At the beginning of the month, celebrated Canadian Composer Michael Shlafman headed to the prestigious Greenwich Film Festival in Connecticut to discuss his new film La Guerra. Shlafman, having been part of the music team on projects like Pet Sematary and Botero, and television shows such as LARPs, is clearly no stranger to success, but was truly honored to be invited to speak on a panel and talk about his work on La Guerra.
Shlafman attended the festival with his good friend and collaborator Erin Ramirez, the Writer and Director of La Guerra. Together, they hosted the official premiere of their timely documentary, which tells the story of a young, Mexican American woman from Southern California who has taken on a much greater role for her family in the face of her parents' deportation. Growing up in a mixed status family, 19-year-old Angelica Guerra has seen both of her parents leave the United States with no real hope of return. Angelica chose to make the best of the situation by continuing to study, work, and take care of her siblings to keep the American Dream alive, despite her family's separation. As a composer, Shlafman was essential to the making of La Guerra and an ideal team member to accompany Ramirez.
“Michael was a crucial component of the storytelling process and helped make this project come to life. There were many re-cuts and false starts in the making of this film, and we were able to accomplish what we did with the score because Michael was always committed to making sure the film was telling the right story emotionally – no matter what was required to make that happen. Michael is patient and committed to his work. He is someone who focuses on getting things done correctly so as to achieve the best possible result and make the highest possible contribution to the film,” said Ramirez.
La Guerra was an Official Selection at the festival, where it had its world premiere, and was immensely well-received by critics and audiences alike. For Shlafman, being able to attend such a renowned festival was a fantastic experience, as he was able to meet several popular actors and filmmakers, including Justin Long, who was there for the premiere of his new movie Safe Spaces that was scheduled right after La Guerra in the same theater.
“It was really exciting because this is a fantastic festival with lots of really great films coming through it. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to fly out to be there. There was a Kesha concert for the opening night, and there were screenings of a couple of movies featuring well-known stars,” said Shlafman.
In addition to attending the festival, Shlafman spoke on a panel after the premiere of their film. He and Ramirez answered many questions about their film, as Shlafman really wanted to talk about the process they went through to get to that stage. It was a great opportunity to talk about the role music plays in a film, especially in documentaries.
“I think that many people don’t really have a great understanding of how film composers work and what we do exactly, and I think that having composers speak on a panel of filmmakers is a great way to help break down that barrier,” he said. “Composers are an integral part of any film. The music is widely regarded as one of the largest, most significant creative elements to come from one individual, and many movie-goers don’t even realize that the music they are hearing is actually made very intentionally and thoughtfully by a person. I hope that just the fact that a composer was there on that panel helped shed some light on that for the audience.”
After the panel was over, Shlafman was approached by a young composer. He was asked how he got started in the industry and what tips he could provide on gaining experience. Shlafman was touched by this high school student who was already working on pursuing his dream, and knew that attending the festival was important not only to talk about his film, but to offer guidance.
“My advice to anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in this industry is to be genuine, to give yourself the opportunity to be creative without judging yourself, and to remember that every person you come across in your career is a unique and creative individual who has a lot to offer. Don’t be afraid to fail. I believe we learn more from our failures than our successes, and all the successful people whose work we know so well have failed repeatedly before getting to where they are now. The biggest difference between them and the thousands and thousands of other talented and creative people that nobody has ever heard of is that they didn’t let failure stop them from getting up and trying again,” he concluded.
Photo: Michael Shlafman and Erin Ramirez, taken by Iris Verduzco