'Juan of the Dead' Director Alejandro Brugués Talks Zombies, Comedy, Cuba, and Genre Film in Latin America

on June 14, 2013

Juandelosmuertos.jpgJuan of the Dead is a rare beast of a movie. It's not only peculiar to find too many genre movies from Latin America find international distribution, it's even harder when the film is one of the few independently produced features to come out of Cuba. Cuban cinema is tightly monitored by the government, making independent productions like Juan of the Dead a risky venture for local producers.The horror-comedy's fresh vision for Cuban cinema raised interest at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. A number of other stops in the festival circuit followed, as the genre flick found itself with several offers for international distribution. The success of Juan of the Dead culminated in February when it was awarded this year's Goya Award (Spain's equivalent to the Oscars) for Best IberoAmerican film of the year.

The film tells the story of a pair of slackers that find themselves in the midst of a zombie invasion in their home country. Faced with a looming crisis of an undead Cuban revolution, the two friends become entrepreneurs and start a zombie-killing business. 

The movie's Argentinian director, Alejandro Brugués, spoke to BoxOffice from Cuba about the slapstick splatterfest. 

How did you go about making a zombie film for a Latin American audience?

We never really thought about appealing to a "Latino audience." We set out to make a movie for a general public. The film has two principal goals: to be a zombie movie and to be a very Cuban movie. I knew there'd be that only a Cuban audience would understand and other moments that only zombie fans would get, but there is always a common ground throughout the film so no one feels alienated. Some scenes in the film get applause from audiences that are familiar with zombie movies, and those instances are lost with Cuban audiences because the zombie subculture isn't very big here.

Were you inspired by any films or filmmakers for this project?

That's a difficult question because we had to balance so many things to make the movie work, so I tried not to draw too much from any particular influence. We were juggling zombies, Cuban identity, comedy, action, the right amount of gore, and allusions to other films. So I tried to incorporate little bits of everything that's influenced me along the way.

The movie's tone is very specific. I didn't have anything in mind while making it, but I've seen similar films since I finished it. If I had to cite someone I had in mind while making the film, it would be Stephen Chow from Kung Fu Hustle.

Genre films aren't known for being great Latin American exports. What do you think helped Juan of the Dead achieve global distribution?

When we speak of the type of films that Latin America exports, we're also talking about the type of films that are able to get produced. It's significantly easier to get financing for a social drama than for a genre film. And that's something also be true of other regions, but it's bit worse for genre movies in Latin America. Latino cinema has been too influenced by film festivals, specifically the sensibility of the European festivals.

I think there's a number of filmmakers like ourselves here in Latin America that make genre movies, and make them well, and that eventually things will open up a bit for us. We're going to show that we can make these films and at the same time talk about regional topics, talk about our problems, while still bringing audiences to the theaters. In the end, connecting with the audience is the most important factor.

Returning to your question, I think Juan has been successful abroad because of the film's humor and its Cuban identity. It's a sincere movie that makes it clear you're watching a zombie flick with social dialogue, a metaphor for our society that touches on more serious themes. It's more than a zombie movie. It's a film where you can learn a lot about our culture...while having fun watching it.

Juan of the Dead opens in Brazil on June 21. Brazilian distributor Imovision is hosting an advance screening of the film on June 15 with a zombie-themed party in Sao Paulo. 


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