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Director Alejandro Landes on how his film ‘Monos’ nearly killed him

The filmmaker talks us through the near-fatal shoot for his Colombian kids-at-war movie

By Dan Jolin |
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Alejandro Landes (DO NOT REUSE)
Photograph: Brian Dowling/WireImage

No location was too extreme, remote or dangerous for Alejandro Landes while making his visually lush Colombian kids-at-war movie ‘Monos’, he tells Dan Jolin.

‘Monos’ has been compared to ‘Apocalypse Now’. How does that make you feel?
‘Well, it’s definitely visceral and dreamy, so I guess they have that in common. I wanted this film to stand on its own, but it flirts with genre. You feel that from the Russian film “Come and See”, or Claire Denis’s “Beau Travail” or “Apocalypse Now”. There are influences from films like “Predator” and “Platoon” as well.’

The film is set partly in the Colombian highlands. What were the challenges of filming at altitude?
‘We were four hours from Bogota and 4,000 metres up, so there was little oxygen. It was very intense and so cold. You’re enveloped in a cloud, and the next second there is bright equatorial sun and the next it’s torrential rain. It just made you crazy, because you can’t follow any plan.’

‘I got carried out on a stretcher’

For the later scenes, you moved to a canyon in the heart of the jungle, which can’t have been much easier?
‘We had a pack of mules, and Colombia’s national kayak team would take us [to the location] on rafts. The only people who knew the area were illegal gold miners – and they became our production assistants. Everyone cried on this shoot, including me at some points. I got carried out on a stretcher once.’

What happened?
‘I couldn’t stand up. I was in such pain. The medic diagnosed me with appendicitis. I had three hours to get out of there before it burst. It was pouring with rain, we couldn’t get a chopper in, so some of the miners put me on an improvised stretcher and carried me up the jungle canyon. Fortunately, it wasn’t appendicitis. I think I’d just been eating rations for way too long and my insides were destroyed [laughs].’

Alejandro Landes on the set of ‘Monos’. Photograph: Juan Jos

Leaving the bad rations aside, it must have been dangerous?
‘There were some pretty big snakes. And then lightning storms, and the river rising rapidly. One day I was in a little ravine with the kids and we heard a strange sound at the top of the canyon. Seconds later, this gigantic tree fell at the feet of [Sofia Buenaventura’s character], Rambo. Like, inches away. It could have killed 14, 15 people easily. People were shaking and crying, but there was nothing we could do. We just had to start shooting again.’

Has the experience put you off risky shoots?
‘I’m getting sent [scripts] but I want to take [whatever film I do next] to its most extreme scenario. It has to be the right thing, because you may not see me for some years [laughs]. I might not live to tell the stories!’

‘Monos’ opens on Oct 25. Read our review here

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