Director J.A. Bayona makes his screenwriting debut with Spanish film “Society of the Snow,” based on the devastating true story of an Uruguayan rugby team that was stranded in the wilderness for months after a harrowing plane crash. The story behind the plane crash was previously dramatized in Frank Marshall’s 1993 narrative feature “Alive,” which starred Ethan Hawke.

The Netflix film, which Spain has already chosen as its entry for this year’s Best International Film Oscar, follows the passengers of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, who were on their way to Chile before crashing in the heart of the Andes. Only 29 of its 45 passengers survived the initial accident; the survivors were then trapped in one of the most hostile and inaccessible environments on the planet, and had to resort to extreme measures to stay alive.

The cast of Bayona’s film includes Enzo Vogrincic, Agustín Pardella, Matías Recalt, Esteban Bigliardi, Diego Vegezzi, Fernando Contigiani García, Esteban Kukuriczka, Rafael Federman, Francisco Romero, Valentino Alonso, Tomás Wolf, Agustín Della Corte, Felipe Otaño, Andy Pruss, Blas Polidori, Felipe Ramusio, and Simón Hempe. The film debuted at the 2023 Venice Film Festival.

Bayona co-wrote the script with Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques-Olearraga, and Nicolás Casariego. The screenplay is adapted from Pablo Vierci’s nonfiction book of the same name. Bayona said that Vierci was the “custodian of the story and characters,” but their collaboration helped expand the narrative storyline to represent both the survivors and those who perished. Verci’s book is centered on how the 16 survivors experienced the crash; “Society of the Snow” also includes the people who died.

“The survivors were fundamental — their enthusiasm galvanized the film and my point of view,” Bayona said. “We went through an exciting and creative process together. If any questions came up on set, Vierci would pick up the phone, and we would talk to the people who had first-hand experience of the situations we were trying to recreate. It was a unique experience.”

“The people in the plane, the people who went through that story, were offering their bodies to their friends, in case they need them,” Bayona told IndieWire. “And in that idea, there is something transcendent because it’s this unconscious realization that you and I are the same thing. That if you live, I live. And I thought how interesting it would be to tell a tale that starts with one character. And this character gives the chance to the other people to finish the story. And you create a visual metaphor or a narrative metaphor, where the character is allowed to leave and to get to the end, thanks to his friends, and his friends are able to get there thanks to him, which is basically what the essence of the story is about.”

For Bayona, the film was 10 years in the making, due to his difficulty in finding financiers. Bayona went on to direct “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” before helming “Society of the Snow.” The feature is his first Spanish-language film in 15 years.

“Society of the Snow” premieres in select theaters on December 22 and will be available to stream on Netflix on January 4. Check out the trailer, an IndieWire exclusive, below.

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