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An Interview with Jac Avila, Director of Dead But Dreaming

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2013

Jac Avila on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Dead But Dreaming - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Dead But Dreaming is a vampire story as no other. It centers on the drama of Moira, an Irish rebel collaborating with the independence fighters of South America at the very beginning of the rebellion against the Spanish Crown, in 1805.

The city where this rebellion is brewing lives in fear of a mysterious killer that is leaving a trail of bloodless corpses. Moira is arrested as a suspect of these crimes, she is condemned to be flogged, and to die. While she awaits execution she’s visited by a strange woman who feeds on the blood from her wounds … but… you have to see the film to know more.

 

Even if you take a somewhat unconventional approach to the vampire myth as such, the approach is deeply rooted in actual mythology. So how much research went into that aspect of Dead But Dreaming? And how much into the movie's historical undercurrents?

 

Some elements of the vampire mythology are in the film, but very few. As you know, the legends of Vampires have their origins in Eastern Europe and those legends vary a lot. I took some elements from some of those myths, I also borrowed from some of the myths in South American lore as well as some from Christianity and so on. But I don’t use them as a “factual” base for the story but rather as the interpretations or beliefs of Father Ferenc, a priest from the south of Hungary whose family migrated to the new world. He tries to understand and to explain to his lovely niece Varna what is happening and his theories as who could be leaving those bloodless corpses of young men in the streets of La Paz.

 

He talks about a demon who transforms itself into a beautiful woman to lure young men and drink their blood. This demon has many names, Lamia Korinthia, Lamia Libys, Lamia Philinnion, Mormolykeion, Empousa… But some say, and he believes too, that she is Lilith “the first wife of Adam who was expelled from paradise” and exists from the beginning of time. I never use the word Vampire in the film. Aphrodisia, one of the characters, refers to herself as a bloodsucker. Asar, her maker and the second vampire ever, sees himself as a sort of God.

 

The principal historical period is 1805, during the beginning of the uprising against the Spanish crown. But the film also touches 10,000 BC and 57 BC to show the origins of the immortal bloodsuckers. 

The largest portion of the story, the 1805 event, is based in real historical facts including what happened to a woman accused of sedition who was publicly whipped, paraded naked and then executed. The man in charge of that event was Don Jose Manuel, who is one of the characters in the movie.

 

The mission Moira undertakes is to get funds for the rebels so the Gallego, a historical character, could build enough cannons for the rebels. And so on. In fact the priest himself, a sympathizer of the rebels is based on a priest that collaborated with said rebels. We shot the scenes at the very church where the historical priest lived. So, history is all over the film. However, there weren’t any vampires around at the time, not that I know of. That’s simply a figment of my imagination.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing Dead But Dreaming?

 

I cannot avoid being influenced by other writers, like Stoker or Anne Rice, to name the best known, but I depart from what they set as the rules of life and death for vampires. My vampires don’t necessarily die if exposed to the sun, for instance, although I have a little surprise on the second part. They get weak, they can’t feed during the day and they look too pale. They do thrive at night, yes, and that’s when they are powerful.

 

C. Dean Andersson, the author of I Am Dracula, wrote a wonderful review in IMDb, he says: “Avila’s serious yet playful Vampires enthralled me with their originality. I would ordinarily assume a filmmaker who “got it wrong,” with regard to Vampire traditions in film, simply didn’t know what he was doing. But the way Avila handled breaking the rules came across instead as if maybe he knew a secret truth and got it right while everyone else got it wrong, because Avila’s Vampires helped me regain that otherworldly feeling I associated with Vampires when I started studying them as a kid.”

My bloodsuckers are strong and fast, very fast, at night, but they don’t fly and they don’t have super strength. They do have their weaknesses and they can be vulnerable. They can get hurt but not killed just like that. How to kill them is the issue here. Really. No one knows and so far none has been killed. They can be put to sleep and thus the origin of the title, dead but dreaming… They may look dead, they might be dead, but they are dreaming with their return as all the ancient gods do.

