Tag Archives: Colombian Talent

Q&A with Leading Colombian Actress and ‘Therapy’ star Juliana Betancourth

Juliana Betancourth, industry-leading actress in Colombia, is known for her talent and versatility. She has starred in countless acclaimed productions, from Bite! to La Reina de Sur. Her most recent project, Therapy, allows worldwide audiences to once again appreciate her outstanding acting capabilities.

After the great reception that the short theater play Terapia had, winning several awards of the Short & Sweet: Hollywood 2017, an adaptation of the script was made. Betancourth in the lead role of Marina, is a self-sacrificing wife who during couples therapy is discovering disturbing secrets about her husband, which causes a turning point in the story to show us a darker side of this character. Each one has a secret to reveal that seems to indicate that there is no way to fix the marriage, but the perverse sexual hobbies and fetishes of both end up uniting them and committing the greatest monstrosities; impacting the life of the person who tried to help them: their therapist. Betancourth develops an exquisite multidimensional, sensual and violent character.

The film crew is composed of successful filmmakers in Los Angeles, such as director Jhonatan Tabares, director of photography Jaime Salazar, Producer Yaniv Waisman, among others. A group that has been developing different audiovisual pieces for the Latin American industry in Hollywood.

The premiere was at the Panamanian International Film Festival, where the film took home the top prize. It then did the same at the Panamanian International Film Festival 2018 and the ELCO Film Festival, with many more expected this year.

We had a chance to sit down with Betancourth to talk about the making of this critically-acclaimed film.

IFR: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: I already had an emotional connection with the project, and with the character of Marina who had allowed me to access very deep places acting wise.

The premise of this artistic piece was wonderful. It had a completely unexpected turning point, which was exciting for me, and as an actress it allowed me to play practically two roles in one.

I also liked working with the team involved that was composed of producers, director, cinematographer, and actors whom I’ve always admired.

IFR: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: Therapy started as a theater play, and was directed by Jhonatan Tabares. Due to the great success it had, the Super Hero Latina production company run by Tanya Mordacci wanted to turn it into a film.

Everyone involved in the project already knew my acting work. They had seen me in the lead role in the Virginia Casta movie, and many other projects that were seen in Mexico and the United States. Also, with Jhonatan, we had already worked on previous pilots for TV shows. He knew me personally. We had already worked together in the stage version of Therapy.  It is very important when accepting a project to not only like the script, but also the quality of people who are part of it.

IFR: What do you like about the story?

JB: The story of this project is one of the most interesting in which I have worked. It is fiction, but it is an experiment that brings us closer to the understanding of human psychology. To that infinite universe of our mind, of the decisions we make and our behavior towards society.

I love that the story is transgressive. That it is perpetuated in the mind of the audience. That they want to stop seeing it, but they cannot look away. I am fascinated by social experiments.

This is why the premise of this story is important, it is also not far from reality. Within our communities are these types of dangerous individuals that are the product of our shortcomings as a society; of our injustices and oppressions; but each viewer is free to draw their own conclusions.

IFR: What was it like working on this project?

JB: The process with the director Jhonatan Tabares was special. There were many hours of rehearsals, finding the characters, their motivations, their actions, and their arcs through the written words and physical work.

I studied the behaviors of the most dangerous serial killers in world history, especially couples like Charlene & Gerald Galician, Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck, Bonnie & Clyde, among others. I wanted to know the reasons why they killed their victims, the way they did it, and the satisfaction they found in it.

One of the things that I liked most about this project was working alongside my colleagues Ramón Valdez and Fernanda Kelly, two great Mexican actors. Also, the producer Tanya Mordacci, producer Yaniv Waisman, and the always supportive Vange Tapia. Director of photography Jaime Salazar, still photo Elena Rojas, and all those who were part of this family made this an unforgettable experience.

IFR: What was your character like?

JB: Marina is a supposed self-sacrificing woman. A Latina who lives in the United States, and who depends economically and emotionally on her husband, but this is just an act and part of a macabre game she carries out with her partner. At the turning point, we will see the real Marina, a psychopath, who finds sexual pleasure in seeing her victims die.

