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A Realm of Great Escape

Camilo Monsalve, ADFC navigates the camera across a surrealistic road trip for the indie sci-fi comedy Unidentified Objects.

Cinematographer Camilo Monsalve, ADFC understands the language of cinema as well as he knows his hometown of Medellín, Colombia. When presented with the opportunity to work on writer-director Juan Felipe Zuleta’s Unidentified Objects, he recognized the invitation to create a new entry in the storied genre of road movies. "It's a road-trip movie with sci-fi elements," he shares, adding that this framework enabled the filmmakers "to address human themes while allowing the freedom to depict a reality with surreal moments, showcasing the escape our main characters yearn for from a mundane world."

Those characters include Peter (Matthew Jeffers), a tense gay man who finally finds a sense of belonging while traveling the wayward path toward an alien abduction site, led by his eccentric neighbor Winona (Sarah Hay). With support from Panavision New York, Monsalve and his collaborators brought the story to the screen while breathing vivid life into the extraterrestrial and the unseen. 

Panavision: How would you describe the look of Unidentified Objects?

Camilo Monsalve, ADFC: Realism and surrealism. Many surrealist artworks were created as a harsh critique of modern life, and this was the starting point of my approach: to portray images of what happens in the world and how it can be perceived differently by each character. Our film speaks to feeling like one doesn't belong to a place, and to seeking refuge and wanting to escape to another planet. Hence the decisions on the colors, camera and optics of the film.

Were there any particular references you looked at for inspiration?

Monsalve: Director Juan Felipe Zuleta, production designer Sara Millán and I had several visual references, including works by Scott Listfield, Nate Burbeck and René Magritte — their way of seeing a world and their critique of modern society. Much of it was about incorporating elements of surrealism into the naturalistic approach, which helped to create a journey filled with internal questions.

What brought you to Panavision for this project?

Monsalve: I love working with Panavision because the conversations go deeper, and Panavision New York is like family to me. They care not only about technical aspects but also, most importantly for me, the narrative. My starting point is always to seek the best for the story, just like Terra Bliss, Chris Bieler and Noelia Rodriguez, who were my great support team [at Panavision New York] for this film. They understand the importance of storytelling. We have discussions about what world we will portray, and then we begin the search for what's best to tell it.

How did you define that world for Unidentified Objects, and how did you seek to capture it from a technical perspective?

Monsalve: Juan Felipe Zuleta and I wanted to create a film that felt real but in a distorted world, to make the audience feel like they are in another realm. That's why we decided to use handheld camera techniques to create a sense of reality and distortion and to make the characters feel trapped.

We also wanted to shoot with anamorphic lenses for this purpose. We needed lenses that were lightweight, fast and had a great close focus, as we planned to shoot many sequences up close to the characters. We also wanted a unique look, and the best option for all of these requirements were the T Series lenses. These lenses are beautiful, with a great texture and personality, and they provided us with everything we needed in terms of technical and narrative aspects for the story we wanted to tell.

All images courtesy of the filmmakers.

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