Michael Lei on Why His Bolivia-Set Short Film Is a Tribute to Jorge Luis Borges

In La Paz, Bolivia filming a documentary on culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer, Chinese-American filmmaker Michael Lei was worried he might not come back to the U.S. with the footage he needed to finish his film. As a sort of “insurance policy,” he decided to shoot a narrative short simultaneously so he could “take advantage of the incredible vistas of the city.” This is how Coger un monstro (Catch a Monster) was born. The short film tells the story of a young boy who breaks into the home of a man with an extremely dark past.

During an interview with Lei, Remezcla asked him about his inspiration making a film set in South America and whether or not he believes in redemption, one of the themes explored in the short film between the two main characters.

Catch a Monster premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 14. Encore screenings take place April 20 at 4:30pm and April 23 at 5:30pm. 

What was your inspiration in writing a story set in Bolivia?

“One of my favorites is Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. There’s an endlessly romantic quality to me about that specific tone and mood you get from his work.”

One of my favorite authors is Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. What I’ve always found most remarkable in his work is how he was able to incorporate all these complex, philosophical ideas into the framework of well-worn genres and how he was able to do it so succinctly. He was able to explore grander, idiosyncratic ideas in his short stories than some people are able to in thousand-page novels. The film is ultimately a tribute to him and an attempt at creating a cinematic version of a Borgesian story. There’s an endlessly romantic quality to me about that specific tone and mood you get from his work – this European intellectualism unfolding amongst the rustic backdrops. When it came to actually writing a story that would make sense in the South American setting, my mind immediately jumped to the continent’s prominent role in the events following WWII.

What did you hope to convey to audiences during the interaction between the young boy and the man?

Without giving away too much to those who haven’t seen the film, I think it’s made pretty clear that [the man] ultimately sees a lot of himself in [the young boy] and indicates that in the interaction that takes place between them in the film. I don’t really think there’s anything new in what [the man] is saying. What’s more interesting to me is that although the message is cautionary, it feels that at the same time it’s a justification of some kind.

Do you think all men are capable of doing bad things?

Yes, I think all men are capable of doing anything because there’s always the dissonance associated with evil acts committed with good intentions. Growing up my friends and I played though hypothetical situations…[about whether or not] we would kill one man to save a train full of people. Obviously that’s a silly childhood game, but what it does bring into question is the wonderfully human thing we do, which is to search for justification. Rarely do we act out pure maliciousness, so when we do do something bad, we always go over the rationale in our mind and weigh both sides of the situation. Obviously we just want to get to the point where we don’t have trouble sleeping.

In the film, the man talks about how hard it is to turn back once you’ve gone down a certain road. Do you believe this is true or do you believe in redemption?

In the context of storytelling and also just as someone who likes to have faith in human beings, I love the idea of redemption and would like to think it’s possible for everyone regardless of the severity of their actions. However, for every horrific act there are so many ramifications and scars that develop for those involved. Especially in acts of violence or death you have to consider a victim’s friends or family. If someone is forced to grow up without a father or can never watch their little girl grow up into a woman then is redemption or forgiveness really even a possibility?

Michael Lei
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Do you think what the young boy experiences will affect his life? Where do you see him in 15-20 years?

I have a hard time imagining that this whole episode doesn’t affect his life. Those who see the film will get what I mean when I say that he probably doesn’t become a soldier. Hopefully he makes it as a football player.

The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24, 2016. We partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino films and talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on and