It is a dark character, with complex psychology, special motivations and very different from conventional characters. Marina all the time is playing at being another woman different from who she is. She is a kind of actress, but her performances hide macabre intentions.

It was very interesting to work on this character because the unexpected turning point leaves the audience surprised based on how Marina was from the beginning.  She plays the role of a sheep beautifully, but in reality, she is a hungry wolf.

IFR: How did your character fit into the story?

JB: There are only three characters in the whole movie. Marina, although initially playing the role of victim in therapy with the couple’s psychologist, crying and accusing her husband of being abusive, ends up being the mastermind with a criminal plan.

Driven by her desires and impulses, she mentally dominates her partner to commit the homicides while she enjoys the process and destruction it causes. It is an incredibly complex character, one that generates uncomfortable feelings from the audience when they realize the true objective of the two main characters.

Without Marina, there is no Therapy.

IFR: What did you like about working on this project?

JB: Working on this project has been one of the best experiences of my life. Connecting with so many talented people, who have become my friends, and will be people I plan to work with again in my future projects. It was great to work and build this character, to keep experimenting until we found what worked best, and have direct and honest communication with the director.

Art projects fascinate me because it is not about business and how much money we can make, but more about character, story, and connections with the cast and crew to make a film or TV show that moves people and makes them think. That is always a beautifully motivating factor for me.

IFR: What else did you like about working on this project?

JB: We filmed in one location. The office of the psychologist. The final scene was exhausting and dramatic, that we could only film in two sequences. We both were spent when the director finally called cut.

In the play, there was no character of the psychologist. It was just a voice, and we broke the fourth wall when speaking to the voice, which made it feel like to the audience that we were speaking with them. In the film, Fernanda Kelly played the role of the psychologist, and she was marvelous in it. It was amazing to act opposite her, and it lifted our performances to another level.

IFR: How does it feel knowing the project has been such a success?

JB: I knew it would be a resounding success since I had first read the script, and saw the reaction when performing it as a theater piece. I fully trusted the director’s work, and my own. I had no doubt about the success it has had and will have for the next few years.

When you do a project, you do not think about prizes, you know if the project is good or not regardless of the recognition or criticism you receive, but I would be wrong if I said that it is not rewarding to receive the accolades.

Each time we have received these awards for Therapy I have celebrated them. I feel proud. It fuels my fire, and I long to do more great work with excellent projects.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee
Photo by Vinny Randazzo 

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Production Designer Laura Santoyo talks new film ‘Falling’

Learning about various aspects of humanity is a passion of Colombia’s Laura Santoyo Dangond. Originally from Colombia, she has also lived in Peru and Canada, and loves to travel to experience different cultures and learn new languages, fluent in Spanish, English, French, German, and Portuguese. This desire to learn about the world and its people is part of what led her into filmmaking. With every new project she embarks on, she gets to tell a different story and learn something new about history, society, the human mind, and more. Beyond the stories, she works with people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and ways of seeing life, and together they share and experience their differences through their art. As a production designer, Santoyo takes everything she has seen and practiced and channels that into creating visually stunning and captivating sets and props that fully transport audiences into what they are watching.

“I make an effort to stay true to the story and what the characters are. I do a lot of research on the characters and the environment where they live. I also try to have many exchanges with the director where we discuss characters and share research and inspiration images, etc. to understand their vision and the direction they are taking the story to. I like to play with colors and used them to imply aspects of the story that are not explicitly spoken by the characters,” she said.

Santoyo is known for her work on award-winning films such as Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle, both of which made their way to several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Last year, her film The Plague premiered, reminding audiences of what she is capable of, as Santoyo created a dystopian world. Her most recent film premiered just last month at the Slamdance Festival, and once again Santoyo shows she is unrivaled as a production designer.

Falling set_2
Bill Bowles, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Ewen Wright on the set of Falling, photo by Sam Shaib

“As soon as I finished reading the script I felt like I had to be part of the project. It is one of the most original scripts I have read, very intelligent and I thought that it was a story that had to be told and that I wanted to tell it,” she said. “The script of this film describes a number of absurd situations and uses humor to address subjects that are affecting our society. It was very important that the design of the movie supported the comedic tone without ridiculing the situations.”

