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Directed by: Julio Ramos
Synopsis: After a disastrous event on his construction site, Armando acts quickly to save his crew, but instead stumbles upon an unspeakable truth. Debris is an intense and visceral glimpse of the grim world of human labor trafficking.
Is Debris based on true events? Human labor trafficking is likely a subject unfamiliar to many.
I was inspired by what I witnessed during the remodeling of my friend's house. All the employees were Latinos and would work six or seven days a week. The curious fact is that my friend legally hired a contractor-a man from Israel-and paid him a lot of money for the work. A job that was supposed to take a couple of months was prolonged for another two, went over-budget, and the end result did not meet the expectations. Different workers would show up on different days. One of them even had to ask my friend to pay him because the contractor didn't. These red flags triggered my curiosity and, after further research, I stumbled upon labor trafficking. These people are lured by trafficker under false pretenses such as a home to live, food, papers, a job and even education, but the second they arrive they're stripped from any rights, confined in a tiny place to live, and coerced into working long hours for very little, or no pay. They are told that if they say anything they will be put in jail. This is modern day slavery. The worst part of all is that we don't realize that this is happening under our own noses. Ask yourself: who are building these beautiful homes in America? Who are the people who wash dishes or bring water to the table at your favorite restaurant? America's obsession with cheap labor, in addition to a weak immigration policy, has procured the perfect pitch for criminals to take advantage of people in need.
Why did you choose the unusual aspect ratio for this film?
In the story, the construction workers are remodeling a spacious property. The 4x3 aspect ratio helped us keep them restricted despite of the expansive interior. Also, it allowed us to narrow the field of view of our main character. The film is very subjective. We literally follow Armando from beginning to end. We utilized very long takes to tell the story. The 4x3 aspect ratio adds tension and intensity.
This is an American film in which the predominant language isn't English. It's quite effective in terms of establishing an authentic POV. At the same time, you must have considered telling this story predominately in English. Walk us through your thoughts on this choice.
I don't know if I ever considered telling the story predominately in any language. I wanted to tell an immigrant tale where the boss and the workers spoke different languages. I choose to make the workers Mexican because that's whom you commonly find at construction sites. As for the boss, I was lucky enough to attach Karren Karagulian (Tangerine, Florida Project) to the film early on. He's an Armenian actor based in New York. I thought that he would speak Armenian to his "doctor" in the movie, but he mentioned he spoke Russian as well. We decided to go for that. This allowed us to open up the casting call to actors from other former Soviet Union nations. Three languages are spoken in the film, and if one is more predominant than the other, it's simply for authenticity purposes.
Tell us about the casting process.
Since the conception of this project, I pictured Tenoch Huerta (Güeros, Narcos) for the role of Armando. We locked him in six months before production. Karren Karagulian came onto the project shortly afterward. I was (and still am) a big fan Karren for his work with director Sean Baker. Having these two talents attached to the project was surreal. The rest of the cast came from a casting call we did in Los Angeles, except for Jorge Diaz who plays Rafael-the injured worker. Diaz also is an actor based in New York and a good friend of my producer, Lucas Mireles. We lucked out with this cast. They made the film feel visceral and we had a lot of fun during production.
This is the third film (A Doctor's Job in 2011, Behind The Mirrors in 2012) you've had in MANHATTAN SHORT using much of the same team. Are you moving into features soon?
That's the idea. Currently, I'm in development with a couple of feature projects. One is loosely based on Debris and takes place in the US. The other one is thriller that takes place in my home country, Peru.