Mexican Director Alex Kahuam's Films Influenced By Mexico’s Violence

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At first glance, Alex Kahuam's movie SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? may look like it’s glamorizing violence, but the Mexico City native says his intention is quite the opposite.  

Coming to VOD in September, SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? was originally a short film, which was accepted at Cannes Film Festival in the category of Short-Film Corner in 2014. After writing a new film, he realized he was writing a feature length film to SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER?  He teamed up with other filmmaker friends and raised money from various investors in Mexico City to shoot his short film adaptation. Collaborating with Director of Photography, Diego Gilly and using the same actors from his previous short, he shot the film in three weeks.

Alex KahuamThe VOD release definitely has a Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS feel to it. Kahuam tells CineMovie Tarantino is definitely an influence especially in his use of a singular location and creative shots. Robert Rodriguez’s EL MARIACHI and Guy Ritchie’s SNATCH also influenced the director/writer, but he calls Martin Scorsese his biggest influence.

His upbringing also shaped his aesthetic. Born in Mexico City, Alex Kahuam is the 3rd generation of a Lebanese family. Growing up in a city known for its kidnappings had a profound impact on the filmmaker, and calls it a “chip on the shoulder” when discussing the relevance of it to his work.  

“Basically it was real harsh to grow up in a city where it was like normal. You walk the streets and you have to be careful all the time. It was not cool. In a way it influenced me because I saw a lot of… well not violence but this constant fear of having to be careful. So I wanted to take that and put it on paper and on screen and have a message for people out there to be careful.”

The influence was so deep that at age 12, he shot his first short film, “El Secuestro” (The Kidnapping) for a school assignment that dealt with the topic. He got his first taste of filmmaking by being resourceful. He used firecrackers to simulate explosions and his friends were the stars. He earned an A+ for his realistic portrayal.

The violence in SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? is not pretty, and that’s intentional, according to the filmmaker.  

“It’s more entertainment but this movie shows the consequences of being a criminal.”  

While his role model’s movies may be accused of glamorizing violence, he doesn’t believe his favorite directors set out to have the action be desirable. Sometimes the public puts their own spin on it, much like rappers who idolize Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from SCARFACE.

“I don’t think Brian DePalma was thinking about, ‘I want to make a cool gangster.” I think he was thinking about, “look how messed up this is,” Kahuam surmises. “People misunderstand what the filmmaker wanted to say.  Also like GOODFELLAS, Scorsese didn’t want to portray Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro as the cool guys. He wanted to say, ‘hey look at what’s happening. Look at all these casualties.’”  

Coming from a place like he did, he feels directors and writers should not be promoting violence as a good thing.

“We as filmmakers shouldn’t be saying gangsters are cool.  It can influence people’s actions. You have to be careful.”

Luckily, Alex Kahuam has full control over his films as an independent filmmaker. He funded SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? through private investors. He’s currently preparing to go into production on another film and this time his budget will be in the six figures. A bigger budget is more of a challenge, but he’s ready to submit his proposal to a company in hopes of securing funding for his new film which revolves around an incident he witnessed involving an immigrant. The event inspired him to draft a script in one day. “I got very emotional about it,” he says. Ten drafts later, he’s ready to pitch investors to make a film he considers “deep” with a good message.

Kahuam usually shoots in digital using cameras like the Arri Alexa, but he also loves film. He feels every filmmaker should first attempt to shoot on film for the experience. While digital cameras shoot continuously, film has its time constraints.  

“What makes you a very disciplined filmmaker is how to learn how to shoot with a certain feet of film.”

He adds film and cameras like the Arri Alexa, which shoots much like film, provide an imperfect image while the digital camera look is much cleaner. He prefers the imperfection of film stock, but digital is just more efficient.

Catch SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? on VOD in September and look out for this up-and-coming writer and director.

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