Alonso Llosa: The Restoration & Contemporary Peruvian Filmmaking
Alonso Llosa is a Peruvian writer and director based in Los Angeles. His first feature film, The Restoration (2020), is an intelligent and profound comedy about money, aging, parenting, and the challenging adaption to a changing world in contemporary Lima. The Restoration will be the closing screening of LIFFY 2023 (Sunday, November 5, 7.30 pm at 53 Wall Street) and will be followed by a Q&A with Llosa and a reception hosted by the Consulate of Peru in Hartford. In addition, Llosa will lead the second session of the CLAIS Professional Development Series for Public School Teachers. In this interview with CLAIS, he discusses his career and his upcoming visit to Yale.
Alonso, could you tell us a bit about yourself—where you’re from, what your educational and career trajectory has been?
I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. I began my undergraduate studies in the University of Lima, but I interrupted them when I moved to Los Angeles at age 20. There, I attended Santa Monica College and graduated from UCLA film school. I worked as a freelance editor for most of my 20s, while making short films and one no-budget feature film on the side, mainly for fun. Wanting to focus more on directing and screenwriting, I decided to go to grad school. I was lucky to get into Columbia University’s MFA program, where I wrote my first feature film and met great friends and mentors. Now, I aim to strike a balance between a career as a film professor and making personal filmmaking projects.
What led you to get into filmmaking as an artistic practice and as a career?
I was influenced at a very early age by my father, an architect, and my maternal grandfather, a painter. Growing up as the child, I spent a lot of time drawing, building things, writing comics. A creative and artistic life became part of who I am from an early age. When I became an adult, and the world tried to push back against an artistic life, I had to push back or dribble past the obstacles. It’s an ongoing obstacle course but one gets the hang of it. Persistence is key but when something is part of who you are, being persistent about it is your only choice.
How is your relationship with Lima, considering that you have lived most of your life outside the country, and how have you observed the transformations that have taken place in Lima’s society, like the ones your film represents?
It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship with all the in-betweens. I oscillate between a desire and illusion of control over the city and its endless codes, and the desolation of realizing I have very little or no control over it. It’s a monster of a city, constantly changing and moving. It keeps you on your toes. Self-reflection or any kind of reflection can prove difficult while being in Lima. For me, being away was the only way to observe it and reflect on its influence on me and my family and friends. In the mid 2000s, the transformations in the urban landscape felt very dramatic especially exposed to them as an outsider visiting the city once in a while. This distance allowed me to write about Lima, but that process became very intimate and vulnerable as Lima is the place where I lived for the first 20 years of my life. It was an interplay play between a comfortable detachment and a disturbing closeness. Also, it’s important to note that it is not Lima that I was writing about, but a particular Lima, one of a million Limas.
Your work often explores the diverse landscapes of Peru. Can you discuss the significance of location and environment in your storytelling?
Locations do not only provide context but also metaphorical possibilities when developing a narrative. Sometimes you may not even know what the exact metaphor is, but you sense there is a thematic or spiritual connection between character and place. If it feels right, you go with it. It doesn’t always work but in The Restoration the relationship between the characters and urbanism was embedded in the story because the character chooses to sell his family house and thus contribute to the changing landscape. I think that made its metaphorical readings seem more authentic.
My experience working and living in the US and being exposed to filmmakers like the Coen Brothers and Hal Ashby allowed me to see comedy as a genre that could also be used to treat serious subjects and even make social comments”
In your film, there’s a subtle critique of the conservatism of Lima’s old ruling classes. How did you decide to convey this critique in the form of a comedy?
The type of deadpan comedy the movie has was something I had been experimenting in my shorts and with the no-budget feature I made in the 2000s, so it had become a familiar tone for me. The fact that there were very few dark and/or deadpan comedies in Peru was an incentive, as it would mean the possibility of expanding the range of tones and genres that can be used to tell our stories. Most Peruvian films giving any kind of social criticism had been anchored in naturalism and drama. My experience working and living in the US and being exposed to filmmakers like the Coen Brothers and Hal Ashby allowed me to see comedy as a genre that could also be used to treat serious subjects and even make social comments.
How would you describe the film scene in Lima, Peru? What has your experience been within that community?
There is a particularly intense energy in the filmmaking scene in Lima. It’s both a community and an industry that is in development so the rules have not been completely established yet. That allows for an exciting sense of exploration, discovery, discussion of ideas. The community is filled with young life and it’s very creative. A potentially challenging consequence of this aspect is that at times different people and groups might struggle over unclaimed territory. There is available intellectual real estate, loyalties to be forged, and business potential. So, there’s this high energy broiling from within the audiovisual scene. For example, there’s a Film law that is currently under scrutiny and it’s stirred passionate arguments in favor of and against. Ultimately, the function and the existence of the Film Law is vital for the filmmaking industry - changing it would certainly mean a step back from what’s been a long and hard journey for filmmakers in Peru.
Can you discuss the collaborative process of your film? Was your cast and crew primarily Peruvian?
The production crew was mainly from Peru, but it was a very international team. I met two of my main collaborators at the Columbia University MFA program, the producer, Gustavo Rosa who is from Brazil and the Director of Photography, Sean Webley who is from the US. The composer, Katya Mihailova, is from Kyrgyzstan; the Sound Designer, Tomás Franco, is from Brazil; the colorist, Christian Leiva, is from Argentina; the VFX artist, Mario Pufler, is from Croatia. Some of these collaborations were done remotely before the pandemic, so at the time it was exciting being able to work with a team from all over the world and pull together a challenging project.
What impact do you hope your film will have on audiences, Peruvian or otherwise? Is there a particular message you are trying to convey?
I’ve wanted this movie to work at a couple of levels. The first one is without a doubt the story itself, where the goal is for the audience to be engaged and moved. At another level, the movie could be seen as a celebratory funeral of the old colonial ways, while throwing a critique of Peru’s recent era of free-market economic growth. There is a song by the Peruvian band Los Saicos called “Demolition” and its chorus goes “Demolish! Demolish! Demolish!” It’s a song that is sometimes attributed as the first punk song. The song is not in the movie and The Restoration is not a punk film but if you listen carefully, underneath the soothing strings and synths there is a voice singing the same chorus.
Is this your first-time visiting Yale University? Is there anything you’re especially excited to see or experience while you’re here? What are your expectations for LIFFY?
It is my first-time visiting Yale. The whole experience sounds very exciting - being able to talk about Latin American cinema at the Leitner Planetarium and showing The Restoration at LIFFY. It’s always refreshing seeing how different audiences react to the movie and what they take from it. It will be fun meeting new people and I also hope to see some stars at the Planetarium.
By Inês Forjaz de Lacerda, Graduate Communications Fellow, email@example.com