Inspired by the real-life story of NASA flight engineer José Hernández (portrayed by Michael Peña) A Million Miles Away follows him and his devoted family of proud migrant farm workers on a decades-long journey, from a rural village in Michoacán, Mexico, to the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, to more than 200 miles above the Earth in the International Space Station.
Watch the interviews with José Hernández and Director Alejandra Márquez Abella in the short video and read our extended Q&A below.
As the director, why is this story so special to you?
Márquez Abella: Meeting an astronaut, for one! Making my first English language feature was amazing [and] getting inspired by the material I had to work with.
Can you tell us a bit about the movie?
Hernández: It chronicles the life of José Hernández, a migrant farm worker who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. That dream was conceived when I was 10 years old, watching the very last Apollo mission. My father empowered me to believe I could do it. I was rejected [by NASA] not once, not twice, but 11 times. It wasn't until the 12th time that I finally got selected.
How did you get the tenacity, the perseverance, to keep going?
Hernández: Perseverance is a trait that I grew up with, with limited resources and always scrounging around, making sure we [could] make ends meet. I did get disappointed when I got rejected, but I would always say, “Look, what's the worst thing that could happen if I never get selected?” Wanting to be an astronaut motivated me to go to college, to graduate school, and work in a world premier laboratory. I had a great job, so if I never ever was selected, the consolation prize was not that bad—because I was enjoying what I was doing.
How did your family support your dream?
Hernández: This is a movie not about, “Hey Jose, he became an astronaut,” but rather is look at how a family worked together to achieve a common goal of getting José educated. And later in life [my] wife, providing that support that was so needed, and asking that profound yet simple question, “What do they have that you don't have?” If it was not for any of those folks, there's no way I would have been selected.
Did you have a favorite scene in 'A Million Miles Away'?
Márquez Abella: I love Adela (José’s wife) and José, when they're together, their scenes.
Was it a unique experience for you as the director, having the real person be a part of the project?
Márquez Abella: It was interesting. I had the chance to ask [questions]. But it was also difficult because I knew José had expectations about the portrayal of his own life, and that was intimidating at times. I would say I was more nervous about Adela and how she would receive the film.
What was her [Adela's] reaction?
Márquez Abella: She loved it. She was super nice, and they both are happy—so I'm happy.
Who do you think should watch this?
Hernández: Families. Parents should ask their kids, “What's your dream?” and “What do you want to be?” and discuss it with respect to the points that are made in the movie. I think it will be a healthy conversation to have because no one should go about their dreams by themselves.
What’s the message of this film?
Hernández: The American dream is alive and well, and if you're willing to work hard, you can achieve it. So, don't be afraid of dream big.