YIDFF 2023 International Competition

Theo Montoya (Director)

Interviewer: Yoshida Miwa

Ideas on the making of Anhell69

Yoshida Miwa (YM): I heard that originally you had an idea to release a B-movie titled Anhell69. You continually refer to this work: it’s mentioned in the narration, in shots that seem to be taken from scenes of what looks like a narrative film, and in quotes of other filmmakers’ works. I thought it was very clever how you use this device in the film, in that you make the audience really think about whether such a B-movie really exists. How did you go about creating the idea for this film?

Theo Montoya (TM): This movie is a product of editing. In the beginning there wasn’t really a script, it started with an idea and I then thought about what kind of film to make. Because of this, even until the very end of the film I didn’t know what I would end up creating. For instance, I didn’t know even myself how exactly those dolls with red eyes would end up fitting into the film. Casting, shooting, shooting other things, montage, editing. After all that, I would think about everything again and then set off to shoot some more. I continued to edit as I rewrote things, weaving them together as I went, and repeating this process.

Filmmaking has a variety of creative processes. For example, before this film I made a short film (Son of Sodom, 2020) and for me that served as practice for this one. Writing a screenplay so I could present my project in order to secure grants and other funding for this film was also a good way to practice.

YM: What transpired from the completion of your previous short film to this one? I believe the initial idea for the film changed a lot because of the death of your friend Caniloo Najar.

TM: Things that constantly change are of great interest to me. A state of chaos opens up possibilities in all kinds of realms and it’s possible to create things in any shape or form. At first, I was thinking about only a work of fiction but after everything that happened this began to change. In the end, I accepted that a documentary was also possible. While it’s true that the film is what it is because I made it that way, it’s also true that when things begin to change, life and what is alive begin to be reflected in the film as well. Camilo Najar’s death ended up changing the film from fiction to documentary.

Cinema, a living organism

YM: You mentioned during the Q&A after the screening that suffering is a part of the traditional Christian imagery of death and that you thought about how to reinterpret this in your own way. The film is filled with churches, crosses and other Christian imagery.

TM: The film is very closely connected to the worldview of Christianity. The theme of gender, for instance, is taboo in Christianity. It’s well known that the Catholic church has a long history of persecuting homosexuals. However, in my film there are plenty of such images that are not only homosexual in nature, but even erotic. One of them is the image of Jesus Christ’s naked body. Even if Christianity places immense importance on the sense of suffering, there is, I think, another side to that which sees how pain and joy actually coexist. Colombia will not be part of the Christian world from now on. The Christian worldview should have been seen as something imposed on Colombia and by extension Latin America, but nevertheless we hold on to subconscious and unconscious Christian imagery. This is a personal interest of mine that I thought about expressing in the film.

YM: In the beginning you touched on the ongoing political situation in Colombia and the war. There was a peace agreement between the government and FARC in 2016 but the film mentions that politics cannot hold any promise for the future.

TM: First, I had the idea that I wanted to include a contemporary narrative in the beginning. The film needed words and images to introduce what is happening now in the present. We were told that a peace agreement had been reached and that Colombia would be at peace, but what exactly is peace? People from a country that has never known peace wouldn’t have any idea. That is the reality that we in Colombia live in. I wanted to convey this to audiences who will see this film in places outside of Colombia.

YM: The film uses the expression ”trans film.” In the film this is described as something borderless and genderless. How do you feel about this term, now that filming and editing are finished and the work has been screened?

TM: To be free is important when engaging with the act of creating. How can we freely express, freely go about making a film? In addition, this film tackles the issue of our identity in the present. I ask myself about my film: what exactly does this film want from me?

I believe cinema is a living organism, like a body, and that it is constantly changing. In that sense, cinema has no borders and many methodologies are possible. This film is an invitation. What kind of invitation is it for the audience? To forego categorization and to disregard genres. People tend to ask simple questions like if it is a horror film or a B-movie, documentary or fiction. But we don’t say yes, it’s fiction or yes, it’s a documentary so as to categorize the film, because it just isn’t necessary. It’s an invitation to one way of looking at films that asserts that things don’t have to be that way. So it’s also a film about film.

