In 2014, Las Malas Lenguas (watch a trailer below), the thesis film project by Juan Paulo Laserna (BFA 2014 Film and Video) about the complicated world of the Colombian elite, won the outstanding feature film award at SVA’s Dusty Film & Animation Festival (the College’s annual invitation-only showcase of student films). On Saturday, June 13, at 2:00pm, it will be shown as part of the LA Film Fest, a prestigious annual festival dedicated to independent documentaries, features and shorts from all over the world. SVA Close Up got in touch with Laserna to ask him about the movie, its debut and his upcoming projects.
Congratulations on getting accepted into the LA Film Festival! How did you respond to the news?
It caught us by surprise. The festival coordinator, Courtney Smith, and I had worked for a very long time on festival applications and it seemed like the Latin American and European festivals might be more interested in a film like this one. It’s wonderful to have the movie be shown to an American audience, especially like the one in LA, because the city thrives on the movie industry and to be able to showcase it there is a huge privilege. The festival also has a retreat for the filmmakers presenting their work prior to the inauguration, where I can meet people like myself that I otherwise couldn’t.
How would you sum up the journey of coming up with the idea for the film and making it to where you are today?
I think filmmaking is an art as much as it’s a means to criticize what we think we need to change in the world. My film was conceived from outrage at the fact that Colombian movies have mostly focused on drug violence and prostitution but rarely target the conservative principles of the country, which for me are the basis of conflict. Once the idea and the script took off, many great people that I knew from back home tagged along, knowing that there was little money and little time [for the film’s production], and in the end it was thanks to them that we could pull it off. Thankfully I also had the luck to find Sara Montoya, without whom the movie would never have been as powerful as it was intended to be, and I believe it was her performance above anything else that has moved many of the people who have seen the movie.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I am working with the screenwriter with whom I co-wrote Las Malas Lenguas on a six-story structured film about the dynamics of classism in Bogota. I am also working with an amazing French producer on a movie about two sibling expats in Colombia and how they come to terms with their flawed relationship while living far away from home.
Any advice for current SVA students or aspiring filmmakers?
I would advise current SVA students to look at themselves and their life experiences to find the stories that move them, because it’s often the things closer to us that are most worth telling and are the clearest to direct because we know them so well. . . . I believe that, to make meaningful films, people have to get in touch with what makes them vulnerable and then shed light onto it, even if it is through [movies about] vampires and hit men. I also think that if you are an aspiring filmmaker you need to know that there are hundreds of thousands of people that want to do exactly what you seek, and for you to get it you need to go the extra mile. It’s not an industry for lazy people and nobody will tell you what to do, so initiative, ambition and hard work are as important as being talented.