LOS TRAFICANTES: When a Drug Lord Finds Faith, Can His Movie Find an Audience? by Kurt Tuffendsam

“Faith based independent movies have gotten a bad reputation for white washing broken humanity and painting a flowery picture of followers of Jesus. This movie is anything but that.”                                                   -Kurt Tuffendsam, writer/producer, Los Traficantes

by KurtKurt Tuffendsam

Former drug lord Esteban Mendoza flanked by writer/producer Kurt Tuffendsam and writer/director Adam Watson at the red carpet premiere of ‘Los Traficantes’

Los Traficantes retells the incredible true story of Esteban Mendoza Cruz, former Mexican drug lord, who in 1999 experienced a major transformation after finding redemption through faith in Christ while serving a 33-year sentence in La Mesa prison in Tijuana. The prison, one of Mexico’s most corrupt, was called “El Pueblito” by locals that frequently entered to buy drugs, hire prostitutes, or carry out other illegal activities.

The most unlikely convert in the most unlikely of places, Esteban was discipled by missionaries visiting the prison. After a short time he began pastoring a Church that grew rapidly to nearly 600 inmates.

We set out from the beginning to make Los Traficantes an honest, true-to-life drug trafficking movie for a general audience so anybody who sees it could appreciate the transformation that has taken place in Esteban’s life. Director/writer Adam Watson and I were in complete agreement to steer clear from making this “another lame christian movie.” I’m most proud of the fact that more non-christians who see this film go crazy over it than christians. Latino audiences everywhere are going nuts over it. The trailer had 45,000 views on youtube the first week it was posted.

Estaban (John Paul) and Perla Mendoza (Erika Flores) face the future of life in prison with nowhere to turn, but up.

Making this movie on location in Tijuana while drug cartels were decapitating bodies and hanging them from highway overpasses was a really intense experience, but we felt it was so important to retell this true story in solidarity with Esteban’s churches and those who can’t just get up and leave when it gets too dangerous.  The screenplay eventually attracted other industry veterans to the project including film editor Daniel Padgett who was an editor on Wes Anderson’s ROYAL TENENBAUMS and THE LIFE ACQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU.

Not surprisingly, Christian distributors such as Sony Affirm who screened the movie have been attracted to the storyline but are not ready to make the jump to movies that won’t receive a PG rating and probably won’t “play in Peoria”. There are many though who believe there is a broader audience out there who want to see more movies that push the boundaries, like screenwriter Bart Gavigan (LUTHER, END OF THE SPEAR) who after seeing Los Traficantes said, “This is the bravest and most important Christian film I have seen in the last decade. It is raw, truthful, and filled with hope.”

Los Traficantes is being distributed in U.S. theaters by www.tugg.com. This is a unique crowd-sourcing movie theater distribution model. If you would like to support this movie and see others like it in the future, cast your vote by buying a ticket or even bringing it to your own local AMC, Regal, Rave, or other major theater.

Pastors from Mexico joined Mendoza and the Los Traficantes cast for a Q&A where the premiere audience got to hear firsthand how he escaped the cartel and began a new life helping rebuild lives rather than destroying them.

To find a screening near you or to arrange a screening, see: www.lostraficantesmovie.com/requestscreening


See Also: 

Hurry Up and Wait: Reflections on the Release of THE LEAST OF THESE, by Nathan Scoggins

Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Producer & Mentor Brian Bird

Why Too Many “Christian” Movies Suck, and Why It Matters, by Brennan Mark Smith