The best documentaries take viewers to worlds you never knew existed, even if they are right next door to our own. This is certainly the case with “Going Varsity in Mariachi,” a feature documentary playing at Sundance that focuses on, in the words of the official synopsis “the world of competitive scholastic mariachi.”
Filmmakers Sam Osborne and Alejandra Vasquez’s film charts “Edinburg North High School’s Mariachi Oro as a green team strives for the state championship.” If that synopsis sounds fascinating, well, the filmmakers thought so too. “We learned that for the first time Texas was sanctioning a mariachi competition,” director Alejandra Vasquez told TheWrap in Sundance. “And it immediately intrigued us.” (Tellingly the entire “Going Varsity in Mariachi” team was wearing matching letterman jackets.)
“I grew up listening to the music, so the music was super familiar to me, but I had no idea there was a competition on the high school level,” Vasquez said.
As to how they chose Edinburg North High School, located at almost the southernmost point of Texas, director Sam Osborn said that there was a reason beyond the school having “one of the best high school mariachi teams in Texas.” “We chose them because they aren’t geared towards trophies, trophies, trophies. It’s all about the developing skills that the students can bring into their adult life, whether or not they do music or education or anything,” Osborn explained. “That felt like a really good way to expand the film beyond just a competition and make it more about coming-of-age – what it’s like growing up in this area and not just focus on can we win?”
In terms of finding the story of the movie over the course of a year, Vasquez said, “We had to be open to what was happening as the year went on, as the season continued, and being open throughout the process.”
For the full conversation about “Going Varsity in Mariachi,” click on the video above.
TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE.