According to Lucas Mireles, some stories will kill you if you don’t tell them.
For the Texas native and third-year graduate student in directing, that was the case with one of his stories, a short film called “Hijo de mi Madre” (“A Mother’s Son”). The film premiered last week at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Every year, Slamdance takes place the same week and city as the Sundance Film Festival. Slamdance attracts new independent filmmakers looking to share their work and encourages creativity within the limits of a small budget.
Mireles wrote, directed and produced “Hijo de mi Madre” in 2009 as part of a first-year short film project at UCLA. It follows a young man who finds the dead body of his mother in the desert. As he begins the painful task of burying her, he recalls the last day he saw her alive.
Through the lens of remembrance, catharsis and forgiveness, the film explores the twisted cycle of domestic violence.
“I wrote a script that came from a lot of personal things and dark places,” Mireles said.
Nontheless, he insisted that the film is just fiction and should not be interpreted autobiographically.
Getting “Hijo de mi Madre” to Slamdance was not without roadblocks.
The entire film was shot in four days in the desert in Palmdale, despite one complication after another. The six actors and a principal crew of eight worked through frigid temperatures, merciless rain and the destruction of a shooting location. Mireles responded by rewriting the script and finishing the film anyway.
After the first-year directing class wrapped up their films, the students swapped war stories about everything that went wrong during shooting.
“I think Luke’s film had the most war stories,” said Jonathan Crawford, also a third-year directing student and close friend of Mireles. “But he ended up making one of the best short films that year.”
Before coming to UCLA, Mireles studied media production and advertising at the University of Houston. A devoted shotputter, he never considered making films professionally until he took a digital cinematography class during his senior year. After being exposed to movies like Richard Linklater’s “Slacker,” Mireles said he and his classmates were inspired to start shooting on their own.
Mireles said that UCLA has helped him grow as a filmmaker.
“I thought I knew how to make movies before I got here, but I had no clue,” Mireles said. “There’s a Texas filmmaker mentality that says “˜don’t go to film school,’ but before (coming to UCLA) I was ignorant of film.
They can’t teach you to be a storyteller, but they can teach you how to make a movie, and that knowledge, applied to your voice, is powerful.”
Richard Parkin, a fellow third-year directing classmate and friend of Mireles, recalled the first time he met Mireles in 2008. They were at a barbecue, and Mireles was wearing a Mars Volta shirt which caught Parkin’s attention.
They became friends and Parkin soon found out what an energetic and creative person Mireles was.
“People don’t realize that filmmaking is a very physical activity,” Parkin said. “There’s a certain stamina you need, and he has that. It’s kind of like watching an athlete perform, but in a more creative environment.”
Mireles said that showing his film at Slamdance was an incredibly gratifying experience. Not only did he receive a good deal of encouragement, but he also said he had the chance to meet one of his idols, Linklater.
“I felt like a little girl meeting the Jonas Brothers,” Mireles said.
“Slamdance was like going to film camp and prom for an entire week. It was surreal. I learned so much and came back just wanting to make new films.”
Next, Mireles said he plans to bring “Hijo de mi Madre” to a festival in Los Angeles and is currently in the pre-production stages for his thesis film. He has come a long way from those days when his father would pick him and his brother up from school early to go watch a movie as a special treat.
“I think we would all love to be doing amazing cinema and being nominated for an Oscar, but I don’t think it’s always right to wish for that,” Mireles said. “All you can do is tell the stories you need to (tell).”