Savior is an experimental retrospective that illustrates the endless cycle of violence, inequality, and oppression in America through dance and dynamic visual symbols. It overlays political speeches from the last century that ring just as true today as they did back then. This film tells the story that we must look inward at ourselves and work together to hope to fix these systemic issues.
As a Queer, Latinx, and Indigenous filmmaker, Christopher Oroza-Nostas, the writer and director is incredibly passionate about telling a diverse breadth of stories and championing for more representation. Savior is built upon the idea of constantly being seen as “the other” and he directed his actors to embody that emotion and tell it through their dance.
Christopher talked to ProductionHUB about the inspiration and meaning behind this Oscar-qualifying short film, as well as the importance of representation on and behind the camera, and how his identity as a Queer, Latinx, Indigenous filmmaker ties in.
PH: Hi Christopher. How are you today? How has your work changed the past year or so?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: Today I’m motivated and driven like never before. This pandemic was a wake up call for many, myself included. Pre-pandemic I worked in development, as a commercial producer and as a costume designer, all while honing my craft as a writer and director behind the scenes. I was constantly getting scripts on my desk that depicted people of color, especially Latinx communities, as murderers, rapists, and drug dealers. My own people were staring back at me from those pages, crying out for honest representation. If I needed a sign that it was time to use my voice, tell my stories, and make a meaningful change in this industry, it was right there.
My work has changed not just because the world has changed, but because I have changed. My sole focus now is writing and directing, and Savior is reflective of who I want to be as a storyteller. Having the film win the Bruce Corwin Award for Best Live Action Short at the 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival has been an honor and has only further solidified my resolve to march forward in my career as a writer and director.
PH: How did you know you wanted to work in the production industry?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: There was really never a question in my mind that the film industry was where I needed to be. Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a director. Storytelling flows heavily in the veins of my lineage. My parents escaped through a violent revolution to come to The States so they could save my dying sister. It’s an immigrant tale that formed the foundation of who I am, and along the way my parents engendered in all of us a sense of responsibility to help others and spark meaningful change through whichever path we chose in life. For my sister, she has been working as a child psychologist shaping the hearts and minds of the future. For my brother, it has been working for this nation at the pleasure of the president. And for me, it has always been the arts. Film is the medium in which we are able to transport audiences into the shoes and lives of another. To be a part of that process is a gift.
PH: Congrats on the success of Savior already! (Being an Oscar qualifier for next year). How did the project come about?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: Thank you so much. We have been so overwhelmed by the response and are thrilled to keep progressing through this year’s festival circuit.
Savior was born from our collective anger and sorrow for the victims of police brutality, the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Christchurch mosque shootings, the Poway synagogue shooting, the list goes on. What do these events all have in common? Violence against “The Other.” The sad truth is that we are a divided nation and always have been. One dive into the most impassioned and iconic speeches of the past will yield rhetoric that plays almost seamlessly today. We have always been divided racially, ideologically, economically and emotionally. Savior was our collective response to the pain of the present using the voices of the past to express a hopeful truth: our only hope is each other.
PH: How did you decide to experiment with dance and visuals to tell such a powerful story?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: Movement, sound and composition are all tools in the artist’s toolbox and from the start I wanted to merge forms to express the inexpressible. To capture the ideological war of the modern era — the battle of opinion, policy, race, gender, orientation — we needed to physically represent the concept of “The Other” and we did so through every tool at our disposal. We physicalized the violence of oppression and the brutality of our national discourse through a gunshot that leads to the dancers separately bleeding black and white. They drench themselves in their beliefs and in their own pain by painting their body with the violence inflicted upon them. They transform through that anger and fight, unable to touch, unable to listen, until it destroys them. The whole film needed to be a visual exploration.
The political speeches and commanding voices of leadership in crisis are what carry the final message home. The idea that we are stuck in a seemingly unending cycle of violence and oppression in this country and our only hope for salvation is ourselves.
PH: As a Queer, Latinx, and Indigenous filmmaker, what challenges have you faced? Can you talk about how important representation in the industry (and overall) is?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: I have been denied opportunity because of my homosexuality, but I’ve also had representatives use my homosexuality as a playing card along with my heritage. I’ve experienced racism and homophobia on set, but also have been asked by producers to perpetrate discriminatory hiring practices (such as not hiring elderly or white colleagues). I’ve even had Latinx co-workers be denied work because they weren’t seen as “diverse enough.”
