Europa Report, a feature film by Ecuadorian director, Sebastián Cordero, was so impressive. On a personal note (not to brag…), my niece is exploring alien life in the form of starfish at the Stanford Marine Station in Monterey as the subject of her NASA- funded PhD program, so this movie about exploring alien life in a watery environment touches close to home for me. In addition, I am very interested in Ecuador as a filmmaking country (or a non-filmmaking country) whose revenues from homegrown cinema has grown 300% in 2012, so I did something I rarely undertake, I interviewed the filmmaker.
Sebastián Cordero was in L.A. for ten days after attending Comic-Con and stayed through last night's KCRW Special L.A. Screening at the Landmark Theater on Pico Blvd. Today he left for NYC. Magnet Releasing will release the film theatrically on August 2 and it is available now on VOD.
Europa Report opens this Friday, August 2, 2013 in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset in West Hollywood, D.C. at the E Street Cinema in Washington, and New York at the Cinema Village this Friday and will be followed by a national roll-out. See playdates here.
Attending Comic-Con was a great experience for Sebastián. He says that the L.A. Times coverage describes the experience very well and definitely gave the film a boost in fandom. The panel at Comic-Con's largest venue was unique for Sebastián, an Ecuadorian whose two films, the 2004 Cronicasproduced by Alfonso Cuarón,Guillermo del Toro,Isabel Dávalos, and Bertha Navarro, and Rabia have created their own exclusive cult fan clubs. Rabia(ISA:Wild Bunch), aSpanish-Colombian coproductionpremiered in 2009 at the Toronto Film Festival. The 2004 film Cronicas caused quite a stir among the acquisitions community and the cognoscenti of genre-art house films. It won the Sundance/ NHK International Filmmakers Award in 2002, premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard, played Toronto, San Sebastian, Sundance and Rotterdam, sold worldwide and was picked up for U.S. by Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures, thus confirming its cult status. His earlier film Ratas, Ratones, Rateros premiered in Venice in 1999, received over 12 international awards and played in more than 50 film festivals and Pescador, a Colombian-Ecuadorian coproduction won acting and directing awards at the Guadalajara Film Festival in 2012.
The Europa Report team's Comic-Con presentation included scientists from JPL which lent real-life credentials to the film as they discussed the movie in front of 6,000 interested people who knew very little about the film until then. The mythology of Europa is well known to sci–fi fans from its prominence in Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel 2010: Odyssey Two, but the general public is not aware of it. The movie in fact seems poised somewhere between NASA and Star Trek.
The dreamy calmness of professionals in an extraordinary mix of talents in the movie itself mirrors the mix of talents that went into the making of this piece of cinema. No wonder it was previewed at Comic-Com. It seemed incongruous to the mega-size this event has become. It would be nice to know that it was the sleeper hit of Comic-Con and of the summer season. We shall see as it opens this week. Even if it proves too intellectual for the masses, its credit to Team Sebastian Cordero will stand the test of time. It takes a filmmaker from Eucador to probe our collective curiosity about life on Europa, the moon of Jupiter most likely to contain life.
Europa Report could be called a Latino film which illustrates the draw Hollywood independent filmmaking holds on filmmakers from our South American continent. Reading the bios of the production team and the bios of the cast further illuminates this luminescent film, put together primarily by men but casting both the main interlocutor and the chief of the mission as women: Embeth Daviitz who plays Dr. Unger, the chief of the mission was the Jewish maid who survives both the abuse and attraction of Ralph Fiennes' sadistic commander 'Goeth' in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and costars with Gabriele Byrne in In Treatment, was in Mad Men and Californication.
How did producer Ben Browning find you after he developed the script?
Ben had seen Rabia and Cronicas…both were very different from this, dealing with social issues, told as social realism, but Rabia is 90% told while the protagonist is hiding in a house, where the claustrophobia and tension might be points of reference for this film.
You usually make films about social issues, what was it about this film that attracted you?
I am an actor's director. I need a good story and a good script but one major aspect of this film for me was its six characters. It was a challenge to put together a great cast and give them one space in which to act. I liked the story and the real science behind it. There have been no significant manned explorations of space since the Apollo expeditions in the 70s. I did lots of research, and we had great science advisors.
I was an unusual choice, but I felt an immediate connection to the project.
You seem to have gathered an award winning production team for casting, cinematography, production design, music and sound design.
I had a great team. It is my first English language film in Hollywood. My cinematographer, Enrique Chediak, and production designer, Eugenio Caballero, have worked with me on three of my films.
The production designer was excited to design a realistic space ship. Enrique liked the found footage idea which was still high tech, it did not have the degraded handheld effect you see in the current run of horror films. I had been unsure of his reactions to such limitations in the project, but he actually liked them. He built a 360 degree set with eight cameras shooting continuously. It was very immersive. The cinematographer also liked the challenge.
