Colombian director Laura Mora applied to the film school in Bogota three times and was rejected every time. Yet, she refused to give up and decided to move to Barcelona to study film there instead. She moved back to Colombia in 2002, but that same year, the family was hit by a major tragedy. Laura’s father was shot and killed while sitting in his car on his way home from work as a professor at the university. And this is where the story of her first feature film, Killing Jesus begins.
- Medellin has inspired much of my work, because of everything that has happened there. I have an incredibly close relationship with my city, but in the midst of my grief I moved to Australia where my boyfriend lived. I ended up living in Melbourne for five years where I finished my film education and I also made two short films. The success of these short films gave me further opportunities when I moved home to Colombia.
In all the years Laura lived in Melbourne, she never managed to write anything about her father. The incident gave her writer’s block until one day, she had an absurd dream from her hometown.
- I dreamed that I was sitting on a lookout station and I was smoking. Next to me sat a guy at the same age. We started talking and suddenly he said; "My name is Jesus, and I killed you father." When I woke up, I wrote sixty pages about the conversation with this guy. This was the beginning and essence of the story, which has now become a film.
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After the dream and the sixty written pages of the conversation with Jesus, Laura tried to write the movie script, but she struggled.
- I was unable to write a script, it was too painful and I felt guilty in a certain way to reveal my family's pain. I realized that I needed help with the manuscript. Alonso Torres was already a good friend of mine, from film school. He is not only skilled and clever, but he also knows the pain caused by losing someone close. Alonso's brother was killed as well.
They spent ten years writing the script and emotionally it was very difficult for Laura. It was impossible to prepare for what feelings that might show up in certain settings. The realistic way they shot the film and several locations provoked strong memories. Nevertheless, Laura points out that all in all the post-production was the toughest part.
- I spent so much time alone. I traveled to Buenos Aires for five months. Buenos Aires was my father’s favorite place. He loved the tango there and we grew up thinking of Buenos Aires as a magical place. I lived there for five months and edited the movie. It gave me a feeling of living out my father's dream and at the same time I buried him, by putting an end to the story.
The film is shot in chronological order, mainly because the actors are amateurs literally picked up on the street. Laura had the intention that Jesus's character should be genuine but she did not have the same prerequisites for the person who would play herself. What was important was that they came from Medellin and had a relationship with the city and the streets. At the same time, she felt it was important that the characters came out of the people and were not recreated.
- The casting process was long, it took over eight months. I looked for someone who had similarities to myself but not one that looked like me. I saw Natasha Jaramillo when I was at the cinema in Medellin. It was my boyfriend who saw her first, he noticed that; "She looks like you when you were that age." We lost her that night but I could not stop thinking about her. I continued to go back to where we were, hoping to see her again. Suddenly one day I saw her riding her bike and I grabbed her. She probably thought I was a crazy stalker, but when I told her the story she was interested. She was so sweet. I told her the story and she called me a week later. She was an art student, at the same age as me when my father was killed and she talked about her close relationship with her father. It all was just magic!
Jesus is played by Giovanni Rodríguez. During the meeting with Laura's casting assistant, he entered a false name, as he thought she was from the police. He had just come out of jail and therefore had reason to be a little paranoid.
- Giovanni is the same as his character. He was recruited to work with criminal gangs from he was about 12-years-old. His life is a sad tragedy, but at the same time he is an incredibly beautiful soul. He has been at war since he was a child and is only 23 years old today. He is very smart and sensitive, but at the same time he is also a violent person, strongly influenced by the city's brutalities.
Unlike Lita, Laura never even met her father's murderer.
- It has been written several places that that part of the film is true, but it is not. I have an incredible close relationship with Medellin and I have had an open childhood where I have met personalities like Jesus, that's probably why I could make such a realistic portrait of his person.
Furthermore, the film’s realistic portrayal of the characters might be due to the fact that the actors never had a script.
- We talked about the story as if it were a tale. Jesus could relate to the character and the story, but Natasha has never been through such a pain. She is a very sensitive person and very emotionally attached to Colombia, that's why she managed to relate to the character and the story.
The film is shot similarly to a documentary. Instead of the actors following instructions on where and how to move, the camera followed the actors.
- We had 53 hours of recording. Several scenes are authentic, they took place right then and there. An example of this is a party scene in the movie. There was a party there and we chose to film it, everything was real including the extras. Also at other locations we used children and adults from the neighborhood. I wanted it to be authentic, so that’s why we worked this way.
Laura tells that the younger generation in Medellin lives close to death. They take risks on motorcycles and parties hard. Although reality in the city has changed, it is still a violent society, and history has made its mark.
- We are disconnected from life because the future is still abstract. When I returned from Australia my first thought was; maybe it has changed during these 10 years? But it has not. The violence has diminished, to a point. We no longer have cartels, Escobar or bombs but we are still a society that denies the future and rejects these young people. If Jesus and Lita had met each other under different circumstances they could have been friends, but the context and the society made them enemies. It made him a victim of society and gave her a desire for revenge. Everything is falling back on the country's history of violence. My mission is not to sell my country but to question the reality in it and to confront it. In Colombia, we are very critical of ourselves, claiming that we are only talking about violence, but that is not the case. We would love to talk more about it, and movies are so important in relation to society. As that is said, this is not a violent movie, but an anti-violent movie, as an Argentinian woman at one of our screenings said so well.