"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." So begins The Metamorphosis, and those famous opening words are unmistakably Franz Kafka's -- at least they were, until local independent filmmaker Gwylym Cano decided to make a few changes. First he exchanged Gregor for a troubled Chicano actor named Jesus, a protagonist who doesn't turn into a cockroach at all. Jesus turns into a bucktoothed vampire who can't bite, and at that point, Cano's new digital film, Lovepirates, part comedy and part artsy horror flick, takes off for parts unknown. The film premieres Saturday at the Bug Theatre.
Cano, an East L.A. boy who ended up in Denver after a side trip to Yale University, wrote, directed and stars in the feature-length flick, which he financed with a $15,000 grant awarded by the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities. And although at first the reference is hard to extract from his comedy gone awry, Cano's experience as an artist-in-residence at Columbine High School during the horrific events in 1999 provides its subtext: Woven in are the very kinds of issues that may have triggered the Harris/Klebold rampage.
If the Columbine connection (a condition of Cano's grant) is veiled in Lovepirates, it also comes through in evocatively direct ways: "The story starts on 4/20 -- the same day Columbine happened," says Cano, who taught or was acquainted with some of the kids involved. "Dylan refused to take my class because he thought I was 'un-American,'" he recalls. "And Eric wrote me a poem about putting a bullet in my head. One week before the incident, Rachel Scott wrote me a poem thanking me." Calling the film a "sculpture" modeled loosely after his own conflicting experiences and the related themes of alienation, religion and cultural differences, Cano aims for transcendence. "I had a coup," he says. "I made an art film. But I did it sneakily, because it's also a personal film."
Lovepirates distinguishes itself from many other works by being a true community-building effort. Its cast includes Maria Candelaria, a veteran of Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino in California, as well as actors from Denver's own Su Teatro Chicano theater company. "In a way, the film is a bridge for the Chicano community," Cano says, adding that Chicano filmmakers and their unique cultural points of view are still a rarity in Colorado. "I'd like to see a whole new appreciation for a different kind of filmmaking. People want to see themselves in movies, not more Hollywood cookie cutters."
Cano would like to see that openness extended to all independent filmmakers in the region, and he thinks such a possibility exists. "Because I've only been here eight years, maybe I see Denver as more than the cowtown it still considers itself to be," he says. "But Denver is really the crossroads for America. The money's here, and the taste is here for a vibrant film community. What's missing is faith. And the investor base."
Given the town's limits, one wonders why Cano decided on a vampire flick. He says the choice was, in part, a manifestation of his emerging filmmaker's voice, one that's admittedly "macabre." And humor plays a key role, too: "We've lost the ability to use humor like Mark Twain did -- to make a point." But the very idea of blood-drinking also opens up a whole Columbine-evoking can of worms revolving around whether or not it's cool to be a vampire. Some characters are repulsed by it, others are moths to its flame. Notes Cano: "The only real monsters are people who don't know how to love."