Director / Writer: Justin Lerner
Producers: Mauricio Escobar, Justin Lerner, Jack Patrick Hurley, Ryan Friedkin
Cast: Karen Martínez, Rudy Rodríguez, Brandon López, Pamela Martínez, Juan Pablo Olyslager, Yolando Coronado
After her sister goes missing, Sarita, a working-class girl from Guatemala City, travels to the seaside town of Puerto Barrios to infiltrate a group of young gang members. Risking her life to join the gang, Sarita becomes involved with her sister’s dangerous ex and slowly gets closer to the truth about what happened to her.
TIFF Industry Selects screening date: September 12, 2021
Executive Producers: César Díaz, Pamela Guinea, Francisco Palarea Sinibaldi, Gino Falsetto, Juan I. Ayau
Cinematographer: Roman Kasseroller
Editors: César Díaz, Justin Lerner
Sound Design: Frank Gaeta
About CADEJO BLANCO:
Written & directed by Justin Lerner (Girlfriend, 2010 TIFF Official Selection & Gotham Independent Film Award winner), Cadejo Blanco is the story of Sarita a working-class girl from Guatemala City, who travels to the seaside town of Puerto Barrios to infiltrate a group of young gang members. Risking her life to join the gang, Sarita becomes involved with her sister’s dangerous ex and slowly gets closer to the truth about what happened to her.
Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Industry Selects section, Cadejo Blanco is a female-driven crime drama reminiscent of Maria Full of Grace and Miss Bala and addresses timely issues of lack of opportunities for women, youth violence and indiscriminate crime in Guatemala. As a part-time resident of Guatemala, Lerner spent years in Puerto Barrios interviewing young people with gang affiliations, collecting their life stories. For authenticity, he cast his interview subjects to play themselves in the film and then spent a year doing acting workshops with them. He encouraged each actor to revise the script as they saw necessary, even during shooting, a process that allowed the non-professional cast to ensure their stories were being properly represented on screen.
With Lerner’s direction, Karen Martínez (2013’s Cannes Un Certain Regard’s ‘A Certain Talent’ Ensemble Prize Winner for The Golden Dream) gives an indelible performance as Sarita, a young woman frightened by her sister’s disappearance yet determined to find her. Cast off the street in Puerto Barrios, Rudy Rodríguez shines as Andrés, a young man conflicted by his involvement in the gang while dreaming of more for himself. The majority of cast are non-professionals, former gang members who showcase onscreen a youthful innocence while also committing violent crimes to survive day to day.
Escaping death at every turn, Sarita’s journey into an unknown world of gang warfare and initiation is also a tale of survival, and a testament to her resilience and her unwavering determination to bring revenge upon the men who underestimated her. Without judgment and lacking in sentimentality, Cadejo Blanco highlights the lives of young kids and teens who find themselves without safety nets that for some are provided by family and governments, in their desire for a better life.
The film’s title Cadejo Blanco refers to a Guatemalan folklore story about a “Cadejo,” a four-legged animal, not quite a wolf or a dog, protecting people from harm. They are the unseen protectors, walking alongside you to keep you safe from danger.