Jan 27, 2023 - News

Sundance film spotlights competitive high school mariachi

A high school mariachi band performing on stage.

A still from "Going Varsity in Mariachi." Photo: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

"Going Varsity in Mariachi," a documentary about the high stakes of high school mariachi competitions in Texas, is earning acclaim at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Details: The film follows the highs and lows of Edinburg North High School's Mariachi Oro, whose 20 members vie to win an upcoming state championship.

  • Set in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Edinburg, the narrative doesn't touch on subjects like state politics or immigration.
  • Instead, students are focused on relationships, college applications and mastering their "gritos" — a distinct yell used in the genre to express joy and pain.
  • It was directed by Mexican-American filmmakers Sam Osborn and Alejandra Vasquez, who previously shot a short documentary about Mariachi Oro in 2019. Luis A. Miranda Jr. is a co-producer.

Context: The University Interscholastic League, which oversees nearly all school sports competitions in Texas, held its first annual state mariachi contest in 2019, prompting more schools to launch programs.

Zoom in: Local group Mariachi Juvenil de Utah performed at the film's premiere last weekend.

  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox attended after receiving an invite from Miranda, Osborn told Axios.

State of play: Osborn said they chose to film Mariachi Oro because the band's director, Abel Acuña, was determined to win more titles, but also to help students succeed outside of the sport. "That really struck us as important to the story," he said.

The bottom line: A traditional folk genre that emerged from Jalisco, Mexico, between the late 1700s and early 1800s, mariachi is "thriving" in Texas, Vasquez told Axios.

  • "These competitions are growing and getting bigger and bigger, and getting more competitive," she said.

What's next: While no buyer has been announced publicly for the documentary, Osborn said he hopes it will be available to a larger audience.

Go deeper: Utah's mariachi child prodigies take the stage


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