The riveting drama “DMZ” was premiered at SXSW 2022 on Sunday, March 13th, 2022, at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. Prior to the showing of this first of four episodes of the limited series (which will air on HBO Max beginning on March 17th), Dawson and Bratt and others met the press on the rooftop of the Riley Building. The cast continued answering questions at a Q&A following the screening of the first of the four-part series.

Cast of “DMZ” (Warner Media) on Sunday, March 13, at the Paramount Theater in Austin at SXSW 2022.

Producer/Writer Roberto Patino (“Westworld”), taking the stage with the cast in Austin (far right), described how he had taken the Vertigo graphic novel (comic), which ran from 2005 to 2021, and selected Rosario Dawson’s character of Alma Ortega to develop more fully. Because of the pandemic, the series was pared down to only 4 episodes

Premise:  A Civil War has decimated the United States. This is particularly relevant at a time when we are closer to Civil War than at any time since the 1861-1865 North/South conflagration. The story focuses on the DMZ (Demilitarized zone), a ravaged Manhattan Island with 300,000 souls trapped inside.The various parts of Manhattan have been taken over by various gangs. We are taken to the Village, the Upper East Side, Midtown, Central Park, Chinatown and all other parts of the city.

One power-broker within the warring factions is portrayed beautifully by Benjamin Bratt, as a whip-thin political gang leader radiating ruthless charisma. Onscreen, he explains, “People don’t want leaders. They want spectacle.” Imagine a good-looking, taller, younger, articulate Hispanic Putin. He’s a power-hungry leader who will stop at nothing to consolidate his reach and is running for Governor of the DMZ, telling the enthusiastic crowd that the DMZ will become its own state. Bratt is outstanding in the role, menacing and believable.

Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt at the Premiere of “DMZ,” a 4-part episodic WarnerMedia presentation at the Paramount Theater in Austin on March 13, 2022, at SXSW Film Festival.

Alma (Rosario Dawson) portrays a medic, a single mother desperate to find her missing son, Christian They were separated while fleeing the city six years prior, in a scene straight out of the train stations in Ukraine occurring right now. In Episode #1, Rosario interacts with another medic, portrayed by Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep and a look-alike for her talented mother. It’s an intense exchange as the medic trapped within the DMZ (Gummer) takes Dawson’s Alma under her wing in helping her search for her missing son. Show-runner/writer Patino paid tribute to Dawson’s work telling her, “You inhabited this woman so thoroughly and made her your own.” True that.

Everyone in Episode #1 was very credible, but another outstanding performance is turned in by Jordan Preston Carter, who portrays the young Odi Peerlis. The  actor has eleven credits since 2016 and, while his exact age is not mentioned in his bio, he appears to be roughly ten years old and holds his own against a talented adult cast. He is a natural. The character of Odi conveys the trauma and pathos of children caught in the midst of war. The parallels with current real life are obvious.

One line from the film explains the film’s themes/conflict this way: “Even when we’re here, surrounded by two armies with guns firing on one another, people can’t see past killing each other to better themselves.” Later, the line is: “People won’t hesitate to kill you for whatever you’ve got.” A lot of truth in those scripted lines.

Dawson’s character represents hope and a better way of dealing with life than through never-ending violence. In her remarks to the audience, she mentioned her own hard-scrabble upbringing on New York’s lower East side and described the entire four-episode series as “real” and “poignant.” Dawson decried “patriarchal toxic masculinity”and said  that she hopes her character is a catalyst to help eliminate  it.

Benjamin Bratt at SXSW with “DMZ.”

Bratt, too, described a change of heart in portraying his character as he began work on the series based on a comic book. He said that, at first, he thought it would be fun to portray a kick-ass comic book character. As the series went on, he began to see Parco Delgado (his character) as “a real person suffering from habituation learned as a young man; might makes right. Clearly he is someone who recognized the opportunity to seize power.”

The Ava Duvernay directed series, judging from the showing today, is dynamite. Don’t miss it! (HBO Max on Thursday, March 17, 2022).