Sundance 2023: Going Varsity In Mariachi

Directed by: Alejandra Vasquez & Sam Osborn
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Maria Athayde


What do you think about when you think about Texas? When I think about Texas God, guns, and football quickly come to mind. But “Going Varsity in Mariachi” showcases a different side of that state and focuses on various competitive mariachi teams who hope to win the state championship. There are three sections in varsity mariachi: (1) violin section, (2) trumpet section, (3) “Harmonia” section, and everyone sings. We are told that the best teams in the state come from the Rio Grande Valley, a collection of towns across the US-Mexico border where our story begins.

Starting on the first day of school we are introduced to Bella, the varsity captain, of Edinburg North’s High School “Mariachi Oro”. We are also introduced to Abel Acuña, a teacher and musical director for the team. As the story progresses we learn more about the history of mariachi, Edinburg North High School, and the members of the team. Through the eyes of the team members and director Acuña we see the ups and downs of high school, for example applying to college, as they prepare to compete in “Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza” and the “State Mariachi Festival”. “Mariachi Oro” are underdogs (of sorts) they come from a low-income school and in the words of Abel Acuña “kids do not have many opportunities”. But being a member of the team was a way to serve something bigger than themselves, connect with their culture, and dream about a better future.

The best part of this documentary is the story it is trying to tell and while the execution falters, especially in the second half when we are introduced to two more mariachi teams, this documentary is too heartwarming to ignore. This is one of the rare instances where a longer runtime could have benefited the story and we could learn more about other schools’ mariachi teams. But in the end, it was the little things that won me over and spoke to me the most. My favorite moments were when Acuña would switch from English to Spanish and Spanish to English mid-sentence. As someone who grew up in a bilingual household, I cannot explain how relatable that was. Another detail that caught my attention was how Vasquez and Osborn filmed the high school often holding on shots that featured bilingual signs. All around “Going Varsity in Marachi” is an enjoyable journey that highlights the impact that music, community, and teamwork can have on young people’s lives.

“Going Varsity In Mariachi” Trailer

“Going Varsity In Mariachi” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Sundance Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdSerializd, Twitter, and view more of what she’s up to here.

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