Kansas City Underground Film Festival presents José Luis Solís Olivares’ “Pool of Nobodies” 

Still from Pool of Nobodies (Kansas City Underground Film Festival)

Award-winning film addresses the “violence and rejection” of migrants

“I’m sorry to affect you, but that was my goal from the beginning.” 

Director and Monterrey native José Luis Solís Olivares is referring to how he wants his audiences to feel after seeing his latest film, “Pool of Nobodies,” which plays the second weekend of the Kansas City Underground Film Festival. The film is based on the discovery, on August 23, 2010, of the bodies of 58 men and 15 women, all migrants, in the swimming pool of a country house in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in northeast Mexico. Driven as a filmmaker to address the “violence and rejection” of migrants, the director will be in Kansas City to present the film at the festival venue, Charlotte Street, 3333 Wyoming, on September 16. 

The “nobodies” of the title is a reference to Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s poem “Los Nadies.” Oliveras, who studied at Tulane and at Berkeley, wanted to “discover if the film means something to people out there” when he learned about the KCUFF. “The philosophy of the festival,” of inclusion and experimentalism, he says, was an obvious match for the film. 

At most festivals, says Oliveras, the “stars are beautiful” and the “photography pristine,” but he’s happy that “Pool of Nobodies” is the “exact opposite.” Oliveras shot the film in bluish tones to give a sick pallor to the action and even though it’s not part of the festival’s horror showcase, Oliveras says the film is “a naturalistic horror movie. Because it’s not a genre movie.” 

“An outstanding feature in the movie,” Oliveras says, “is no graphic violence. Everything needs to be out of a conversation. Out of frame. So, we won’t see the decapitations (except) through the eyes of Alex (Danny Bautista). And presented at the end (is) that last image of the pool (for effect). I don’t want to recreate the violence.” 

When casting, Oliveras knew he didn’t want familiar faces. “Manuel (Domínguez), he’s an outstanding theater actor, (he) used a slang particular to his home in Northern Mexico.” After seeing Domínguez’s reel, Oliveras saw him as the leader, who shows up asking his cartel employees about “the cattle,” referring to the migrants. “The muscle of the leader is like, he’s almost six feet tall and my leading lady (María Mercedes Coroy) she’s like 4’5 and the (contrast) is cruel.” 

While the human traffickers are played by established theater actors in Mexico, the migrants of the film are played by people who were actual migrants. Bautista, who plays Alex, the ex-soldier who finds himself at a moral crossroads when he’s recruited to join the cartel in their violence, was a migrant who had just begun to find film work when Oliveras met him. Leading lady Coroy, who made her 2015 film debut in Jayro Bustamente’s “Ixcanul,” also appeared in 2022’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” as Namor’s mother.  

Director José Luis Solís Olivares on set of Pool of Nobodies (Kansas City Underground Film Festival)

Filming with largely untrained actors, all of whom received coaching on set, Oliveras told his film to the actors as a story six times rather than rehearse them. At first, Oliveras suggests, there was hesitance by the migrants to open up. “I had conversations with the migrants, the extras, and I always told them, ‘We want your support to tell your story.’ We were helping each other a lot,” Oliveras says. “It only took us two and a half weeks to shoot the film.” The biggest worry, he says, was if anyone among the cast of rotating extras got COVID; everyone tested daily for the duration of the November 2021 production.  

Oliveras has shown “Pool of Nobodies” at Barcelona Planet Film Festival, Mannheim Arts and Film Festival, and Fabrique Du Cinéma Awards where it has won Best Feature awards. Bautista and Coroy have won acting awards at Caracas Ibero-American Film Festival, and Coroy won separately at the International Film Festival of Mérida and Yucatán. 

“The reception, especially in Latin American festivals,” says Oliveras, is that, for the first few minutes, “there are no questions because everyone is in shock. Or like emotionally affected. I want to break the ice. In Houston, we were talking about the movie for an hour and ten minutes, because there are references to Houston (in the film).” 

Because of the nature of the story, I asked Oliveras if showing the police as complicit with the cartel in their treatment of the migrants was a concern during filming. 

“We are used to taking precautions,” Oliveras said. “We informed the police that we were going to be filming this (movie). We filmmakers in Mexico are pretty lucky. The activists and journalists…they are in the line of fire all the time.”  

Oliveras says of the film, “I want to punch it in your face and think about what’s your point of view and what do you think about migration.” 

Mel Neet

Mel Neet is a writer who lives in Kansas City. She has had residencies with Kansas City's Charlotte Street Foundation and with Escape to Create in Seaside, Fla. Her byline has appeared in “Pitch Weekly,” “The Kansas City Star” and “Brooklyn Rail.”

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