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Fade to Black: Miguel Coyula, Director

Jan 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By D. W. Leitner

Millimeter magazine on director Miguel Coyula. Interview with the Cuban-born director/cinematographer.


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The decade-old, grassroots MiniDV do-it-yourself movement called “Microcinema” (www.microcinemascene.com) — a ragtag group of inspired individualists who substitute resourcefulness and the simple joys of filmmaking for what they lack in resources — was bound to produce a rising star.

A budget topping $2000 — half went to SAG — a Canon GL-1, and Apple's Final Cut Pro produced a sci-fi feature with the yecch-y title Red Cockroaches that has crawled out, at long last, from the shadows of the Microcinema festival circuit. The Edinburgh International Film Festival proclaimed it “in the tradition of David Lynch” while Variety's Ronnie Scheib called it “undeniably inventive, visually stunning” and a “triumph of technology in the hands of a visionary.”

It's hard to know where to begin to describe this film: a bleak, futuristic Manhattan with flying cars, monumental Fritz Lang architecture, and acid rain. A long-dead sister mysteriously turns up alive to turn inside out the world of her brother/lover. Reviewers have most often compared the movie to Blade Runner.

“My style is a hybrid,” says director/writer/cinematographer/editor/composer Miguel Coyula. “I like [Andrei] Tarkovsky, David Lynch, [Michelangelo] Antonioni but I also like Japanese anime. There are really so many influences that I can't list them all.”

Coyula, 27, is a native of Havana with a dozen short films to his credit. A recent graduate of the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños, he moved to New York three years ago for an acting scholarship at The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. It was while attending the Strasberg Institute on his second trip to the United States that he made Red Cockroaches.

“About four years ago I wrote a novel called Ocean,” Coyula says. “Basically, the idea was to build an alternative reality. Not the future, but a world with strange, surreal elements and a kind of dark, overall nightmare quality. Red Cockroaches is the prequel to Ocean. I've always wanted to do a film about incest, and Red Cockroaches was the chance to do it. There is a character about to be born toward the end of Red Cockroaches who is the protagonist of Ocean.”

The film adaptation of Ocean will have to wait. Coyula's next film, Memories of Overdevelopment, is the follow-up to perhaps the most famous Cuban film ever made, Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), directed by the late Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Strawberry and Chocolate).

The author of the Cuban novel from which the original Memories was adapted, Edmundo Desnoes, has just completed the sequel, and Coyula has already adapted it to script form. Will Memories of Overdevelopment, to be filmed in Spanish and English in New York and the Catskills, as well as Havana, Paris, and Venice, be another Microcinema milestone? It certainly will be in spirit. Coyula is poised to achieve yet another breakthrough.

Memories of Overdevelopment will likely be the first low-budget film shot with a digital cinema camera that uses film lenses and records 2K RAW files to hard drives. No, not Dalsa's Origin, Panavision's Genesis, or Arri's Arriflex D-20, but a camera system called Kinetta, introduced last April at NAB by independent filmmaker and inventor Jeff Kreines (see “NAB 2004” Millimeter, June 2004, and “Three Histories: Roll Your Own” Millimeter, November 2003).

What innovative techniques and postproduction strategies, perhaps even financial opportunities, will the confluence of frugal Microcinema and limitless digital cinema beget? More importantly, how will cinema change?

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