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Party Quest: An Interview with Débora Rocha

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I have always been in love with storytelling ever since I was a child. I used to wander around in my house telling my parents the latest stories I had come up with, and since then, I have known I wanted to share my stories with the world. I fell in love with filmmaking around that time, and even though I started out being more interested in becoming a writer, I soon discovered I was passionate about many other aspects of filmmaking, and I started to aspire that one day I would become a director so I could best execute my creative vision.

What was your first job in the art field?

I am currently a fourth-year student at the University of Denver, and as such, I have not done as much work in the art field as I wish I could since I am mostly focused on my studies. In terms of what I have done as a student, my first official job was co-writing and directing Party Quest. However, professionally, my first job was working as a production assistant for RadioEd, a podcast at the University of Denver.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I have always had this desire within myself to be able to share joy with people. As someone who is neurodivergent and struggles with chronic illness, since a young age, I have had this idea that life is hard enough as it is, and I have made it my personal mission to bring some light and happiness into the world. My favorite thing about storytelling is the ability to transport the audience into another world, where they can forget about their problems for a while and have something to find comfort in, even on their darkest days. I love happy endings and stories that make people's days better. Recently I have found that I also have a passion for telling stories that are lacking in the media. As a Latina in the autistic spectrum, being able to tell a relatable and fun story that features an autistic main character was extremely meaningful to me. I hope to tell more stories with diverse characters with different backgrounds in the future because representation is really important to me. Lastly, although I am very passionate about telling happy stories, I would love to dive into more serious topics and incorporate them into my future work because I also believe not all art has a silver lining, and sometimes there is immense beauty in learning to live and love life even in its hardest moments.

Director Débora Rocha

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

I think my method can vary depending on the project – some projects have a lot of planning and research that goes into them, but others are very spontaneous and can come in the form of writing the whole script and figuring out what the story is about as I write it. I think it depends mostly on the story itself and how I was inspired to write it in the first place. My plan is always to write my stories as they are in my head and later go back into those projects and rework them, so they best accurately portray the story I envision in my mind.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

I have a lot of filmmaking influencers that I am very fond of. I love the works of Taika Waititi, Wes Anderson, Judd Apatow, Jordan Peele, Mel Brooks, and Guillermo del Toro. I believe although all these directors have very different styles, they all have a very distinctive voice as filmmakers, and their works are a great source of inspiration for me. Over the years, I have always been more drawn to comedic films, and I love a fun, feel-good comedy that I can enjoy with my friends and family. However, I also have always had a passion for fantasy stories and movies that can really transport me somewhere else with their worldbuilding. For Party Quest specifically, however, my biggest influences were The Duff (2015, Ari Sandel), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright), and Atypical (2017, Robia Rashid and Seth Gordon).

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

Recently, with the rise of social media – and TikTok, specifically – the filmmaking industry has become more accessible than ever. Although it has become a source of debate, many actors and celebrities got their start because of social media. Even though it is still hard to be a part of the industry, it is amazing to see new paths being created now that social media has become more popularized. I would like to mention that, due to COVID, many independent artists were able to get visibility and attention to their artistic projects because, since they had to work from home, they could share their work online, and many of them entered the industry due to people having to stay home and spending more time on social media. When the pandemic started, I was co-directing a movie I wrote with a friend of mine for the University of Denver's Film Production Club (DUFPC), and unfortunately, we never ended up completing that project. Like that project we were hoping to finish, many films and TV projects had to be scrapped or seriously delayed due to the pandemic, and many TV series were canceled, which was devastating to many audiences who were fans, and especially to those who were directly involved in making those projects into reality. If big studios and streaming companies were having such big troubles over COVID, I can only imagine how hard and frustrating it must have been for most independent filmmakers to get their stories out in the world.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

The best advice I could give aspiring artists such as myself is if you have a dream, then you should do everything in your power to make that dream a reality. Life is too short to second-guess yourself and wonder what could have been. If you truly are passionate about something, let that passion drive you to become the artist you aspire to be, and don't let anyone discourage you from it. The truth is, as much as there are people constantly rooting for you, many others do not want to see you succeed, so make sure to have support systems in your life to remind you of what is important and to keep you grounded when things feel too difficult. Being an artist comes with many obstacles, but it is the most rewarding thing in the world. If you believe in yourself and your potential as an artist, that is the only validation you need; all the rest is the consequence of your hard work and passion.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Yes, absolutely! I honestly have watched so many movies that completely changed my way of seeing the world. Since the beginning of time, people have told stories, some to pass the time, some as tales of great heroes and myths. Stories are our way of teaching lessons and explaining the unexplainable phenomena that surround us in our daily lives. Sometimes, however, movies can serve as comfort and an escape from reality. It may not sound like it, but although the idea of watching movies that make you forget about the world for a while does not sound powerful, more often than not, those are the movies that help us recover from hard times and give us the strength to go about our days. Sometimes, that is all we need to slowly walk towards becoming the change we want to see in the world. I think the best stories are the ones that have intrinsic messages to them and that make us think about the world and our role as humans living in it. The best movies are the ones that are able to entertain while giving a message to the audience while they are being transported into the world of the story. The most incredible thing about movies, in my opinion, is that they are for everyone and can appeal to everyone's taste. I think that is amazing because watching films is an experience that most people can relate to, and I know for a fact everyday people are inspired by the films they watch. Whether it be to follow a specific career or to visit a certain country, some movies can change someone's life completely. For example, I did not know I could cry in films until I watched The Fault in Our Stars (2014, Josh Boone), and from then on, I learned to value my life and my friends and family because no other film before that had made me realize how precious life was. Although it sounds like a small change, I believe everyone goes through changes like this while watching movies, and because of that, little by little, I know films are capable of changing the world.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I think the pandemic did impact people's taste a little bit. I remember, at least over 2020, people seemed to prioritize comedies and light-hearted films. The world was too dark, and I believe most people I know were desperately looking for a way to pass the time and forget all the chaos in the world. There were a lot of interesting shows that were unfortunately canceled because of their poor timing – Utopia (2020, David Fincher and Gillian Flynn), for instance, was an Amazon Prime show that talked about a group that discovered that a conspiracy theory involving a virus was actually real. With all the panic around COVID, I can only imagine how audiences received that show, even though it was such a good series. I think, recently, however, I have seen more of a shift to true stories, biopics, and true crime becoming a lot more relevant.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Currently, as I am about to finish my last semester at the University of Denver, I have a lot of small projects going on to expand my reel. A few of them I acted on, and some I have written and plan to direct. My main project for next year will be a part of my capstone. I'll be working on making a documentary for the first time. I do not have too many details on the production just yet, but I am very excited to try a new form of filmmaking and expand on my knowledge and abilities as an artist, so wish me luck!


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