The film tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society, each trying to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy.

It was important for Santoyo and the rest of the team to differentiate the three storylines that run parallel to each other and to show the absurdity of the situations without being too over the top. Therefore, they assigned one color to each character.

The first story, about a man who can’t walk, represents the feeling of impotence that someone watching the news at night can feel when they see injustices with no way to help. This character takes the “sickness” he feels to the extreme. Therefore, they decided to use the color blue with him, which is very clinical.

The second story, about a woman who’s caught in male-dominated conversations turmoil, was assigned the color red. She is often angry and frustrated, and all the men that she’s with see her and other women as objects. Santoyo felt red reflected these feelings.

The third story is about a black man, who in the most absurd situation, ends up being shot by the police. The filmmakers gave him the color green, because he’s young and innocent at the beginning and at the end it is his case that makes the man in the first story sick.

“As a society, we are still fighting against racism, social injustice and women’s equality and this film raises awareness on these subjects in a comedic tone. I believe that it is very important to have films like this one because we can start generating discussions that could eventually lead to change,” said Santoyo.

Working on Falling has been one of the most fun experiences Santoyo has had throughout her career. From the first time she read the script, she knew it was going to be challenging because there were many locations with three different stories that at the end become one. Each story had elements of magical realism that could also be difficult to achieve in production design. Santoyo wanted to enhance the experiences of the character through the set, but not overdo it to a point that the messages behind each scene were lost. She managed to find the perfect balance, always keeping in mind the color palette they had decided for each character early on in production.

“I think many things make Laura an excellent designer, collaborator, and professional. The first thing that comes to mind is passion. She’s clearly passionate about what she does – she made it clear that she seeks out work that she connects with on a personal and aesthetic level. Once she’s onboard, she’s obviously all-in. That shows at every phase of a project when you see her initial ideas, the hours she’s putting in, the attitude she brings to every meeting and production day, and the diligence with which she executes. Beyond that, she’s a professional with outstanding training, instincts, and experience. She knows how to present her ideas clearly – both verbally and visually, she has leadership skills, she remains calm under pressure, she knows how to prioritize, stay organized, and keep others motivated to work at a high standard,” said Ewen Wright, Director.

Wright was looking through portfolios and films for a costume designer when Santoyo’s work caught his eye. He asked the costume designer who the production designer was that possessed such talent. He immediately reached out to Santoyo, who was extremely responsive and receptive to the idea of the film. They immediately began a strong partnership and shared ideas about the film.

Falling Set
Ewen Wright, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Yonit Olsen, photo by Sam Shaib

“Laura has a creative voice, and in a key role on a collaboration that can’t be undervalued. She brings her lifelong sense of design, studied theory, and just pure instinct to her work in a way that gives her work a through-line. I really enjoyed developing a shorthand with her. Lastly, she has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic. She went above and beyond for our production – and even when things went wrong, or the hours ran long, Laura was a reliable source of positivity and joy. As a leader on the team, she set a tone for those around her that I know contributed to all of us doing better. When I was stressed or needed a moment, I always knew I could rely on Laura for a laugh – just as the rest of the time I relied on her for her eye on the image,” Wright continued.

Working with such a committed team was one of Santoyo’s favorite parts about filming Falling. She found everyone came together to tell such an intricate story, and she was constantly inspired by those she worked alongside. However, it was the message behind the film that truly made the experience for the production designer.

“I am so proud to have been a part of this film. I think it’s a story that captures the feeling that something is wrong in the world and the willingness to change it, but not knowing how to go about doing so. I think many people feel that now. I’m thrilled to know that it’s being watched by many people and it can maybe inspire some change in our society,” she said.

Now that Falling has begun its film festival run, Santoyo is looking forward to her next project. Undoubtedly, she has a very bright future ahead of her, and audiences can continue to look for her name rolling past their eyes in movie credits for years to come.

“I want to keep exploring and finding new stories to tell and more talented people to work with. I am looking forward to creating more worlds where magic is possible. I want my work to reach even larger audiences and present stories to the public that entertain them and that touches them. I have a couple of projects in line for this year that hopefully will help me accomplish this,” she concluded.

 

Top photo by Jesper Duelund