Imagine strapping on a pair of virtual reality goggles and stepping back in time. May 13, 1978 to be exact. It looks like a graphic novel come to life. Rosario Dawson voices a young Nuyorican who’s stuck in jail with a “blanquita girl” named Debbie. Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Stooges flood your headphones. That’s Battlescar, a VR film that immerses you in the seventies punk scene of downtown New York.
Mercedes Arturo, a recent NYC transplant, came up with idea for the story while reading Patti Smith’s book Just Kids. “I didn’t want to finish this book because I didn’t want to leave this world… of that New York, that seems so cool and so full of energy compared to the rich, expensive bubble nowadays.”
Her partner, Argentine filmmaker Nico Casavecchia, put pen to paper and created Lupe, a Puerto Rican runaway who details how she met Debbie and her introduction to the Alphabet City punk scene in her handwritten journal. The pages literally come to life as we follow a year of Lupe’s adventures.
According to Nico, the zine-like DIY look of the film comes from an organic place. “We really wanted to bring that idea of collage and rawness to the experience. So that’s partly what drives the style, together with a very complex story that needs to be told with limited resources. You could tell the story in a Pixar fashion and it would be a different story, but if don’t have the resources you need to get creative. In a way, that’s very fitting because like punk is about using that. It’s is a very punk aesthetic.”
Then a collaborator joined them team, Venezuelan visual artist Martin Allais. Nico credits him with driving the immersive quality of the project: “Martin, the co-director came in and he does have a good vision for the sound and music. And I think that’s partly what makes the trick of immersion besides the VR technology. The music and the sound really gets you into the story and back in time. He was foundational for creating that illusion.”
When it came to casting, they only had one person in mind. “We always dreamed with having Rosario in it for many reasons. We just didn’t think it would be possible,” says Nico. “The way we approached it was we sent a literary script which was just the voiceover. So to that extent it read as a novel, without descriptions. I think we sent her a deck with some sketches… So it was very raw, there’s no much to cling to.” As it turns out, she said yes anyway.