3rd San Joaquin International Film Festival

Walt & El Grupo
Documentary Feature-Length Film
106 min | USA | 2008
Writer-Director: Theodore Thomas
Language: English, Spanish, English Subtitles

Closing Night Film
Central Valley Premiere


IN PERSON: Director Theodore Thomas (alumnus of the University of the Pacific) and Producer Kuniko Okubo


"The year was 1941, and the world was on the brink of war. In an effort to improve relations between the Americas, the Roosevelt administration called upon one of Hollywood’most influential filmmakers to embark on a special goodwill tour. Written and directed by Theodore Thomas (“Frank and Ollie”) and produced by Kuniko Okubo, the documentary "Walt & El Grupo" chronicles the amazing ten-week trip that Walt Disney and his hand-picked group of artists and filmmaking talent (later known as “El Grupo”) took to South America at the behest of the U.S. Government as part of the Good Neighbor Policy.

Little is known about this chapter in the life of an extraordinary man, one that Disney would later recall as “the toughest period I’ve had in my whole life.” Within just three short years after the phenomenal success of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the Walt Disney Studios experienced a chain of financial challenges that ultimately led to the infamous animators strike. Also during this time, the Roosevelt administration had growing concerns about Nazi and Fascist influence in Latin America, and the rest of the world was slipping further into war. In stark contrast to these trying times, Disney and his colorful group of artists found themselves on a lively trip full of hope and discovery as they explored various South American cities, spending the majority of their time in the countries of Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The group was saddled with an unusual assignment – while gathering story material, immersing themselves in the culture, befriending local artists, meeting political leaders and attending countless functions, their journey was also a de facto diplomatic mission, and as a result, the studio produced the classic films“Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.”

Shot on film in five countries, "Walt & El Grupo" is a tale that still resonates on both sides of the equator. The film time travels in Walt Disney’s footsteps through the use of personal letters and stunning artwork from the trip, remembrances by descendants and survivors, and extraordinary never-before-seen footage. "Walt & El Grupo" brings together an intertwined story of art and politics, the poignancy of a bygone age, and a legendary artist during one of his most trying times.

A Walt Disney Pictures release presented by The Walt Disney Family Foundation Films, in association with Theodore Thomas Productions. Executive produced by Walter E.D. Miller


Los Angeles Times
USA Today
Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times


"Walt & El Grupo" held its World Premiere at the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival, internationally premiered at the 2008 Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival in Brazil and held its European Premiere at the 2008 Rome International Film Festival. In September 2009, the film opened a theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles.



Son of legendary animator Frank Thomas, Theodore Thomas was born and raised in Los Angeles. Extended stays in India and Japan, and world travels with a camera, eventually led him to making motion pictures. A Fellow of the Sundance Institute and a recipient of a California Arts Council Screenwriting Fellowship, Ted is also a published still photographer and a musician specializing in traditional jazz.

The creative team of Theodore Thomas and his wife, Kuniko Okubo, has received critical praise and audience recognition worldwide for film work in diverse formats and genres, including feature documentaries, broadcast narratives and documentary work, and Circlevision and IMAX films. Whether writing and directing on assignment or producing one of their own films, their collaborative work is characterized by imagination, strong story sense, and an ability to give complex themes emotional resonance and context. In their hands, a film about how toys are made became a musical fantasy of two wind-up toys in search of their origins ("Where the Toys Come From," The Disney Channel). They have turned a story of grizzly bears and humans into a parable of cultural conflict ("The Grizzlies," National Geographic), captured the philosophical musings of the first men to walk on the moon ("Return from Space," Toho-Towa), and essayed the life-long friendship of two artists who created many of the most enduring moments in cinematic history ("Frank and Ollie," Buena Vista). And all of it has been done with an engaging humor, lyricism, and poignancy that has brought accolades including an Emmy, a Writers Guild Award, two more Writers Guild nominations, an International Documentary Association Award nomination, top film festival award from San Francisco, and recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (source: www.waltandelgrupo.com)


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FRI. 02/26 at 7:00PM
The State Theatre, Modesto


Director: Theodore Thomas
Kuniko Okubo, Walter Elias Disney Miller, Mark L. Rosen
Cinematographer: Shana Hagan
Editor: Lisa Palattella
Music: Tony Blondal, Brooke Wentz


Walt Disney Pictures


Fumi Kitahara



IPS at University of the Pacific

School of International Studies University of the Pacific


The State Theatre Modesto


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