July 01, 2020

Chasing a Dream: Alum Augusto Zegarra on His First Feature Film

It might have looked simple to another person, but when Film & Media Arts alum Augusto Zegarra saw a dubbed scene from The Lion King on YouTube, he was awestruck. The reason this scene was special? It was dubbed in Quechua, an indigenous language spoken by about 8 million people, half of whom live in Zegarra’s native Peru. “I saw this video and I was in love,” Zegarra said. His interest in this dubbed scene has led Zegarra to finding the subject for his first feature film, Hakuchu Munayta, currently in production. And while the film is still in its earlier stages, it’s already seen success; the film was recently accepted into the Market Industry Section of DocsBarcelona, a major film market. Once there, Zegarra and team will pitch the film to major financiers and distributors,Tribeca, Netflix, and Disney Latin America among them.

Zegarra is at a point in his career that often challenges both current film students and graduates: the leap into making a first feature film. And it hasn’t been an easy road, as he’ll tell you. “After graduating,” he said, “it’s been a really interesting roller coaster.” But after finding the subject for Hakuchu Munayta, Zegarra’s passion has carried him through, and it’s that same passion he advises students to find.

The day after seeing the dubbed scene from The Lion King, Zegarra was in Cusco, Peru, and he decided he had to find the creators of this video. He was expecting to meet a group of people, but he ended up meeting Fernando. “He’s an amazing guy, super talented, a great artist, “ Zegarra related. “Art is pouring out of him, in so many techniques and in so many ways.” Fernando is completely self taught, creating these dubbed videos on equipment he got for his birthday and performing all of the voices himself. And as Zegarra found out, Fernando’s dreams are big: he wants to dub a Disney feature length film in Quechua.

In Peru, the Quechuan language suffers from social stigma, and the reasons for that go back hundreds of years to Spain’s invasion and the subsequent imperialism. As Spanish became Peru’s main language, Quechua and other indigenous languages were marginalized, and in many ways remain so today. While there are some feature films made in Quechua, is remains the exception, not the rule, and most children who speak Quechua don’t get to watch films in their own language. And while Disney dubs most of its feature films in over 46 languages, no Disney film has been dubbed in Quechua. Fernando wants to change that, and Zegarra wants to help: “This is my dream, and the film is following someone else chasing a dream.”

While the film follows one man’s search to dub a film, Zegarra knows it’s worth much more than that— he views the film as a social commentary against stigma. “The film is about a man trying to save a language from extinction... [it] tells a story that you don’tget the chance to see that often on screen.” Zegarra is particularly interested in how Fernando is using his art to change society. “Artistic expression is functioning as a great medium to help this new generation want to learn the language,” Zegarra said. Fernando’s dream is an example of one man pushing against a giant industry and systemic bias, and in creating a documentary Zegarra faces many of the same hurdles. However, they’re inspiring each other in the process.

Zegarra has always valued having a close-knit creative community, something that goes back to his days at the University of Utah. On his first day as a film major, he attended his History of Film course. “I didn’t know anyone,” he said. But after class he struck up a conversation with a classmate, and soon a whole group of F&MAD students went to the Village Inn and talked about film for several more hours over pancakes. For Zegarra, this was electrifying: “It was contagious.” He left thinking “You want to create. You need to work harder, you need to watch more, you need to read more so that you can tell stories.” Though it’s been several years and he’s miles away from Utah in Peru, Zegarra still seeks out those relationships that inspire him.

Professors also played an especially important role for Zegarra. Specifically, he recalled classes he took from Connie Wilkerson and Kevin Hanson, who helped him better understand story, and Steven Pecchia-Bekkum, whose “Sound for Film” class opened up a whole new world for him: “[The class] made me understand the importance of sound, which I carry on to this day.” But Zegarra also found inspiration outside of his production classes, and specifically mentioned Chris Lippard’s influence in introducing him to new films and helping him think critically. “What I really appreciated about Chris is that when I showed him my short film, he was the best at critiquing it and finding stuff to help grow.” Between the professors and his classmates, Zegarra found focus while attending the U, and it’s that focus that has led him to success now.

Hakuchu Munayta is still in production, which means there is a lot to do. Specifically, Zegarra is looking forward to DocsBarcelona, and the chance to pitch the film to major distributors and investors. And as he prepares, he believes practice makes perfect: “[I] focus on What, Where, When, and Why. I practice it a lot with people that I trust. I get feedback from people.” But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what happens in the room during the pitch, and Zegarra keeps that in mind as well. “If I can transmit a little emotion to you of how excited I am to tell this story, and how important it is to tell this story, then I think that’s a good starting point.” Zegarra says making the story tangible is his primary goal, and wants to connect on a human level. “These people who are decision makers and strangers and financiers, at the end ofthe day they’re all human. They’re looking for story connection and they’re looking for human connection too.”

Zegarra is thrilled to be in this new phase of his career (“It feels surreal!” he said), but remembers all too well what it was like mere months ago, and remembers that the grind many graduates face can be draining. But his advice for current students and recent graduates is all positive: “I lived that challenge, just recently!” he said. “But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Zegarra encourages aspiring filmmakers to keep going back to the things that initially inspired you, and to keep storytelling an active part of their lives. “A trick that I used to do was to tell a story to a friend,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re telling stories... That’s your pitch. It can be anything! You can try to tell it in a nice way. That’s a practice that they will never be able to steal from you. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s just your brain practicing.”

Zegarra’s enthusiasm for his documentary is just as infectious as the inspiration he gets from his subject. And while Zegarra continues the journey of producing his first feature film, he encourages everyone to keep fighting, just as he and Fernando are fighting to save Quechua. “There’s space for your voice to be heard,” he said. “You have to believe in that. Know that your voice matters.”