Audiences will get a chance to see Disney’s inaugural feature documentary for free in select theaters during a one-week period beginning Aug. 5.
“Mija,” which follows two daughters of undocumented immigrants navigating the music industry, will get its Academy Award qualifying run later in the month before debuting on Disney+ on Sept. 16.
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“We weren’t able to get a rating in time for our planned theatrical, so our actual qualifying run is shifting a bit,” says Marjon Javadi, VP of Documentary Film & Docuseries for Disney Original Documentary, a part of Disney Branded Television. “But rather than pushing our entire release plans, we decided simply to keep our current releases and open them to the public. This film is a love letter to immigrants, their children and the power of a dream.”
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The debut feature of Mexican American filmmaker Isabel Castro, “Mija,” premiered to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In March, Disney Original Documentary acquired worldwide rights to 88-minute film.
“As we are looking to build out Disney Original Documentary, we’ve been very keen on finding authentic narratives, character-driven storytelling, and also filmmakers that bring in an approach and style to their work,” says Javadi. “Mija” is such an authentic portrayal of what it means to be a first-generation kid and to pursue your dreams and balance those dreams while also caring for your family. The music element really spoke to us as well.”
A four-time Emmy nominated filmmaker, Castro began working on “Mija” in 2019 and continued to film throughout the pandemic.
John Lasseter’s Second Act
In early 2020 while preparing to direct Luck, Skydance Animation’s first feature film, Peggy Holmes met with some unlikely consultants on the story. The lead character in Luck, an unlucky yet indomitable young woman named Sam, has grown up in foster care, and so Holmes interviewed kids with similar experiences in Ventura County, California, to better understand their perspective and help find the emotional core of Sam’s story. “We met with these young people and they shared their stories with us, and we were so incredibly moved by their positivity, their generosity, their never-give-up kind of attitude,” Holmes says.
“As a teenager, I felt like there was a shortage of stories about what it meant to come of age as an immigrant or as the child of immigrants in the United States,” says Castro. “I wanted to tell the kind of story I craved myself, as a Mexican immigrant when I was figuring out my identity, family, and community.”
Disney Original Documentary has two high-profile docus in production: Ron Howard’s untitled Jim Henson film and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and the Years That Made His Legend,” directed by R.J. Cutler and David Furnish.
“Our goal is to build global empathy through authentic storytelling and to embrace the creative nonfiction form,” says Javadi. “We want to show real-life journeys and real-life stories about inspiration and hope.”
“Mija” played the festival circuit throughout the spring, including runs at True/False Film Festival, Miami Film Festival, and CPH: DOX. Castro says she is looking forward to the film’s debut on Disney+ in September.
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“To have this film, which is a film about being the daughter of immigrants, live on Disney’s platform feels like my biggest professional and personal achievement,” says Castro. “To have the film’s themes and topics reach viewers worldwide is incredible and will hopefully prompt conversation about what the experience means.”
Last year, Disney Original Documentary qualified their first title, the docu short “Sophie & the Baron,” for Oscar consideration. The film made the documentary short shortlist. Tickets to “Mija” will be free in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
“The way to think about it is that our films are serving an adult audience, but they are family-friendly,” says Javadi. “How we frame it is, if your four-year-old walks into a room, you don’t need to shut (the doc) off. So there are themes and parameters that we really work with as Disney to make it family-friendly. But that doesn’t mean you need to watch it with your five-year-old; it just means if your five-year-old is in the room, there’s not a faux pas.”
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