The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez (Puerto Rico, Mexico, USA)

View the complete documentary, English with Spanish subtitles

Ver el documental complete, Español con subtitulos en ingles

Dylcia Pagan, freed from prison after 19 years, on the arm of her son, Ernesto Gomez-Gomez. Gomez-GomezMeet  Ernesto – A true story of a boy coming of age.  A tender and tormenting story of a mother and son losing each other … and finding each other again.

Meet  Ernesto – one boy with two names, two families, and three nationalities.

Meet  Ernesto – who faces in real life the same drama as the young Luke Skywalker faced in the original Star Wars – both raised in a remote desert hiding place, for his protection, in secret from “the Empire,” to grow up under another identity, eventually to learn of a secret heroic parental lineage that will change his life.

Meet  Ernesto –  who learned for the first time on his 10th birthday his own secret truth, told by the Mexican parents who raised him and loved him, the facts of who he really was:  that he was adopted, that he had another name, that his birth parents were on the run and in prison, revolutionaries fighting to win independence for Puerto Rico, struggling against the American Empire and its colonial rule, and that at long last his birth mother had sent him a message, asking to see him  …

… and so began the journey which eventually became this documentary:  from Mexico, to the US, to San Francisco and the prison near there where his mother was incarcerated, and ultimately to that most precious destination of them all:  to freedom, earning Presidential Clemency for his mother…  and for Ernesto, the freedom to be himself – whoever that might be.

See the award winning PBS documentary with an intimate story that is personal as well as political:  Adoption.  Immigration.  Incarceration.  Political prisoners.  Colonialism.  Puerto Rico.  Mexico.  The United States.

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  • WINNER of eleven BEST DOCUMENTARY awards at film festivals
  • Nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Documentary Directing
  • Broadcast on PBS as opening night of the prestigious non-fiction showcase series, POV.
  • But most importantly, led to an official Act of Presidential Clemency and freed Ernesto’s mother Dylcia Pagan and 11 other Puerto Rican political prisoners.

The updated version of this documentary ends with this transcendent moment of freedom.  Ernesto, accompanied by the film makers, goes to the gate to the federal prison for the moment of his mothers release, tearfully whisking her away to freedom, to Puerto Rico, after more than 19 years of incarceration.

 "The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez" Puerto Rico, Dylcia Pagan, colonialism, imperialism, independentistas

Reviews & Articles

280_EGG_thumbnailThe Double Life of Ernesto Gómez Gómez is an extraordinary film which captures the anguish of a family torn apart by the power of the state, and puts a powerful political story into human terms.  It is heartrending, but also exhilarating as it portrays the courage of a mother and her son facing, in their own ways, an ordeal which every family dreads, while holding on to their dream of justice.” 

– Howard Zinn, author of The People’s History of the United States

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“…a moving depiction of a family torn apart by political belief and then stitched back together, in a fashion, by loyalty and love.”

Jean Lee, Associated Press (AP) review

Puerto Rico to California - The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez-Gomez“… a happy boy growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico, but all that ended the day his parents took him aside and told him his whole life had been a lie … the film follows his emotional quest in search of both his true identity and the mother who had abandoned him…a troubled journey of self-discovery … a striking self-portrait that not only explores the costs of profound political idealism in one family but that also touches on such issues as immigration, adoption, colonialism and love.”

from  LA Times review, Kevin Baxter, “Teen’s Hesitant Search for His True Identity”

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“RIVETING … This documentary illustrates the fine line between filmmaker and subject, and how those boundaries can bleed over and turn into real relationships. “

“LO MAS INTERESANTE … Este documental representa la relación entre el cinematógrafo y el tema y como esa relación puede sangrar y convertirse en una verdadera amistad.”

El Tecolote Review, in English and Spanish

“Film makers Update”, 9 years after broadcast:

“On July 27, 1999, our film, The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez, premiered on POV.   Let it never be said that TV accomplishes nothing. Less than two months later, Ernesto’s mother, Dylcia Pagan, received executive clemency from President Clinton and she walked out of the U.S. federal prison, a free woman, after having been incarcerated for 19 years of her 55-year sentence…” more


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POV announcement and description of film:

The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez is a striking self-portrait of the costs of profound political idealism in one family. It confronts issues of adoption, immigration, colonialism, and love merged into a single mesmerizing teen odyssey. The film combines interviews and archival footage with more expressionistic sequences in which Ernesto/Guillermo tries to communicate the feeling of being catapulted from one reality into another.”

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“… a glimpse into one of the deeply personal, agonizing effects of colonialism, rarely dealt with in film.”     Filmakers Library    

“This high quality production is recommended for all collections…”      Library Journal


“This true story of a Puerto Rican boy, born Guillermo Morales but raised in Mexico under another name, raises issues of identity, immigration and cultural conflict as well as concerns about the justice system.”   from “S.F. Couple’s Documentary Uncovers a Gripping Story of social injustice.  “

 “The experience was unforgettable, seared into my memory, and it remains to this day a high point of my life and of my lifelong commitment to activism and media. We had begun this work with hope, but without a real expectation of victory. We had begun as a matter of principle, to fight the good fight: for the rights of political prisoners, for the rights of prisoners victimized by injustice in general, for the principle of self-determination of peoples, causes so noble and worthwhile that we never believed with certainty that we would achieve a victory.

That it came to be makes it all the more worthwhile to look at the reasons why…   from “Case Study: Changing the World, One Documentary at at Time”

 Directors Guild of America nomination announcement

“Nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentaries”


Cover story,   International Documentary Magazine  – a short description of the film and it’s making

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“In Focus:  Cathy Ryan”  a profile piece in Irish Voice, a NY based weekly newspaper,  “Cathy Ryan’s work as a filmmaker may often run perilously short of finance but it’s never short on passion.”   The piece is centered around Catherine as Producer of The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez.


“Double Dipping” Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg Have Landed PBS and Network Slots this Summer” , by Sura Wood. From Release Print Magazine. June 1999.  (Click article title for PDF) 

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“Este documental es un revelador autorretrato de los costos del profundo idealismo político de una familia.” –Hoy, Julio 22, 1999

“Aprendí todo lo de su historia y su cultura, pero aunque realmente soy puertorriqueño, me siento mexicano, fue allá donde me crié.” -Ernesto Gómez Gómez, La Opinion, Julio 27, 1999

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Poster for PBS documentary "The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez"

Dylcia Pagan freed from prison, with her son Ernesto Gomez Gomez, from the documentary "The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez"
Ernesto Gomez Gomez, aka Guillermo Morales Pagan

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