For me, the most important movement that I can think of is around education, which is a challenging topic right now. I think schools are great, but they are still lacking in truly strengthening some of the core requirements that we need to make a democracy truly flourish. Unfortunately, I am not sure about the specifics of how to actually incorporate this in the real world, but everyone should study some basic principles about, for example, of John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness (I know that sounds complicated, but a strong democracy is not only one where most of the people participate, but also one where most participants understand the basic rules of a fair society). In very simple terms, people should be required to ask themselves if they would freely choose to live in this democracy if they didn’t know under what conditions they were going to be born (for example, would you vote to ban the LGBTQ+ community from adopting children if you didn’t know if you were going to be part of this community or not? Probably the answer would be that, without knowing, you would ensure that they have all the same rights as well).
Asa part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Miguel Garzón Martínez, an award-winning filmmaker with a strong passion for philosophy, movies and travel. After his Masters Degree in Philosophy at the National University of Colombia and working as a teacher for The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, Miguel built a bridge between this experience and his original love for storytelling. For that reason, he traveled to Los Angeles where he completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.
Miguel spent four years in Los Angeles where he wrote and directed several short films and one feature film, THE BROKEN LEGACY (Winner of Best Feature at the Pasadena International Film Festival). He is currently based in New York where he continues to write and direct different projects, such as LOU (Awarded at Chelsea Film Festival), PAROUSIA (Screened at Sedona, Louisville and Madrid), and THE LONG COMMUTE (Awarded at the Long Island International Film Expo). Miguel’s main focus in moving forward is developing his existing body of work into more feature films, and figure out more meaningful ways of challenging his audience through his art.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you so much for having me! I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and I was raised there by my family. Overall, I would say that they had a gigantic influence in my life and in my career, despite the fact that no other person related to me has ever worked in the entertainment business. In that vein, from my dad, I learned work ethic; from my mother, I learned kindness; from my sisters, I learned the importance of academic pursuits. It’s not an understatement to say that I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the constant support of my family, who might not always fully understand my artistic inclinations, but that nonetheless got my back. And of course, I was always strongly passionate about films and pop culture. I would say that I took way too seriously TV shows and movies, but never in a negative way: I always let them motivate me and inspire me, and now they inform my work. Notable examples of shows that had a long-lasting impact on me are The Lion King (the first movie I saw in theaters), Dragon Ball, and 24.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Originally I studied philosophy (a little known fact about me is that I have a Masters Degree), and I started my professional experience working as a teacher in a high school. I really enjoyed what I did, but after a couple of years I had something that jokingly I like to call “an early middle-life crisis”. I became too aware of the limited time we have in this world (perhaps thanks to all my studies in philosophy), and I decided to pursue my true dream. So far, in my life, I thought that it was impossible for me to have a career as a filmmaker, in a large part because no one in my family, and not even my friends, had any connections or experience. Somehow, I had convinced myself that it was a private club where I was not invited. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong, and I think the takeaway of my story is clear: we create our own boundaries and, at the same time, the only person that can break down those boundaries is ourselves.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of my short films, HIGH DENY, was selected at the Buffalo International Film Festival in Upstate New York. I was very excited and I was making the travel plans with the lead actress and producer of the film. The thing is that she is quite a fruitful actress and producer, so she had another short film that was selected to participate. For that reason, and in order to save some money (if anyone tells you to get into film to become rich, they are lying!) we decided that I would share my room with the lead actor of the other film she had in the festival: Anthony Robert Grasso. I had never met him, so I was a bit nervous about sharing the space with someone new, but luckily we got along very well. The first night we shared some of our work, and we connected creatively. In that moment, we decided to collaborate and two years later we completed THE LONG COMMUTE, a very touching story about his relationship with his father. Later, Anthony confessed to me that he was feeling equally uneasy about sharing the room with a stranger in Buffalo.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was directing THE BROKEN LEGACY, which is my first feature film, I was still a very inexperienced director, and I was working with a group of friends as opposed to a completely professional crew. One of my biggest plot points, is that the main character escapes this research facility where he is captive in order to get a dessert for the girl he likes –a tiramisu-, which is also a nod to my mom’s favorite dessert. One of the funniest and more poignant moments of the film occurs when he comes back to the facility, completely exhausted, with his clothes torn apart, but finally having retrieved the sweet prize. The night we shot that scene I was so focused on the camera angles, the costume, the makeup, and everything else, that I forgot about the tiramisu itself. We were all ready to go, lights set, and we had to stop for 20 minutes until one of my crew members drove to a nearby store to buy one. That really taught me the importance of each department (in this case, props) and how even though I really want to control every aspect of the production, I need to rely on other people to keep track of things.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I completed two short films recently and I am incredibly excited about their film festival run, as well as the possibility of developing both as feature films. In particular, I would like to talk about PAROUSIA, which is a Greek word that means “second coming”. This is a very personal project that I have been developing for years and a deep exploration of the relationship between spirituality, our traditions and gender. The basic question at the heart of PAROUSIA is: what would happen if Jesus comes back to Earth, but this time is a girl? I think that our tradition strongly identifies the idea of God with masculinity (they call God “Father”, instead of “Mother”), which puzzles me at different levels: for starters, God wouldn’t have a gender and couldn’t be conceived using binary categories like “masculine” or “feminine”. But secondly, even if we tried to apply those categories to God, we would find that there is a stronger alignment with feminine characteristics (for example, to create and nurture life). My main goal with the film is to raise awareness about these preconceived notions we have and make people question the way we think and talk about religion.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
The entertainment industry in general has a very large reach and is able to propagate information like we have never seen before. This is silly, but we all have seen the latest trend on TikTok that goes viral thanks to a recent hot music video. But I feel that overall audiences today tend to look beyond more than ever before. The importance of this is to make us think not only about the content we are consuming, but also to make us question who is creating this content and who is being represented. We need to move more and more towards a society that has critical thinking regarding these issues. If we consider the biggest movie franchise at the moment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we discover that out of 23 movies, pretty much 19 have a white cis man as the lead character, and I think there is value in noticing that. I also think audiences are becoming more aware of this situation and are pushing for other kinds of stories: not necessarily to stop making movies about superheroes, but to include women, people of color, and other sexual orientations into the idea of who can become a hero and who can lead a multi-million dollar franchise. It is important for all kinds of people from different backgrounds to see themselves represented and to see their story told, because this is in connection with what we perceive as acceptable, as normal and even as good: this is a message that we need to start sending as a society to future generations, and that starts with the way we approach the entertainment industry.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Number One: be more weird. I think that it is important to be true to yourself and to your own unique quirks and strangeness. I feel that when I first started, I was a bit too concerned to “fit in”, to make a “mainstream” movie instead of an “arthouse” film. Now I understand that precisely what makes me unique as an artist is also what makes me unique as a human being. For example, if I could go back and re-write my first feature film, I would definitely take more chances and make the overall story more risky.
