Mexican filmmaker Fernando Frias’ latest feature, “I’m No Longer Here,” has garnered a host of awards since it was minted at the Sundance Screenwriters lab. Now streaming on Netflix, the film’s depiction of a nearly extinct countercultural movement framed against an immigration drama has won accolades from Oscar-winning directors Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron.
It’s shortlisted to represent Mexico at the Oscars in 2021. The Columbia U alum also directed the entire first season of “Los Espookys” on HBO, from “Saturday Night Live” alums Julio Torres and Fred Armisen.
How do you feel about the enthusiastic support that Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro have given you?
I feel incredibly grateful. I admire them both, each one of them is unique and incredibly generous in their own way. When they discussed my film, I felt like they got it, and they were able to articulate the things that I was trying to do with such clarity that it made me incredibly thankful and incredibly excited. I’ve learned a lot from them, and this is also a lesson in support. I hope that one day I will be able to champion a new generation of emerging filmmakers just like they have.
Despite all the obstacles, given all the cutbacks in public support, what do you think about the state of cinema in Mexico?
Mexican cinema has always come from a place of resistance one way or another, but we have been doing good in terms of results and creating audiences. That being said, it definitely feels like an uphill battle. Right now, with the global pandemic, it’s even harder because distribution and theatrical exhibition have been hit so hard, but I feel that the community in Mexico is very strong. For example, Cuaron and del Toro reached out to me immediately after the film’s release to offer advice and ask how they could help further the film’s reach. So there’s a big sense of community and I participate in it. We are going to fight for what we think should continue existing the way it needs to, and for the support of not only cinema, but culture and the arts in general… there cannot be any room for transformation or growth in a society without culture, without amplifying voices, and without looking at art as one big interconnected tissue that is an essential part of our country.
What does the slowed-down version of your characters’ cumbia dance represent?
This cumbia rebajada, the slowed down version, represents the idea of clinging on to fast-expiring youth. When no upward social mobility and a lack of opportunity is the norm, youth doesn’t last as long as it should. The golden years of life get interrupted very early on in these difficult conditions. So, for me, this music comes as the voice of resistance trying to make the song last a little longer, trying to hold on to that dance, trying to squeeze every drop of meaning out of it, because after that, the future is not so promising. It’s a metaphor for that.
I believe you used mostly non-professional actors. How have their lives changed as a result of your film’s high international profile?
I would personally consider them professional actors now. They’ve completed their training, and technically they knew everything before they stepped foot on set. As far as how their lives have changed after the film, each has a different answer. In Juan’s [lead actor Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño] case, I’m sure you’ve seen the video “El Viaje de Juan Daniel.” It’s an animation short where he relates how his life has changed after the release of the film. It’s a beautiful story. Right now, he’s making his third film. But this is just in terms of work. I think the biggest takeaway is that Los Terkos is now a thing that exists. We have a group on Facebook, we talk a lot. If someone is ever struggling, everyone else comes out and provides support. They take care of each other. They feel like they belong to something — something new. That’s what I think has changed the most in their lives.
What issues are you hoping to delve into for your next film?
I am going to address the issue of cultural clash in my next film as well, but through a very different tone… it’s actually something closer to a comedy. It’s on the darker side, but in many ways, it has about the same amount of commentary on society and on the connection of things that are seemingly unconnected on the surface and how they impact the inner life of relatable characters.