EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW — Alejandro Brugués Director of the Upcoming Zombie Comedy ‘Juan of the Dead’

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Eric Raymer, Film, News
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[Posted by: Eric Raymer]

One of the things that continually amazes me about zombie films is that whenever it seems they’ve been completely played out, an innovative director comes along and puts a new spin on the genre. Still, there’s lots of schlock out there, and most of the time I approach a new zombie film much like I would an actual zombie: cautiously. When news about a forthcoming Cuban zombie film called Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead) broke in May, my skepticism-meter was reading pretty high. Fortunately, any doubts I had were erased when I saw the awesome teaser trailers for the film. I recently spoke with director Alejandro Brugués (who was kind enough to take a break from preparing to shoot the film to exchange some emails), and it’s clear that he’s a huge zombie fan who is really happy to be making this film. Keep reading for some exclusive information about the film as well as the teaser trailers.

– First of all, thanks for taking some time to talk with us. From what I understand you’re right in the middle of preparing to start filming. We know a little bit about Juan de los Muertos from the teaser trailers, but in your own words, what is the film about?

Usually I answer this with a simple “zombies in Havana! What else could you possibly want?” That’s the short answer. The long one is that Havana is suddenly full of zombies and this guy Juan does what all Cubans do in a crisis: he sets up a business to make some money with the situation. It’s a lot more than that, but you’ll have to see and judge for yourself. What I can tell you is that as a zombie film fan, I’m going to do some things I’ve always wanted to see in a zombie film and I’m playing within the rules of the genre, but at the same time I want to talk about us Cubans and how we react in front of a crisis. We’re shooting in a month and I’m still adding layers to the thing!

– Your last film, Personal Belongings was a drama. What inspired you to take the leap from mainstream films to horror? Would you call yourself a horror fan?

The question should be the opposite: as a horror fan, what inspired me to do a drama before? The thing is, I love horror films. I grew up watching horror films and always wanted to do one (although “Juan” is pretty much a zombie comedy). Personal Belongings was a story that got in my mind at the time and I decided to do that one first because it was easier for a first time filmmaker to raise the funds for a love story than for a horror film (at least in Cuba). I didn’t come up with the idea of “Juan” until I was in post production of “Personal”, but the other option I had for a first feature was a horror film. So, yeah, I’m a horror fan, and really proud to be one. I’m sure I’ll do other genres, I’d like my films to be different from one another, but horror is the genre closer to my heart.

– What are some of your favorite zombie films, and other than the obvious influences (Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead) what films influenced Juan?

Day of the Dead is awesome. I just saw the French film La Horde and it blew me away. Evil Dead is not strictly a zombie film, but I’ve always considered it one because that’s what it was for me when I saw it as a child. I write with Shaun, Ed, and Ash action figures on my desk. It’s not a zombie film, but the comic The Walking Dead is the best thing I’ve seen in the genre. I’m eagerly awaiting Frank Darabont’s TV series. It’s a shame it’ll start one week before we begin shooting because I know Darabont is going to kick ass. Funny thing, the influences in “Juan” haven’t been zombie films. I mean, I’ve devoured all things zombie, but that’s what I usually do in my everyday life anyway, and I saw them mostly to get the rules right. “Juan” has had the weirdest influences, from Ghostbusters to Schindler’s List (which is, obviously, also the story of a guy making money out of a crisis)! I’m also paying my debts here to some of my favorite films and filmmakers, from Sergio Leone to Bruce Lee. There are also some homages to a couple of my favorite zombie films, of course, but I didn’t want the film to be about that. In the end the mix is so complex that I always have trouble defining the tone of the film. It’s the first thing I have to do whenever I talk to someone. One thing is for sure, I’m aiming to make you laugh and have fun all the way through.

– It’s clear from the teaser trailers that there’s going to be a lot of comedy in your film. But many zombie films infuse a little bit of social commentary into the bloodshed. Can we expect any of this in Juan?

Oh, definitely. Actually you can say that it’s a social film with zombies! The first thing I told my actors was that for them this wasn’t a zombie film, they had to approach this as a social drama! The comedy is in the situations and the crazy characters we have, but for them this is another crisis like any other one we Cubans have had to face in the last fifty years. Zombies are just the next step in our evolution (or involution?). And I throw punches at everyone here. In the end, no one comes out unscathed.

– Zombie movies have been very popular over the last several years, and the trend is not exclusive to the United States. Lately there have been some great zombie films from many countries, including Sweden (Dead Snow), France (The Horde), Spain ([REC]), and Canada (Pontypool, Fido). What is going to set Juan de los Muertos apart from these films? Is there anything about it that gives it a distinctly Cuban flavor?

I think Cuba is what sets “Juan” apart. I love some of the films you mention and I respect all of them, but most of them could be set in any country. “Juan” can only happen in Cuba. Where else would the government say this “disturbance” is caused by dissidents paid by the U.S. Empire? But make no mistake, it stands on its own as a zombie film, which is what it is first and foremost. And man, I’m having sooo much fun in some of the scenes. Havana full of zombies is going to be quite a view.

– It’s probably safe to say that most filmgoers in the U.S. aren’t exposed to much Cuban cinema. What Cuban films or directors should we check out if we want to learn more?

That’s a tough one. You can watch Cuban classics like Memories of Underdevelopment by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (although I prefer Death of a Bureaucrat), but I’d say wait a couple of years and watch for the new things we’re making there. There’s going to be a Revolution in Cuban cinema. It’s going to take some time, but I’m sure in the end we will go back to the place we once had in Latin American cinema and somehow lost along the way.

– It’s sometimes tough for foreign films to break into the U.S. market. It may be too early to ask this, but how do you plan to market your film in the U.S.? It certainly seems like there’s an interest in it so far.

I really hope so. I’ve heard about the interest, and I think it could really be enjoyed there. But as you said, it’s tough. Let’s wait and see.

– Thanks again for your time. We wish you the best of luck with your film and look forward to seeing it in the future!

[YouTube=”http://www.youtube.com/v/XjM4fRQNH6o?fs=1&hl=en_US” &w=640&h=385]

[YouTube=”http://www.youtube.com/v/I_2GPzhAo6U?fs=1&hl=en_US” &w=640&h=385]

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