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Interview with Mexican Writer Director Producer Alex Kahuam for his one take feature film "FAILURE!" (2022) @ AFM

Interview with Mexican Writer, Director Producer Alex Kahuam for "FAILURE!" @ AFM 2022    Interview with Mexican Writer, Director Producer Alex Kahuam for "FAILURE!" @ AFM 2022

Alex Kahuam is an award winning director/writer/producer who has been nominated at the top genre film festivals in the world such as: SITGES, LONDON FRIGHTFEST, BIFFF-Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival and many more. He is the first Mexican director in the history of cinema to have accomplished making a feature film in one long take with no cuts in the US. His style has caught the attention of many film festivals, critics and audiences around the world for the use of long takes and the tension that he builds in his films.

During the pandemic, he wrote and directed a one take short film drama (15 min) "165 days In Quarantine" starring Alberto Trujillo (Halley - Sundance Official Selection), María Evoli (Ariel award winner) and Eligio Meléndez (Ariel award winner). The short film will start its festival run in 2023

In late April 2022, Alex Kahuam wrote and directed his latest feature film "Failure!" (drama, thriller) starring horror icon Ted Raimi. It's the first Mexican-American co-production ever to be shot in a single long take in the United States, for almost 90 minutes with no cuts. No Mexican director has ever accomplished this in the US before. The film will start its festival run in 2023.

 

In an interview with Alex at AFM, here is what he had to say:

You are a director, producer and writer. Can you tell us what came first and did you always know you wanted to work in film?

ALEX: I started making short films at the very young age of 12. I felt a huge fascination with storytelling. That feeling after watching a film is something nothing you can compare to. I started to make films empirically. I picked up a camera and since the age of 18 I experimented with it. I was writing, directing, producing and editing all my shorts. Then at the age of 19 I made my directorial feature film debut called "Escondida" (77 min). We screened the film in Cinepolis, the biggest Mexican theater chain in Mexico. It was surreal to see my work at that age on the big screen. The local theater where I used to live back then agreed on screening the film for one weekend. It's really cool because now a little over ten years later "Escondida" has turned into "Red Light" starring Ted Raimi, which is basically the same story and concept from when I was 19; of course, it has evolved into a different beast. We shot a proof of concept and had our World Premiere in SITGES in 2020. Our goal is to make the feature adaptation in 2023. But going back to what came first, I think it was a bit of everything. Today, I continue to do all three- directing, producing and writing. I have producing partners but I haven't stopped producing. It's just something I've been doing along the way for the last two decades and it's something I like to do as well. However, if you ask me what I love the most? It's very simple: directing.

 

You are from Mexico but now live in LA. Do you think it's essential for serious filmmakers to work out of LA? 

ALEX: I've been in LA for 10 years, however during the Covid-19 pandemic, I split my time between LA and Mexico City and that made me realize many things. To answer your question more deeply, yes, I think LA is a great city in which all of your collaborators live: producers, writers, DP's, camera ops, composers, editors, etc. However, if we talk about tax incentives and how expensive it is to shoot here, I think there's way better places to shoot in the US like: NY, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida etc. And of course Mexico since it's very close to the States. I've been actively shooting in LA and Mexico back and forth for the last four years and it has turned out great. There are over ninety American productions shooting in Mexico right now. I got that number from my DP, Nick Matthews, who is currently shooting an American film in Mexico City. 

 

Can you tell us about some of your previous films? Do you have a film that you are most proud of?

ALEX: I think as far as which one I'm the most proud of it would be "Failure!" (drama, crime thriller) starring horror icon Ted Raimi. We will start our festival run in 2023. It's not my ego talking; rather, it's what we were able to prove and achieve with it, as in everyone who was involved in our production. I want to thank my cast and crew for following me into battle and many thanks to Ted Raimi because he said yes to my crazy idea. When I first had the thought of shooting a one take film was around my birthday last year. I wanted to shoot a feature with no cuts in LA. My previous feature "Forgiveness" in which we shot in Mexico City back in 2018 only had eight shots, so I thought that if I had already done that, I can absolutely do a one take film. I reached out to my previous collaborators and some rejected my idea and what I wanted to do. They said it was impossible and that I needed to cut and some others made excuses that they were busy shooting something else.

