Capturing the mystical on screen is no easy task, especially if you want your story to feel grounded and set in a reality we can all recognise. For Peruvian filmmaker Mauricio Rivera Hoffmann, he channelled his upbringing in a spiritual country to create Curandera - his atmospheric thesis film made to complete his MFA in Film at Columbia University.
"I've always been drawn to mystical and spiritual subjects"
"This film is about a mystical maid, who works in a house where a little girl is always acting out with rage and nobody knows why", the writer/director explains in this interview with Columbia University. Like a much more tranquil version of The Exorcist, Rivera Hoffmann's 16-minute follows its spiritual protagonist as she recognises the troubling images that haunt this child's mind and uses her experiences and knowledge to help her.
"I've always been drawn to mystical and spiritual subjects", Rivera Hoffmann reveals (again in that CU interview), before adding that this connection is something very much ingrained in his culture. With his objectives set, the filmmaker admits that the challenge of writing his screenplay was difficult, as he struggled to combine the spiritual elements he wanted present in his film with the right narrative. The big question for Rivera Hoffmann was whether they should show that "other realm" on screen or leave it off-camera and in the end he decided to present this vision to his viewers and it very much feels like the right decision. It's this moment that really explains what he is trying to achieve with his short and it's this moment that truly elevates Curandera into a film that should stick with you long after watching.
A visually striking film with a distinct storyline and palpable atmosphere, the director attributes the success of his film to just how much consideration they put into all aspects of production. "I put so much thought into it, that everything was so controlled, I felt really comfortable", he explains. This sentiment certainly feels evident watching Curandera. Whether the story resonates will come down to the individual experience, but the filmmaking here feels undeniably assured and confident, with Rivera Hoffmann revealing that with his schedules on-point, he "had the time to really own my decisions".
Now in the process of writing his debut feature, Mauricio shared with us his hopes for his first foray into directing a longer piece: "I'm still being driven by the same goal of exploring stories that show a way of seeing the world through a spiritual lens. When wanting to create cinema that's more inclusive of underrepresented realities, I feel people focus mostly on labels that have to do with race or gender but to me, the type of people I would want to see more of onscreen are those who live their life trusting there is a higher purpose and see the obstacles they come across as just part of the learning plan their higher selves have in store for them."