UPDATED with video: In I’m No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aquí), filmmaker Fernando Frias puts the spotlight on Kolombia counterculture in the region of Northern Mexico. Following the story of 17-year-old Ulises (played by breakout Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño), the film, Mexico’s submission in the International Feature Oscar race, uses his journey to present a different kind of immigrant narrative.
Set in Monterrey, Mexico, Ulises is the leader of “Los Terkos,” a street gang that has an affection and passion for slowed-down cumbia music. But it’s not just a music genre; for them it’s a culture that is shown through dance parties, their oversized wardrobe, unique hairstyles and gang alliances. After a mixup with a local cartel, Ulises is forced to migrate to the Jackson Heights, Queens, where he quickly finds himself wanting to return home.
For Frias, the music inspired Ulises’ journey. Traditionally, cumbia songs are about five minutes and festive, but Frias points out that when they are slowed down, it becomes darker. “I find some kind of equivalency between that and the desire of not growing up or having the song finish because there is no future,” Frias tells Deadline during the film’s panel at Contenders International. He adds that where the film is set, socio-economic problems including inequality, border issues and drug trafficking contribute to a lack of upward social mobility.
“The lack of opportunity has been systemic,” he says.
Frias says he found a way to connect the music and these issues, with the music defining the character at that age and accompanying him as he is forced to migrate and be displaced.
Check out the panel video above.