 

Your movie features quite a few quite authentic/impressive locations. Want to talk about those for a bit, and how did you get those?

 

Bolivia is located in the very center of South America and it has a concentration of locations in a relatively small, in geographic terms, area. We have the Andean snowy mountains and a few hours away by car we have tropical luscious valleys and everything in between, like modern cities with colonial era streets a few minutes away from Moon-like valleys, not far from amazing rocky formations that look like petrified giant souls … and so on.

 

It’s not hard to work in these locations. We received the support of the city that gave us access to museums, parks and streets that we needed for the shoot. The easiest part of the shoot was to find and secure the locations. We don’t need to travel far to find what we need. The entire area is just amazing.

 

What can you tell us about the overall look and feel of Dead But Dreaming?

 

What people say about the film in their comments and critiques describes it better. For a micro budget production it looks incredibly expensive. That’s the impression people get. Some say that the film reminds them of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a time in the West, because of the locations and the music.

For other critics it brings a freshness to the theme and somehow it returns the story to the basic premise of vampire tales. And so on.

 

By bringing different eras into one film, I wanted to play a little with each. For instance if you follow closely the dialog between Ferenc and Varna you can actually have the sense of a what a conversation between a liberation theology priest who is, at the same time, terribly misogynist and Sor Juana de la Cruz, a firm believer who was, at the same time, a pious feminist, would be like. Ferenc and Varna are characters that have enormous contradictions within themselves, just like the vampires who love life but survive from the death of others. Just like we do.

 

In the 57 BC sequence, which is intercut in the movie, the entire movie jumps back and forth in time, the dialogues are in English, mostly, and are delivered in a tone that reminisces of the old Roman epics from Cinecitta dubbed to English. I wanted the actors to play their characters like that. While the Spanish/Bolivian characters speak a beautiful almost poetic Spanish, the ancient people like Nahara, who we’re not sure where she comes from, speaks ancient Etruscan; Asar understands her, however Nahara doesn’t understand the dwellers of the Island of the Sun who are about to sacrifice her and who speak an ancient language that gave origin to Aymara and other Andean languages.

I think all that adds to the strangeness of the film, on top of the amazing locations that give an otherworldly feeling to the entire movie.

 

You have cast yourself in a pivotal role as one of the ancient vampires in Dead But Dreaming - so what can you tell us about your character, and how much of Jac Avila can be found in Asar?

 

I had a previous script where the character was actually Vlad the Impaler who sacrifices Nahara (The Light), an immortal, he drinks her blood before committing suicide and thus becomes a vampire. But I would be repeating the mythology already known and I would have been obligated to stick to it. So, I opted to go way back in time, 10,000 years, at the time when the earth was recuperating from a great cataclysmic event that separated the continents. One person, Asar, from the “European” side ends up in the “South American” side by accident, he’s lost there and the people who are desperately trying to survive and recover what they lost, make him a god, because he’s different. Which what happened when the first Spaniards arrived in the Andes, they were seen as Viracochas, gods.

 

Jac Avila as Asar

The dwellers of the Island of the Sun offer him and the Gods up in the sky, sacrifices. He has to drink the blood of the young women they offer to him, if he does not they will kill him. It is during one of those sacrifices that Nahara appears out of nowhere; she says she comes from the gates of stone that surround them. No one understands her. When Asar asks her in his language who she is, she understands him because he “speaks the tongue of the ancient world” and she can understand.

 

Unfortunately Asar can’t do anything for her. Nahara becomes the sacrifice, Asar drinks her blood … but she doesn’t die, the stake that was plunged into her chest doesn’t kill her. She’s an immortal. After drinking her blood Asar removes the stake. She’s very much alive and jumps on him, drinks his blood, kills him… but he already has her blood in him, so he returns as an immortal bloodsucker.

