El Regreso (The Return) is the bittersweet story of Antonio, a 30-year-old Costa Rican writer who is unexpectedly summoned home from New York by his family after 10 years away. Upon his return, Antonio finds a country that has shed its peaceful, bucolic coffee-farming past: roads are congested with traffic and residents have erected giant fences to fend off would-be thieves. He has trouble relating to his sick father; his sister (now a single mother) struggles to get by; and his best friend has become a heavy metal head.
Making the film was an intensely personal effort for Costa Rican filmmaker Hernán Jiménez, who wrote, directed and acted in the movie as the central character. At 31, Jiménez is not only about the same age as Antonio, but he also experienced the same “rough re-entry” experience.
Although Jiménez’ own journeys home were more frequent, the country he (and Antonio) returned to was “basically unrecognizable after 10 years away,” he says, “The social and economic decay is palpable. Every time I come back, the streets are worse, traffic is worse, and there’s more violence, more crime and more inequality.”
Despite the film’s less-than-perfect portrayal of Costa Rica, support for the up-and-coming director is strong back home. Jiménez raised over half the film’s $100,000 budget through individual donations—largely from fellow Costa Ricans—on Kickstarter.org, an online fundraising forum that has become increasingly popular among artists, musicians and filmmakers around the hemisphere.
El Regreso premiered in Costa Rica in September to rave reviews and soldout shows for several weeks. In August, El Regreso won the award for best international film at New York’s 2011 International Latino Film Festival.
“Winning the award was fantastic,” says Jiménez. “It reassured me that there is some universal truth beneath the story. Everyone has departed and returned home at some point; everybody has gone back to where they came from.”