Saturday, April 18, 2015

UFOs in Zacapa (orig. OVNIs en Zacapa) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

Official website

El Guatamalteco article about*

América Tevé (S. Pérez) review* (A. Sánchez) review*

UFOs in Zacapa (orig. OVNIs en Zacapa) [2014] [IMDb] (directed by Marcos Machado [IMDb], screenplay by Enrique Pérez [IMDb]) is a GUATAMALAN / COSTA RICAN (and at least in part CUBAN supported ...) often tongue-in-cheek / Big Lebowski [1998]-like "UFO Conspiracy" movie that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival.

The CUBAN connection to the film was both almost certainly NECESSARY and, at times, UNFORTUNATE.  It probably was NECESSARY because my guess is that the Guatemala-based group (a "collective") that made the film (Best Picture System) -- both _quite talented_ and _quite funny_ -- WOULD PROBABLY NEVER HAVE BEEN ASSEMBLED without Cuban government support (film-making does require both organization and money ...).  But it's UNFORTUNATE because as fun as the film often is, its underlying anti-(North) Americanism is both obvious and at times quite heavy-handed.  Sigh ... BUT I've ALSO often noted / railed-against some of the more-or-less obvious right-wing and even racist messaging in (North) American (Hollywood) children's films as well.

That all said, this is a clever locally-set (in Guatemala) Latin American UFO Conspiracy film and even the North American connection to the conspiracy proposed actually meshes well with current (North) American conspiracy theories -- A LOT of the "UFO sightings" in the (North) American West notably around "Area 51" are now attributed to U.S. military projects ...

What then is the story spun in the current film?

Rober Daneri (played by Daneri Gudiel [IMDb]), a native Guatemalan, has been tormented since childhood by the disappearance (back in the 1980s ...) of his dad.  He remembers when he was about ten, a jeep carrying some military personnel coming to their house somewhere in the Guatemalan countryside and that the soldiers had spent a fair amount of time talking to his dad before leaving again.  He had asked his dad about this somewhat odd / unnerving visit.  His dad, of course, assured him that it was nothing.  But later that night, Rober was awakened by bright lights and noise outside, his dad standing in the midst of those blinding lights and then ... well ... disappearing.

From that point on, Rober was convinced that his dad was somehow abducted ... by aliens.  And when he grew up, he wrote a book entitled "We've Never Been Alone" about said aliens, which brought him some ridicule in the Guatemalan press, which like the Press _anywhere_ both LIKES "UFO Stories" and LIKES TO RIDICULE their proponents.

Anyway, after enduring a good amount of ridicule for his book (whose title actually sounds more like a complaint -- suggesting that he wished "that we'd just be left alone ..." ;-), he's asked by local Guatemalan TV personality Leyla Marroquin (played by Alejandra Estrada [IMDb]) to serve as "her expert" in investigating reports of UFO sightings AND ABDUCTIONS in and around the town of Zacapa, Guatemala.  

Initially, he doesn't want to participate, noting that he's already been abused in local tabloid television programs, but he consents to go along with it because becomes clear to him that (1) he's going to continue to be ridiculed anyway, and (2) Leyla's going to do her "investigative show" with or without him.

Well, after they arrive in Zacapa, they find that (1) there are strange lights frequently flying about in the night -- they themselves see them, (2) there have been all kinds of locals who have been abducted at night, often associated with those lights, never to be seen again, and (3) a goofy and goofily hopeful local cult has even begun to be formed around these UFO sightings / abductions.  There's a local self-styled "prophet" who claims he can communicate with the aliens, and people even come to him ASKING TO BE ABDUCTED ... some come to be abducted while others are not ...

What the heck is going on?  Rober smells some kind of a fraud, until he himself sees the lights, and finds himself at least temporarily unconscious / abducted (he wakes up in his hotel room, not knowing how he got there).   From that point on, he _really_ wants to figure out what's going on.  Leyla and her cameraman, however, seem to be more focused-on / fascinated-by the spectacle of it all -- "strange things happening to strange people..." 

Some "clarity" starts to come into the picture when Rober is visited by "a representative" of a local drug dealer (!) who leaves him a rather thick file of police reports / press clippings on the abductions, suggesting rather strongly that he read the file and then ... kindly leave town.

Rober begins quite quickly to put "two and two" together.  Leyla and her cameraman need perhaps a bit more persuasion...

... but in the end everybody seems to come out "okay" except, of course, Rober, who never wanted to go out there to Zacapa in the first place.

So what was happening out there in Zacapa?  And what happened to Rober?   And how could Leyla and her cameraman come out "okay" if Rober did not?  Well guess ...

Again, it's an interesting take on the UFO phenomenon ... ;-)

The filmmakers -- director as well as several of the actors -- present for a Q/A session after the screening at the Chicago Latino Film Festival promise to make the film available (for free and/or a simple donation, again THEIR GROUP IS NOT OUT TO MAKE MONEY) through their website and/or vimeo channel in the next year or two -- after the film makes a run through local Central American / Caribbean theaters.  

All in all, this proved to be a very interesting film.  I do wish that the anti-(North) Americanism wasn't so blatant at times.  On the other hand, I do appreciate that the group probably wouldn't exist if not for the Cuban help -- and that would be a shame.  For the makers of this film are a quite talented group.

* Decent enough (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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