I did a Q&A interview with Director Jorge Valdes-Iga on his new film, I Was There, about survivor’s guilt post 9/11. In the film actor James A. Lee stars as Gus, a New York City firefighter struggling to cope with survivor’s guilt years after 9/11. It is then that a photographer crosses path with him, causing him to go on a journey of self-discovery. The film is currently on the film festival circuit and showing in Los Angeles at DTLA Film Festival on Sept 25th.
Joanna: Were you there? (9/11) And was this film, or any of the parts of the film, based in any way on real life?
Jorge Valdes-Iga: No, I wasn’t in the US at the time. I was in school in Mexico. We were all glued to the TV for days. It felt like the world stopped for me and everyone I knew at the time.
This film basically relies on 1 character (Gus) to carry the story, and the actor (James A. Lee) does it very well. Did the heavy reliance make you nervous? And did you audition a ton of people first, or did you have this actor in mind originally?
Jorge: I WAS THERE is based on an original story by James A. Lee. He was slated to be the main character from the beginning. I met James in acting classes at the Susan Batson Studio in New York City. I never saw him act. But I knew he was good. I had a feeling about him. They way he told me his story was captivating. I could see the passion inside of him and the need to tell this story and become this character. I wrote the outline with him over a weekend and we hired a 3rd writer, Sinead Daly, to help us flesh out the rest of the screenplay. We had a script a few weeks later and in production a month after that.
Gus (firefighter) tried to kill the Samuel (camera man) by gagging him and lighting him on fire, and yet Samuel ultimately tried to save Gus. Why would the photographer Samuel do that, and is he essentially meant to be the actual “hero”?
Jorge: I think they are both heroes in this story. And they both save each other. Samuel wants to save Gus to save himself. He needs to believe again and helping Gus get back on the right track brings purpose and meaning to his life.
What was our inspiration for this film?
Jorge: James has a fascination for firefighters, particularly in New York City. He told me he wanted to explore fear in this character.
What do you ultimately hope people take away from this movie?
Jorge: I want people to take away inspiration and courage to face their own fears. Taking a hard look at ourselves is the hardest thing, but also the necessary thing to do for us to progress as human beings.
What are your thoughts on the future of Cinematography at this point, 2016, in regards to VR, 360 video and other technological advancements?
Jorge: Well, it’s incredible. First of all, now you can learn anything on YouTube from people just like you and me who are just uploading tips on how to do this or the other, so I think people are getting a deeper appreciation for cinematography in general.
VR is still in baby steps when it comes to storytelling I think. There’s so much that we can do with this new medium and it’s very exciting. I myself want to experiment with it. Hopefully in the next few months I get to play with it a bit.
Joanna: Thank you Jorge for interviewing! I enjoyed watching it. “I Was There” is still in the film festival circuit, but will be showing in LA at the 2016 DTLA Film Festival in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 25th at 9:45 p.m. at Theater 11 in Regal Cinemas L.A. Live (1000 W. Olympic Blvd.) The film is part of a series entitled ‘American-Latino Filmmakers,’ focusing on films by American-born filmmakers of Hispanic-Latino heritage.