WALT & EL GRUPO: Screening & Conversation
Written and Directed by Theodore Thomas and Produced by Kuniko Okubo
Followed by a Q&A with the director and producer
Nicholas J. Cull, CPD University Fellow and Director of the USC Master's Program in Public Diplomacy, lead a Q&A discussion with the director and producer after the screening.
About Walt & El Grupo
It was 1941, a critical time for the world and for the Walt Disney Studio. When the U.S. Government asked Disney to be a cultural ambassador to South America, the stage was set for Walt's very own real-life adventure. With a group of handpicked artists, later called "El Grupo," Disney's WWII road trip achieved the impossible: goodwill. And in the process paved the way for two classic Disney films, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Brought to life through rare footage and enriched with never-before-seen bonus features, Walt & El Grupo is a story of inspiration, joy and hope.
Walt & El Grupo is available now on DVD.
35mm print courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
Exploring the connections between people and the ways that we affect each other is an ongoing interest of mine, whether it’s here and now or an impression that is left over distance, time, and culture. There are probably few personalities in the last century who have cast as long a shadow in this regard as Walt Disney, and the chance to follow the man and his times during a pivotal year in his life is a rich opportunity for a film. For me there is also a personal relationship with the story, because my father was one of the artists who went on the “South American trip.”
Soon after Kuniko Okubo, my partner, and I began research, we realized that our interest in the creative journey by the Disney artists was a piece of a larger and intriguing story: the push and pull relationship of politics and art. The dynamic between the two is a story, both past and present, that we found played out in one form or another in each of the five countries where we filmed.
In several ways, the act of making our film began to parallel the 1941 trip – the length of time we were traveling, the route we took, the places we filmed, the people we met, how both projects were about inter-American understanding – in this odd but pleasant time warp we strove to find ways to close the gap of time, to let the participants, travelers and hosts alike, speak and tell their story.
Along with laughter there is a sense of loss in our film. That combination throws into sharper focus the cultural contributions of art, and the remarkable personalities of the El Grupo artists. And, importantly, it helps separate Walt Disney the man from the mythic quality that surrounds him.
About Ted & Kuniko
Ted Thomas and Kuniko Okubo began work on Walt & El Grupo in 2003. A scouting trip took place in November of 2005, and production got into full swing in March of 2006. From the start, they were drawn to the wide-ranging story and geography of the film, with qualities that are epic and intimate, poignant and inspiring.