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Shanghai: ‘A Son of Man’ Is Born of Quest for Invention and Exploration

Ecuador docu-drama "A Son of Man"
Courtesy of Paracas Independent Films

Many independent filmmakers go to great lengths to get their movies made. Ecuador’s Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador had to invent his own technology in order to produce and direct “A Son of Man,” which unspools at the Shanghai International Film Festival, including three screenings this weekend.

A passion project for Paris-based professional explorer Fernandez-Salvador, the film tells the coming of age of an American teenager from the rich suburbs of Minneapolis, who reluctantly joins his enigmatic father on a treasure hunt for Incan gold in Ecuador. As they trek the beautiful but hazardous jungle, the young man understands that he and his father cannot escape the family demons which are closing in.

Over a period of years, Fernandez-Salvador devised what he calls a “flying Steadicam,” though he says it is not true that the whole film was shot with drones. The special device was necessary to capture the film’s extraordinary aerial shots and to leave the jungle environment in pristine condition.

“My challenge was to come up with a machine that is light and small enough to smuggle itself into any part of the real world, but also be capable of replicating all the traditional camera movements,” Fernandez-Salvador told Variety. His trip to Shanghai may help him contact local tech firms interested in manufacturing the device for a wider market.

Another of the film’s unusual characteristics is its position somewhere between documentary and fiction. It uses no actors, only real people who all use their own names and play themselves – including Lily Van Ghemen, who is additionally the film’s producer and married to Fernandez-Salvador.

The pair say that the film is the first product of Fernadez-Salvador’s Realismo Fantástico manifesto. He calls it a cinema sub-genre that is rooted in honest narratives, made with from real-cast characters, who engage the audience as in classical cinematic experiences like fiction. (He says he is a fan of Jean Rouche, the French filmmaker and anthropologist who is one of the founders of the cinema verité movement.)

The director, who also paid special attention to multi-dimensional sound design, says that the film needs to be seen in theaters. Shanghai is its first international outing, and is expected to be one of several festival appearances in the second half of this year.

“A Son of Man” was completed last year, played a limited commercial run, and qualified as Ecuador’s contender for the foreign-language Oscars.