“A pathway to Heaven and a gateway to hell.”
It’s by those words that Juan Diego Escobar Alzate describes his first full-length feature: Luz: Flowers of Evil. Hars words coming from a director oh-so-young. But then, the Colombian filmmaker took ayahuasca before he wrote the movie. For those unaware, ayahuasca is a beverage of hallucinatory nature used by shamans.
I believe Jodorowsky took some before he wrote some of his pieces. Maybe this is where his influence can be felt upon Alzate. For in every interview, the Colombian filmmaker is heard praising the Chilean director/writer. Well, Alzate tends to also revere Terrence Mallick, yet he cites Jodorowsky way more frequently.
It’s hard finding resources about the movie with most of them being in Spanish but it appears the thirty-something filmmaker mainly wanted to explore the issue of faith. Of the link between God and humanity. In his own words, he wanted to make a movie about Spinoza’s God which does not exist as a deity but, according to the director, as the conjunction of both good and evil, intertwining to form perfection.
Alzate was born in Colombia and from an early age wanted to become a filmmaker. Mainly because of his dad who watched a lot of spaghetti westerns. Since this precise genre was shot in Italy in the 70s, it is what led him through teenagehood naturally toward gialli. For when the great era of spaghetti western ended, most filmmakers turned towards the next profitable genre: gialli. Through this, Alzate discovered the work of famous directors such as Argento or Bava, a peculiar aesthetic which stuck with him.
Despite the film industry being relatively small in Colombia, Alzate decided to pursue his studies which granted him a scholarship in San Francisco where he got an MFA in filmmaking. Despite all of this, the director claims it is not through teaching that he got better but through curiosity. His interest in the occult, poetry, mysticism and philosophy are what helped him shape his own voice.
Still, it’s thanks to his student film The Colors of Hope and Wonder — which already possesses his peculiar brand of vivid colours — that Alzate got contacted by Yuri Vargas, through Facebook, telling him that despite her fame she would gladly work with him. I can only fathom how pleased Alzate must have been at the time.
It is also through this movie that he started to work with Luis Enrique Vanegas. His then Director of Photography who would also accompany him on Luz. For, Alzate’s first movie was a mix of found footage he’d found and tried to assemble as a singular experimental narrative.
In the making of Luz, Alzate states clearly that he worked for five years upon the movie. Yet that the first time he tried to shoot it, something prevented him and that in the gap between this failure and the genuine pre-production he rewrote the script for he had matured. Maybe this is what he was referring to when he asserted that real artists/filmmakers had to first find their own voice.
For his casting, except Yuri he’d hired on the spot, Zalte claims he preferred to learn of his actor’s lives. That his movie could then become a healing balm. A fiction which would be way more than moving, albeit beautiful, images and sweet sound.
To realize his dream, Alzate then turned towards crowdfunding. See, at the time, the young man had mainly directed commercials and music videos, and there’s a fair chance no one would want to bet on him just yet. I’ve seen an estimated budget of 20k dollars thrown around. I suppose it could well be although I wonder if said sum wasn’t just the results of the crowdfunding phase.
See, despite what everybody thinks, in order to do his movie, Alzate built a cabin up a mountain in hometown region, far away from everyone. He then flew in a team of 27 technicians, which is the regular size of a film crew, at least in France. The flying part is corroborated by the ending of the making of in which we can see the whole team depart. Add to this two jeeps, and maybe the need to buy another one during the production, plus the rent of the LED projectors, the whole machinery, the SFX by Rigor Mortis, the cost of colour grading, the VFX, and the cost go up pretty quick.
What is sure is, Alzate who wanted to idolize nature, bought at least 27 people up a mountain where there existed no wifi. This to try and create a connection in-between everyone. For a shoot that lasted 18 days during March 2018. This at least work, for in the making of, it is not rare to see actors sharing personal anecdotes. Yet, you have to keep in mind that if there weren’t any electricity up the hill, the team slept in a hostel at night, which was used to charge the battery. In fact, LED lights were chosen because of their ability to work on battery and not necessitate an electrogen group.
What’s more weird is that during the scouting phase of the movie, Alzate says the weather was harsh, there were landslides and fogs. Braving all of this, or more accurately having his back against the wall in terms of schedule, Alzate decided to shoot nonetheless and if the making of is to be believed, it only rained once. I even heard the filmmaker claiming that since the shoot, the cabin they shot at had been taken by a landslide. This is in part why Alzate believes Luz was blessed, and I can share the feeling.
For the post-production, the director turned to WemakeColours, a company he admits was owned by a friend, who then did a wonderful job on the film. Although they admitted to him that the color grading of said movie was really harsh, for pushing the colours that high fucks up the entire palette of every other colour on screen.
Am getting a bit technical here, but I heard interviewers asking him how he could shoot it this way. To which Alzate answered that his DOP came from fashion, and him from the music video industry so they were both pretty much full-on the aesthetic of the piece. Still, as a gaffer and amateur DOP, I know half the things you see were made during post-production. This ain’t me being angry, I mean, Alzate also credits the color grading company , it’s one of the first things you see in the credits. Yet those legends of natural light and all that almost always fuck me up.
It doesn’t matter if Alzate used LED lights on set to accompany natural light. It doesn’t matter either if he colour-corrected greatly the whole piece. What matters is Luz: Flowers of Evil is a beautiful and weird piece with a very distinct visual look. One that shook me and enabled its director to go to Sitges with its first feature.
A real filmmaker’s vision.
Sumary: Three young women must confront their fate in the leader of their cult when he brings back a sixth Jesus in the form of a child.