After a ten-year hiatus where he produced the films of other directors in the U.S. and Latin America, Rodrigo Bellott returned to directing with gay drama “Tu Me Manques,” which trumped other local contenders to represent Bolivia at the Academy Awards and Spain’s Goyas.
He confesses that the experience nearly broke him. “It was a very personal drama that took over eight weeks of production, 56 actors and 18 months to edit,” he said. It was such a painful experience, he thought he’d never direct again.
Advised to take a break, Bellott instead pulled a Wong Kar Wai, who while shooting “Ashes of Time,” allegedly took two weeks off to make “Chungking Express” before restarting his dramedy.
Bellott opted to do the same, directing his Blood Window entry “Blood Red Ox” from a screenplay he co-wrote with American genre writer Nate Atkins. Shot on location in Bolivia and upstate New York in English and Spanish, “Blood Red Ox” turns on Amir, a Lebanese-American journalist and his boyfriend Amat, who visit Amir’s environmentalist friend, Amancaya, in the town of Tarija who is being threatened by an oil company that wants to exploit the Bolivian rain forest. The visit takes a strange turn when Amat starts imagining a blood red ox in the house. “The most interesting films these days are genre, they’re the most inventive, where people are taking more risks,” he asserted.
“Blood Red Ox” is produced by Narrative Engineer, Bellott’s production company with partners Rodrigo A. Orozco and Gunnar Pareja. Co-producers of the Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean and U.S. film include Andrea Camponovo (Bolivia), “Tu Me Manques” co-producer Kaolin Bass (U.S.) and Chile’s Yagan Films, led by Matias Echeverria. Bolivian financiers Virginio and Beto Lema and Brazil’s Bernardo Ratto serve as executive producers.
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Bellott is repped by Activist Artists Management and his agents, Jordan Lonner and Milorad Dragicevic at UTA.
What motivated you to venture into genre filmmaking?
“Blood Red Ox” is my first time as a writer-director in this genre. I fell in love with it when I produced Jim Mickle’s “We Are What We Are,” the U.S. remake of the original Mexican film by Jorge Michel Grau. I realized the endless possibilities that these kinds of films present in terms of addressing political and social issues in a far more accessible and playful way. Just as Jordan Peele did for black leads in “Get Out” and “Us,” I hope to do the same for queer leads in elevated Latin American genre films. I aim to make impactful, intelligent movies with commercial appeal.
What is the Bolivian myth that inspired the premise of this film?
Bolivia has a strong tradition of myths and interpretations of the powers of Pachamama (Mother Earth), and how it defends itself against human greed, in this case.
You touch on environmental issues in “Blood Red Ox.” Why did you feel it was important to include lessons in preserving the Amazon forest’s ecosystem? Will this be a recurring theme in your other genre films?
The film is inspired by the real fire that almost destroyed the forest in Tarija, Bolivia in 2017. It’s also inspired by the real Water Foundation (La Fabrica de Agua) and its environmental work, which was set up by the locals who put out the fire and have been reforesting the affected areas. Everyone should understand the impact we have over water sources and nature. The film was shot in 2018, almost a year before the Amazon fire we had this year that destroyed most of the Bolivian Amazon Forest. In a way, the film was and is now quite prescient. “Blood Red Ox” will be the first of several planned horror thrillers set against the backdrop of Bolivia’s ecosystems.
“Blood Red Ox” is a U.S.-Latin American co-production. Are you hoping to make this a sustainable business model for your other films?
Yes, totally. We are looking forward to creating a haven for elevated commercial films in Bolivian locations with high production values, under a sustainable co-production model. We are currently in development on the next two installments of the trilogy that begins with “Blood Red Ox.” I want people to see Bolivia as a source of talent, locations and opportunities; it’s relatively inexpensive to shoot here.