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Julio Quintana

Filmmaker Spotlight: Julio Quintana

Cat Elliott

This installment of Filmmaker Spotlight is dedicated to a mentee of Terrence Malick whose second feature film was recently released on Netflix, landing on the streamer’s “Top 10” list. We’re talking about Julio Quintana’s Blue Miracle, an inspirational tale led by Dennis Quaid and Jimmy Gonzales.

But let’s start at the beginning, before Quintana made it to a successful Netflix release. His official site is rife with details of how the filmmaker’s backstory shaped his work. Quintana’s parents got out of Fidel Castro’s Cuba to settle in California, and he was born in Los Angeles. Multiple moves throughout his childhood, including to Alaska, helped inspire Quintana’s interest in “cultural differences and commonalities.” He jumped from studying mechanical engineering to religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin and then got a second degree in TV and film after becoming fascinated with “the role that stories play in forming human identities.” 

From there, Quintana worked his way up to the writer/director chair, collecting credits as a camera operator and cinematographer on projects such as TLC’s My 600-Lb Life. He worked on Malick’s The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, developing his own style under the auteur’s tutelage. And Malick executive produced Quintana’s feature debut, a Martin Sheen-starring drama entitled The Vessel. The New York Times review of it praised the budding filmmaker’s work, noting his display of a “similarly exquisite visual acumen [to Malick].”

A look at the cast and crew list of The Vessel shows that it was a family affair. Lucas Quintana, brother to its writer and director, played the lead character. And it was produced by the filmmaker’s wife, Marla Quintana. The couple’s work partnership extended to succeeding projects, such as their Emmy-winning Showtime documentary Disgraced, which both Julio and Marla executive produced. 

Then came Blue Miracle, a story that the filmmaker both wrote and directed about actual events in 2014 after Hurricane Odile devastated Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. “To save their cash-strapped orphanage, a guardian and his kids partner with a washed-up boat captain for a chance to win a lucrative fishing competition,” reads the Netflix synopsis. Gonzales, known for his work on FX’s Mayans M.C. and AMC’s Lodge 49, plays the role of the orphanage caretaker, and during a recent interview, he shared his experience working with Quintana on Blue Miracle. “I had just wrapped up another project when he had hired me, and he had me over at his house for a week,” the actor recalled. “We just sat down and broke the script down line by line, word by word, beat by beat for a full week — for eight hours a day and sometimes more. But our love of story was really what brought us together.”

For his part, Quaid shared during an Entertainment Tonight interview how he was attracted to the project. “If it [the story] was a piece of fiction, the movie wouldn’t be made, because nobody would believe anything like this,” the A-lister asserted. “And that’s what I was drawn to when I read the script.” One Blue Miracle review expanded on the sentiment. “It’s a made-for-the-movies [real-life] story, but in the wrong hands it could be just another corny fable about an anonymous, ragtag group of underdogs coming from behind to win the day,” says The Washington Post. “Thanks to the taste and shrewd judgment of director Julio Quintana, this funny, heartwarming movie provides just the right combination of adventure, character-driven humor, spiritual depth, and inspirational uplift.” So considering Quintana’s journey from studying mechanical engineering to his sophomore feature endeavor earning a top spot on Netflix and critical praise, we think he’s certainly earned this filmmaker spotlight.