ALEX CONT'D: There's one crew member in particular I'm the most disappointed about, however thanks to him rejecting my crazy idea I found a better collaborator who joined "Failure!" and he'll be working with me forever. Everytime I hear "it's impossible" or "it's never been done" I LOVE it, it's just a HUGE inspiration and I want to do it even more. I'm Mexican, we don't take no for an answer. We'll persist until we make it happen. And it came out incredibly. I'm so happy! We made history. I'm the first Mexican director in the history of cinema to have made a one take film with no cuts in the US, so as my cinematographer Ernesto Lomeli, he is the first Mexican-American DP to do it. If you want to make a change you need to do it and set an example, nothing is impossible. Also "Failure!" is the first film of a film movement called "Herman@s réalisateurs 23" that I co-created with one of my hermano's and best friend who is a Mexican director as well. I won't reveal his name until next year, because he is shooting the 2nd film of the movement. 

ALEX CONT'D: This movement is inspired by the manifesto of Dogma 95 started by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, meaning that any project that comes to the movement will have a specific set of rules to follow. The conditions to join our movement include: directors must have already completed their first or second feature film, all projects must be international co-productions (Failure! is a Mexican-American co-production) they'll be exceptions for films with one country of production, you'll need to have a diverse cast and crew. Films must have long takes throughout. There's other rules we will be releasing later next year. The movement’s main objective is to connect artists from around the world; it offers a platform through which artists can work together to create innovative films.

ALEX CONT'D: Forgiveness (experimental horror film) is my previous feature, we had our world premiere at FrightFest in the UK in 2021. I feel really proud of this film, we shot it in Mexico City back in 2018. This film divided the critics, festivals and audiences and that's exactly what I wanted to do. It's a 90 min film with no dialogue till the last scene and only 8 shots throughout. The fact that there was no dialogue drove many people crazy in which I loved. I just love the cinematic language we were able to achieve. If I were to show this film back in the day when there was no dialogue in movies and it was all about music, my film would fit perfectly but Today you can't play with that. The audience won't accept it. Would I make a film with no diallogue anytime soon? I don't think so but down the road who knows. Failure! is the opposite, there's dialogue for 90 min. I like to change things around and not make the same films over and over again. 

ALEX CONT'D: “Red Light”, a short film and proof of concept starring Ted Raimi, I feel very proud of because it really became a huge hit within the genre film festivals and horror community. We had a world premiere at SITGES in 2020 and after that we had 60+ official selections. This one really triggered an audience and critics approval. This short has the same style as  "Forgiveness" as far as colors and technique with long takes. Like I mentioned previously we are currently in development for the feature adaptation and we are confident that we will be shooting the film in 2023. 

ALEX CONT'D: Last but not least "165 Days IN Quarantine". This was a passion and personal project I shot during the pandemic. When I say "shot it" I was the Director, DP, Camera Op, Writer and Producer. I didn't want to risk my crew so I geared up with all the Arri equipment and shot it myself with an easy rig. It's a 14 min long take, framed 4/3 shot in color and later made it black and white. We will do film festivals next year for it as well. It's a very dark short but it's basically how I felt during the pandemic.  

 

You recently wrote, directed and produced in the film FAILURE. Can you tell us about the movie without revealing too  much?

ALEX: Yes, “Failure!” is about James (Ted Raimi) a 56 year old man who has to make the biggest decision of his whole life within an hour and if he doesn't, there will be a lot of repercussions for him and his family. We follow his struggles for 90 minutes. 

 

What inspired you to tell this story? 

