Interview: Ryan Lacen Talks All the World is Sleeping (Exclusive)

Pushing back against the stigma faced by people living through addiction, as well as pregnant women, through gripping and emotional movies is an important journey that more filmmakers and audiences should partake in. The new drama, ‘All the World is Sleeping,’ is powerfully doing just that, as it addresses generational cycles of addiction and the complex role of motherhood.

The movie sheds light on the realities of drug abuse, including the resources that are so desperately needed for families living in cycles of addiction. ‘All the World is Sleeping’ centers the complex role of motherhood, addresses generational cycles of addiction and highlights a community that isn’t often represented in movies. As a filmmaker whose own life has also been scarred by addiction, Ryan Lacen helped bring a unique, realistic cinematic lens to the subject while shaping the story to create a feature that would feel both singularly raw and universally connected.

‘All the World is Sleeping’ was written and directed by Lacen (‘The Dust Storm’). The drama stars Melissa Barrera (‘In the Heights,’ ‘Scream VI’), Jackie Cruz (‘Orange is the New Black’), Jorge Garcia (‘Lost’), Kristen Gutoskie (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’), Lisandra Tena (‘Fear the Walking Dead’), Luis Bordonada (‘Vida’), Valentina Herrera (‘Black Widow’) and Adilynn Marie Menendez (‘The Medium’).

The movie was produced in part, and inspired, by Jade Sanchez, Doralee Urban, Myra Salazar, Patricia Marez, Carly Hicks, Kayleigh Smith and Malissa Trujillo. On their road to recovery, the women took part in a reproductive justice based non-profit, Bold Futures New Mexico, which was founded in 2017.

The system-impacted women, who have a history of substance use and pregnancy, bonded together to create an artistic medium that would explore the complexities of trauma, substance use and parenting in New Mexico. Over the course of several months, they participated in conversation and community building. The insight that they gathered through the facilitated group evolved into the foundation of the movie, which features characters with their same authenticity and heart.

‘All the World is Sleep’ follows Chama (Barrera), who, as a young girl in New Mexico, strived to be different from her mother. Now in her twenties, she’s found herself falling into a similar cycle of generational addiction. This struggle then threatens her balance as a mother to her own daughter. As Chama tries to keep it all together, a harrowing accident will spiral her out of control, causing her daughter to be taken from her custody. With nothing left, she’ll have to confront her past in order to fight for a future — one that can either guide her closer to getting her daughter back or lead her deeper into this dangerous cycle.

Gravitas Ventures is releasing the drama in theaters and on digital platforms today, March 17. ‘All the World is Sleeping’s official release comes after it screened, and was honored, at several film festivals, including the NY HBO Latino Film Festival – Winner of Best Film; the Las Cruces International Film Festival – Winner of Best Film & Grand Jury Prize; Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival – Winner of Best Editing; Santa Fe Independent Film Festival – Winner of Best Film; Ojai International Film Festival – Honorable Mention Best Director; and Seattle Latino Film Festival – Honorable Mention Best Film and Best Director.

In honor of ‘All the World is Sleeping’s official release, Lacen generously took the time recently to talk about penning and helming the feature during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how Bold Futures invited him to New Mexico to speak with the seven women about their experiences overcoming addiction, and how their stories inspired him to tell their stories on screen. He also mentioned that as the movie’s director, he had complete trust in Barrera and the rest of the cast to authentically bring the women’s vulnerabilities to the screen.

Film Factual (FF): You wrote the script for the new drama, ‘All the World is Sleeping,’ which is based on a true story and the reproductive justice-based non-profit, Bold Futures New Mexico. Why were you inspired to adapt the story for the screen? How did the non-profit’s work influence your process of scribing the screenplay?

Ryan Lacen (RL): The catapult of the script was to create it as if it’s chapters of life – some beautiful, some harsh and heartbreaking, some hopeful. My objective as a filmmaker is to make a distinctive and lasting impression on the world, but my goal as a human is to make films that are truthful and sincere.

With ‘All the World is Sleeping,’ it was a delicate balance of creating a film that would be both unique and surreal, while also remaining truthful to the real-life experiences that served as its inspiration.

How it came to be is that the nonprofit, Bold Futures, brought me down to New Mexico. I sat, listened and learned from these seven women who battled addiction. The women basically confided in me about their struggles with substance abuse, including the hardships and challenges of being a parent who’s fighting with their addiction daily. They then placed their trust in me to be able to bring their stories to life on screen

FF: Further speaking about your work with Bold Futures, how did you approach working with the organization to do research to help you craft Chama’s, as well as the film’s overall, story?

RL: It was interesting because it was a Hollywood company coming together with a nonprofit to tell a real-life story about these seven women’s experiences. It was such an interesting collaboration. I also felt this big responsibility to create a movie that they would be proud of, and also encourage a discussion about the struggles of addiction and its impact on our homes and communities.

FF: Besides penning the script for ‘All the World is Sleeping,’ you also served as the drama’s director. How did scribing the script, as well as the research you did during the writing process, influence the way you approached helming the movie?

RL: At the end of the day, I just wanted to make a good movie, despite budget restrictions and the universe putting obstacles in my direction. Despite those challenges, I wanted to get maverick filmmakers and daring actors to band together with the nonprofit, Bold Futures, to make the impossible possible.

