Director Alexis Gambis didn’t spend his 20s studying at a prestigious film school, but rather as a research scientist studying fruit flies in a New York City lab. Years later, in what he called his “new skin” as a filmmaker, Gambis took those experiences and funneled them into the new film “Son of Monarchs.” The drama about identity and loss premieres at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
“In many ways, the story I told about trying to find who I was comes through in the film I made. The experience of making it, I discovered it’s interesting to understand identity from a different perspective,” he tells Gold Derby. “From a scientific perspective, from a cultural perspective, from a political perspective, from a sociological perspective — identity has all of these different ways in which we think about it. One of the biggest challenges for me was trying to find ways in which I could connect all of those together.”
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Set in both New York and Mexico, the film stars Tenoch Huerta Mejia as a scientist who returns to his hometown after the death of his grandmother, a visit that forces him to confront past personal trauma as well as his own notion of self. It’s a role the “Narcos: Mexico” actor relished because it allowed him to break stereotypical notions of what Mexican characters can look like on screen.
“We are not used to seeing that kind of representation,” he says. “Brown-skinned people usually are the people to migrate to the United States under difficulties, or we’re related to crimes or violence. But this movie is a different portrayal. It’s more realistic actually. Science is not something from the first-world, it’s for all humanity. So this character, a scientist who comes from Mexico to New York.”
He adds, “I think it’s a good idea to change the representation. It’s important, it’s necessary, it’s more realistic.”
Gambis thought so too. “We’re tired of the same stereotypes being forced onto the screen,” he said in a statement. “It is precisely this diversity that has created a vibrant research community leading to so many collaborations and breakthroughs. It is also what drew me to fit into this word being from many places. I found a refuge, an adoptive home in this space for many years. Personally, science has always been a culture in itself, a culture that is multi-faceted, multi-layered, multicultural. Science is also what drew me to coming-of-age stories about inner exploration and questioning.”
“Son of Monarchs” debuts at the Sundance Film Festival.
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