Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Election on the Amazon

Well, the Peruvian voters have spoken. This past Sunday they held a run-off to choose a new president. The losing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, was notable not only because she stood to become Peru’s first female president but also because she’s the daughter (and political heir) of Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru for ten years (1990-2000), then was ousted in the wake of a massive scandal involving both corruption and human rights abuse. Today he’s serving twenty-five years in a Peruvian prison.

Why am I so interested? Because in 1990, when Alberto Fujimori first sought the presidency, his opponent was the wonderful writer (and future Nobel laureate) Mario Vargas Llosa. And Vargas Llosa just happens to be the cousin of Luis Llosa, a filmmaker fondly known as Lucho by all of us at Roger Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons Pictures. The story of how Lucho came into the Corman fold is a classic. In the late 1980s, Roger was flying to Buenos Aires to check on a co-production when his plane was forced down in Lima, Peru by bad weather. Never one to waste a moment, he took a taxi into town, flipped open the yellow pages, and made a few calls to movie production companies, asking who was the best filmmaker in Lima. Everyone agreed on Luis Llosa. Roger contacted Lucho, made a quick deal, and zipped off to Argentina a few hours later.

As a result of this brief encounter, Concorde began churning out Peru-based movies. Peru, fortuitously, offers a wealth of scenic possibilities: towering mountains, grasslands, jungle, the Amazon River, and picturesquely crumbling South American colonial cities. With Lucho acting as local producer and sometimes director, Roger used Peru as a backdrop for urban action flicks (Hour of the Assassin), Vietnam battle dramas (Heroes Stand Alone), tales of futuristic squalor (Crime Zone), and even a Jules Verne adventure saga (Eight Hundred Leagues Down the Amazon). I have a screenplay credit on Fire on the Amazon, an environmental thriller still watched today because of a steamy jungle tryst in which a very young Sandra Bullock takes her clothes off. But avoiding mosquito bites during nude scenes was not the only challenge faced by Corman people. This was the era when Shining Path guerrillas were on a rampage, and film crews sometimes found themselves detained at gunpoint.

Lucho briefly went Hollywood, directing big-budget, star-driven studio movies like The Specialist (uniting Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone) and Anaconda (uniting Jennifer Lopez and a large snake), before he returned to Lima to stay. What’s special is that his daughter Claudia has taken up where he left off. As a writer-director, she uses her Peruvian heritage to magical effect. I saw her debut film, Madeinusa, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival circa 2006, and have never forgotten it. Her second feature, The Milk of Sorrow, became Peru’s first-ever Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film. I’m thrilled for her and for Lucho. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with him. If anyone out there has a Peruvian connection, please offer him felicitaciones on my behalf.


  1. That's a quite a story, Beverly, and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that's all I remember from FIRE ON THE AMAZON is Bullock showing her buttocks and everything else, too. What was her opinion of Corman?

  2. I admit I never met Sandra Bullock. I wasn't always involved with the casting process, for one thing. Here's my guess: she probably never met Roger. In that era, he relied on his staff to make most of the creative decisions, although he could always wield veto power when he felt like it. Lucho Llosa was the director and the hands-on producer down in Peru, so it was with Lucho that Sandra Bullock had all important interaction.

  3. An addendum: the original poster art certainly did not play up Bullock's involvement, because she was totally unknown at the time. Craig Sheffer (who?) was the movie's star, on the strength of such films as A River Runs Through It.

  4. Yeah, Craig Sheffer was poised to be the Next Big Thing in the early 90's, but then made some bad decisions and recently finished up a run on the CW series One Tree Hill, which shot here in Wilmington NC for nine seasons. My friends worked with him on a low budget thriller called The Grave - they liked him, but sometimes it takes more than likability in basecamp to keep a career on the tightrope.

    I almost rented this several times in the 90's, mainly due to Mr. Corman's name - but the length put me off (I think it ran close to two hours?) and I was put off by anything over 90 minutes for a while there. I'm better now, and if I can track down a copy, I will check it out.

    I featured the Crime Zone poster in a recent Maniacal Movie Poster Monday post - here's what I wrote about it as I love this story:

    "Here's a Bonnie and Clyde re-do with sci-fi trappings courtesy producer Roger Corman. In the mid 90's I worked with a key grip named Mark who had worked on this movie down in Peru. Mark was having a hard time finding film equipment to rent, and called Corman to complain.

    "I can't find a camera dolly anywhere in this country!" Mark kvetched.
    "Mark, do they have grocery stores in Peru?" Roger Corman asked.
    "Well, yeah, Roger, of course they do."
    "Do those grocery stores have grocery carts?"
    "Then you have your camera dolly."

    I love Roger Corman.

    1. And I love your story, Craig. Thanks! About "Crime Zone," the "Bonnie and Clyde in the future" concept was much loved by Roger, because (in a period where he was sometimes quite detached from the films that bore his name) he had actually come up with this idea himself. Good idea, and a pretty darn good film.