Documentary short “Souleros” -- directed by Jesús Cruz -- about Bay Area soul music collectors, was recently featured in the San Francisco Latino Film Festival and won Best Documentary Short at the 2022 Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth, Texas

[Story and lead photo by Eduard Navarro; Bay Area-based filmmaker Jesús Cruz poses for a portrait in San Francisco. Cruz’s recent short documentary “Souleros” was recently featured in the San Francisco Latino Film Festival and won Best Documentary Short at the 2022 Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth, Texas]

“I was drawn to cinema since I was a child,” said Jesús Cruz, who spent part of his childhood and attended high school in the Bay Area township of Newark. 

Despite being raised in the Bay Area, he maintains important ties to Mexico. In particular, he feels connected to Tapalpa, Jalisco. He describes key memories of his childhood in his hometown of Jalisco. His first kiss, his first girlfriend, and his grandmothers. 

His son and ex-partner also live in the town, which means that two to three times a year, Cruz travels to visit. 

But it was in high school that he discovered one of the four passions that define him: filmmaking. Today, with his short film “Souleros,” Cruz, 41, is becoming one of the most promising young Spanish-language filmmakers in California. “Souleros” was selected for this year’s San Francisco Latino Film Festival, an event that showcases the most notable Latino filmmakers in Northern California. 

“Souleros” is a documentary that sheds light on a group of local collectors, who dedicate their time to cataloging and maintaining soul music, even from the most obscure sources. The self-described “Souleros” go to great lengths to identify and collect unreleased, little-known recordings and other peculiarities that would otherwise be easily forgotten, or worse, lost. 

Similarly, it was Cruz who, by rediscovering interviews conducted by him and his team 10 years ago, gives voice, entity and eternity to this group of collectors. Some of the “Souleros” who appear in the documentary have passed on, and their relatives have thanked Cruz for immortalizing them. 

It’s perhaps in this way that Cruz achieves what he says is his ‘raison d’être,’ his reason for being: to give voice and value to stories of people and groups in the Bay Area that have yet to be told. 

Cinema for Cruz began with wanting to make his father laugh, and he felt pride and accomplishment when he succeeded. That’s how he judged he was doing it right. 

“My father was a very serious person,” Cruz says. Although he points out that documentaries are a more impactful medium, comedy and horror are his goal as a genre and where he spent his early efforts. He began by acting, something he still has in mind. 

“In Mexico, I saw that there was a play that was going to be performed at the school. I volunteered,” says Cruz. “It was comedy. I really liked the reaction I got from the audience.” 

He then tackled the technique of producing and directing, enlisting classmates and friends for various experiments. He used his mother’s VHS-C compact cassette recorder, where his “movies” were mixed with family memories, overdubbing tapes already used for vacations and family events. 

By the time he was 16, he had his own television show, something that made him a local celebrity. The local Newark channel, TCI Channel 6, devoted 30 minutes to “For the Raza,” a program managed by Cruz where he released his recordings. 

“We posted everything. Everything,” Cruz recalls. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez, they would act out throwing tables and chairs at each other, simulating fights and recording them for the show. He remembers some of his peers from Newark Memorial High School, some who strayed and went down the wrong path, or some who are no longer here. 

“The movies saved me,” he says. 

Still from short documentary “Souleros”

Self-taught, Cruz’s technical skills have developed through his work on local television media production teams, such as KMVT in Mountain View, or his current job managing the media production at Linkedin from their headquarters in Sunnyvale and San Francisco. 

He would have liked to pursue formal film studies at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, but financial demands prevented him from doing so. He says that he has created his work using his resources and would like to have additional resources to expand his production.

In this spirit, “Souleros” has become his pilot. With its success, the hope is to grab the attention of production companies such as Netflix or HBO and turn the project into a series or a complete film. “There are still many stories to tell,” he says. 

That said, creativity is what sprouts and drives him. His other three passions, oldies, wrestling and comedy, complement his love for cinema in all its aspects. 

What’s next for Cruz? Perhaps a project related to Lucha Libre. “I’m a huge fan,” he tells us. Cruz was a promoter of Mexican wrestling in California and opened the first school of this discipline in the state. For years, he dedicated himself full-time to his company, Promo Califa. It’s a subject he has mastered. Today, others have picked up the baton and continue with the school, although Cruz remains attentive and maintains a close relationship.

Asked how he sees the Latinx filmmaking community in the Bay Area, Cruz says he sees it emerging. 

“I’d like to see a little bit more of a Latino film community in the Bay Area,” he says.  

Film has the ability to tell stories and highlight moments and people. “Souleros” is a step in this direction.