Photographed by Ulf Bjorlin
We are in Lima Peru in 1992, April 5, where President Alberto Fujimori led a coup where he dissolved Congress, a political move that would play a part in one of the worst weeks in Peru to this date.
A radical terrorist group, known as Shining Path, had begun their attacks earlier that year, where they murdered a community organizer in Villa El Salvador Ward, her name was María Elena Moyano. A few months later, on June 5, a journalist named Alejandro Perez was killed in a bomb explosion near the Frecuencia Latina television station. So far the deaths had been minimal, but it would soon change, and result in a bigger number.
Thursday, July 16, 1992, the terrorist group had planned a large attack in the city of Lima, in particular the Credit Bank of Peru, at Avenida Larco. They began attacking police stations and smaller financial institutes in order to clear the way for the main attack, with a plan to set of explosives in front of the bank in the evening. They failed to get their vehicle close enough to the bank, so instead they filled the vehicle with 400-500 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mixed with dynamite. They left the vehicle at the closest intersection, Tarata Street, and had one driver drive forward, and then abandon the truck. Buildings at the locations El Conando, San Pedro, Tarata, Central Residential, and San Carlos were the most harmed by the bombings, killing 25 people, and wounding 155. In September 1992, the Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán was arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Two years later, film director Nicole Campbell was born in Lima, Peru. Despite it today being over two decades since the bombing, the tragedy still plays a big part in Lima's history, as well as Nicole's; which is how the short film Shining Ashes (2018) came to life.
The week of the Tarata bombing in Lima, Peru is a great historic event that took place, and for someone like Nicole who actually didn't live through it; she still lives with it. It's a part of her city's history, and tales have been - and will be - told about the attack for many centuries to come. As a Peruvian, as well as human, she views it as a great tragedy, just as everyone else. As a film director, she took the tragedy and turned it into art.
Shining Ashes follows the story of Carlos (Jorge Ezcurra) who receives a phone call from his ex-wife Patricia (Diana Abarca) who claims that their fourteen year old son Joaquin (Daniel Menacho) is missing. The father Carlos is a part of Shining Path, and has moments earlier placed bombs all over the city. Upon receiving the phone call from his ex-wife, he decides to go out and look for his son Joaquin before the bombs detonates. Being the man behind the bombs, he knows locations of the bombs and the time for their detonations, so we follow him running around the city of Lima looking for his son before it's too late.
"I was inspired to write this story when I was looking at the news about this big explosion Tarata," Nicole tells me. "This explosion killed a lot of civilians; it was a terrorist attack. In the clip [I saw] you could see a father trying to get inside of a building that was on fire. People were trying to take him away from the building because, of course, he was [otherwise] going to get injured. Then, suddenly, one person asked him what was going on. Move [they said] and he replied that 'my son, he's upstairs.' So only from seeing that clip, that desperation from that father trying to get inside, it really moved me and I wanted to write a story about him. But I didn't want to make a story about the typical civilian that got affected by The Shining Ashes, one more story about those guys. I wanted it to actually be about a member of the group, and how his actions got back to him."
To be able to capture the authenticity of the city of Lima, Nicole packed her bags and took a plane from Los Angeles, CA, all the way back to her hometown Lima, Peru. She brought American cinematographer Brandon Lattman with her, and together they shot their version of the Tarata bombing.
Joaquin, the little missing boy who the story is set around, was initially set to be twelve years old in the story. As a filmmaker, especially an independent one who is financing the project themselves, it's sometimes worrisome to have minors on set. Not only because they are children, but because of the additional rules that comes along when you have a minor on set.
Depending on the age of the child, whether it's nine, twelve, or fifteen, each age comes along with their own rules. Each age comes with different requirements; and money for a child supervisor (also known as studio teacher) also comes for every shooting day. For these reasons and many more, some upcoming filmmakers avoid to cast minors in their films if there's an opportunity to do so. The casting process for Shining Ashes was no different. Nicole tells me a story of her being stuck between two actors for the role of Joaquin: a fourteen year old boy, and a twenty year old boy. Both actors spoke to her on a personal level, but there was something more appealing to the twenty year old, which led him to get the role.
In reality it could have just been the age that was the winning factor, knowing he would be a cheaper option, so I ask Nicole if his performance really was better, or if she is withholding something from me. She laughs at first, but then she tells me the truth. She tells me to think about the costs. If the younger actor would have been worth the costs, performance wise, then she would have gone with him. However, this wasn't the case, so her production team decided to save some money. It's difficult to believe that the actor Daniel was twenty years old while playing the role of Joaquin, so regardless of the driving force of the casting process; they made a significant choice.
No real ashes were really shun over Lima during the shoot of Shining Ashes, but during the film shoot the crew decided to recreate a moment of the evening of Thursday, July 16, 1992 in Lima, Peru. I'm looking at a picture of cinematographer Brandon kneeling in the midst of the smoke, carrying on a camera. Nicole laughs when thinking back on that shooting day. To know why the image brings out these emotions from Nicole, we need to rewind a year and go back to Lima, in 2018.
Almost every film shoot has learning moment, and for the production of Shining Ashes their moment arrived the day of one of the most important scenes; the day the car was going to explode.
Photographed by Barycki Ratto
Due to unknown circumstances, the production team failed to deliver a copy of the shooting permit for that location. Nicole arrived to set that day with the plan of blocking the first shot at 3pm, but was soon sceptical when she noticed the mood of the crew members on set. In order to figure out what was happening on her set, she decided to locate her producer. When she finally found him, she felt a great distance from him. She was soon informed that they were without a permit, and that the security guards around the area wanted to shut down the production. They did not only want to shut down the shoot because they lacked a permit, but also for the crew intended to lock down a whole street without being able to produce them a permit.
Trust and responsibility are two words Nicole strongly believes in. She reasons that if she gives a job to a crew member, she wants them to take responsibility and feel as if they are in charge. She wants them to let their imagination flow freely, and complete their job. When hearing the truth about the permit, yes she was upset, but she didn't want to waste her energy by yelling at her producer. Instead, she approached him as she would anyone in a difficult situation. Anger wasn't going to bring a solution to the issue, so she had to think productive; what could she do in that moment to move the team forward? She decided to see it as an opportunity instead; an opportunity to improve the performance with her actors, so that's what she did. "I'm going to go and rehearse, take care of it," was all she told her producer before she returned to her actors and went through her notes with them.
"The crew was freaking out, but I ignored it because I trusted my assistant director to take care of it, and so he did. I let my producer, my assistant director, and my mom, the executive producer, to handle it. After a lot of conversations, we actually offered them [the guards] to be a part of the scene as extras, and they joined the club. They let us shoot [the scene], it was weird."
Nicole is currently writing on a feature film. She has been asked by crew members and outside producers if she is interested in writing a feature version of her short film Shining Ashes. According to her, Shining Ashes is only a short film. If the interest by the requests are in regards to the terrorist group Shining Path, she is more than happy to announce that she is currently writing on a feature film about them. The feature film is based in the jungles of Peru, where we get to follow members from the Shining Path terrorist group, so don't be alarmed; she's not leaving that topic, not yet.
The short film Shining Ashes, written and directed by Nicole Campbell is planned to be released on Amazon Prime Video in 2020. Meanwhile, enjoy the trailer below.