A Different Type of Peruvian Film Looking for Support: Interview with Director of the film La Luz en el Cerro

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Loved abroad but finding conflict in Peru, a Peruvian film featuring the clash between two cultures; the people from the capital and the people from the Andes is now just showing in Peru…But for how long?

I write this article with a heavy heart. La Luz en el Cerro, Ricardo Velarde’s Opera Prima is not only a robust and memorable film, it’s also a Peruvian production that will inevitably become a cult film for the rest of time. We were hoping to publish this interview and let you, our readers know a little more about this film and the director, with the hopes that you would want to then go and watch it at the cinema.

La Luz en el Cerro debuted in Peruvian cinemas during the week of Halloween but unfortunately, the distributors who say what movie shows where have been less than understanding about how important a film like this is. Before their week was even over, the movie was taken off the listings. Fans and crew alike were taken aback that it wasn’t even scheduled in the Miraflores theaters, to begin with. It wasn’t scheduled for Arequipa either, even though the soundtrack is by an Arequipenan band.

Please follow the La Luz en el Cerro Facebook Page for news on alternative viewing options. You don’t want to miss this opportunity, to experience a different kind of Peruvian film.

We interviewed Ricardo, the director of La Luz en el Cerro for viewers to get to know his vision of the film. We are very sad to know that the movie is no longer showing in Lima, but the plight of the independent Peruvian filmmaker has just begun.

Five years ago Ricardo Velarde and his crew spent a month and a half in the mountains of Cusco filming “La Luz en el Cerro”. This thriller drama tells the story of two forensic doctors who follow a mysterious death deep into the Andes and get involved in situations far more complex than they bargained for. Tales of Andean mysticism intertwine with the conflict of city folk meddling with Andean lives.

LIP – How did your love for movies get sparked? Was there a moment in your life when you decided, yes this is it or was it more subtle? Did you enter into it thinking you could make a career (or a living) out of it?

RICARDO – To tell you the truth I don’t remember when I started loving movies. I think it was when I was very small. I grew up without siblings and my mother was mostly absent. I spent a lot of time watching tv and movies on VHS. It came to a point when I liked the movies more than real life.

Even then, I never really decided that I wanted to make movies, I simply created animations and didn’t see them as something that could be viable to make a living. I couldn’t even imagine that Peruvian directors existed. Actually, when I went to study in the UK, it was just so I could be an editor. It was really when I started working with actors there that I really had the feeling that I could make my own movies.

I never thought that I could make a living off of this. I just didn’t. Now I know that to make a living from film I’d have to do something ridiculous, like XXX productions, so I don’t think it’s very viable to live off making films. But definitely, I can have a career of it by working on other things in the field. For example, I can make commercial films, although that is not an easy road.

There is a lot of movies being made in Peru right now. A few years ago when I decided to make La Luz en el Cerro, it wasn’t like that. Now it is. It’s complicated to find the space to make films since there are lots of people trying to make a film and not everyone knows what they are doing.

LIP – What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why? Is there a certain aspect or theme to a movie that draws you more than others?

RICARDO – It’s hard to say what movies have inspired me because I like all styles of film. I think the ones which most inspire me, unconsciously, are the movies I used to watch when I was a kid. Mostly horror and science fiction movies like “Blade Runner” or “Alien” (the first one) and other movies of that style. I am also inspired by music and books by H.P. Lovecraft. It was later in life that I was introduced to classic films, like thrillers from the 1930’s, westerns, movies in the Italian neo-realist style. I would say I am currently inspired by a mix of all of these.

When I created “La Luz en el Cerro” I did not use inspiration from any movie, in particular, only inspiration from real life, things I observed in my travels, and the people I met along the way. For the visual aspect of “La Luz en el Cerro” I consciously tried to not be influenced by any movie, although I’m sure that it did happen on a subconscious level.

LIP – When and how did the idea come to be for La Luz en el Cerro?

RICARDO – I got the idea when I was doing recce with my friend Yerco for a movie idea we had about a horror story in the jungle. We had to scrap that idea because the location (house) had burned down. When that happened, we got stuck in the jungle due to the highway being rebuilt. We had to spend an entire week living with the locals, with whom we talked a lot about legends of the area.

It was one of those nights that I started drafting the story for La Luz en el Cerro and a simple plotline. Later, a week after getting back to London, I decided to abandon the original horror story and concentrate fully on La Luz en el Cerro. I wrote the first version in two months.

