Alex Anwandter On Directing His First Film and the Differences Between Making Music and Making Movies

Chilean musician-turned-filmmaker Alex Anwandter premiered his much-anticipated first feature Nunca vas a estar solo (You’ll Never be Alone) at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival as part of the Panorama program, where it competes for the prestigious Teddy Award. Though Nunca vas a estar solo is an ambitious undertaking, it is not out of step for Anwandter who has been conceiving and directing his own music videos since his days with Teleradio Donoso. The film stars Sergio Hernandez, who audiences will recall from Sebastián Leilo’s Gloria. Hernandez plays Juan, a father distressed by the violent attack committed on his gay son.

Nunca vas a estar solo was inspired by the 2012 murder of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man who was severely beaten and spent 25 days in a coma before passing. His case was highly publicized and became a rallying cry for anti-hate crime legislation in Chile. Zamudio’s death left a big impression on Anwandter, who had communicated via chat with Zamudio prior to his death, as he was a big fan of Anwandter’s music. He stresses, however, that the film is not a biopic.

Below Anwandter talks about the creation of Nunca vas a estar solo and the importance of switching the focus away from the victim and toward the aggressor.

On the differences between making music and making films

“I’m more of a ‘the path is the goal’ type of person. It’s all very similar to climbing a huge mountain, not that you’ll catch me doing that, it’s only a metaphor.”

I definitely see more differences than similarities. In art in general I feel it is essential to always bring the highest possible amount of honesty and truth to what you do. Music-making I think is more akin to an actor or actress performing in the sense that it is — after you no longer are training for it — all about immersing yourself as deep as possible, whereas filmmaking is highly intellectual and long-term process. The honesty/truth factor in filmmaking is for me the emotional anchor that keeps you grounded throughout this very long process and functions as some sort of well from which you get the strength to work on a project for several years. As for my abilities as a musician, they were pretty useless! Maybe a sense of timing when editing came in handy. But that’s not exclusive to music.

On the elusive screenwriting process

I made myself an office at home; I like to keep it tidy and stacked with books I might want to check in case I doubt myself with something or want to think about something else for a while. As I am not only a screenwriter I don’t really have a routine for it. I’ll get into an intense writing period some time in the future when I’m ready to write my next screenplay. In the meantime I’m pretty much gathering my thoughts — which looks strikingly similar to me checking my Facebook… I eat like every two hours, I’m a vegetarian so it’s mostly fruit for snacks. When I get blocked I’ll go do something else. Take a walk or work on something entirely different.

On the impact Daniel Zamudio’s story had on the genesis of the film

“Fictional narrative versus a biopic abstracts a specific event into an issue we can reflect upon, and the movie can function not as a message with a simple morale but as a vehicle where people sit for a while and think.”

There’s something important I need to clarify, which I’ve done already in Chilean press but it has proven to be quite a daunting task to get the message across (and I’m talking about Chile here, this is pretty much the first time I’ve talked about the film with press from abroad): You’ll never be alone is not about Daniel Zamudio – this misinformation has been widely spread ironically enough in newspapers in Chile. His murder inspired me to write a fictional story that shared only a very basic premise with what actually happened: a gay kid is beaten very violently. Even further, You’ll never be alone focuses mainly on the kid’s father, and the other types of violence the father encounters after his son gets beat up. All of this has a very strong design and purpose: it is the way I get to say, through the movie, “it wasn’t only Daniel and it won’t be only him” unless we manage to de-emphasize the focus on the one horrifically-spectacular episode and turn to analyzing the context that allows this violence to exist; in other words, let’s turn our attention to the society that embraces these violent attitudes and behaviors, not the kid that suffers them.

For me the fact that the focus in Chile keeps returning only to one episode that happened 5 years ago illustrates how willing or unwilling we are as a society to analyze an issue. More kids have died from similar — albeit slightly less horrific — attacks since Daniel, yet no one knows their names. I tried to make a film “about them, for them,” not about Daniel Zamudio. And that’s the design of fictional narrative versus a biopic: it abstracts a specific event into an issue we can reflect upon, and the movie can function not as a message with a simple morale (as in “Don’t be a homophobe!”) but as a vehicle where people sit for a while and think upon these things.

On his relationship with Daniel’s family and their involvement with the film

Well, having explained the previous issue, my contact with Daniel’s specific context has really been very little. I’ve met them, after his death, they were very nice and encouraging to me even during that very sad time. His brothers are actually the ones who literally told me and therefore encouraged me to “speak on behalf of boys like him.” But even though this extremely tragic murder did inspire me to write a story, the difference with writing a story about a specific boy whom I hardly knew is very big. I wouldn’t feel qualified to do something like that.

On the lessons he learned while making his first feature

I’m more of a “the path is the goal” type of person, really. It’s all very similar to climbing a huge mountain (not that you’ll catch me doing that, it’s only a metaphor): it’s really hard and tiring and when you get to the top you’ll probably see bigger mountains you hadn’t seen from down below. So hopefully you enjoyed getting there.

Maybe it will sound very corny of me but I made really good friends making this film and that’s something very valuable to me. I loved working with actors and actresses I admired. A bad acting performance is something really cringy and kind of embarrassing, but a good or great one is one of the things that probably makes me feel most in awe of someone. I was also very impressed by Sergio Hernández’ approach to his work and his life. It was very inspiring for me to see someone close to his seventies approach his work with such commitment, very willing to take risks, having fun while doing it, treating everyone very humbly, he even went to party with us when we wrapped production.

There’s a phrase I heard: “if there’s something harder than making a movie, it’s making your first movie.” I would tend to agree.