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THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA

About The Production
It is a land of contradictions: brutal heat and killer frosts, lengthy droughts and flash floods. Contrasts such as these are the defining characteristic of the border lands, and they serve as inspiration for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Director, producer, and actor Tommy Lee Jones set out to craft his first feature film by venturing into the wilds of West Texas, a harsh land close to his own heart. The native Texan has roamed this region his entire life and knows its terrain, its culture, and its peoples, Texans and Mexicans who live on opposite sides of a river that divides them … and binds them together.

The film Jones has created is a study of such contrasts, one whose Biblical twists turn oppressor into oppressed, hunter into hunted, and lawmen into lawless. Such a storyline might seem out of place or even far-fetched in many locales, but it is in fact an indigenous element of this land along the border and the people whose lives it dominates.

A TRUE CRIME OCCURS

The 1997 murder of Esequiel Hernandez Jr. was the first killing of an American citizen by a U.S. soldier since Kent State in 1970. The soft-spoken 18-year-old grew up along the banks of the Rio Grande. He knew the river. He knew its ways. He knew its people. But what he didn't know was that his own government had posted four heavily armed, fully camouflaged Marines a few hundred yards from his family's home. They had been sent to his Texas town on a counter drug mission, yet instead of surveilling smugglers the Marines stalked this innocent youngster for almost half an hour and, after receiving radio approval from their commanders, shot and killed Zeke "in self-defense” at a distance of 150 yards.

THE SYSTEM FAILS

One county over, a West Texan waited and watched as first one grand jury and then a second reviewed the evidence of this crime. A Congressional investigation ensued. Yet no one was ever charged for the murder of Esequiel Hernandez Jr. This failure not only infuriated Tommy Lee Jones, but it inspired him to condemn this injustice with the most powerful tool at his disposal: the art of filmmaking.

To create his border saga, Jones sought out a collaborator, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams). Jones had befriended Arriaga after watching Amores Perros, a film based on Arriaga's gripping script about life, love, and death in Mexico City. Arriaga's lucid ability to explore and evoke distinctive cultures motivated Jones to invite him to craft a much different narrative, one about the desolate lands and driven individuals who live and work along the border.

Together with Jones's co-producer, Michael Fitzgerald (Wise Blood, Under the Volcano, The Pledge), the trio set out in the winter of 2003 to create a film sparked by a senseless taking of a human life. In early 2004, they secured financing from Luc Beeson's French-based production company, EuropaCorp. Throughout this time Jones and Arriaga labored back and forth on the emerging script.

Jones and line producer Eric Williams (The Good Old Boys, The Alamo) scouted all locations; pre-production got under way in August. Two-time Academy Award winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Mission) signed on as cinematographer and filming began in September at Jones's West Texas ranch, as well as in Odessa, Van Horn, Shafter, Big Bend National Park, and Queretaro, Mexico.

The week before Thanksgiving, torrential rains forced a temporary hiatus due to mudslides, flood waters, and impassable roads. After 47 shooting days, most with 20 to 25 camera setups per day, the movie wrapped the first week in December.

Three weeks later, the film's editor, Roberto Silvi (Wise Blood, Tombstone), delivered his first cut. Marco Beltrami (I, Robot, Kingdom of Heaven) composed t

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