LIP – What are your connection to the story and the area of the Andes where it takes place? Did you intend to grow that connection for others with this film? If so, why was that important to you?

RICARDO – I’m not exactly sure it’s a connection but more of an interest really. When I was young, and also with school, I traveled to the Andes a lot. You could say I got used to the people there. On weekends, with friends, we would travel to the Sierra every time we could.

I am very interested in the magic of the Andes, its stories, its legends and also its people. All Andean people are natural actors. In a way they love storytelling, it’s something they have done generation after generation with their myths. When you are open with them and spend nights getting to know them, they open up too. They tell you their stories and stand up to imitate animals, monsters, they move… it’s amazing to watch an Andean person telling a story. That fascinates me.

That is precisely what I have tried to transmit somehow into this movie, and others that I have planned. But like I said, I don’t exactly believe in a connection, but more of an interest.

LIP – What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

RICARDO – I am not a very dedicated social person, nor do I like spending time in groups of people. I like to keep to myself and spend time on my own. I constantly have many ideas in my head and if I don’t get them out immediately, I get mind blocked. I end up communicating stupidly with people and I don’t like that.

Either way, directing 120 people and all the other people involved, including the locals (in the end I’m not even sure how many people it was) was a big challenge. I had to play coordinator to be able to get everyone together, giving each one their own time. There were some spoiled individuals that I won’t name and others that demanded more of my personal time because they were working for little pay in a remote part of the world for a month and a half.

It’s always important to unify the group, create a human community, be able to dissolve problems when they happen, to finally turn this group into a family. That was also my job, and it was hard because at the same time I also had to change the screenplay constantly. We were modifying it up until the last day of filming because we were constantly learning new things and some scenes had to be improvised.

There were some individuals that abandoned us because they didn’t fit in this human community. Thankfully it was only 2 out of 120 and the rest stayed with us. They backed me and gave their all for this film, way more than they earned monetarily for it. The work was like a drug, it motivated all of us. In spite of the efforts, the hardships, the hail, the rain, the snow, the filming before dawn, the hunger and the little money we had to eat properly; in spite of all that, we had a lot of fun.

I think that was the biggest lesson, learning to open up to everyone and to be able to manage the situation.

LIP – How was the process of preproduction and crew building, was it easy or full of obstacles?

RICARDO – The entire process took a year. We traveled to seven different locations to do the casting for the kids and the grandparents. To do the auditions, prepare the actors, get legal documents set up with the Mayor of Marcapata and the local Quechuas of the town, who do things their way and according to their customs. I had to present my project to the community of “coliembre” who are the only ones that take important decisions in the town etc.

In the end, I got the money out of the blue, it fell from the sky and with that, I had the initial capital to finish the project. Once I had that in hand, I still needed US$50,000 that I got from sponsors and other channels, I did all I could to get the money for the film. When we finished filming, I was stuck with bank accounts in red, without a cent. But at least I had my computer and I could start editing. Finally, after a year and a half, I had a decent enough cut with which we started applying to government film contests which we thankfully won.

LIP – Was everyone in the crew a fan of horror/thriller films or did anyone have a hard time with the process?

RICARDO – To tell you the truth, I don’t really think so. The crew was very large and most of them were definitely in a different vibe. As far as I can remember, the only actual fan of horror and thriller was Manuel Gold and Yerco too. But that was really it. Everyone else was simply in the story, it wasn’t the genre that motivated people but the actual story. The narrative, the story and the clash of two cultures; between the people from the capital and the people from the Andes. I think what most people enjoyed was how the story was told, they became part of the screenplay and learned something different about Peruvian film. They appreciated the organic communion with their community, their rituals, their Andean mysticism. I think that’s what most people in the crew enjoyed, more than the genre.

LIP – One of your main characters Ramon Garcia is now acting in an HBO television series, did this affect the popularity of La Luz en el Cerro?

RICARDO – When we filmed “La Luz en el Cerro”, Ramon Garcia hadn’t even been approached by Pablo Sorrentino yet. Then all of a sudden one day, a while later, we called him in to do some voiceover for a couple of scenes that had bad audio and he came in very excited wearing his sport clothes telling us that he had to lose weight for a video casting to send to the Oscar-winning director, Pablo Sorrentino.

With time, Ramon became friends with Sorrentino and that was a great in for us with the press. Everybody was talking about Ramon for his work on the HBO series, and since he had just recently acted in my movie, it was great to be mentioned in the press. Ramon constantly comments to the press that in his entire acting career “La Luz en el Cerro” was the only feature-length project he has been a part of.

