Axel Cuevas de Chaunac is a Franco-Mexican filmmaker born in 1996. He grew up in France and then studied Philosophy and Sociology in the United States. He now lives and works in Mexico, where he is developing a feature length film.
Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker Axel Cuevas de Chaunac
NY Glam: Congratulations on being accepted at the prestigious International Filmmaker Festival of New York. Can you tell us about the film and the process of making it?
Thank you! Ismael is a short film that I made in the United States, filming both in the states of Colorado and Wyoming. After finishing my studies in Philosophy and Sociology, I lived for a year in New York City and I wrote it during that period of time. I started getting very interested on the Western settlement, its History, its violence, its impact on nature and its mythologies.
My roommate at that time and close friend, Isaiah Sears, became my production partner and together we started building the project. I wanted to get to know that part of the country so I drove around 11 states from Nevada to Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota…
I was looking for an isolated setting, a town that you could sense the passage of our time against the timelessness of Nature.
NY Glam: How did you go about casting for the film?
I looked for a long time for the leading role and then I met Stephen Zinnato (Ismael) while working at a waitering job in New York. I thought that his presence fitted the character I had in mind. The main character is inspired on Ismael, Abraham’s son in Genesis. Ismael is an unwanted child that just by being born is already guilty and rejected. I think Stephen understood and connected with this essence of the character, and our relationship developed and nurtured the construction of the whole short film.
The rest of the cast were local people I met around Eaton, Colorado, which I also thought their presence as individuals worked for the roles.
NY Glam: What is the story about and how did you achieve it cinematically?
It tells the story of a factory worker who after defigurating himself in a machine accident, struggles with his identity.
The short film is a mosaic of different times from the life of the main character. We were a very small crew of four people, a photographer (Alfonso Herrera Salcedo), sound (Bryan Rothrock), Isaiah and myself. Being just us four, I think it gave us a lot of freedom to work with the elements that surrounded us and use them as materials on which to build on.
NY Glam: Will you be attending the IFFNY festival in New York in May?
I don’t know yet.
NY Glam: How long have you been making films and videos?
Film has been a great interest of mine since a young age, and it is a passion that I have shared with my older brother Alexis. I remember watching very young, maybe six years old, Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados. For a long time I remembered the scene of El Jaibo’s death, his face laying on the straw, the dark wet street moving and the black dog barking. What I felt at that moment was beyond my understanding but resonated deeply with me.
While studying, I started a film club at my university with a friend, where we showed contemporary international films from 2000 to nowadays, so I started watching and being interested on contemporary filmmakers. And then after college, I worked with Carlos Reygadas in Mexico, on the set of his last film Our Time. Carlos is a rare filmmakers that truly works with the language of cinema. As I didn’t go to a film school, I learned watching, and also filming since I was a teenager, then this work experience in particular became also very formative.
NY Glam: What film was your directorial debut?
I have made many different short films, videos and small experiments with the tools I could get my hands on since a teenager, but this is the first one that I send out to festivals and public screenings.
NY Glam: What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
It is such an important thing, to take a stand and not compromise with what you are trying to do. Roll up your sleeves and fight what is going against you. Work in every aspect of the making, and keep your vision because there are a lot of things and people that will get in the way. And then, the other key is finding a way to surround yourself with people that understand the process and the project.
NY Glam: Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
Making films is difficult, you have to work with finances, people, sometimes things that are beyond control such as weather and animals. I think you have to be in touch and in control with your ideas, to then let go and really observe what is happening in front of you while you are filming. The hardest thing is to keep going against all these elements and stay true to your ideas.
NY Glam: How has your style evolved?
It is constantly evolving because of everything that I am experiencing, from everything that I observe to the people I meet, the places I go, what I read and the films I watch. Simply because I am alive. Life is what forges a filmmaker and an artist.
NY Glam: What has been your personal key to success?
There are a lot of people who try to bring you down, who try to go against your ways of doing things, try to mold what you are doing into their own ways of seeing cinema and Life. We live in a time that is very restrictive, controlling, full of conformity, dominant ways of thinking and where it is harder and harder to stay true to one’s ideas with the risk of being strongly criticized, but it is so vital to do so. It is what makes us human. You get to a point where you have to have a conversation with yourself and know why you are doing this and what is truly important to you.
NY Glam: What are you thinking about doing next?
I am currently working on my first feature film in Mexico.
NY Glam: Where does your studio want to go from here?
I started a production company in New York with Isaiah Sears called STEREOMA (http://www.stereomaprod.com/), we produced Ismael but also music videos and video projects. We want to start doing it in Mexico as well now.