Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Film writer/director Jose Maria Cabral has cracked the code on how to get your first feature length film accepted at the third largest film festival in North America, and he is only twenty-four years old.  No, he hasn’t a powerful relative in the movie industry.

What he does have is the talent and the personal vision to write a suspense/action movie that has been resonating with audiences wherever his film “Check Mate” has been shown.  “Check Mate”is the 2012 Official Oscar submission from the Dominican Republic (D.R.)

The story revolves around one David Hernandez (Adrian Mas), a successful and famous host of a TV show in the Dominican Republic.  When Andres (Frank Perozo) a caller to the show reveals that he is holding David’s family hostage, David must stay on the air and play the terrorist’s game or his family will die.  Now, the deadly game of cat and mouse begins.

What will it take for the terrorist to release his hostages ?  The police and David seem paralyzed and unable to do anything, at first.  When the demands of Andres are made to a now listening audience of the entire country, via TV, it becomes impossible for David to comply and the hostage-taking plan and the rescue operation begin to deteriorate.    Adrian Mas as David has the lion’s share of the meaty roles, and he makes the most of it.  His emotions range from confident to uneasy to unsure, then to fearful, to desperate, and finally to resignation.  Without revealing anything more so as not to spoil the ending for futures audiences, lets just say there is lots of action, drama, plot-twists, and suspenseful moments in “Check Mate”.

 

I had the opportunity to speak with writer/director Cabral about his film and his rising career as an international filmmaker.

 

JL:  You’re only twenty-four.  When did you decide you wanted to become a filmmaker?

 

Jose Maria Cabral:   Early on I wanted to become an actor; which I did beginning at the age of eight.  I made home movies using all of my friends as actors. They were 10 and 15 minute short films.  By the time I was fifteen, I was writing movie shorts to star myself, however, I realized I preferred to be behind the camera.

 

JL:  Sounds like you’re channeling Stephen Spielberg’s career path.  What made you decide to write “Check Mate” as your first feature length film ?

 

JMC:  Initially, I was looking to make a bank robbery film.  But television has always intrigued me.  Not as a subject of a film, but as a component in daily life.  So I switched the story from a bank robbery film to a kidnapping-revenge movie utilizing the setting of a television studio to act as a metaphor.

 

JL:   A metaphor for what?

 

JMC:  There are 10 million people who live in the Dominican Republic.  TV is extremely important in the lives of these people.  Television becomes a metaphor, if you will, for DR society.  I wanted to capture and incorporate this aspect of our society into the story of “Check Mate”.

 

JL:   American audiences are quite familiar with police procedures and SWAT team techniques, thanks to American TV shows.  How was your film received in the DR?

 

JMC:    Pretty much the way police shows are accepted here in the States.  We see a lot of American TV shows, and cop shows are popular at home as well.

 

JL:   I understand the DR movie industry is going through a renaissance.  Film production went from just two government-supported films a year, to more than 10 this year.  Did you receive any government support for “Check Mate”?

 

JMC:   No, we received no such funding.

 

JL:   What was the budget on your “Check Mate” film?

 

JMC:   $180,000.  And I shot the film in 16 days.  I had to shoot the car chase and street action sequences in just one day.   There was very little margin for errors.

 

JL:  That’s impressive.  What’s next for Jose Maria Cabral ?

 

JMC:   My next film is currently in post-production, so I’m rather busy and committed to it, at the moment.

 

JL:   And after it’s finished, what then?

 

JMC:   I have this idea for a Syfy comedy/drama about a bank robbery that takes place in the past, present, and the future.  And the McGuffin is, these guys rob the same bank each and every time.

 

JL:   Sounds like a movie Ionesco or Dali would love to see. By the way do you have a thing about “bank robberies” as subjects of your movies?  (Cabral just smiles)  Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule, and Good luck with “Check Mate”.

 

JMC:  Thank you.  I enjoyed it.

 

The Palm Springs International Film Festival runs through January 14, 2013.  The Festival has something for everyone.  You won’t be disappointed.