The SPI Files: Ray Telles and The Storm That Swept Mexico

by Amy Baroch, Station Products & Innovation

This week we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by opening the SPI Files on director/producer Ray Telles whose recent film, The Storm That Swept Mexico airs on PBS later this month.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Ray Telles and I’m a director and producer at Paradigm Productions. We just completed The Storm That Swept Mexico, a 2 hour documentary and a website, which was funded by the NEH, ITVS and LPB. The website we’ve created with funding from ITVS has a number of interactive features, which are fun and useful. In the next week we’ll launch a series of three study guides and video modules for teachers to download from our site. These modules deal with the art, leaders and women of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

How long have you been at Paradigm Productions?
Paradigm Productions is a non-profit production company, which Rick Tejada-Flores and I founded about 15 years ago to create films and progressive media about history, art and social issues.

Before establishing Paradigm Productions what did you do?

I worked at KQED- San Francisco’s PBS station from 1980 to 1992 with a couple of breaks to do independent productions including a Frontline's Children of the Night and an hour for the “Americas” series for WGBH. In 1993, I went to work in New York at ABC’s Turning Point and then NBC’s “Dateline.”

You have a personal reason for creating a film about the Mexican revolution – can you elaborate about your family’s connection? Why do you think that the Mexican Revolution is important today? I grew up with stories of the Mexican Revolution. My grandfather on my mother's side and my great grandfather were involved in the anti re-electionist movement in the state of Chihuahua to overthrow the dictator Porfirio Diaz . My grandmother on my father’s side fled Mexico in the midst of the revolution (1914). The Mexican Revolution touched most Mexican and Mexican American families and its impact is still felt today. The role of the U.S. in the events leading up to and during the Mexican Revolution helped establish and maintain the complex relationship between the two countries that continues to play out in the 21st century.

We like to see producers working directly with local stations and reaching local communities in innovative ways. With The Storm That Swept Mexico you’ve ventured into educational video modules and lesson plans, incorporating additional footage not seen in the film -- What made you take this approach?
There is so much wonderful, important material and great stories that we were not able to incorporate in the 2 hour film. But we had the good fortune of obtaining ITVS support to develop educational video modules where we were able to use footage that did not make it into the film. These modules on Revolutionary Women, leaders and art with support curriculum materials for high school world history classes, which we believe are relevant and will engage students. The lessons help students connect these events in history to their own lives today in a meaningful, and we hope inspiring way.

While your film is about serious subject matter, you’ve created an interactive website to accompany the film, with a Facebook Quiz and Google Earth maps. Can you tell us more about these activities?
History can be fun and educational at the same time. It's really about storytelling. So our team set out to try to tell stories in fun and compelling ways that would attract audiences of all ages. We found that the Facebook Quiz was a fun way to engage our audience and the Google Earth maps were great at exploring the geography and history of Mexico.

Congratulations on the numerous awards you've earned for your work, from DuPont-Columbia Gold Baton to Emmys. Do any stand out for you as your favorites?
The Outstanding Career Achievement Award from ALMA/the National Council of La Raza means a lot to me because it recognizes the diversity of my work over the last 30+ years beginning in Spanish language television (Univision) at a local PBS station, for the ABC and NBC broadcast networks, Discovery, Nat Geo and as an independent producer. The fact that it was awarded by a Latino Civil rights organization, the National Council for La Raza, is especially rewarding, in that it acknowledges the work I've done in telling stories about Latino history and civil rights.

What’s the next big thing for you?

The Latino Americans series is being produced by WETA and is slated to air on PBS in 2013 and I'm one of the producers. Its the most comprehensive series on Latinos ever on PBS. This series has been in development for a long time and has funding from the NEH, CPB, and major foundations who are committed to solid historical research and storytelling. I believe that PBS does history better than anyone, so the series is a natural fit for public broadcasting.

And now for a few quick fire questions...

Android or iPhone? iphone
Dogs or cats? Dogs-we had a Mastiff who just passed away-he was 10
Elmo or Grover? Grover
I'm currently listening to... Los Lobos
I'm currently reading... The Wave by Susan Casey
I'm currently watching... The Good Wife
Most overused phrase: "In other words...."


  1. i truly appreciate Mr. Ray Telles for doing this type of work that sheds light on so many issues, people and events that are extremely valuable to Black and Brown communities through his professional work and obvious passion!

  2. Thanks - we are so glad you like the post. I'll pass this comment along to Ray as I'm sure he'd love to see your nice feedback.
    -Amy Baroch