We are living in a really challenging time. On the journey to build a more equitable and representative industry, we also have to be mindful of what true representation means. The Latinx experience is not a monolith, the Black experience is not a monolith, the Queer experience is not a monolith. There is so much individual diversity within these communities that we should also be gravitating towards diversity of thought. It’s an incredibly nuanced and fragile conversation to be having right now. Some in my generation want to denounce and leave behind those who came before us: “putting the old white people out to pasture.” It’s a horrible and close-minded sentiment that will not yield growth.
In the pursuit of inclusion and diversity, we need to keep empathy and patience at the forefront. We need mentorship and discussion. We can’t just throw out the previous generations’ efforts and breadth of experience because they don’t understand representation or the ever changing language of this generation. Years ago when I came out to my father, I was disowned for a time. His whole life he was raised Catholic in a culture that denounces homosexuality. I fought to open his mind to what love means and fortunately I was able to start making meaningful change. Now he loves my husband as if he was his own. That’s the work we need to do in our communities and in our industry. It can be exhausting and emotionally laborious, and perhaps not yield the results we desire, but mentorship and education is this path forward. We have so much to learn from our established colleagues and they have so much to learn from us. We need resources, especially for marginalized communities. The gatekeepers of our industry have a responsibility to uplift underrepresented voices — established agents, producers, writers, and directors — we need you and you need us. I am grateful for the multigenerational and multiethnic mentors that have continued to invest in my growth. Community is the way we spark change, and I know that when I reach my ultimate success, I will be right there lifting others as I was once lifted.
PH: How does your identity tie into the film? Did you leverage your own experience to help tell this story?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: I have always been “The Other.” I’ve been the gay kid, the immigrant, the Mexican guy on set (even though I’m Bolivian). I’ve been simultaneously too gay and not gay enough, or not Indigenous in the ways I “should be.” All of that rhetoric is violence against your own psyche. Western culture loves to label. The problem with labels is that they can also be used to dehumanize. When you say immigrants are murderers, rapists, and felons, you dehumanize families in need, children in peril, and citizens of the world escaping persecution. Such rhetoric can lead to violence and chaos. I pulled from my past experiences and my present fears to express this in Savior.
PH: What technology did you leverage to capture the film?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: My cinematographer, Idan Menin, is a master, and it was so important to the both of us to create a sharp modern image to contrast the voices of the past. We shot on RED with a Dragon Sensor and used Panavision G-Series Anamorphic lenses and a T-Series zoom. We used Sumo Space lights and 10’ Paralight Focus in concert with a dynamic lighting plan that gave us the ability to set a diverse set of looks. We had a switchboard on the ground that gave me the control to transition our lighting cues with the performance in a versatile and kinetic way. Like I said, he is a master.
We also have to give a sincere shout out to Mike Carter and Jesse Zhu at Panavision for supporting us. And also to the team at Maccam, Cinelease and West Coast Lighting and Grip for donating lights to our production.
PH: How did you inspire the actors to feel what they were acting?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: Marem and Anthony are powerful performers, and I knew that each of them would bring their own voice to the piece. When we were filming the transformation sequences, I asked them to channel their own personal experiences of being marginalized and oppressed, and to pull from the violence they themselves had experienced. We never verbalized what they drew from because it was something they personally had to do on their own. It was their journey and struggle on that stage.
PH: What do you hope viewers get from this film?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: I want viewers to know that America has always been trapped in this cycle, and it is only through unity that we can truly end it. That we must be brave enough to make change. That lifting our neighbor and meeting them at the center with decency and humanity is the real task before us.
PH: As an industry, how can we continue to champion representation for ALL voices?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: As I said before, mentorship is one of the biggest things that we can do as an industry. How do we allow these voices to be heard without championing their representation? We need to truly listen and share. Transcendent cinema is supposed to allow us to see the world through the eyes of “The Other”, to meet at the center of the prism of human experience. This means not only highlighting the obstacles that marginalized communities face, but celebrating the universal stories of joy, love, and adventure. When you see a Queer Latinx lead in a romantic comedy and the movie doesn’t mention their race or sexuality once, that’s when you know we are on the path of true representation. So to the production companies and major streamers I say this, cast us as we are: diverse, nuanced, and beautiful individuals yearning to be seen.
PH: What other projects are you excited to work on this year?
Christopher Oroza-Nostas: As a writer and as a director, I have several projects that span several genres that I am excited about. From romantic comedies, to horror, and a dramatic true crime series, I’ve spent the last few years developing a slate of diverse and unique projects that I know the market yearns for. On top of that, I’m mentoring fresh graduates new to the industry, fundraising for Indigenous and LGBT+ communities that have been affected by the pandemic, recording a podcast, and starting a garden.