapped from their home.
How did it exactly happen that you found this story and started the process? Did it find you or did you look for it and stumble upon it?
- It found me, I didn't look for it. I am trying to always be aware of the stories that go around and see which one grabs me, which is a dangerous thing to do, because you may end up with too many stories. In this case, it was like that, I was already writing something else.
I saw a little news report on this matter - it grabbed me and would not let go. A group of friends and family was discouraging me, telling me not to go diving in into this theme because it's “a little too dark” and it's not “the most commercial kind”, so it wouldn’t be good for business.
But the calling was a little stronger than all those challenges, concerns, and fears.
Eventually, I ended up diving in fully and just started writing the film with my co-writer Rod Barr. I thought we were just going to write a screenplay and the movie was never going to get made. But there was this energy between a collective force to make this happen because that's what a movie like this needs. You cannot do it by yourself. So little by little, I found my co-writer, we found the actors, had the funding, locations, and producers, and then everything came together. We shot the film, and then it was forgotten for many, many years. It was put on a shelf. It was just like good wine. It was aging till we could find the perfect distributor, Angel Studios. They came on board and gave us an opportunity. Not much later the film became extremely successful.
Were you surprised by the impact and by the success Sound of Freedom received?
- Yes, definitely. Everybody was telling me that it was not going to make any money. It was not going to get distributed. Many times you make a movie and they say, that movie may be successful to a certain degree. But when they tell you the opposite, that no one wants to see a film about this theme, no one wants to distribute it, and it is very difficult to market, you see all these challenges and finally end up on the other side of the spectrum, is very surprising.
It is like if you are doing a horse race where everybody has a shot, but then they come to you directly and say, you should not even be racing. You're not even going to make it. Forget about getting the last place, you're not even going to finish the race. Then to end up in many ways winning the race, it is extremely surprising.
Sometimes we make the mistake of believing other people's fears and making them our own. They are traps in life that we must be careful not to fall into. So, there were challenges, but we are here now, and we are very excited.
What do you think was the secret that led this film to get so much attention?
I don't know if I could dare to decipher the code or the secret, but I can give you my opinion of what I think happened.
This was a subject that had been under our noses. It is a taboo that we know exists, but it is very difficult to talk about it.
Very difficult. I started realizing this when I was writing the screenplay, and as started talking about it I could sense a shift of tone at the dinner table. The atmosphere would change because it is almost like we are embarrassed about this part of the human experience, of this sight of the human being. The abuse of children has been a taboo that existed almost since the beginning of our existence. They used to sacrifice children thousands of years ago in many different cultures. It has been happening and it is just hard to talk about it.
When this movie was made one of my main goals was to make a movie that audiences could watch and actually enjoy. Even though it's a dark subject, you don't make movies not to be enjoyable. You still must put them under the spell of the magic, otherwise, just make a documentary. You must use music and cinematography, you must create a vehicle that helps people navigate these very dark rivers.
When we made this movie, we knew that there was an audience for the film. We just had to get to them, and Angel Studios understood how to tap into that audience. I don't know if I want to use the word boycott, but there was a lot of resistance against the film. We got a lot of people attacking the film for the most part very unfairly without doing any background research on what the motive of the film was.
They came out strong to attack the film. I think that backfired because the people who had already seen the film came out and defended it.
When the audience defends a film, it creates a massive viral reaction. That's what I think happened. I'm not an expert on what makes a movie successful. But I did see the audience defending this film dramatically and I am continuing to see the money flowing. I don't want to generalize, but a lot of the media coming in strong, attacking the film created this energy for people to come see the film.
Sound of Freedom is a 2023 American crime thriller film directed and co-written by Alejandro Monteverde, starring Jim Caviezel, Mira Sorvino and Bill Camp. Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a former U.S. government agent who embarks on a mission to rescue children from sex traffickers in Colombia. The plot centers around Ballard's Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-sex trafficking organization. The film was released on July 4, 2023, by Angel Studios. It was a sleeper hit, becoming one of the most successful independent films in history. It received mixed reviews from critics, while audience reception has been highly positive. The movie made it into the top ten grossing films of the year in the US after earning $184,177,725 by the end of the year,
What was it like for you to meet the real-life FBI agent, who gave you the inspiration for the movie, Tim Ballard, in person?
I mean, in the beginning, I just wanted to meet him to download more information about the subject. I was already in the making of the movie. It was based on fiction. Then, when I met him,
I realized that his real story was much better than my fiction.
That was when we had a detour and we started discussing writing based on his life instead of the movie I was already writing.
After some talks and negotiations, we ended up doing just that and I ended up spending a lot of time with him, getting to know the subject better, getting to know his life, the sacrifices that he had to make. He had to leave his family, his job, his security, his financial stability, and go to other countries to rescue children. To me, that was the biggest and most admirable thing.
What are you planning next? I'm sure that you have many ideas for upcoming movies.
- Yeah. I have a movie coming out on March 8th, which is International Women's Day. It's a beautiful film about the power of the voice of a woman. The movie shows the power of the immigrant and how one person can literally change the world. In this case, she was a woman who came to America when women had no voice. In the late 1800s, she revolutionized New York.
Then I am starting pre-production of another film, which is about the slaughter of the innocents when Herod sent to kill every child under two years old in Judea. That is where we are. It will be a biblical film in the sense that it was written in the Bible, but it's also a historical film because it really happened. I have been working together a lot with Jewish historians from Israel directly. We're tackling the story from several angles.