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Sons of Mezcal

Mezcal is more than an intoxicating spirit. It is the sacred link that binds modern-day mezcaleros to their ancestors.

Sons of Mezcal transports you into this living history, as it follows four families passing their traditions on to the next generation.

  • Stephan L Werk
  • Stephan L Werk
  • Kaj Hackinen
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 17 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 23, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    4K RAW Sony FS7; DCP in hand
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Denver, Colorado Premiere
    United States
    August 26, 2021
    US Premiere
  • San Francisco Documentary Film Festival
    San Francisco
    United States
    June 1, 2022
    San Francisco Documentary Film Festival
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Stephan L Werk

Stephan Werk is a Santa Monica, California native who grew up in the film and travel industry.

Stephan is a commercial photographer and director based in Denver, Colorado. "Sons of Mezcal" is Stephan Werk's first feature length documentary about mezcal, shot in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Director Statement

For me, the journey to create Sons of Mezcal is more powerful than anything I could ever explain. It lives deep in my heart and soul everyday, as it has evolved into a major part of who I am today. When I think about Sons of Mezcal, rather then hyper-focus on the nitty-gritty production details of a 3 year long process to create a work of art, my heart immediately rushes with respect and gratitude for all of the families and crew who greeted me with open arms to bring this story to fruition.

After conceptualizing the project for 3 years, in 2017, I finally had the opportunity to travel to Oaxaca to meet the Cortés, Parada, Vásquez and Méndez families. After spending significant time with each family, it was clear to me how important preserving Zapotec culture, family traditions and their ancestral calling for producing mezcal was. Upon meeting Don José Cortés, a 4th generation maestro mezcalero and the Cortés family patriarch, I knew immediately he would become the center point and catalyst for our story.

As we say in our tagline, “the film transports you into this living history”. Our goal was to observe the families daily lives, in large part to better understand the generational passing of knowledge that is fundamental to the sustainability of mezcal as a symbol of Mexican culture. Throughout the film, Don José Cortés provides an unscripted reflection of his mezcal experience in his native Zapotec language.

One of the biggest challenges of making Sons of Mezcal came in the recording and translation, as Don José Cortés delivers an all-important backdrop of unscripted narration in his native Zapotec language. We had to translate from Zapotec, the native ancient language, to Spanish and, in turn, to English. This process was extremely arduous, as the three languages do not directly translate and we were highly sensitive to losing the meaning and importance of Don José’s words during the translation.

One key aspect of the film is that we shot in a cinema verité style, which is largely observational rather than participatory. When you force yourself to stop and observe, you discover how many preconceived notions and narratives you may have brought with you. Instead, we wanted to allow the story to develop on its own, focusing on the relationships as they unfolded on screen. Although the cinema vérité style did not allow us to dive deeply into big issues that impact the mezcal category today, the observational approach allows the viewer to make a deeper emotional connection to the families whose lives are being portrayed.

By far the most difficult element of making Sons of Mezcal came well after we wrapping principal production. In 2020, the Cortés family lost two important souls featured in the film, Doña Crispina Hernández, matriarch of the Cortés family, as well as Don Rafael Méndez Cruz, who was a huge personality, talented mezcalero and genuine family man. Honestly, it really hurts knowing that neither of them will have the opportunity to experience Sons of Mezcal with me, but I know when I have a mezcal in hand, their spirit will always be present. It is with great honor that I had the opportunity to get to know both Don Rafael and Doña Crispina for who they were. I am extremely proud to continue sharing their legacy and stories.

Sons of Mezcal is more than just a film for me. The film not only represents other families, but mine as well, as my family tree has expanded across country borders. I hope audiences feel the love and attention that went into creating Sons of Mezcal. As Don José Cortés says, “You should never forget mezcal.”

Stephan Werk