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Lorenzo Vigas and Edgar Ramirez on Venice Golden Lion Winner ‘From Afar’

Vigas opens up about his obsession with the theme of paternity

When Lorenzo Vigas’ intimate drama  “From Afar” (“Desde Alla”) took home the Golden Lion best film award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival in September, it was a culmination of triumphs for Latin American cinema across major film festivals this year, including Mexico’s Gabriel Ripstein taking home Best First Feature for his cross-border drama “600 Miles” at Berlin, while his producing partner Michel Franco won best screenplay for his drama “Chronic” in Cannes in May. It also marks a triumph for Franco’s Lucia Films, which produced or co-produced all three films. “From Afar” is Vigas’s feature debut.

Variety spoke to Vigas and one of its producers, rising A-list star Edgar Ramirez, a fellow Venezuelan, who stars alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the upcoming “Joy” and is tipped to join Emily Blunt and Jared Leto in the much-anticipated film adaptation of bestseller “The Girl on the Train,” with Tate Taylor directing.

“From Afar” is produced by Rodolfo Cova, Guillermo Arriaga Franco, Ripstein, Ramirez and Vigas.

Tell me how the story for “Desde Alla” came about?

LV: I think it began with my short [2004] “Elephants Never Forget,” because I have an obsession with the theme of paternity. I see it as a trilogy, starting with my short; while “Desde Alla” is the second part and the third part, will be my next film, “The Box,” which I will shoot in Mexico with Lucia Films producing, and I hope Edgar will be involved in it, too. As a whole, they deal with the theme of absent or terrible fathers. I don’t know why I have this obsession when in fact, I had a warm and close bond with my father who is a famous painter, and passed away two years ago. He’s one of the most important painters of Latin America, Oswaldo Vigas. I think it has more to do with the archetype of a father; I have a need to discuss the father archetype.

ER: And perhaps it’s because we hail from a region in the world where most people are solely raised by their mothers, it’s a matriarchal and machista society where women rule, and fathers are normally absent, out with their mistresses instead of at home.

LV: My lead actor never knew his father. It’s a common story in Latin America. My home life was an exception. In “Elephants Never Forget” two young kids go after their father who has abandoned them. I told Guillermo [Arriaga] my story idea who said he wanted to help me make it so I moved to Mexico to collaborate with him in 2001. These were great learning years. I wrote the short in Mexico and filmed it in Venezuela.

Why the big gap between the times you made your short and your debut feature?

In between these two, I made a documentary about my father, which took nearly seven years to make. It’s still in post and will be released next year. And I wouldn’t have been able to make my feature “Desde Alla” if I hadn’t grown in all aspects; I matured emotionally and honed my craft. Learning about my father and my ancestors was very cathartic. It plunged me into a two-year depression but I emerged much stronger… but it was a path I had to take.

Edgar, how did you come on board as a producer?

ER: We’re very good friends. I read the first draft and tracked it from there. This is a film made among friends; we’ve been growing at a similar pace in our careers, with the exception of Guillermo [Arriaga], who’s already established.

LV: Edgar helped me get my editor Isabela Monteiro who worked on Karim Ainouz’s “Madama Sata.” Michel Franco, Gabriel Ripstein and I are good friends. It’s amazing how three friends have triumphed in the same year. And Edgar, also a great friend, is about to become a big star.

LV: To have a group of friends you can trust is vital in this business. We trust each other, we know and respect each other.

After this trilogy, what’s next?

LV: I have an English-language American film in development, am working with a writer. It’s set in a university, about an American student and dwells on the theme of impossible love.

And how is it now to shoot in Caracas, in Venezuela?

LV: Difficult! But it’s a challenge you have to take. The city is marvelous despite all that it’s going through. We finished shooting just before the demonstrations broke out. My foreign crew felt the tension in the streets. Some scenes took days to shoot because I wanted to film that restlessness in the streets.

How did you find your young male lead?

LV: My biggest challenge was to find a young male lead. I wanted a young 17-year old non-actor with a great talent. I think I found the next Edgar Ramirez. He’s a natural. While at a casting agency in Venezuela, I saw the picture of a youth who was not even there to audition; he was there to accompany a friend. But I saw in his face great compassion, rage, great humanity and pain. He comes from a dangerous barrio in Caracas. I met him, we had lunch, saw a movie and I knew he was right for the role. I never did a camera test, which was quite risky. I didn’t want him to meet my older male lead, the great Chilean actor Alfredo Castro, before the shoot, as I knew there would be a lot of tension in their scenes, and wanted that to register on camera.

How did Celluloid Dreams come on board as your international sales agent?

LV: It boarded exactly a week before Venice accepted the film in official competition. [Celluloid president Hengameh Panahi] saw my film and wrote me a long “love” letter. I didn’t know her and was quite impressed.

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