An homage to Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s iconic work, Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta reimagines his father’s story Who Can Kill A Child? in his own brutally dark dramatic horror, Urubú. Shot entirely on location in the Amazon rainforest, the film follows Tomás (Carlos Urrutia) as his family, already strained by his own ambition, is torn apart by the horrors they encounter in the jungle they visited so he could photograph the elusive Urubú bird.
The film is designed to examine how children experience the world, and leaves you wondering what kind of world society is building for future generations.
We spoke to writer and director Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta and actor Carlos Urrutia about the film ahead of its screening at Grimmfest 2020.
Kirstie: Tell us about your film Urubú.
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: It’s a movie that I made for my father, who passed away last year. He’s the master of horror in Spain, and I made it for him. It’s a small movie for us, but it’s becoming a huge movie and we are so proud that we made it. We are happy to be showing it all around the world.
It’s about a couple with a little girl who go out to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The father is a photographer hoping to take a picture of a rare bird called an Urubú. While they’re in the jungle, their little girl disappears, and it starts a chain of bad events.
Kirstie: What inspired the story?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: It was inspired by a movie that my father made in 1972, called Who Can Kill A Child? You could call it a second part, but it isn’t. Everything is inspired by that film because it’s one of the best films that my father made.
Kirstie: What kind of elements did you draw from your father’s film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: I wanted to do something that felt like my father was sitting next to me and I could say “Hey Dad, I’ve made a movie just like you did 42 years ago”. Some of the sequences are similar. This movie has a very strong message about children that we wanted to convey. Every five seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world. Some children are caught up in wars. We are surviving COVID, but as adults we are doing a lot of things wrong that have an impact on our children, and I wanted to draw attention to that.
Kirstie: What was your process for turning that message into this film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: In my father’s film, the children were angry about the world, and in order to stop what they’re going through, they felt they had to kill all the adults. We did a similar thing. We have kids who live in the jungle and want to reboot their world, and the way they go about is by killing the adults.
Kirstie: Most of the film follows the father character. How did you go about constructing his role in this story?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: I’m a father myself, so I put myself in the skin of the character. If I lost my kid, I would do the same thing. I would fight for him and do anything to find him. I worked this character as if he was me.
Kirstie: The film balances regular family tensions with the much more extreme encounters in the rainforest. What’s your trick to creating and balancing those fears?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: The main character goes through this huge change in the movie, and towards the end he’s experiencing pure desperation. He’s conflicted about whether to kill or to hug or to just ask where his family might be. He only wants to grab his kid and do anything to keep them both alive. He goes from being a neglectful dad, to a man just trying to keep his family alive, to being driven crazy by what he’s gone through. When he’s focusing on getting his picture, he doesn’t think about anything else. And then he realises what’s important and the mistakes that he made when he put himself first ahead of his daughter and his wife when he’s lost alone in the jungle.
Carlos Urrutia: He’s not a very good person, but he’s a wonderful character to play.
Kirstie: What about that sense of survival made you want to tell this story about family in this way?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: I think the jungle helped me to do that because the jungle can be very dark and you can feel very lonely. All the feelings in that situation come out and you are forced to confront what’s going on because you are left alone with yourself. We filmed this movie for two months in the middle of the jungle, so we were living the movie even outside of the movie. We were sleeping in the jungle. Sometimes we did get lost running around. It was an adventure both inside and outside of the movie.
Carlos Urrutia: The behind-the-scenes could be a whole other movie. The Amazon is a wonderful part of the world. The people out there are the best. They support each other and are happy to give you everything without having anything. In England and in Spain, it’s very different.
Kirstie: How did you find being out in the jungle to shoot the film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: Before I got into making movies, I used to make documentaries out in the jungle, so I know the jungle very well. It’s amazing to be there. We felt like family being out there. We really enjoyed it. Of course, it’s very difficult with the weather, and we might be crazy to do a movie like that, especially as 90% of it was shot outside. There were times we waited for hours for the rain under the plastic covering. But it was really fun to be outside in the jungle. You have to be very careful, you have to make sure you’re with people who know the jungle. You can get lost in five minutes because everything looks so similar. You might think you’re passing a tree you saw five minutes ago and it turns out it’s a completely new tree. You could be walking about around all day long and never know.
Carlos Urrutia: As an actor, going out into the Amazon, Alejandro was the best gift that could’ve happened to us. It was amazing.
Kirstie: How much did your documentary experience feed into the way you constructed this film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: When I first started writing the script, I had the jungle in mind and places that I knew before. I knew where there would be a beach or a river where we could run around. The documentaries really helped me to write the script. And we didn’t need to go to the jungle before we shot the movie because I was already aware of what was out there.
Carlos Urrutia: But the Amazon is always changing – everything can be different in the space of two hours. It’s difficult to make a film in that part of the world.
Kirstie: What was the biggest challenge when it comes to shooting in the jungle?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: In the dry season, the Amazon river is sixty metres lower than during the wet season. So when it starts raining, the river swells a metre and a half every four days. If you have a specific location in mind, you have to do it that day because you could lose it as soon as it starts raining. That was the most difficult thing we faced making this movie, because we went there on the very last day of the dry season and then it started raining. We had to really hurry because all the good locations would disappear. The Amazon is two very different jungles between the dry season, with animals and trees and everything, and the rainy season when there’s just water. It all disappears and goes underwater. Everything you see in the movie is real, every sequence. We didn’t do anything in CGI – all the animals, everything you see is real. You really see everything we did.
Carlos Urrutia: There are all kinds of animals, like alligators. I think it might be the best time of my professional life.
Kirstie: What do you hope people take away from your film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: In the beginning of the movie, in the market, you see children working. When you go on holidays, you might see children working in the airport and in the market and the streets. For a lot of people, watching these kids working is normal and is just part of life. But it shouldn’t be normal, having children that young doing the work for adults. Our message is to keep these kids in your mind when you’re travelling around. We’re destroying the future. Adults can be very egotistical and make things all about ourselves. We have to open our eyes and see the way the world is affecting our children.
I always say that movies are for feelings. You can fall in love, or laugh, or be afraid, or hate something. The main thing is entertainment, though. I hope this movie can entertain people despite everything going on in the world.
Kirstie: What are your plans and hopes for the film?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: The movie is going to festivals around the world. We’ve been to Mexico, Italy, England, all around Spain. We’re hoping that COVID will let it go to the theatres. It’s been bought by Spanish television, so will be showing on there in a year. We’re also able to sell all over the world, so we’d like to take it to Argentina and Russia at some point. We’ll be flying like the Urubú is flying.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into the kind of work you do?
Alejandro Ibáñez Nauta: For me, being a director is about storytelling. If you like to tell stories, there is no better feeling than when you have a story in your mind. The best feeling you can have is to take everything you have in your mind and put it in your movie. You make your dreams real. This dream you have, you can watch it with real actors with real sequences. It’s a great feeling. If you love telling stories, it’s the best feeling in the world being able to take everything you have in your mind and put it in front of people in the movie theatre.
Urubú is screening at Grimmfest 2020 from 7-11 October.