Since graduating in 2019, FIU theatre alumnus JC Gutierrez ’19 has set his sights on filmmaking.
His first short film, ‘Til Death, was an official selection of the Los Angeles International Film Festival’s “Indie Short Fest,” where it nabbed two nominations: Best Thriller Short and Best Actor for fellow FIU theatre alumnus AJ Ruiz ’18.
The film also features FIU theatre alumni Nora Pantoja ’18 and Megan Zorrilla ’19. Pantoja was also the film’s production designer and Zorrilla was the film’s costume and makeup designer.
The psychological thriller starts with an unassuming man preparing a nice holiday meal but then takes a dark turn when his secret is revealed.
Part of the inspiration for the film came from his conversations about movies with a friend. They imagined a movie where someone who looks completely normal is actually hiding bodies in their house.
To Gutierrez, the deeper, subtler inspiration for the film though was his own grief, and initial denial, over the death of his mother.
“My mom died of a sudden heart attack when I was 19,” Gutierrez says. “A few days after she died, I was in a seriously deep state of denial where I felt like she would walk through the door at any minute.”
Gutierrez first made the film at FIU during the summer film festival, May Madness. The student-produced project challenges students to create their own short films in an exciting, no-budget, fast-paced process.
He learned a lot during that initial process but wasn’t fully satisfied with how the film came out, so he remade it in early 2020 and started submitting it to film festivals.
It quickly gained some attention. Before appearing at the Los Angeles International Film Festival, it was selected for the Montreal Independent Film Festival, Venice Shorts, Chicago Indie Film Awards, and A Night of Misfit Films.
“Having the film do so well in the festival circuit is truly a dream come true,” Gutierrez says. “The film came from my heart—and to have it be critically acclaimed feels so gratifying and special.”
He is looking to ride that momentum into 2021 with more festival appearances for ‘Til Death; wrapping up post-production on a horror film; and working on a new film with fellow FIU theatre alumni William Guevara ’20 and Rosalyn Tavarez ’20.
Gutierrez has made ‘Til Death available for screening until Jan. 10. Use the password “short” to view the film.