Writer/director Tom Sanchez is screening his first feature film, La Navaja de Don Juan, at Cine Las Americas Film Festival, the festival run by the multicultural nonprofit organization. Sanchez has written and directed several shorts and knew he wanted to be a filmmaker at a young age. His film La Navaja de Don Juan chronicles the lives of two brothers living in Lima, Peru, who encounter and experience a night together. Sex, fighting and debauchery are a part of their adventure that they overcome together.
We spoke to Sanchez about his feature film debut and the story behind his characters. La Navaja de Don Juan premieres April 19 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.
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What were some of your influences for creating La Navaja de Don Juan?
Tom Sanchez: I wanted to shoot something in Spanish. I wanted to shoot something in Peru. I looked at what I had available, setting- and story-wise, and just decided to shoot something in Lima. You don ‘t really see Lima too much in international films, I don’t think. I thought it would be interesting to do that in a setting and story that isn’t typical stuff about gangs, poverty, drug trafficking or immigration. I thought it would be fun to show more of an everyday regular person life in Lima.
Where did you draw your inspiration from when creating the characters?
Sanchez: Well, I based it loosely off of family members that I have down there. The characters Walter and Mario are named after my father and his brother. And I kinda loosely based it on stories that they would tell me when they used to get into trouble. The details (of the film) are not based off of them. That’s where I drew my inspiration from: family stories and a composite of various people I know.
Do you have any siblings?
Sanchez: I have two sisters.
How did you make the relationship between the two brothers, Walter and Mario, seem realistic?
Sanchez: I’ve always wanted a brother. I used to live in Peru. I was very close to some other cousins, male cousins, but I guess I always wanted a brother. Having those relationships with my cousins, I was kind of able to fill the gap with that and, you know, just siblings to siblings [stuff]. My sisters would tell me how I would annoy them because they’re younger than me, but you know, we’re now in our big 20s and early 30s. [laughs] They can tell me things now.
What is the core of what this movie means and what do you hope people take from it?
Sanchez: I hope people take, well—one thing would be the importance of family and to appreciate each other while you still can. You know, that they might fight and argue, but that they can always count on family members. I don’t know—it’s a little anti-macho, one [brother] represents a womanizer and the other [brother] is like the fighting honor. If you put two together its your average, stereotypical Latin caricature. So I tried to break it up, just so that the people that are still thinking like that, maybe self-reflect.
As a writer, what was your writing process like compared to directing the film?
Sanchez: Well, first of all, I wrote a short. There’s another film I want to do in the future based off a novel. I realized that in order for the publishing company to take me seriously, you know, I would have to do something first just to prove that I could even do this. So I wrote a 22-page script, which was called La Ravancha, a wrestling match. One of the producers of the film, then, Wilkins, came down to do this five-day shoot and he said, “Oh, we should just do a feature because everybody does shorts. They don’t really do anything. We could do a feature.” He asked, “How much do you think you could get?” Well, I was calculating because I knew if I named some characters after some family members, some of my dad’s family are doctors, so I knew I could get small amounts from people [laughs]. I said, “Oh, maybe $50,000.” And Wilkins said, ‘Oh, we can do the feature.” So I flesh out a new set. It’s funny because he said, ‘We have to limit the locations and limit the night exteriors and characters.” So I just wrote what I wrote. I came up with an outline, sat down and wrote the script. He looked at it and said, ‘Well, there’s tons of experiences, several characters and several locations.” So that didn’t really work out. [laughs]
What is it about this film that connects with you?
Sanchez: It’s based a lot on my particular perception of Lima. What friends are like in Lima. What people are like in Lima. Although I moved away when I was eight, I still had family. I think judging by what people have seen, they seem to think it’s a pretty accurate interpretation. What connects me to the film, I would say, I think the world in general and characters. That they [the characters] are behaving in these situations.
This is your feature film directorial debut at Cine Las Americas. How do you feel about that?
Sanchez: [laughs] It took a long time. I’ve been working on this film since, I think, 2008 so it’s really exciting to finally show it off. It will be good to see how the audiences react to it, especially complete strangers, because we’ve had test screenings but it’s always been people that we know already or people that knows someone involved in it [the film]. It will be nice to hopefully be the first of several films to come.
Watch the official trailer for La Navaja de Don Juan below.