Luckily, I had an amazing cast of Melissa Barrera, Jackie Cruz, Luis Bordonada, Kristen Gutoskie and Lisandra Tena. We also had wonderful kids in the film, including Adilynn Menendez and Valentina Herrera. Our male cast, including Jorge Garcia and Luis Bordonada, was also amazing.

As a director, the most crucial element is having trust in a cast, and be enthusiastically willing to delve into vulnerable territories with them. To see that happen was an incredibly gratifying experience.

FF: Speaking of the actresses, what was the casting process like for ‘All the World is Sleeping,’ especially Melissa Barrera, who plays the lead character of Chama?

RL: One of the biggest challenges is that with any script, you have to find the right actors who bring the characters to life from the page to the screen. But making a film that’s based on real-life people adds that extra hard element of finding a cast that not only brings the characters to life, but also accurately portray the real-life people they’re based on.

I’ve known Kristen Gutoskie for a long time, as she was also in my first film, ‘The Dust Storm.’ She’s an incredibly talented actress and a true force to be reckoned with on set. I was thrilled to be able to watch her performance once the cameras started rolling.

Melissa’s basically the heart and soul of the film. She invested a considerable amount of time in understanding, and learning from, the women whose stories serve as the inspiration for the movie. She also immersed herself in the unique culture and essence of New Mexico. She always had this unwavering dedication to the role, which was truly remarkable.

FF: Once Melissa was cast in the film, how did she approach creating the physicality for the role of Champa, especially as the character’s struggling to overcome her addiction?

RL: Talk about an amazing actress. Not only is it a demanding role, the film called for her to be in the present day in the script, and as her character, struggle to not only be a parent, but also to overcome her addiction.

She also had to embody the character in the past. We see her headed down that path, in order to see her get to this moment. She also had to go through the roller coaster of the emotions when she’s using and then withdrawing. She’s going through this uphill fight in order to get clean.

So for her to be able to go onto set everyday and go through an emotional and physical roller coaster of an experience was a true testament to who she is as both an actress and a person. She was just completely committed and a genuine collaborator on this film.

FF: With all of the main female characters being an imaginative composite of the seven women who received treatment from Bold Futures and inspired the drama’s story, how did you work with the actresses to build their characters’ emotional arcs? Were you able to rehearse with performers in order to build their characters’ emotional arcs?

RL: Melissa inspired me. She created a performance that was raw and honest, and…also allowed the audience to feel her emotions as she cried and put herself back together.

Jackie Cruz is so loyal and generous, as well as witty and playful. But she was also constantly recreating her character of Toaster, which made her really unpredictable. That was really interesting for me, as the director, so see behind the camera.

It was also interesting to see how Melissa and Jackie were going to play because sometimes their characters are allies and their connection is strong. But at other times, Jackie’s character of Toaster is almost like an antagonist to Melissa’s character of Chama. So it was really interesting to see how those two would play off of each other on set.

To my knowledge, they had never met before the first day of filming. But they instantly had this rapport the instant they were on set together

I’ve also been a fan of Jorge Garcia since he was on ‘Lost,’ so I was happy to have him on set. His character had a push-and-pull relationship with Melissa’s character, so it was fun to see them work together.

FF: Like you mentioned earlier, you traveled to New Mexico in order to connect with the women who received help from Bold Futures, and you went on to shoot ‘All the World is Sleeping’ in the state. What was your experience like of filming the movie in New Mexico?

RL: First and foremost, New Mexico is where the women who inspired the film live and work. But as a character in the film, we wanted to make it seem like no place we’ve ever seen before.

Substance abuse isn’t just in New Mexico – it’s everywhere. But in the film, we wanted it to feel like a place where our friends and family live, and this is our home. In a place like New Mexico that has such a beautiful backdrop and an amazing landscape of people, food, culture and community coming together, all of that helped showcase this issue. There are ways to get help anywhere, but in the film, we wanted to present what that process is like in New Mexico.

FF: Gravitas Ventures is releasing ‘All the World is Sleeping’ in theaters and on Digital platforms (today,) March 17. How did you secure the distribution for the drama?

RL: Once we finished filming, we did our whole film festival tour. After that, it was really important to us to get a theatrical release. A lot of times these days, distributors say, “Okay, we’ll release it on a streaming site,” and then it goes off into the digital ether.

But I grew up going to the movies. I spent most of my life in a theater with my mom and grandma, watching films every week on opening night. So it’s always been my dream to go there and see something I created on the marquee and on the big screen. So it was my dream to have it experienced in the community setting of a theater.

So we fought really hard to get the theatrical release. Fortunately, Gravitas came to us and one of the first things they said was, “We want to be able to get this into movie theaters.” That’s when we knew we found a great partner for this film.

When I watched the movie in theaters during festivals, it was great to see the audiences react to not only the levity of the film, but also Melissa’s (character’s) rise and fall through her struggle with addiction. You could see a physical shift in people as they were watching. Then, after the movie ended, being able to go into the lobby and hear different people in the audience talk about it felt like that’s the reason why we make movies – so that people can come together and discuss them.

Fun Film Fact: As producers throughout ‘All the World is Sleeping’s production and post-production, the seven mothers remained an integral part of guiding the drama to completion. Barrera and Cruz, worked with the mothers on and off set to authentically capture and represent their truth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s