LIP – Where has the movie shown so far?

RICARDO – The movie was shown for the first time internationally at the Montreal Film Festival, in the official competition for “first films”. The winner of the competition was a Chinese movie, but the important part was that “La Luz en el Cerro” was shown in the largest movie theater on the main avenue in the city. The theater was full of Canadian and International press and audience, from kids as young as 10 to elderly people, their reactions were priceless.

What really surprised me was seeing the young people so excited. The organizers ended up throwing us out of the theater because the conversation kept going and going for a long while after the showing. We took the conversation outside because another movie had to go on. There were lots of positive comments, it was a different vision than that of a Peruvian audience, without prejudices, taboos, and traumas. Imagine a foreign audience having a conversation and trying to understand all the context and subtext that they saw in the story. It was a very special audience and Montreal is a film-loving city so showing “La Luz en el Cerro” was amazing.

After that, I took the movie to my all-time favorite festival, the Sitges Film Festival. The Sitges Fantastic Film Festival is in Catalunya and is the oldest festival that specializes horror and thriller films. It’s the largest and most important festival of this kind in the world. I used to dream about going to Sitges to watch movies, I never thought I’d be going to show my own.

The European friends I made when I lived in there, spent a couple days with me to see the movie together. It’s always difficult to show a movie to a different audience, in this case, a Catalunyan audience. They absolutely loved it and since this festival is about horror and thriller films, the questions and conversations were different than in Montreal. It was an all-around amazing experience.

One of the best things that happened to me at Sitges was finding the actress Claudia Dammert in the cue!

LIP – Do you feel that your movie can compete with all the Peruvian films that have been coming out lately? 

RICARDO – When we talk about competition between movies, I think we should talk about how we compete over space to show our movies. For example, we were scheduled to show on Halloween week, so we definitely had some competition in terms of genre. We were competing with four different horror films (not Peruvian), only one of which I find somewhat interesting. The others are basically the same horror formula, like the pale woman that is diabolically possessed and makes the audience tremble on cue.

Those are the kinds of movies that come out all the time now. It pains me to say that I might even have to compete against “Blade Runner” which is easily the best movie I have seen all year, I love it. The competition for showing space is difficult and unfortunately, most of it is superficial and very commercial.

The distributors scheduled “La Luz en el Cerro” for Halloween week because they see it as a different alternative. I think the fact that it’s a thriller with some Andean mystic context and supernatural notes, that it made for a good option for those people not interested in the usual Halloween movie. The distributors saw the potential for this time of year, I’m a little apprehensive but we will see how it goes.

Until now it’s going pretty well with the response from the audience on Social Media, with the youtubers and all that. But the possibility of being taken off the show listings in two weeks is always a possibility, we just have to be prepared for that and not cry about it. There is always a risk involved in these kinds of things.

LIP – Horror / Thriller films sometimes come along with scary stories during filming, do you have any experiences of that sort?

RICARDO – This is a great question! Thinking back, lots of things happened during filming of course, some quite amusing and other a little scary. There is lots of conflict in the interior of the country. On one side you have the people that are seeking modernity and progress, that want people from outside their area to see their locality as how it really is. Then there are others with more of a political vein that don’t want outsiders meddling with their affairs.

The last time we were in there town, showing the finished film, one man approached me and told me that the priest who had acted in the ritual scene had gotten his arm cut off. I really didn’t think it was true, he was probably just trying to scare me. As if he was trying to tell me that if ever came back to the town I would be killed.

Apart from that I can’t recall any other scary or uncomfortable stories. Lots of things did happen but they were usually funny or amusing.

LIP – What are the future projects for Caudal Films? What is your grand vision/outcome with your film-making?

RICARDO – Our grand vision for Caudal Films is for it to keep making films in a similar genre. Stories with a Peruvian reality intertwined with thriller and horror, based in all parts of the country; the Andes, the jungle and even the capital.

We have many projects on the way. I’m not sure if they will see the light but I hope they will. In a sense, everything depends on the success of “La Luz en el Cerro” and hoping that my life doesn’t stagnate at serving cups of coffee to editors while being stuck in Lima.

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Orana Velarde

Orana is an Expat Nomad originally from Peru. She travels the world with her family while working as a freelance writer and designer. Her kids are Worldschooled with a great influence from the Arts and life itself. She writes about their adventures in her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure. She is currently living in Sri Lanka.