Chilean filmmaker Leticia Akel Escárate will be pitching her highly anticipated and well-studied debut feature project “Shadow” at this year’s online Sanfic Industria Lab: Ficción. It’s a return of sorts for Akel who, in 2010, won the Sanfic National Talent Short Film Competition with “Escarate.”
“Shadow” is produced by New York-based Mahak Jiwani, who also produced Akel’s 2017 short “Premonition,” and Josemaría Naranjo from Chilean indie Cinestación, one of the region’s most exciting young companies which most recently produced Omar Zúñiga’s directorial feature debut “The Strong Ones,” picked up for North America by Breaking Glass after it won the Grand Jury Prize for nest international narrative feature and the Audience Award at OutFest LA as well as best narrative film at Florida’s OutShine Film Festival.
A family drama with strong psychological thriller undertones, “Shadow” turns on Guillermo, a leading medical scientist working on cutting-edge treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Up for one of the field’s most prestigious and profitable prizes, Guillermo is thrilled when his son Bruno returns from the U.S., where he enjoyed similar success in the field of medicine, and quickly hires him at the lab.
Together, the two advance Guillermo’s work, improving the likelihood of winning the grant, but professional ambition and greed quickly create a gulf between the two, widened by betrayal from both parties. “Shadow” will put the father-son dynamic under the microscope and examine what can happen when insecurities overpower better judgement, even among the most rational members of professional society.
“I’ve always been interested in telling stories about the masculine, in the most traditional sense of the word, because that’s the kind of men I grew up with,” Akel explains of her desire to disect the relationship of Guillermo and Bruno. “I suppose it is an effort to understand those implicit rules of conduct, those social constructs which I’m not directly involved with, but which have marked my private, family and work life.
In “Shadow,” Guillermo’s work focuses on a plant-based compound that could fight Alzheimer’s disease. The fictional character’s research is inspired by real studies carried out in Chile earlier this century.
“Although the story is fiction, I’m interested in keeping the scientific aspect anchored to reality,” explains Akel. “To that end, I started researching process two years ago which included studying and visiting real laboratories as well as conducting interviews with researchers in neurobiology and neuroscience. For me it would be uncomfortable to portray such a precise and objective world without the science at least plausible.”
Setting “Shadow” apart from more traditional family dramas, Akel plans to use the tricks of the psychological thriller trade to create a more immersive experience for the audience, emphasizing the growing paranoia and solitude of Guillermo as the film progresses.
“The thriller aspects of this project were a natural evolution for the story we are telling,” she explains. “’Shadow’ is about a scientist who feels displaced by his son’s success, both at home and at work. Gradually, we see that he abandons his noble clinical rationality to surrender to lower pulses and darker feelings.”
She goes on to describe her plans for the film’s visual treatment, explaining that, “As a means of showing this insecurity, I found it necessary to transform his workplace into something threatening. The resources offered by the psychological thriller genre became useful in showing his descent into that altered mental space.”
“With ‘Shadow,’ Akel turns her gaze to the dark emotions that, unfortunately, we reserve for those we love the most,” says Cinestación producer Naranjo. “Through Guillermo and Bruno’s dysfunctional relationship, we reflect on values that are generally associated with patriarchal structures, such as competitiveness, and how they influence filial relationships. In this story, Leticia also explores the scientific world in Latin America: a world with fascinating peculiarities, still dominated by men, which has rarely been seen in our local cinema.”