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BLACK NIGHTS 2022 First Feature Competition

Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vásquez • Directors of Upon Entry

“We tried to make the film feel as organic as possible, to make it grow from something inside of the characters”


- The intimate drama by the two Venezuelan directors based in Spain channels the fears of many migrants

Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vásquez • Directors of Upon Entry

Barcelona-based Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vásquez presented their directorial debut within the First Feature Competition of the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, where they received the FIPRESCI Prize. Upon Entry [+see also:
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recreates an interrogation of a couple at a New York airport’s US immigration office. We met with the directors, who talked about their own personal experience of migration and how it was a major inspiration for their film.

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Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this story?
Juan Sebastián Vásquez:
We had other, similar stories in mind when we first started talking about this project. All of them were linked to different issues relating to the process of migration and how powerful this event is in a person's life. We wanted to make a film that shows the overarching power a person has when he or she questions one person or two persons' decision to migrate, perhaps mainly because of things relating to your origins, your sexual orientation or the colour of your skin. Lives can be destroyed. We didn’t want to make a film that only shows the immigration process, we also wanted to show its emotional fallout.

Alejandro Rojas: It’s a personal story, in a certain sense. Because we’re both from Venezuela. It's based on things we’ve gone through ourselves, in similar ways. Or based on stories from people we know. 

Was it difficult to gather up other people’s experiences and to find more examples of this?
JSV: Sadly, it was really easy to unearth these stories. A lot of it had already happened to us. The movie shows what happens to this couple when they arrive in the USA, but it also mirrors what a lot of Latin Americans living in Spain have experienced. Elena subsequently begins to understand the privilege she has had thus far, as a Spanish person in Spain. It's a universal story about people from South America and their fear of crossing a border. When we started writing the script and told people about it, many shared these feelings with us. Passing through customs, crossing borders, going to the police… For many people it's a nightmare. A Chilean director, for example, told us that he tries to avoid going via the USA when he has to travel to Europe. We reached out to certain people on some specific points - the visa lottery, for example, because we didn't know too much about it. But we were close to most of the other stories, because they happened to us or our relatives.

AR: Sadly, many of these stories go untold. Not least because we get used to it. A lot of these things happen all the time, to a lesser or greater degree. And none of it can be considered less or more violent: it’s all violent. Because what they do is inflict a level of verbal violence which is just as harsh as any other. And people grow accustomed to it. It doesn't only happen in the USA. We set the film there because we’ve both been in one of their customs rooms. But it happens everywhere. And it all stems back to the same question: namely, where do you come from? Do you own a questionable passport, in their eyes?

Did you also talk to immigration officers?
JSV: Our actress, Laura Gomez, who plays the officer, has a cousin who’s an immigration officer. It was really interesting for her, gaining insight about the job. A lot of the information we needed was already out there. There are lots of TV shows depicting the daily life of these officers. There are lots of documentaries, it’s easy information to access. They show the power these officers have. You see the various issues relating to racism. It's horrible and painful to watch, even more so when you consider you’re watching a watered-down version and that the worse cases aren’t shown. It's difficult to stomach, and to see that Europe and the USA gloss over the fact that they’re also responsible for the situation which people from certain countries are in, and for the reasons these people want to migrate. It's really sad to see these people singled out as the problem.

AR: And, of course, they do get it wrong sometimes; quite a lot, actually. But their attitude is that it’s part of the job. That attitude tells you something, it's never going to stop.

What do we need to understand about Diego's situation?
JSV: There are some questions which are only asked if you’re from a certain country. It makes us more critical about things. His situation is that extra little thing that makes them ask about his motivations. And in a relationship, a person’s nationality can be part of something that you’re looking for, something you need; it can be a game changer. Besides that, we both know the desperate feeling of not wanting to go to Venezuela. And of course, Diego has a few issues, he’s insecure. But we only become aware of this through his situation.

AR: The authorities look into him because he’s from Venezuela. From the couple’s perspective, it's devastating that a simple thing such as Diego's nationality, which hasn’t caused any issues between them thus far, causes their world to implode at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place.

Were you inspired by any specific filmmakers when it came to your film’s visual concept?
: Sidney Lumet and his body of work is a huge inspiration. It's how he crafts scenes that seem so simple that’s fascinating. He would always go straight to the point, let you feel the characters. We tried to make the film feel as organic as possible, to make it grow from something inside of the characters.

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