(Editor: Production designer, Eugenio Caballero, won the Academy Award for his work on Pan's Labyrinth. Enrique Chediak was named on Daily Variety's "10 Cinemagraphers to Watch" in 1999 and has not disappointed with his credits which include Danny Boyle's 127 Hours.)
What about the cast of international actors?
Casting international actors was also exciting. They are not not huge stars but they are the top thespians in their countries.
(Sydney, the blogger here: Wednesday's news that casting directors will get their own branch in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, puts this film's casting director, Avy Kaufman, in line for an Oscar for sure.)
Producer Tod Browning interjects here that casting actors from all over the world was also a key part of the film's financing plan. "Each of these actors brought value in territories we were able to pre-sell based on their involvement. Michael [Nyqvist] and Anamaria [Marinca] are very popular in Europe and Daniel Wu is a major star in Asia which allowed us to secure Chinese distribution up front", Browning says. (The international sales agent is Nick Meyers' Sierra Affinity.)
Back to Sebastian: When Michael Nyqvist (who played Andrei Blok) came on board, that made the project attractive to others. I wanted him, not just because of his work in the Millennium series, but because of his other work with Lukas Moodyson (Together).
Anamaria Marinca (who played Rosa Dasque), the actress from Romania's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, (which won the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival) was not an obvious choice and I was unsure of what her reaction would be, but she said, Are you kidding? She said she loved having such an offer. No one ever offered her a role in a science fiction film before.
What about you? Do you like the lure of Hollywood? Do you want to make more films here?
I am torn between two worlds.
I want to continue in both places. I enjoy Hollywood but I know, during the time of Cronicas there was a moment when I was being offered projects but in the end, nothing happened, and I understand the process now. Here when a project falls apart, all the work you have put into it is for nothing - it might waste six months of intense work. In Ecuador I have confidence that any film I am working on will eventually be made.
But I am also interested in working in the U.S. There are a lot more resources here, but it must be good project. I am looking for projects here, but I generate my own material in Ecuador. Here, when a project falls apart here all the work is for nothing.
I am now working on a film to shoot early next year in Ecuador, Sin muertos, no hay carnaval, which literally means Without the Dead, There is No Carnival. However, its English language working title is Such is Life in the Tropics. It is about property management, and more specifically about a squater as told from many perspectives. Its strong script is written by the actor in Cronicas who is also a producer in another film.
Thank you Sebastian. I wish you great success with this film and with your career. And I thank Ben Browning for undertaking this exciting project and bringing it to life.
Sebastian Cordero spent his childhood in Ecuador where he was born, his teenage years in Paris and his college years in Los Angeles, where he studied at USC's Filmic Writing program. He seems to be building a team much the way Clint Eastwood has. And like Clint Eastwood, the lure of Hollywood with its ease of procuring resources and the necessary filmmaking tools is tempered by the continuous lower budgeted filmmaking using international Iberoamerican coproductions to finance the films.
About Wayfare Entertainment:
In May 2013 New York-based Wayfare Entertainment announced its rebranding as Start Motion Pictures. Parent company Start Media LLC is unifying its branding and operations as its portfolio of entertainment and media holdings grows. Wayfare Entertainment was set up five years ago by Ben Browning and Start Media CEO Michael Maher and has produced and fully financed films that have grossed over $130 million worldwide. Wayfare’s past films include Universal’s Sanctumproduced with James Cameron, the Focus Features’ drama It's Kind Of A Funny Story, Neil Jordan’s Ondine, and Sebastian Cordero's space thriller Europa Report to be released by Magnolia Pictures in summer 2013 and being sold internationally by Nicolas Meyer's Sierra Affinity.
Upcoming Wayfare projects include an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for Disney; the recently announced Passengers, to star Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon; and a development slate including Josh Zetumer’s Villain, an adaptation of Matt Westrup’s award winning creature short The Gate and the Princess Diana conspiracy thrillerInquest. With a slate like this, it is no wonder Comic-Con was interested in showcasing Europa Report.
Start Media is a privately held media company with interests in exhibition, publishing, and technology. Start Media is acquiring and building content-driven companies well positioned to capitalize on value dislocations emerging from the rapid evolution of media and media consumption. In late 2012 Start Media partnered with exhibitor Digiplex Destinations, an industry pioneer and champion of digital conversion and alternative cinema content, to aggressively grow the Digiplex footprint to 1000 screens in the top 100 markets. The acquisition of UltraStar Cinemas earlier this year was the first acquisition of the partnership. Wayfare’s staff, upcoming film slate and film library will be folded into Start Motion Pictures, which will continue normal business operations producing and financing feature films. Browning will be the President of Start Motion Pictures.