Austin Film Festival 2019 Review/Interview: THE DEVIL’S SON

By Liz Lopez

Rating: A

This year, as in the past, the Austin Film Festival offered many feature films, some of which have already opened theatrically at a national level and others pending distribution, or other stages of the film festival circuit. There are also many short films that were available and screened in different categories or groupings. Among the multiple shorts that I viewed, I saw writer/director Ernesto M. Sandoval’s “The Devil’s Son” described on the AFF website as “A poor farmer is cursed by the Devil with unrequited love after refusing to accept his role in the Devil’s plans.” It played as part of Shorts Program 6: Getting Old.

I found the Spanish language film very engaging as it begins with the backstory set in 1950s Mexico when a poor farmer trades Pedro, his young son, for riches the Devil has. The Devil comes for Pedro, yet his mama intervenes and loses her life while protecting him. Pedro is cursed when he does not become the Devil’s son. The scenes are beautifully done and provide the impression of entering a fantasy world. The story then fast forwards to Pedro as an adult who now lives alone on his farm and from the looks of it, he is not wealthy, but has a favorite horse. When a former love from his youth arrives unexpectedly needing help, Pedro makes a major decision that alters his life significantly.

What I really liked about the film is that it does remind me of the films that were made during the Golden Age of Cinema in Mexico (1930s-50s). Sandoval’s script for this short is easily the basis for a good feature film that has the potential to be enjoyed by a broader audience who likes fantasy and drama.

Here’s the trailer:

Filmmaker Biography: Ernesto M. Sandoval is a Mexican American director and writer from the San Fernando Valley, specifically Sylmar, CA. He graduated from UCLA with a BA in Theater with an emphasis in playwriting in 2010. Ernesto won 1st prize at the Young Playwrights Festival at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

He then graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA in Film Production with a focus on Directing. His short films have been screened in festivals in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, and Atlanta.  His work has also been featured at Lionsgate, Pantelion, and Cine Latino.

Interview with the filmmaker:

Ernesto believes in telling stories that best represent minorities in film and celebrate the human spirit. He has the unique ability to create compelling character study pieces while maintaining a strong plot-driven narrative.

EL: Please tell me more about your background or history aside from what is mentioned above.

ES: I was born in and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. My parents are originally from Mexico and I did live there as a child for a while. I learned Spanish there and I also lived in ranches. It was eye opening for me and this served as an inspiration. There is lots of lovely scenery with vast fields and forests. I heard of the stories of La Llorona, El Cucuy and learned of mystic creatures. The idea of the unknown.

EL: This is not your first film to write or direct.

ES: No, as a 10-11 year old, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but did not have a camera. In high school, I did theater. My first short was when I was 15 and I created more and more films while I was a playwright at UCLA. After graduation in 2010, I worked at Cine Latino. Five years later I applied to USC and graduated this past May from film school. This is about my 20th short and was done at USC. I am improving my craft – I did a series of practice (films) up to now and am still honing my skills.

EL – Can you share what was a challenge in making this film?

ES – (This short was his USC thesis.) The opening prologue in this film – when I showed this script to the faculty, I was told the animated part was not needed. I decided I could go with my idea, but I had to convince the faculty who said I didn’t need it. When I have shown the movie, I get excellent feedback. I am proud of myself for listening to my own voice. Sometimes too many other voices drown it out. I had something to say and I will be one to lead the way.

EL – What is the inspiration for some abuse in the story?

ES – I was about 6 years old playing with my cars in the dirt (while in Mexico). In the distance, I saw a lady that was naked, and she was being helped by others. I was a child and did not know what was happening back then. She looked lost and abandoned. I wanted to tell a realistic story. I hoped (the lady) found freedom – was able to get away. I am hopeful she has some sense of belief in her life.

I want to add that as a filmmaker, I wanted to explore the gray areas. In a fairy tale form, the ‘happy ever after’ can be a moment of catharsis – move on in life, up/down, grow. Life is complex, but there is also beauty. With human emotions (the other person) may not love you back, but there is the beauty of letting go. This is my way of approaching this narrative/fairy tale.    

Currently, the filmmaker is developing the screenplay for the feature. He is also working on a horror film, but he cannot provide details now. He is hopeful to make a comedy as well.

Source: Austin Film Festival

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