Award-winning, New York based Colombian composer Julián De La Chica, never thought of directing a film. However, an experience, 12 years ago in Soho NY, changed his mind and led him to directing.
Inspired by films such as The hours by Stephen Daldry, Ida by Paweł Pawlikowski and Branca de neve by João César Monteiro, Agatha speaks about the decadence of "dead times". In a very poetic and intimate language, the film explores a regular morning in the life of Próspero, a young Latino photographer who has moved to the big city in search of opportunities, as well as an identity. De La Chica takes us into Prospero's mind in a very slow and raw way. There is nothing hidden, although there is much that is not said. Perhaps this is the artistic element of Agatha, that we are all voyeurs of Próspero, just like De La Chica in the real life.
It is not surprising, being a film directed by a composer, that music is the protagonist. Agatha's soundtrack, The Voyeuristic Images Op. 10, (A cycle for piano performed by De La Chica himself) can already be listened on the musical platforms like Apple and Spotify, and in its release week, it was selected as part of “Classical music releases of the week" by Spotify’s classical music curator.
The film has won 11 awards and is selected at 24 film festivals and has been also honored as a finalist and honorable mention in several other festivals. Some of the awards include Best Experimental Film, Best LGBT Film, and Best Soundtrack.
After being "officially selected" by Chicago Indie Film Awards, Chicago Movie Mag spoke with Julian De La Chica about Agatha.
Composer Julián De La Chica & Actor Augusto Guzmán
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
I think that cinema is a huge universe where everything is possible. It's like a journey, a dream, a mind that offers some insight into everyday events and makes you see life from a different perspective. I am a composer, and perhaps it is because I grew up watching all kinds of movies that my music is intrinsically related to images. I think visually, I compose visually, I feel visually. I wouldn't be able to produce a single note if I don’t come up with an image first. The cinematic language allows you to create other universes, where you interact with your inner self and your dark side.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?
I have thought quite often about this question: is it better to be educated in an academy or to learn in a more pragmatical way? I have somewhat been able to try both approaches (in music) and I believe they complement each other. Technique is vital; it is fully necessary to come up with your own methods. On the other hand, first-hand experience helps you connect with the reality of the world and its dilemmas. The key is being able to work using both perspectives, and the results are wonderful. Personally, I’ve never taken a course in any film academy whatsoever. I’m not saying I lack the technical knowledge of a cinematographer who goes to a school. But when it comes to directing, and if I consider Agatha (The film), I can say that I was quite certain about what I wanted to achieve. Interestingly, when I showed the film to some film professionals, many told me that it was too slow, and that this could lead to problems. In fact, that's what I was looking for: not to entertain, but to propose. It’s harmful to just keep making films just to capture the public's attention, a public that already gets bored easily. We need to think more, we need some space to reflect on the decisions we make. I am against saturation. I think we need silence.
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
Well, cinema is art, and as such, it seems to me that it brings everything together. To watch a good film is to witness art at its best. It is a magical manifestation of perfection that we grasp with all our senses. It is ethereal, timeless.
Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?
Yes. There were many things I knew that I wanted to happen. The shooting had to be in real time. If Próspero had to arrive at home at 8 a.m., after a weekend of partying, I needed the actor, Augusto Guzmán, to be sitting on the set at 8 a.m. so the light was authentic. I wanted to document everything in the most real way possible. It had to be raw, without much production. Austere and minimalist images, like my music.
Composer Julián De La Chica - Photo by Alberto Carobene
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
I say that art itself speaks in many ways. We propose things but, in the end, art decides. One day, casually, I put an ad on Craigslist. I know (laughs). Is CL even still used? Well, seems like so. The ad said we were looking for an actor. Curiously, more than 50 people showed up. All of them very talented professionals. However, when I read Augusto's email and saw his photos, I said: that's the one. As for the cinematographer, it was one of the best experiences. I must say that Agatha is what it is thanks to the professionalism of Junting Zhou. He is a wonderful young man, a true professional with a very interesting artistic discourse. I met him because I was looking for someone to give me some lessons on how to use my camera. We finally met for coffee, and when I told him about the project, he liked it a lot and said he would like to participate. I gladly accepted. If he hadn't been there, I'm sure Agatha wouldn't be what it is, and it wouldn't have as many awards as it has had so far and such a good reception from the public.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
The film was financed by IGM, a record label I am a part of. At first it was a personal project based on my music, but then it evolved into a film, although it kept its experimental theme. Making a film, no matter how simple, is not easy. There were many obstacles: schedules, traffic, personal time constraints. In short, it took a lot of organization, but the best thing was the generosity of the staff members. Without them, none of that would have been possible. It was a very generous team.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
I don't consider myself anything; I don't like labels. I am a walker, a wanderer. I am very curious. I like to experiment, to know and to try new things. To take risks. Life is too short to live it in a linear way. As for your question about the difficulty of being an independent artist, there’re many things that could be said but, above all, being independent is extremely gratifying. There's no “prostitution”, you can keep to your own ethics. And that's priceless.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
We’ve started to receive proposals, but we still don't have anything concrete. The film is still in its year of festivals. We’ll see.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
Since I don’t consider myself a filmmaker, I am in no hurry and I have any objectives. I want to do things as they come. Curiously, I’ve already started working on the second film, and we will begin shooting in October. I never thought about that, but it happened. I suppose that’s just how life is.
What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?
I think Europeans are my audience, without a doubt. In America, I've run into people who think that maybe I don't depict the LGBT community fairly because one of my characters is a gay man who doubts his identity and spends a weekend partying and doing drugs. Well, the truth is that it’s a common thing, and it doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, or angelic. It's just life. Agatha is a crude film, no doubt, but that's what I wanted to convey. As I said before, I'm not making movies to entertain people, or to simply fill a theater. I saw a couple of movies at LGTB festivals that didn't accept Agatha. They were a little predictable: the typical guys who go to the gym and have doubts (they're straight) and one ends up in love with the other but there's a woman in the way, as always. And they want to lecture me about labels... Anyways, I don't want to question other colleagues and artists, but you can see that there are agendas at festivals, and that in the USA, more often than not, people prefer to cover things up. In Europe I have felt very welcome. If there is even one person who has felt a connection with the film or who has identified with it, I am satisfied with that.