Lorenzo Vigas the Golden Lion winner:
I have an obsession with the theme of paternity
Art & Experience: When Lorenzo Vigas’ intimate drama “From Afar” (“Desde Alla”) took home the Golden Lion best film award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival in September, it was a culmination of triumphs for Latin American cinema across major film festivals this year, including Mexico’s Gabriel Ripstein taking home Best First Feature for his cross-border drama “600 Miles” at Berlin, while his producing partner Michel Franco won best screenplay for his drama “Chronic” in Cannes in May. It also marks a triumph for Franco’s Lucia Films, which produced or co-produced all three films. “From Afar” is Vigas’s feature debut.
Tell me how the story for “Desde Alla” came about?
I think it began with my short  “Elephants Never Forget,” because I have an obsession with the theme of paternity. I see it as a trilogy, starting with my short; while “Desde Alla” is the second part and the third part, will be my next film, “The Box,” which I will shoot in Mexico with Lucia Films producing, and I hope Edgar will be involved in it, too. As a whole, they deal with the theme of absent or terrible fathers. I don’t know why I have this obsession when in fact, I had a warm and close bond with my father who is a famous painter, and passed away two years ago. He’s one of the most important painters of Latin America, Oswaldo Vigas. I think it has more to do with the archetype of a father; I have a need to discuss the father archetype.
My lead actor never knew his father. It’s a common story in Latin America. My home life was an exception. In “Elephants Never Forget” two young kids go after their father who has abandoned them. I told Guillermo [Arriaga] my story idea who said he wanted to help me make it so I moved to Mexico to collaborate with him in 2001. These were great learning years. I wrote the short in Mexico and filmed it in Venezuela.
Why the big gap between the times you made your short and your debut feature?
In between these two, I made a documentary about my father, which took nearly seven years to make. It’s still in post and will be released next year. And I wouldn’t have been able to make my feature “Desde Alla” if I hadn’t grown in all aspects; I matured emotionally and honed my craft. Learning about my father and my ancestors was very cathartic. It plunged me into a two-year depression but I emerged much stronger… but it was a path I had to take.
After this trilogy, what’s next?
I have an English-language American film in development, am working with a writer. It’s set in a university, about an American student and dwells on the theme of impossible love.
And how is it now to shoot in Caracas, in Venezuela?
Difficult! But it’s a challenge you have to take. The city is marvelous despite all that it’s going through. We finished shooting just before the demonstrations broke out. My foreign crew felt the tension in the streets. Some scenes took days to shoot because I wanted to film that restlessness in the streets.
How did you find your young male lead?
My biggest challenge was to find a young male lead. I wanted a young 17-year old non-actor with a great talent. I think I found the next Edgar Ramirez. He’s a natural. While at a casting agency in Venezuela, I saw the picture of a youth who was not even there to audition; he was there to accompany a friend. But I saw in his face great compassion, rage, great humanity and pain. He comes from a dangerous barrio in Caracas. I met him, we had lunch, saw a movie and I knew he was right for the role. I never did a camera test, which was quite risky. I didn’t want him to meet my older male lead, the great Chilean actor Alfredo Castro, before the shoot, as I knew there would be a lot of tension in their scenes, and wanted that to register on camera.