AFI Movie Club: EL NORTE – American Film Institute
El Norte Film Still - Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando


AFI Movie Club: EL NORTE

Following two Guatemalan teenaged siblings on their harrowing journey to escape tragic conditions in their own country, the groundbreaking EL NORTE was co-written and produced by AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Discipline Head Anna Thomas, who earned an Academy Award® nomination for her work. 


Click Here to Find Out How to Watch EL NORTE Now

WHAT’S EL NORTE – Reelgood

Watch AFI National Council member Tony Jimenez announce EL NORTE:

Watch AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Discipline Head Anna Thomas talk through scenes from her Academy Award® nominated film, which she co-wrote and produced:

Movie Trivia About Today’s Movie


At the time that EL NORTE was made, decades of civil war in Guatemala had resulted in countless human rights violations against the poor and indigenous populations. It was this tragic real-world backstory that inspired EL NORTE’s story of two Guatemalan teenagers seeking safety and a better life in the United States.   


Director Gregory Nava grew up on the border in a bilingual home – with family in Tijuana – but when he came to Los Angeles, he saw the Latino population relegated to the fringe of society. He said that, “I wanted to make a movie that gives a heart and soul to these shadows, to give a voice to the voiceless – so people could know what their journey is and have compassion.” 


According to director Gregory Nava, the narrative for EL NORTE was based on hundreds of interviews conducted with both refugees and border patrol agents. When he met with Mayan refugees from Huehuetenango – driven out by massacres enacted by the Guatemalan government – Nava recalls, “I was so deeply moved that I said, this is it, this is the story that needs to be told because people weren’t aware of this.” 


EL NORTE Gregory Nava and screenwriter Anna Thomas were among the filmmakers involved in the birth of the Independent Feature Project – through which “a small band of directors, writers and producers began gathering regularly to share creative ideas and discuss ways to increase resources for independent filmmakers.” As the nonprofit, member-driven organization grew, it evolved into the champion of diversity and independent voices that it is today, now known as Film Independent. 


In his glowing review of EL NORTE, critic Roger Ebert contextualized the unsung cultural importance of the demographic so frequently dismissed as illegal immigrants – noting that the film “tells their story with astonishing visual beauty, with unashamed melodrama, with anger leavened by hope. It is a GRAPES OF WRATH for our time.” 


Prior to EL NORTE, director Gregory Nava and co-writer Anna Thomas collaborated on Nava’s master’s thesis and debut feature, THE CONFESSIONS OF AMANS – a medieval costume drama shot on location in Spain, which was partially funded by the American Film Institute. Among their collaborations since are other notable films highlighting the Latino perspective and experience, including MY FAMILY/MI FAMILIA in 1995 and FRIDA in 2002. 


For their work on EL NORTE, Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Original Screenplay. 


For being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” EL NORTE was selected for inclusion in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1995. 


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Did you have a previous awareness about the real-world humanitarian crisis that led Rosa and Enrique to emigrate in EL NORTE? 

-With immigration such a vital topic in cultural and political discourse, did EL NORTE put a human face on the issue? How did EL NORTE change – or reinforce – views you may have held previously on the subject of immigration? 

-What are the cultural tensions that Rosa and Enrique experience during their journey in EL NORTE? Between Guatemala and Mexico? Between those countries and America? 

-Does “el Norte” live up to Rosa and Enrique’s expectations? Why or why not? 

-How does EL NORTE represent the American Dream? How do Rosa and Enrique’s experiences support or subvert it? Does the American Dream resonate differently for those not originally from America? 

-How would you rate EL NORTE? 

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