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Exclusive Interview: Film School's Juan Diego Escobar Alzate Competes in SITGES

School of Motion Pictures & Television MFA alumnus Juan Diego Escobar Alzate joins the roster of world-class filmmakers as his first feature film LUZ goes in competition at the 2019 SITGES International Film Festival.

Held annually in Catalonia, Spain, SITGES is highly regarded as one of the world’s foremost festivals, specifically for the horror and fantasy films. To participate alone, much more be nominated in competition, is certainly an honor for anyone who dreams of being recognized as genre filmmaker.

LUZ by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate
LUZ by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

The Story of Luz

Alzate’s LUZ is nominated in the festival’s main competition, the Oficial Fantástic Competición; to participate alone SITGES is already considered a huge honor. LUZ vies for the top festival recognition alongside other critically-acclaimed films, such as the Elijah Wood-starrer Come to Daddy, which premiered at Tribeca, Paradise Hills starring Milla Jovovich and Emma Roberts, the highly anticipated Color Out of Space by Richard Stanley, and the big summer surprise gothic horror Ready or Not.

Other notable names that competed in this category in the past include Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, The Shape of Water), Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, Audition), and Park Chan-Wook (Old Boy, The Vengeance Trilogy).

LUZ is a dark, western fantasy drama set in a community in the middle of the mountains, led by preacher named El Señor. When a new child, perceived to be the new messiah, arrives in their community, so does destruction and redemption. As their little group of people try to come to terms with the many changes happening fast in their midst, so too will El Señor’s three daughters as they begin to question the real origins of God itself, the nature of love, pleasure, femininity, and inner freedom, and ultimately, the Devil.

LUZ is written and directed by Alzate.

The 2019 SITGES International Film Festival runs from October 3 to 13th. Meanwhile, Alzate shares in this exclusive interview with Academy of Art University the inspiration behind the story of LUZ, the challenges he met while producing his first feature film, and how his experience at the Academy helped shape him in the filmmaker that he is today.

Can you tell us a little bit about your film LUZ and the inspiration behind it?

I love nature and heavily believe that the world is build up by dualities. I had ayahuasca previous the writing of the script and through it I connected deeply myself with the spirit of nature. I don’t believe in God at all but I do believe in Spinoza’s idea of God.

Through those times I began to think about a story and was finally when the idea behind LUZ crossed my mind. LUZ is a nostalgic, intimate and poetic portrait that addresses and deepens issues such as faith, hope, purity, love, femininity and the deep communion that exists between man and nature.

It is a lyrical work, whose purpose is to question the viewer, guiding them through an emotional and visual tour de force, which can lead them to question their own moral and faith. LUZ is a portrait of the Spinoza´s idea of God, a God who is everywhere, in a smile, in a gaze, in a plant, but within that same God, lives the Devil.

How does it feel to be chosen for the SITGES Film Festival?

Most filmmakers dream about the Oscars, but not me; I have been always a horror film geek and a fantasy freak. I devour this kind of films since my early childhood and I began to dream of SITGES since a very early age.

For me being selected to premiere my debut feature film LUZ, or LUZ: THE FLOWER OF EVIL, which is the name that the film will receive in North America, is a dream come true. SITGES is like the Oscars for genre and fantasy films and directors. There is nothing like it in the world.

It is the most prestigious film festival of its kind in the globe. My favorite directors have been selected at SITGES and for me this is incredible, Dario Argento, Takashi Miike and all of those directors I love and admire.

LUZ by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

What were some challenges that you faced along the way?

I am a genre film director, which means that I don’t often tend to consume commercial kind of films; neither as a director I am triggered or tempted to direct one of them. The hardest thing that I’ve faced along the way was to develop and to accept my own personal voice as an artist.

It was hard to discover and to develop that voice. I knew that I liked many things other than films, and this I believe is what an artist is built of—lots of knowledge that doesn’t somehow seem to connect.

Things such as poetry, the occult, witchcraft, astrology and philosophy are all things that have walked by my side along the years, but the hardest part was to connect all of this disciplines and develop what I believe is a unique voice. A dark and obscure poetic voice, with loads of metaphors and a thought-provoking tone.

How did your time at Academy of Art play a role in your experience?

Academy of Art University was nice. I met some great people and nice professors—[the duty] of an intelligent student is to be able to take and learn from them, the good and the bad. The importance of education is not to take everything for granted, you can investigate, get deeper into the subjects.

Nothing in the world of arts is what people tell you is correct. Sometimes being wrong is right. San Francisco opened my mind a lot and it was pretty open back then. Academy of Art helped me to explore myself as an artist, and professors such as Donna Laemmlen, Kris Boxell and Mark Kohr I loved and still.

What other distribution plans do you have for the film, like here in the US or other festivals?

LUZ by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

The journey is just beginning for LUZ. SITGES is our first festival, but we have four other top film festivals confirmed already that I am not able to mention right now, and hopefully our festival ran continue to go great.

In the U.S and Canada the rights of the film for distribution have been taken by genre specialists Raven Banner, a great Canadian distribution company that I have loved and admire over the years and sign with them was also a dream come true.

What is your biggest takeaway as a filmmaker while doing this film? Is there anything else that you would have changed in his process? If yes, what?

Of course I would change things, but all of them have to do with budget. I would have loved to have a bigger budget so that I was able to shoot more days. The feature was shot in just 18 days. which of course is a pretty tight schedule. Other than this I wouldn’t change anything, neither the experience I lived, neither the results, which I am more than happy with.

Any other projects in the works/ future plans?

I am currently working in my second feature film called ALMA. I already have the script and I am applying to film funds and trying to get investment for it. It is a horror film set in a remote and inaccessible village commanded by an armed group, located in the thicket of the Colombian jungles, in which animals and plants mysteriously die.

Alma, a displaced indigenous woman found by chance wounded in the middle of the jungle, is blamed for causing their misfortunes. With her arrival, the evils increase. Alma is not just a regular displaced woman; she is there for a reason, to take revenge on those who murdered her family, her race and took their land years ago when she was just a child. She is a soul in sorrow and in that jungle there can be no land without evil.

Advice for Academy MPT students?

The best school that you can have in the world is your mind own mind and your own passion. Inside your mind, you can be free or be a prisoner—it’s up to you. Prisoners are those who take everything for granted, freedom is set for those who investigate and get deeper into subjects.

If you aren’t passionate enough for films it will be hard for you to live the dream but if you love what you do and don’t take and understand film as a job you will play all of your life just like a child. It is hard to make a living out of filmmaking but the first step in order to make a living out of anything is to believe in what you do and no matter what, trust in yourself, in your guts in your own will.

There is no heavier judgment than yours. You know when you are doing bad and you know when you are doing the right thing. Follow your instincts, this is art, no one is right other than your inner voice.

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