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Film Study: How J.A Bayona Directed the Most Realistic Adaptation of the 1972 Miracle in the Andes

Updated: Apr 18

Courtesy of Netflix

45 passengers boarded Air Force Flight 571 and departed Carrasco International Airport on 12 October 1972. The aircraft carried teammates and supporters of the Old Christians Club amateur rugby team headed for a tournament in Chile. 33 survived the crash. Stranded in the extreme and unbearable conditions of the Andes Mountain Range, the group of survivors learned to live in the uninhabitable climate over the span of 72 days. J.A Bayona recalls the harrowing story of the 1972 Uruguayan plane crash in the Andes in his film adaptation of La Sociedad de la Nieve.

Research and Casting

Bayona conducted extensive research to gather as much information as possible to accurately depict the miraculous survival tale. Of the 33 initial survivors of the crash, only 16 made it out of the mountains. During the initial phase of the planning process, Bayona conducted over 100 hours of interviews with the remaining 14 survivors to gain first-hand insight. An analog camera was recovered from the site of the crash which contained important footage of the survivors and the conditions after the wreckage. Bayona and his team spent months studying archival footage from the site. The research stage played a pivotal role in developing the realistic storyline of La Sociedad de la Nieve.

Bayona implicitly stated that he would only cast spanish-speaking actors with Uruguayan accents for the film. This necessary decision was made to keep the film in its original language to document the most realistic adaptation of the story. Additionally, the team decided to cast unrecognizable actors to add to the authenticity of the portrayal. This immensely elongated the casting process.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bayona discussed his vision and execution method for the film: “We planned to shoot the story almost like a documentary. We prepared the actors; we gave them all the information; we rehearsed the script for almost two months; we went through all the scenes. They read the book; they got in contact with the survivors or the families of the victims and they spent 72 days in the mountains. We shot for 140 days”.

Budget and Location

Several elements contributed to the $70-million film budget which was nearly impossible to raise independently. After 10 years of extensive research and preparation, Bayona agreed to partner with Netflix which allowed him to produce the high-budget film.

Principal photography and filming began in Sierra Nevada, Spain. This particular area served as the focal shooting location, mimicking the original crash site in the Andes Mountain range. Management shut down a ski resort in Sierra Nevada to use for filming purposes. The intense climate caused several implications for the crew. The primary shooting location took place 10,000 feet above the ski resort where there were several avalanches. The altitude was another crucial factor that affected the production process. The lack of oxygen in the air restricted the mobility of the standard drones. Consequently, the crew had to improvise and switch to smaller drones. Once all of the primary footage was collected in Sierra Nevada, the film set moved to South America.

Montevideo, Uruguay served as the filming location for the rugby sequences, the airport, and other sequences. Secondary footage from the Andes Mountain range was shot and blended into various film sequences. The production crew additionally collected aerial footage and projected it within the sets constructed in Spain to enhance the authenticity of the location.

The Outcome

Ultimately, the extensive research conducted by Bayona and his team was the driving factor behind the seamless execution of La sociedad de la nieve. Paying careful attention to casting and location, the team was able to produce the most realistic adaptation of the 1972 miracle in the Andes. The film has received numerous awards since its release and has been nominated for two Oscars; best international feature as well as best makeup and hairstyling. Most importantly, La Sociedad de la Nieve received positive feedback from the remaining survivors of the crash.

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