Director Alejandro Loayza talks about his debut film, the multi-award winning Utama, which will represent Bolivia at the 2023 Oscars
‘Utama’ started out in mid-2017 as a short paragraph in the form of a synopsis. It was a love story about two elderly people in the Bolivian altiplano who consider each other their greatest asset but who are seeing their lifestyle and livelihoods reach the edge of extinction, and also about their need to plan for their deaths. I like to think that all of this, which was in that original synopsis, remains in the film as I think it’s the essence of it.
This concept was later fed by various other themes, all of which came together to form Utama. That same year, my brother Santiago (the film’s producer) and I participated in the “Produire au Sud” workshop at the Festival of 3 Continents in Nantes, France. We took an early draft of the screenplay with us and received feedback for both the script and the production. It was the first time I had written a full script for a feature film. I had written several shorts and had done several shot lists, but never the complete script. I think that was one of the biggest challenges I faced, not only with that first version, but also with the rewrites for each new draft.
The financing process pretty much unfolded in parallel with that of the scriptwriting. We got our first round of funding with the third draft of the script and completed the financing with the sixth and last one. It was a tight budget, so we had to make good use of that money and planned the shoot as best we could. Filming it in such a remote location and having to do it in only a few days meant doing all we could to optimize resources. Each shoot poses its own risks and challenges; in the case of Utama, I think one of them was working with non-professional actors. It’s also a challenge to tell what you might define as a “minimalist” story, with just a few characters and only a few locations. For me, the most important thing in cinema is to tell a good story, one that touches people and captivates the audience. I hope viewers can empathize with the characters, that they can put themselves in their shoes and see in them, even if they look very different, all that unites us as human beings. That they understand that in essence, we’re inherently all the same, and that the small differences between us are cultural. And even then, all our cultures are similar, because all of them include death, smiles, love, children, grandparents, grandchildren, eyes, language, food, music, gestures, hands, myths, births, a future, a past, and much more. I believe there are no big differences between us, that the same essence we all share is at the heart of what it means to be human.
On the other hand, and being less of a romanticist, I wanted to transport the audience to this place that is little known even in the big cities closest to it in my own country. To open a small window into this space that’s so beautiful and so severe at the same time. The altiplano is a place that captivates me and that attracts me, as I suppose is the case with many of us Bolivians who were born and raised in Andean cities but know that part of our roots and our way of being have their origin in the mountains. And I would love for the film to promote debate on climate migration, on the consequences of our actions, to help spread awareness that already many people are seeing their way of life change and even verge on ceasing to exist, while in the cities we don’t give a second thought to where our water comes from, or to where it goes.
Utama has marked a before and after in my life, it has brought me so much joy and so many special moments that all I feel is deep gratitude to all the people who have helped me while making the film and who continue to do so.