 

I gave myself this very exciting role because I wanted to play him because he has most of the fun in the movie. And I think I do a good job as the lecherous, seductive, somewhat romantic and even melancholic bloodsucking god who is not that bad after all. He learns that he doesn’t have to kill his prey, something that his creation, Aphrodisia refuses to learn so she’s punished for it.

 

Amy Hesketh

Veronica Paintoux

Mila Joya

Jorge Ortiz

Claudia Moscoso

Is there something from me in Him who drinks the blood of the innocent and the guilty alike to survive? Maybe.

 

Do talk about the rest of your key cast for a bit, and why exactly these people?

 

The character that suffers the most is Moira, the Irish rebel who is brutally flogged, and executed, a very difficult scene to play. Moira is played by Amy Hesketh [Amy Hesketh interview - click here], the actress who suffered so very much in Maleficarum. Given her previous experience this film should’ve been an easy walk for her; but it was just as hard. She does a superb job as Moira.

 

Veronica Paintoux is Nahara the immortal. She brings something otherworldly, eerie, scary to her character, she’s also very sexy and seems to be in a permanent state of ravenous hunger. You don’t want to meet her in a dark street, you would die of fright. She’s not scary in an ugly way, no, she terrifying because she’s beautiful and ravenous. Like one of those incredibly beautiful tigers that can swallow you whole.

 

Mila Joya is the rebellious Aphrodisia, she brings her youth into play. She’s serious while being playful, she’s a predator and a bit naïve. She’s also a victim. She was crucified in 57 BC, falsely accused of being a thief, no one helped her, no one felt any pity for her, she was whipped and nailed to the wood and left to die, so she’s very angry too.

 

Jorge Ortiz, the most sought after actor in Bolivia, with many, many films in his career, plays the priest. He brings a convincing sense of who he is to the character. His tone, his movements, his total dedication to his beliefs, come through so well that it never feels you’re seeing an actor.

 

Claudia Moscoso is Varna, the niece. She’s eloquent, well read, extremely intelligent, defiant in a very passive aggressive way, a firm believer in her independence and painfully aware of her limitations in her own time. She is way ahead of her time. I was inspired for her character on the writings of Sor Juana de la Cruz. She might be gay. She says: “In this life we women have two choices, to be the bride of Christ or to marry a man. I’d like to think that there’s a third choice”

 

Beto Lopez plays Jose Manuel, the pursuer of the rebels, the cruel general who has Moira whipped and garroted. Before the poor woman is tormented, after a quick interrogation, he tells his soldiers, “Do anything you want with her” and so they do. He’s mean. Beto gives the character a cynic’s flair as well.

 

Those are the principal characters, but I have Erix Antoine as Demetrios, the Roman hero in love with Chrysys, played by Courtney Willis, the Palestinian courtesan who asks him to steal the valuable mirror of her courtesan friend Bracchis, played by Jessica Mardesich. Demetrios sends his minion to steal the mirror and Aphrodisia, Bracchis’ favorite slave, who was going to be freed that very night, gets the blame and suffers the cross for it. And I could go on. The cast is excellent.

 

What can you tell us about the the shoot as such and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The way we work is like a bunch of kids playing a game. Although the work is very hard, we try to have as little tension as possible. We save that for the scenes. We are all friends, we know each other well and when some people come into the set, people that we don’t know, they are taken by that feeling of camaraderie and join the party. It’s a pleasure to work like that.

 

I think that the cast and the crew, the hired hands, those who do not work with us full time, can see the level of commitment we have to our work and do their part as well. It’s particularly impressive to see how they work when we’re doing those very difficult scenes, like when Amy is flogged publicly, totally naked, and everyone is working very professionally. It’s really, really nice. Because of the movies we make, the “kind” of movies we make, we’re the buzz of the town. Some people even hate us… a lot.

 

As far as I know, the movie has only recently had its Bolivian premiere - so what can you tell us about critical and audience reception so far?

