Alejandro Loayza Grisi – Photo courtesy of Conic Films
| November 23, 2022
utama (Bolivia/Uruguay/France/2022), the title of Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s feature film debut, means “our home” in Quechua. The film questions our place in nature and the need to give back in order to benefit.
utama premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year, where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema-Dramatic Competition. It was first shown to UK audiences at the recent BFI London Film Festival, where it was held sounds and colors met the director. You can read the interview below and our review of the film can be found here.
S&C: For those unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us a bit about your beginnings in film?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: I started my artistic career as a photographer. I studied advertising because I wanted to be as far away from the cinema as possible because my father is a filmmaker. I was kind of a rebel when I decided to study photography over film and I fell in love with photography straight away. I became a cinematographer and I did that for 7 years before I started making music videos because I love the responsibilities that directors have and I wanted that for myself. I did about 10-15 music videos before I made my first feature film have made. utama. I’ve only done short films as a cinematographer, never as a director, so this is my debut, but it came naturally and without pressure.
S&C: Where did the inspiration for the film come from and how did it come about?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: The film takes place in a small town very close to the Andes in the highlands. I have traveled a lot in the mountains and I love the light in this area. I’ve always loved it in a cinematic way. But the story was born as a love story. The hardest thing about love is letting go. So for Don Virginio, the protagonist of the film, it’s about knowing that he has to let go of his wife Sisa and coming to terms with it. This is the main inspiration for the film.
I also got to travel around this area for an environmental documentary series I was working on, so I learned all about all the issues we have in Bolivia. I met these wonderful people and heard their stories and I got to see these wonderful places. I wanted to talk about the things that we lose in the film because everything happens so quickly. The concept of climate change is only a 60-year-old phenomenon. But we’ve been on Earth for millions of years and now we have this problem which is new and happening very fast and we may not have reacted fast enough. This concern also prompted me to play this love story in this special climate.
S&C: The sentiment in the film is pessimistic, like we’ve reached a point of no return with climate change. Does your film offer hope?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: The film obviously carries a very pessimistic message – we all know there is a point of no return – but I also wanted to offer an optimistic view. She (Sisa) stays in the country and it is her decision to stay there. The name Sisa has a very beautiful meaning: it means “the eternal one” who always comes to life. I feel that nature is like this; Nature always comes to life. Even when we are not there, there will always be life in nature. I have a feeling that the film might be pessimistic about the animal and human species, but not about nature. We don’t learn enough from nature, but in a way the film challenges us to learn to respect nature, which I think is an optimistic message.
S&C: Did the actors already have film experience?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: Santos Choque (Clever) had done a few acting workshops so had minimal acting experience. But for the others it was a completely new experience in their lives, it was their first encounter with a big crew, with cameras… But for me it was very helpful that they could relate to the story, that they could understand the characters and the problems they have. We rehearsed a lot and I felt like they were very committed to the film and the process, so I think we ended up making a great film.
S&C: How important do you see the role of a filmmaker these days, especially in response to the climate crisis?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: I think it’s a very important role. It comes with a great responsibility. The beauty of cinema is that you can talk heart to heart with the audience; You don’t need a translator, and you can put the audience in someone else’s shoes and generate empathy. Stories can make you travel. Through movies one can understand the plight of a little girl in Afghanistan or a poor person in China or a middle class person in the US or Europe or whatever. They can transport people and I think that allows us to understand ourselves better, to understand each other better and to understand the problems that other countries face. We define the world with borders, but actually we are the same people all over the world, everyone has the same feelings, everyone has to love, eat, sleep. So I think cinema can break down borders and I think it plays a very important role in that sense.
S&C: There are elements of fantasy/magical realism in your film. I’m specifically referring to the traditional methods the characters use to bring rain, like sacrificing a llama or fetching water from the heart of the mountain. Does your film celebrate Bolivian folklore or is it skeptical about Bolivian traditions that no longer bring about change?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: It was a tradition I heard about: going to the source of the mountain to get the purest water you can find, bringing it back down and sowing it. I found it very poetic and I feel like some people in Bolivia have this close relationship with nature called ‘Pachamama’ and in order to receive from Mother Earth you also have to give and sacrifice for her. Maybe it doesn’t sound “modern” and killing an animal doesn’t sound “rational,” but if you think about it, a sacrifice is giving up something you love — you love and respect animals — and I feel like other modern-day diets way of treating animals is much more brutal and wild. So I think we can learn from this idea of giving to receive. It’s such a simple way to understand life and our relationship with Mother Nature. The opposite actually sounds brutal. We are used to taking and taking and taking but we don’t give and that’s what we’ve learned over the last 300/500 years and it’s very bad for the environment.
S&C: Were Bolivians able to watch your film? Alejandro Loayza Grisi: The film came out a few weeks ago and was very well received. A lot of people have gone to the movies and related to the story and asked some new questions, which is great for me. We also showed it in the community where we shot the film and they were so happy that their reality was shown in a film. It is the first time that their culture is shown in this way. There have been a few other films about the Andean regions and cities, but never one like this one. I am so happy that so many Bolivians have loved the film so much and are proud of it.
S&C: do you have any plans for the future?
Alejandro Loayza Grisi: I’m going to write a new project that I’m really excited about, also set in Bolivia. It’s about a different part of Bolivia with a different culture and language. It is about the feeling of regional identity and belonging: the sense of belonging to a place and a culture and family across generations. I already have a character, a universe where it will take place, but I’m struggling to find the story… late November, when utama When I stop touring I can start writing and I’m really looking forward to it.
utama hits UK cinemas on November 25th
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