COLLIDER: ‘Aristotle and Dante’ Director Talks Balancing Fairytale Quality With Painful Truths
September 8, 2023
Writer/Director Aitch Alberto also talks about her own journey of self-discovery, and the helpful advice she got from producer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
THE BIG PICTURE
- Writer/director Aitch Alberto read the novel "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" in 2014 and immediately saw the potential for a movie adaptation.
- Alberto obtained permission from author Benjamin Alire Sáenz to make the film after visiting him in El Paso and discussing her vision for the story.
- The film intentionally creates a grounded world with a fairytale-like quality, using light and cinematography to explore magic and surrealism. Alberto's personal journey of self-discovery paralleled the themes of the film.
From writer/director Aitch Alberto and based on the novel of the same name by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the beautiful coming of age drama Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe follows two teenage Mexican American loners, Aristotle Mendoza (Max Pelayo) and Dante Quintana (Reese Gonzales), whose friendship leads them each on a road to self-discovery that is life-changing. Their summer of adventure, in El Paso in 1987, teaches them that a world of infinite possibilities is not without danger and consequence, but that they can overcome their fears together.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Alberto talked about the impact the novel had on her when she first read it, how she went about getting the author’s permission to make the movie, her own journey of self-discovery that coincided with the whole filmmaking process, being very intentional about the look and feel of the story, whether she’d be interested in continuing to tell the story of Aristotle and Dante since the book has a sequel, the good advice she got from producer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and what made her cry on set.
Collider: How did you end up being the one to write and direct this? You read this novel back in 2014, so did you start trying to adapt it and make it into a film then? Was this just a very long journey to production?
AITCH ALBERTO: I read the book in 2014 in one sitting and I so clearly saw what the movie could be while reading the book. That was the beginning of a very long journey. I had done a couple of short films, but I really have no business being like, “I’m gonna be the person to tell this story.” I had a producer friend find out that the rights were available, which to me was so shocking because it’s such an undeniable, beautiful story that I thought someone had already scooped them up, but I think it was also an invitation for me to be the person that tells it and to find a way to tell that story. So, it took about two years. In 2016, when I had completed a draft of the script, I wrote to Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the author of the novel, and I said, “I did this thing. Can I come and visit you?” So, he invited me to El Paso. I immersed myself for four days in Ari and Dante’s world, and after those four days, we sat at a diner in Las Cruces, New Mexico and he said, “These boys were mine, and now I give them to you.” That was the true beginning of his support and his validation, to find a way to tell this story. And then, it was seven years to set and 9 years to date.