A night with Ecuador's Oscar hopeful

Director Javier Andrade's "The Porcelain Horse" is a classic cinema underdog, a strong personal drama Ecuador has submitted as its official entry to the Oscars. The hope is the film will be selected by Academy members as one of the prestigious four nominees to be announced in January. This is the first submission Ecuador has made in nine years and the third in its entire history. The Screening Room is a very private spot, it is quite literally a room sequestered in Beverly Hills with comfortable couches and small, recliner seats. It was an intimate setting because after Eddy Bedon, Ecuador's Consul in Los Angeles, introduced the film the audience was swept into a personal portrait of life in the Andean country.

"The Porcelain Horse" scorched the screen with its tale of two brothers, Paco (Francisco Savinovich) and Luis (Victor Arauz), who come from a respected political family in the city of Portoviejo, also called Rock City because of the local rock n' roll obsessed culture. After they accidentally cause the death of their father, both head towards self-destruction after Luis becomes a drug addict and Paco runs off with Lucia (Leovanna Orlandini), his already married childhood sweetheart. While Luis appears to find salvation through Punk rock, Paco finds himself trapped by guilt and a life that gets more financially complicated.

Andrade's film was gritty and atmospheric, the script framed by the sounds of Latin Punk, pop and folk ballads. There is some excellent dark humor and the film is a snapshot of typical middle class life in South America with a lot of hot blooded drama.

After the screening Lisa Zane, the songwriter and actress, was still feeling the afterglow of the film's sound. "The music was great," she said, "I loved the rock music and the folk music and the juxtaposition of both, because that's what I do as well."

Flushed with excitement Andrade chatted about "The Porcelain Horse" while stepping away from the evening's revelry. Andrade had originally studied Business Management in his home country but decided to move to New York in 2002 to earn a Master's in film. After making an award-winning short film named "Pia," Andrade began work on a feature length screenplay. For inspiration he drew on his own hometown memories. "The idea was for my first film to be about something I knew intimately," he said. "I wanted to speak about something real and so I felt like telling a story in Portoviejo, which is where I come from."

"I remembered a local story involving a family, murder and drug problems. The father was killed somehow and the mother wasn't there, so all those elements were there to conceive this story." The story stayed with Andrade and resurfaced as a concept when he studied film at Columbia University.

"I wrote nine drafts," he said. "It took six years to get the funding for shooting. During those years I kept rewriting and tweaking the story. This is why I believe it has such a strong narrative."

For Andrade the film is also a subtle statement on the kind of elite society that dominated Ecuador for years before the current leftist government of Rafael Correa, who has declared a Citizen's Revolution since his election in 2006. There is one particularly unnerving montage where Lucia walks into a supermarket and discovers that her father, the owner of the supermarket chain, has cancelled her credit cards. In a fit she offends the cashier and says "I don't have to pay here."

"The movie is a reflection of my worries as an Ecuadorean looking at the country from a distance," explained Andrade, "I was writing in New York and seeing the country as a place where everything was falling apart, it was going to shit. I can't solve the political problems of Ecuador, but I can show them in a dramatic, fictional way. And in that way I can help people think about their surroundings."

Under the Correa government Ecuador now gives grants to filmmakers to make movies. "It's not a lot of money, it should be much more because it's a good push forward for national filmmakers to dare to make our projects," said Andrade.

Among his cinematic influences Andrade named the directors Luis Bunuel, Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick, but musically he values Punk a great deal, which explains why the genre is so prevalent in "The Porcelain Horse." Rock music has so immersed Portoviejo life that Andrade didn't discover the folk music of Ecuador until his 20's, when he was a college student.

"For me Punk is an aesthetic," said Andrade. "It's a vision of doing things in a different way of pushing forward. I wanted the band in the film to have that music, Portoviejo is a rocker city where everyone loves rock n' roll."

For aspiring film students Andrade had one message, "Make a movie your own way."