Number Two: accept chaos. When I first started, I felt the need to control everything. Very quickly I found this to actually be very limiting. Creating art is an exploration and part of that exploration is to accept that things will change, maybe improve, along the way. If you have full control the entire time, the possibility of things changing reduces. I would go back to the same example of my first feature: it was a very small project where I had full creative control. That was amazing, but now looking back at it I wish I had more challenges along the way and that I was forced to make more changes, which would have resulted in a more daring final product.
Number Three: it’s okay to not know. I think that a sign of insecurity is when you feel like you need to have all the answers. I used to be more insecure about many things when I first started, and for that reason, I would feel embarrassed if, as a director, I couldn’t answer a question. That’s another key lesson about the art of collaboration: it is okay to rely on your team and it is okay to say “I am not really sure, what do you think?” or “You should check with this person that is in charge of that aspect”.
Number Four: don’t take yourself too seriously. This is a big one. Overall, in my personal life, I feel I am a bit goofy and lighthearted, but that is something that rarely translates to my work (for example, all the works that I have cited in this article –except for HIGH DENY- are pretty serious dramas). This is a struggle that I am still having, but I want to integrate more aspects of my personality to my work, because I want it to reflect more truthfully my sensibilities as a person. So, I am trying not to take myself too seriously when I am in the director’s chair as well.
Number Five: read more. Another ongoing struggle: our soul, same as our body, needs healthy food to keep sharp. And books are the food of the soul. People assume that I love reading because of my background in philosophy, but the truth is that I don’t read enough and I have a hard time creating spaces for it. However, reading is very important to get inspiration and to improve your critical thinking skills. If I could go back, I would make sure to be more strict with reading habits and schedules. After all, the next blockbuster movie is probably a book waiting to be discovered.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The main reason why people burn out, in my experience, is when they overworked themselves. Life as a freelancer is complicated, because you never feel certain about work. For that reason, it is very tempting to take on too many projects at the same time. So my advice is: trust yourself, trust your network and trust the industry. Don’t take more work than the one you can handle, and in that vein make time to yourself, create your own schedule and stick to it (for example, you can be shooting a project Saturday through Wednesday, but then take Thursday and Friday off to rest and recharge).
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Thanks! For me, the most important movement that I can think of is around education, which is a challenging topic right now. I think schools are great, but they are still lacking in truly strengthening some of the core requirements that we need to make a democracy truly flourish. Unfortunately, I am not sure about the specifics of how to actually incorporate this in the real world, but everyone should study some basic principles about, for example, of John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness (I know that sounds complicated, but a strong democracy is not only one where most of the people participate, but also one where most participants understand the basic rules of a fair society). In very simple terms, people should be required to ask themselves if they would freely choose to live in this democracy if they didn’t know under what conditions they were going to be born (for example, would you vote to ban the LGBTQ+ community from adopting children if you didn’t know if you were going to be part of this community or not? Probably the answer would be that, without knowing, you would ensure that they have all the same rights as well).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that helped me to get here, I already mentioned before my family when you asked me about my upbringing, but I also have to give a huge shout out to my friend and producer Jess Weiss. She has been a constant inspiration thanks to her incredible work ethic and can-do attitude. I remember we met when we were both new to New York and volunteered at a Producer’s Guild of America event. We didn’t get along at first, but two months later we ran into each other in Boston, and we truly bonded over drinks. The main two takeaways of this story is: networking is incredibly important, but don’t limit it to meet people at an event. Always follow up. If you see someone you know is in the same city as you are, don’t hesitate to reach out. You never know where it might lead you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the quotes that inspired me the most, particularly when I was making the decision of moving from Colombia to the United states to pursue a career in filmmaking, comes from the movie “Inception”: “Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” That truly resonated with me, because like I said, for me the idea of incursionating in the film industry seemed like a far-fetched dream. On that note, the only way I could convince myself to actually chase it was to put my own life into perspective: what kind of things I will wish I would have done differently in my life if I could put myself, let’s say, into the shoes of my 80-year-old self? I decided that I would rather try this and fail, than never try it at all. That was my leap of faith.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I don’t know about breakfast, but I would love to meet in person the actress Kaitlyn Dever. I think she is not only very talented, but also she has been very consistent with picking projects that feel relevant and important. I think she is the kind of artist that has a powerful voice and is clear about how to use it (going back to our chat about diversity in film, projects like “Booksmart” and “Unbelievable” come to my mind as important references). So, Kaitlyn, if you are reading this hit me up and I will buy you some coffee.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!