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Alan Jonsson on ‘Load,’ Tameme Running Prowess, Mexican Film Finance

Director reflects on the singular historical adventure movie, set in sixteenth century Mexico

Load, Maria Valverde, Horacio Garcia-Rojas
Courtesy of Alan Jonsson

MADRID – A new – and highly singular addition – to Latin America’s building cannon of social genre films, Alan Jonsson’s “La carga” (“Load”) is an adventure thriller that renders a just-post-Conquistador era portrait of indigenous communities’ dire plight in a later 16th century Mexico, decimated by slavery and epidemic.

A Mexico-Spain co-production with an international cast, produced by Jonsson’s La Esfera Ent. in Mexico City and Luis Angel Ramirez’s Astronauta Producciones in Madrid, the film also pays homage to part of Spain’s intellectual establishment’s little-known qualms, 60-years-and-more into its conquest of the New World, regarding its indigenous inhabitants. A manhunt movie, it centers on Elisa (Maria Valverde, Moses’ wife in Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings”), a young Spanish noblewoman, and Painalli, Aztec chief (Horacio Garcia Rojas, “Texas Rising,” “Julia”) pursued by a brutal group of soldiers commandeered by a vengeful landowner (Eusebio Lazaro), also Elisa’s father. She is an only Spaniard willing to stand as a witness in the defense of a rebellious indigenous people. This comes as, in Spain, part of the Church, lead by Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, came to argue that the Indians could not be dismissed as mere beasts. Garcia-Rojas packs a performance of awe-inspiring athleticism as he attempts to run, with Elisa on his back, beyond the reach of her mounted hunters. Sold by Latido Films as it drives ever harder into Mexican films, which form one of the most vibrant national cinemas in Latin America, “Load” won the Audience Award at Huelva’s Ibero-American Festival and played in competition at March’s Guadalajara Festival. Variety talked to director Jonsson about his second movie, the work of  a maverick Mexican auteur.

Exemplifying a building trend in Latin American cinema, “Load” is a film that aims at delivering entertainment without abandoning totally the region’s long tradition of social-issue cinema. Would you agree?

I do agree. The heart of the story is a relentless chase of two characters that come from completely different worlds, are forced through inhospitable jungles, forests and valleys throughout New Spain and the tensions and bonds that develop between the characters, played by Maria Valverde and Horacio Garcia Rojas, as they risk their lives in pursuit of justice.

What inspired you to tell this story and what were the major challenges?

The 16th century was a very dark period in Mexican history, marked by beautiful and often brutal stories. The ones that resonated the most with me were the stories about the triumph of the human spirit. They were my inspiration.

Knowing that I wanted to shoot 360 degrees without seeing absolutely any contemporary element meant searching and discovering inhospitable places with inclement weather. To get all the way to those remote destinations required walking long distances while pulling donkeys and horses that were carrying our equipment – whatever was required to get to the perfect place. My goal was to submerge the public in a period film and convince them that everything they see is true – and all filmed without much money. That was the big challenge, and I think I accomplished my mission.

When you set out to direct “Load,” what were the major guidelines in terms of direction? And, being a period film, did your direction of actors differ?

I approached the direction of this film the same way I always do; I give my actor a couple of exercises to help him/her create a world in their mind, also rehearsal and improvisation. The rest is up to them and their talent.

The film features an awe-inspiring performance by Horacio Garcia-Rojas in terms of physical prowess! His performance is, however, based on historical fact, I believe: the astounding ultra-marathon stamina of certain indigenous communities…

Yes, his performance is historically based on real indigenous people. The Tameme Indians were in charge of delivering fresh fish from the Mexican coast of Veracruz to Moctezuma’s dinner table each night in Tenochtitlan, or what is now known as downtown Mexico City. That meant transporting about 63 pounds of fish a distance of around 198 miles using approximately 15 relays between Indians running 13.2 miles each. The powerful action captured in moving image was the actor, Horacio Garcia Rojas, carrying or transporting the actress Maria Valverde for long distances at a time.

The sympathy shown by Maria Valverde’s character to the fate of the indigenous population may seem unusual, but I think is based on historical fact: the film is set at a time when some Spaniards began to question the treatment of these communities in the New World.

Load” is set during the colonial period of Mexican history, about 32 years after the conquest. The Spanish viceroyalty was recognizing that their oppressive system was taking its toll, and some were sensitive and compassionate to the plight of the indigenous people. Elisa, Maria Valverde’s character in the film, was motivated to the point of being a key witness in an unjust trial to defend the indigenous people.

Your previous film, “La Morenita, el escandalo,” is totally different from this one, what are you looking for cinematically?

I seek to transcend. I take every step very carefully so that each project is taken care of to the max and does not fall short. I keep a focus on originality and freshness at all times. Between my first film and this one, five years went by because I wanted to be sure and satisfied with the idea and theme of the project. I hope it does not take me so much time for my next film. I hope to find what I’m looking for much faster.

How was “Load” financed and what distribution will it have in Mexico or in international?

“Load” was mainly financed by private money and by the really generous mechanisms that the Mexican government has in place. Without them there would be next to no film production in Mexico. Latido Films acquired the film; they are taking all the right steps to ensure that “The Load” reaches the entire world. We are starting to get in contact with local distributors, and we are aiming to release the film by the end of this year.

Is “Load” aimed at a particular audience?

The more I attend film festivals around the world, the more I find that “Load” has the ability to captivate a wide audience. I see genuine emotion on their faces when they exit the theaters. The depth, appreciation and honesty of their comments to me say it all.