Christian Camargo didn’t originally sign up to direct The Last Manhunt. But when it became clear that the movie — which tells the tragic, true love story that took place in 1909 between a young Chemehuevi couple named Willie Boy and Carlota — would not be able to go on without him, he stepped up to the task.
“I was just going to be an actor. I was just going play the sheriff for Jason [Momoa], and then literally, I think it was about a month before physical production began, [Momoa] called me and just said his schedule, his life, everything was just too much and he wasn’t able to focus on it, and it was either the movie wasn’t going happen, or I take it over,” Christian Camargo told MovieMaker after the film’s world premiere at the Pioneertown International Film Festival.
The Last Manhunt, which is co-written by Jason Momoa and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, is a retelling of the true story of star-crossed lovers Willie Boy and Carlota, a couple who both belonged to the Chemehuevi tribe of Joshua Tree, California, but whose families forbade their marriage. One fateful night in 1909, Willie Boy went to Carlota’s father to ask for her hand in marriage, but an argument ensued that left Carlota’s father dead of a gunshot wound. Frightened, the young couple escaped together into the desert, spurring what has been called the last great manhunt of the wild west.
The story of Willie Boy has been told many times before, including in the 1969 film Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here which starred Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, and Robert Blake. When the story first hit the news in 1909, Willie Boy was branded as a murderer and an outlaw in the media. But Camargo was a good fit to direct the project because he was committed to retelling the story in the way that it had been passed down through the oral history of the Chemehuevi tribe rather than centering the white male-dominated “Cowboys vs. Indians” perspective.
“I really like making movies that people either love or hate, no in-between,” Camargo said. “If you like it, if you don’t like the movie — doesn’t matter. The Native community likes it. They feel heard, and the conversation has sort of corrected a little bit of history. So to me, anything [else] is just gravy.”
As a long-time resident of the Joshua Tree area where the true events of the story took place, Camargo was equipped with the proper knowledge he would need to navigate the desert with a film crew.
“I knew the land very well,” he said.
But by the time he signed on to not only star as the sheriff but direct the film as well, there was no time to waste — he was all in.
“It was a super challenging thing to step into a movie that had already been started and then try to sort of figure it out from there. So it was this kind of weird, collaborative thing. I didn’t have much time — I didn’t have any time to really do any kind of script development or wrap my head around what we were trying to do, so what I did is, I stripped everything down and made it as simplistic as possible,” he said.
“This movie is about… Willie Boy the desert runner, and I just wanted it to be a run through the desert, basically, but in a kind of magical, mystical way.”
In 2014, Camargo made his directorial debut with the dramedy Days and Nights, which he also wrote and acted in. Camargo is also a successful actor, having appeared in films including The Hurt Locker, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. He’s also had roles on several television shows including House of Cards, Penny Dreadful, and Apple TV+’s See, which is where he first met Momoa.
Christian Camargo’s goal as a filmmaker is to make people confront their emotions, not shy away from them.
“American movies are really good at formula, really good at action and keeping you distracted from your thoughts. And I’m about really diving into your thoughts, no matter how uncomfortable that is,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like that. A lot of people want to turn on a movie to be distracted, to get away from life, and I feel like what European filmmaking and independent filmmaking allows for is introspection and for actually turning the mirror onto oneself and looking in the mirror and going, hey, what’s my connection to this story? And forces us to look at it. In The Last Manhunt, the land is that mirror.”
“What I was able to take with Thomas’s scripts and [Momoa’s] story was, Hey, this is our land… this is the culture of this native community being ripped and torn apart,” he continued. “Until we actually face the source, face what we are, face our history, face where we come from, face the land itself that we’re walking on — not just rip through on dirt bikes or carve it up into developments — but until we actually value that and see what we’re walking on, which is the history of America itself and the land, then we’re destined to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again.”
The Last Manhunt features a strong Native American ensemble cast, including Martin Sensmeier (The Magnificent Seven) as Willie Boy; Mainei Kinimaka (See) as Carlota; Zahn McClarnon (Reservation Dogs) as Carlota’s father; Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) as Carlota’s mother; Raoul Trujillo (Apocalypto); Brandon Oakes (Togo) and Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves).
In addition to the native cast, Camargo (See), Wade Williams (The Dark Knight Rises), Jamie Sives (Chernobyl), Justin Campbell (The Hurt Locker), Mojean Aria (Reminiscence), Charlie Brumbly (Baywatch), Amy Seimetz (Pet Sematary) and Jason Momoa (Aquaman) star in supporting roles.
The Last Manhunt is an On The Roam production, produced by Martin Kistler and Jason Eric Laciste from a screenplay by Pa’a Sibbett and a story by Jason Momoa and Sibbett. Executive Producers are Jeanie Buss, Michael Acierno, Jason Momoa and Brian Andrew Mendoza.
The Last Manhunt is expected to have a theatrical and streaming release this fall.
Main Image: Martin Sensmeier and Mainei Kinimaka as Willie Boy and Carlota in The Last Manhunt directed by Christian Camargo.