ALEX: During the pandemic a lot of businesses went bankrupt and I saw friends and family that sadly it happened to them. I saw their struggles and how their life changed throughout these last years. I felt like I needed to talk about this. It's interesting because my two previous films are genre films and "Failure!" is more of a drama, crime thriller. It's very different from my previous work. 

 

How did you go about casting the film and how long did it take you to make?

ALEX: The casting was very interesting for this specific film. Going back to "Forgiveness" we had very solid casting thanks to our casting director Silvia Gil. I asked her for actors who started in theater and with "Failure!" I did ask for the same thing here with our LA team. It was very important to me to find solid actors. The fact that we followed them with no cuts for 90 min, we needed great actors. More than auditions,I looked at their previous work and asked for theater plays recordings. 100% of the cast members from "Failure!" were trained in theater before embarking themselves on Film or TV. 

 

Why was filming in one take more complicated than filming many different takes?

ALEX: It was very challenging because basically if you make one mistake the whole film/take is done. There are things called happy accidents in which things weren't planned and it just happened at the moment and it works for the scene in which that's okay to have but all the crew and actors knew that if there was one mistake, the whole take was over. We needed to do it again. On "Forgiveness" we had a lot of challenges as well since we shot the whole film inside a building but we were cutting every 12 minutes, that was our longest long take. On "Failure!" I didn't cut it for 86 minutes. I'm so happy to say that it works and that we have an amazing film, I'm really happy with the final result. 

 

How have audience reactions been for the film and how can people see it? 

ALEX: We haven't screened the film to an audience yet, because we will be doing film festivals in 2023 before showing it. But the colleagues that we have shown the film to have received the film very well. We are currently waiting to hear back from several film festivals that we love and we would love to be in, we understand that it's up to the film programmers to decide. Fingers crossed. I love film festivals. Without them we directors wouldn't be anywhere. I think this film will inspire filmmakers around the world to make indie films and not to wait forever for financing. A lot of filmmakers want to make their dream project for a 20+ million dollar film or more and they shouldn't. They should prove that they can make films with way less than that. When you are an indie filmmaker it forces you to be creative and it'll make you a way better director believe me so when you direct something with a bigger budget you'll be ready and you'll make your work look incredible. 

 

Aside from being a multi-talented filmmaker, you own a production company. Can you explain for the layman what your company Promotora NAE works?

ALEX: Sometimes people don't understand how difficult it is to multitask and wear many hats all the time. Promotora NAE is a production company that is looking to innovate by telling stories in a different way. We are focused on diversity and new ways of storytelling. Our vision is to connect with different artists with different backgrounds around the world and create films together. Most importantly, to build bridges across nations instead of walls. Our previous film "Forgiveness" had three female leads, each with a different ethnicity and background. "Failure!" We have a cast of twenty diverse actors of different ethnicities and backgrounds, just like our previous film. 

 

You recently attended the AFM after 3 years of it being digital. Why is it important to attend film markets in your opinion?

It's very important to attend film markets as a filmmaker so producers, sales agents, distributors, film festivals, etc get to know you and your work. It is the place to connect with industry people. I've been going to the Cannes Film Festival Market since 2014 and it's the best place to network and showcase your work. This AFM was very useful for "Failure!" and my next projects. Like I previously said without film festivals and film markets filmmakers would be lost.

 

What will you be working on next?

ALEX: I'm currently working on “Red Light” feature film adaptation. We are hoping to be shooting the film in 2023. I'm also working on a heist/crime script. I'm supposed to send a draft after Thanksgiving so I'm writing that one like crazy! I'm really excited for that project. I'm also writing one horror movie and co-writing another one with another colleague from NY. I've been in LA now for ten years so I am technically an outsider here. The fact that I'm Mexican and I directed Ted Raimi in a one take film is a dream that came true. As I've always said, be persistence, be passionate and be patient but most importantly never give up. It is possible to make films and your dreams happen. Never forget that.

 

Interview with Mexican Writer, Director Producer Alex Kahuam for "FAILURE!" @ AFM 2022

 

Interview by Vanessa K McMahon 

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