Beauty and darkness

Juan Diego Escobar Alzate on God, nature, the power of belief and Luz: The Flower Of Evil

by Jennie Kermode

"In order for it to be so immersive, I wanted the cast and crew to be immersed into the wilderness themselves " - Juan Diego Escobar Alzate
"In order for it to be so immersive, I wanted the cast and crew to be immersed into the wilderness themselves " - Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Few of the films showing at this year's Glasgow Film Festival have both the striking beauty and the immersive power of Luz: Flower Of Evil, a story of religious conviction, temptation and shocking violence set in the remote mountains of Colombia. It's the first feature by writer/director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate, who agreed to answer some questions about how it developed and what it meant to him, shortly before the first of its screenings at the festival.

Jennie Kermode: You've made several short films in the past. What made you decide that the time had come to take on a feature?

Juan Diego Escobar Alzate: Its not about the number of short films that a filmmaker does in order to feel he is ready to shoot a feature, at least it was not my case. I have devoted my whole life to films and filmmaking, I have an MFA in filmmaking which basically in film is like the highest degree and still means nothing, as I crafted my own tone and voice by reading, travelling, reading philosophy, investigating about alchemy, through my passion about witchcraft books, the obscure texts, writing poetry, basically questioning all the notions of beauty and our own yin and yangs. What I mean is that I knew that the time had come as I have developed a particular tone and a distinctive poetic voice.

"God lives in nature, at least my God" - JDEA
"God lives in nature, at least my God" - JDEA

The hardest thing of being an artist is having your own voice, so that you don’t copy other artists. This is what I have always believed is the different between an artist and a regular filmmaker. For a true filmmaker artist a film is not a product as it's a piece of soul and you can feel it through a movie. An artist doesn’t have 100 films, because their soul isn’t shattered in 100 pieces, way less. I believe art is for the real broken.

JK: The story in the film feels like folklore. Was that intentional on your part? Did you bring elements of folklore into it?

JDEA: I’ve been a fan of obscurity ever since I can remember, the occult and paganism is something that I have deeply explored and which I love. Folklore is the word used to refer to customs and traditions, and of course I wanted to tell a story in which those customs are misinterpreted by a community, basically this is the true hidden life of all cults and religions, where extremism and fanaticism beholds a simmering evil.

JK: Why did you choose Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet as the music that seems too beautiful to belong to the mortal world? Was it always this music that you were thinking of when you wrote the script?

JDEA: I have always believed that life is built up by dualities, all things are constructed by yin and yangs. There is no God without evil, there is no love without hate and in the case of Mozart, which is for me the maximum expression of beauty in music I have always believed that the Devil lies in it, as it's so beautiful that is impossible that darkness doesn't live on it. I have always knew that that song was the one I wanted. It’s so beautiful, so hopeful, so pure, that for me is dark. All things that are perfect for me are because of the conjunction of goodness and evilness embracing each other.

JK: I loved the fact that the film is so immersive - it feels very singular, very much one person's vision. How did you work with your crew to achieve this effect? Did you know what they were capable of at the start?

"Cult leaders are intelligent enough to make followers question the outside world" - JDEA
"Cult leaders are intelligent enough to make followers question the outside world" - JDEA

JDEA: In order for it to be so immersive, I wanted the cast and crew to be immersed into the wilderness themselves as I think the only way to get the feeling I wanted to transmit was through isolation, so they would get a better sense of what the outcome was. We spent 23 days without internet connection, nor communication with the outside world, so we worked on forging our relationships with one another in a gorgeously beautiful environment that showed us the beauty and the darkness of nature. When we began preproduction there were lots of landslides, thunderstorms, small avalanches, but as we were doing a film about nature and its relationship with man, I asked nature and its inner God to protect us and to guide us. The shoot went so smooth it was a miracle. After the film was finished a massive landslide bury our house. God lives in nature, at least my God, Spinoza’s idea of it.

JK: Did you have any real cults or religious groups in mind when you developed the script?

JDEA: There’s no doubt about it, I’ve been into sects, cults and communities all of my life. Cult leaders are intelligent enough to make followers question the outside world and its hideous sinful pleasures, is basically their modus operandi. That is why in Luz: The Flower Of Evil, a simple tape recorder can represent evil, everything that is alien to a certain community usually plays against it. For religion, for example, everything outside its canons is consider to be a sin, even though everything they do is sinful, it is the doctrine of fear and hell is penance.

The history of cults is fascinating, sects such as The Order of the Solar Temple, The Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments, The Fellowship of Friends of Robert Earl, The Gates of Heaven, The Peoples Temple, have always been a theme of great interest to me, it is impressive how can anyone believe such things. Catholic Church is not far from this but is so common that people already take its rules for granted, but they are crazy, for them, everybody that doesn’t follow their doctrine or their way through life is evil, they’ve been brainwashed, we artists represent evilness, as through art we criticise and share notions of old times and societies, etc.

"The occult and paganism is something that I have deeply explored and which I love" - JDEA
"The occult and paganism is something that I have deeply explored and which I love" - JDEA

JK: I like the way that the film finds humanity in El Señor despite everything that we see him do. Was that a priority for you as a writer or was it something that developed when you were working with actor Conrado Osorio?

JDEA: I have always liked dark characters more than the good ones. I wanted El Señor to be an antagonist, but mostly an antihero, even though this film hasn’t to do anything with heroes faith is like a sort of magic spell and magic is a superpower and for me so does faith in some sort of way.

JK: How did you go about casting the film?

JDEA: Yuri Vargas, is one of the most recognised TV and Soap Opera actresses in our country, being able to work and forge a friendship with both her and her boyfriend Jim is a privilege. The way we met, was due to a short film of mine called The Colors Of Hope And Wonder, which was the thesis from my MFA in Directing Motion Pictures at San Francisco, after she saw it, she contacted me through Facebook telling me she would like to work with me one day, for me it was a big surprise of course. I remembered years later she has contacted me before and felt that the right timing and project has finally come. As far as Conrado and the other characters, it was a bit different, I didn't knew who he or they were when they casted, all I knew about them was 'nothing', but for Yuri I wrote a character based on her temper and how I would imagine her to be, if the character would be her for real.

JK: How do you feel about the film screening in Glasgow?

JDEA: I am a bit anxious, mostly because I am a genre filmmaker and this is the first time that the film will be shown at a regular festival, so I don’t know what to expect and how the viewers will feel about it, but I think Luz has the perfect balance between genre and arthouse, so we’ll see.

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