 

Everyone, well, almost everyone, at the premiere loved the film. We had a Q&A at the Cinemateca weeks after the film went theatrical and we had a good crowd and in general the reaction was very positive. I think because of its unusual story line, its totally unrestrained display of nudity and violence, and so on, the reactions to the film can be from total amazement to disbelief. People’s view of me as a director range from “he’s a genius” to “he’s a pervert”.

 

The $64-question of course: Where is the movie available from?

 

The movie is available for download (VOD) and DVD in our store at

http://vermeerworks.com

It will be available in amazon.com early next year.

We have some other distribution offers that we’re considering, but for now vermeerworks.com it is.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

We’re shooting a new movie right now, directed by my brilliant co-conspirator Amy Hesketh [Amy Hesketh interview - click here], and with me in a protagonist role. This new film is another vampire movie, but this time is the story of a family of genetic vampires. It’s based on the little known story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Olalla.

 

Amy plays the title role of Olalla, Mila plays the role of Ofelia, her younger sister, and I play the role of Felipe, the lecherous uncle of these two beautiful women. We’re all vampires, we live a long time and to keep the line we must stay within the family, thus we’re an incestuous family. The story takes place in two periods, the 1800’s and contemporary times. It has tones of a dark comedy as well. It has very, very funny moments that are, at the same time, very bizarre.

 

We have an IndieGoGo campaign going to raise funds for an incredible scene for this movie. People can help us make this movie a really great one. We do have part of our goal covered already so the shooting is happening, however we want to make it look grander.

To contribute to the campaign:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/olalla

 

We’re also going to start shooting the second part of Dead But Dreaming. It will have a different title, and it is the continuation of the film. It follows the story of the vampires as they move on in time and geographic location.

I plan to cover the actual independence war, a bit of it. Jump all the way to the 1930’s, later to the 70’s and finally our time, the 21st century, a time that can be both, the most fun and the most challenging for my vampires.

 

And as if that wasn’t enough, we just began looking into making Maleficarum II. It’s mandatory, we think. People can’t get enough of Maleficarum, so a second part is looming in the near future.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

The IndieGoGo campaign

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/olalla

To keep up to date with our work, reviews, news, etc

http://pachamamfilms.com

To get our films in VOD or DVD:

http://vermeerworks.com

To read our personal woes, joys, etc

http://jacavila.blogspot.com

http://amyhesketh.blogspot.com

Our facebook page for Dead But Dreaming

https://www.facebook.com/deadbutdreamingmovie

https://www.facebook.com/barbazulthemovie

https://www.facebook.com/pachamamafilms

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Amy was recently at the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas with her second feature, Barbazul, she had the greatest of times and learned a lot, and something she became aware of is very interesting. We’re living the dream!

 

That’s what fellow filmmakers told her. We’re making these movies, so elaborate, like Dead But Dreaming, with micro budgets, and not only that, we are going about doing them at a rate that bewilders those who see us hard at work.

 

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One question often asked now, here in Bolivia, by journalists is “how do you do it, how do you manage to make film after film?”

 

The reality of TRUE independent filmmaking is that it is limited by the lack of funds. It’s the same for indies in Bolivia as it is in the US and Europe, where there’s some government support for the arts. So, it is very rare that you find a group of independent filmmakers churning out film after film without institutional support.

 

I’m not saying we have all the funds we’d like to have, but we do manage to sell our movies and get enough money to continue working, pay salaries (You Have Employees?!!! Is the reaction to Amy’s mention of paying people a regular salary).

 

I think we have a business model that is working for us, which is somewhat similar to what Roger Corman did in the 60’s as an alternative to the studios [Roger Corman bio - click here]. Work with low budgets, with very talented people and using creativity as the bigger resource. And, of course, with awesome stories that people want to see and it works for us, at least. The point is not to lose money in the process and so far we haven’t.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you! Always a pleasure.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
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... and for the life of it,
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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written by
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