For many people, their senior thesis gets packed away after graduation, never to be looked at again. For others, it becomes a launching pad for their life’s work. Miguel Alvarez-Flatow ’14 is in the process of turning the screenplay he wrote for his senior honors project into a feature-length film.
Alvarez-Flatow, who was a double major in film and Spanish literature, has secured most of the funding for the film. He will start casting and preproduction in Los Angeles in August with filming scheduled to begin in Mexico in November. He hopes to have the film completed and ready to hit the film festival circuit in February 2015.
A native of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico, Alvarez-Flatow describes his film, called The Bonfire, as a “contained thriller,” about a group of Americans who go to Latin America for a shamanistic experience. The group ingests a hallucinogenic root as part of the ritual, after which something goes horribly wrong. But the audience is unsure if what happens is an actual supernatural event or something only in the minds of the participants.
“It’s a crazy project, and it’s a little bit out there,” Alvarez-Flatow said. “But in this day and age, especially in Hollywood, you have to shout to make yourself heard.”
Alvarez-Flatow is starting to be heard in the film industry. He landed a role in Ira Sachs’ film, Keep the Lights On (under the screen name Miguel del Toro), in the summer before his sophomore year. The introduction to the business gave him the opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival.
“Acting is so cool. I want to pursue that side,” he said. “But maybe not as fervently as I would like to be a director.”
Part of his success with The Bonfire has been timing. Since Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron won the Oscar for Gravity earlier this year, the Mexican government has been financing more film projects to show its support of the industry. Alvarez-Flatow was able to secure $40,000 from Mexico for his film -- a significant part of the relatively low $300,000 total funding he needs (the rest of the money has come from private financers). “It’s very low budget for a film, but you have to make your first film.”
Actor Josh Radnor ’96 has been a great source of inspiration for Alvarez-Flatow. The two met after Sundance and have been corresponding via email about the ins and outs of the film industry. Like Radnor did with his film, Liberal Arts, Alvarez-Flatow would like to bring The Bonfire to Kenyon for a screening. Just don’t expect to see a lot of the College in the film: The majority of the movie takes place in the jungle in Mexico.
But he says there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes Kenyon influence in the movie. “The film department helped so much,” he said about writing the screenplay. “Individual studies with faculty members kind of helped solidify the idea I had in my mind.”