Around the Quads
Student Spotlight: Victor Suarez ’11 Explores the Art of Filmmaking
By Nathalie Alonso ’08
In his short but forward-moving career, filmmaker Victor Suarez ’11 already has experimented with several genres and modes of storytelling.
In January, he directed a music video in Brooklyn for independent rock musician and Yale student Laura Zax.
“It includes a giant cardboard machine that turns bottles into humans. It’s about a dual Zax — one in the normal world at Coney Island and one in this colorful absurd world — who eventually switch places,” says Suarez, who approached Zax about making a video after hearing her song “Doctor, Doctor.”
Laura LaPerche ’10 and Charlotte Kauffman ’10 produced the video through King Cub Productions, a Columbia undergraduate production company, and helped raise funds for the project. Suarez also received a grant from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation through the Columbia Arts Initiative.
Suarez’s interest in film has evolved gradually since he was a child, when he would entertain himself by playing with his parents’ video camera. His childhood pastime eventually became a passion fueled by his involvement in theater during high school.
“I now had a bunch of friends who were also actors and were always game for making a movie. Writing and directing became so fun and were so rewarding that I wanted to do more and more,” says Suarez, the only child of a Spanish father and a Japanese mother.
Accompanied by five fellow Columbians, Suarez headed to Spain in July 2008 to carry out his most ambitious cinematic endeavor to date: the filming of a short movie, Nel Reinu, aka The Kingdom, that he wrote and directed.
The 13-minute film, shot against the scenic backdrop of the province of Asturias, is a story about familial estrangement and reconciliation. Its logline (one-sentence summary or pitch) reads: “Following the death of his father, a man returns to his family in Spain, bringing his young American daughter who discovers an enduring connection to his past and family that transcends the politics that tore them apart decades ago.”
Nel Reinu’s storyline stems from Suarez’s curiosity about his father’s past; the John Jay scholar explains that his father, who is from Asturias, left home for a long time as a young man for reasons unknown to Suarez.
“That’s what Nel Reinu is about — trying to read who your parents are by trying to piece together their past to see who they were when they were your age,” says Suarez.
After working on the script for about two months, Suarez successfully pitched it to Project Bluelight, an undergraduate film production group created by Michael Molina ’10 and Jeff Schwartz ’10 in early 2008. Suarez also reached out to Spanish producer Carlos Navarro and was rewarded for his initiative, as Navarro agreed to co-produce the film. He received funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation as well. In total, Nel Reinu boasted a $15,000 budget, which Suarez points out is a huge sum for an undergraduate film.
Nel Reinu is set in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, and was filmed in Grao, a rural village just outside the city. The dialogue is in English and Bable, the local language in Asturias. Suarez, who speaks Spanish but not Bable, wrote the script in English and worked with one of the local actors hired by Navarro’s production company to have certain lines spoken in the provincial language.
Molina and Schwartz traveled to Spain with Suarez for the filming, as did LaPerche and Kaufman, who were production managers. Nessa Norich ’08 Barnard played Julia, the American daughter. All had their expenses paid for but did not receive additional compensation.
“Victor was a joy to work with. He knows what he wants from a shot,” says Norich, who was nominated for Best Actress at the 2009 SoCal International Film Festival for her performance in Nel Reinu. “He also relied a lot on the actors’ interpretation of text. He trusted my choices and I his opinion, so it was a nice collaboration.”
Nel Reinu has been screened at film festivals throughout the United States and abroad. It was named “Best of Festival” at the 2009 Open APPerture Film Festival, which is run by students at the Appalachian State University in North Carolina. It also won a Silver Palm Award in the Student Film category at the 2009 Mexico International Film Festival.
Suarez has co-written another movie script, a dark comedy about a teenage couple about to fulfill a suicide pact, titled Date and produced in 2008 by Amalgamated Dynamics, the production company of Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Alec Gillis.
Born in California, Suarez lived in Connecticut before moving to Chicago as a third-grader. Fond recollections of day trips to the Big Apple eventually drew him back to the tri-state area and to the College.
“I really wanted to live in New York,” says Suarez. “All my childhood memories are from New York.”
Suarez has chosen not to study film as an undergraduate and is instead majoring in economics and philosophy with a concentration in history.
“I plan on going into film after I graduate,” he explains. “I’m going to be doing that for the rest of my life, hopefully, so I don’t really want to study just film. I want to learn other things.”
Nathalie Alonso ’08 is a freelance journalist and an editorial producer of LasMayores.com, Major League Baseball’s Spanish language Web site.