Communicating with the younger generation

YM: There are also some impressive references to other films, such as those of Victor Gaviria and Luis Ospina. Even the red-eyed creature was inspired by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010).

TM: One part of it is that I wanted to include these filmmakers you mentioned as a tribute. Before making films, I was a musician working with electronic music. The basis of electronic music is sampling, that is, to take an existing idea and then incorporate it in your own work. I also tried to make bold use of the techniques of other directors, such as shots from Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (1990). By doing so, I wanted to express a form of meta-cinema, introducing a film within a film.

Another important side to this is how to communicate cinema to the coming generations. The younger generation is quickly losing touch with the cinema of the past. Because of this, I want them to dive deep and explore the world of cinema. A good example is the influence of Hollywood. Hasn’t our cinema been colonized by Hollywood, in the sense that it has been eroded by all the capital at Hollywood’s disposal? Ignacio Agüero’s Notes for a Film (2022) discusses reclaiming language, and how this is one answer to how we can respond to Western colonization. That is what I want to express in my film. It is important to show where we come from.

The themes addressed by the film itself are very contemplative. There is a kind of nihilism, a kind of pessimism, in us of the younger generation. I am personally interested in things like cyberpunk culture, and the themes you find there–like existential questions about who we are–form the foundation of this film. Also, young people are self-conscious, by which I mean we are concerned about our own existence. I have some very intelligent colleagues in the field of philosophy, so I often think about the circumstances of how we live day to day and what young people, including myself, think about, against the background of the influences around us and the cultures we have been involved in.

YM: In addition to YIDFF, Anhell69 has been well received at many international film festivals. How do you view this reception? How do your friends view the film?

TM: Firstly, I can say that the film deals with universal themes and events that are common in other countries as well and this is how it was received. Sometimes it is received favorably, and some have told me the exact opposite opinion. However, for me, I don’t really care about other people’s opinions or rather, I don’t really care either way. But there is one thing that left a very strong impression on me. I have a friend with HIV named Julián, who was also in the movie, and a comment he made still stays with me. After seeing the film, he said, "Thank you. I didn’t know that I had anything I could share with the world." I love these words.

To be a witness of history

YM: How did you decide to have director Víctor Gaviria in the film?

TM: First, we had the good fortune to know his daughter Mercedes Gaviria. Victor Gaviria is a very important person in Medellín, so we wanted to call on him as a kind of witness to the history of Medellín cinema. The question was, what is the significance of Gaviria’s films when viewed today? Gaviria’s Rodrigo D: No futuro (1990) is a film about young people in Medellín dealing with themes such as violence and murder. By having him appear in the film as a witness, we were able to connect with and inherit the cinematic past.

There is a scene in the film where I am in a coffin dressed as a corpse and Gaviria is driving the hearse. Two filmmakers coexist inside the hearse: one from the present and one from the past, in what I call a loop. Rodrigo D: No futuro is a film about young people in Medellín who have no future. Now, thirty years later, what are things like? Nothing has changed. Two directors, who filmed the stagnant and unchanging city of Medellín and the young people who live in it, side-by-side in a hearse, and both of them became the voice of the dead. To make a film is to document, to become a witness. The voices of the dead are being relayed via the appearance of the directors in the film.

Compiled by Yoshida Miwa
Translated by Christopher M. Cabrera

Photography: Abe Akiha / Video: Oshita Yumi / Interpreter: Kayama Shota / 2023-10-08

Yoshida Miwa
Yoshida participated in the Yamagata Film Criticism Workshop at YIDFF 2011. Since 2013 she has been a member of the YIDFF International Competition Selection Committee. She has contributed to SPUTNIK: YIDFF Reader 2023 with “Trans Cinema: Anhell69.” Resident of Yamagata City.