By: Amanda Guarragi
The 2nd Annual Desertscape International Film Festival in St. George, Utah is a festival that celebrates filmmakers around the globe. People are encouraged to submit their short films and student films to the festival. The festival normally runs from July 29th to August 1st. This year, the short film Always has been selected for the program. I spoke to the creators of the film, Director Sam Zapiain and Writer/Producer Melissa Del Rosario ahead of the festival.
Always is a short film, based on real life experiences. It incorporates horror elements to cope with the illness of diabetes. There is an urgency in the storytelling because no one really discusses the struggle of living with diabetes. Its experimental use of painted images and rough editing, combined with the haunting score, make this a truly special film.
The importance of making this film for Zapiain comes from a very personal place. He wanted to address the struggles of those who live with diabetes in a very realistic way. “About three years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic, and how I handled the symptoms that surfaced out of the blue and out of control felt like a horror story. Out of control.” It is a film that shows the numbness and fatigue through painted images, that come to life in the depths of Alex’s (David Kurtz) mind.
The sketches were placed in Alex’s apartment to show that he was an artist and his designs allowed him to explore his inner thoughts. It was a spur of the moment idea, right as they were about to begin shooting the film Del Rosario says, “Sam had this idea right before we are set to shoot. I got some paper out and started sketching immediately and I’m happy it all worked out.” Zapiain also wanted to use the sketches as a creative outlet for him to understand what was happening to his body, while trying to understand the symptoms of being diagnosed with diabetes.
The most challenging aspect of filming this piece for Zapiain was learning to accept and acknowledge the presence of a disease. “For quite some time it was the idea of it being behind me, and somewhat in a state of denial or disbelief. Creating the film meant I knew it was here to stay, and it would make a statement on my life.” Zapiain also thanked his producer Del Rosario for helping him recognize the story, writing it, and gathering such a wonderfully talented cast and crew. “In a way, the people behind the film were my therapy. They helped me accustom.”
It was important for Del Rosario to take on a project that was so personal to a close friend of hers. “For me, as someone who is not diabetic, I decided to learn more about this condition because someone I care about has it. It was truly terrifying to learn about. I believe it is important to raise awareness about this condition and the symptoms others may be experiencing.” It was a project Del Rosario wanted to work on because there are millions of people in the world that are diabetic, with many of the not knowing they are, undiagnosed.
The focus on the horror elements also enhanced the storytelling. Zapiain wanted to incorporate his love for horror and he did this through the use of repetition, quick edits and stunning monochromatic sequences vs the scenes with insulin that were in colour,
“From a technical standpoint, it was a field day for us to play with shadows, and utilize the horror aspect, exaggerating hallways, dark rooms, silhouettes, etc. Colour meant the reality of the situation. Realizing these horrifying images are in the main character’s perspective, (black and white), and what actually exists in color.“
There’s such richness in these tones and the lighting was also extremely effective to punch up certain textures. It is a beautifully shot film and there are certain images that will stay in my mind for a while.
The film feels like a journey in such a short period of time. The repetition, rough cuts and haunting (but stunning) images are all utilized to properly highlight the struggle of living with diabetes. Always is very well written and executed, it’s a personal story and everyone should watch it. To learn more about the struggles of living with diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association website.