Writer-director Torben Bech hails from Denmark, a country renowned for its socialized healthcare system, in which citizens receive largely free healthcare. Growing up, Bech never had to worry about getting sick; however, when he moved to Santa Cruz, California, he was shocked to discover the stark contrast between the American healthcare system and its emphasis on urgent care Merrick. Bech was surprised to learn that, in the United States, even basic healthcare could be expensive and difficult to access.
“It was the first time I actually thought about it, that I shouldn’t get sick,” Bech told MovieMaker. “I surfed a lot, and I was like, oh, just don’t get hurt, because it’s going to be too expensive.”
Swamp Lion deals with that very circumstance. The neo-Western family drama follows a family of modest means who are gobsmacked when they realize that their young son has cancer — and that the medicine he needs isn’t covered by their insurance. Realizing they need to come up with $50,000 fast, the boy’s father, played by the late Michael Ray Escamilla, turns to drug smuggling in order to save his son.
Bech knows from personal experience what it’s like to fear for the life of a child.
“The idea came because my youngest son, when he was he was really young, he got sick. He had seizures, and for a period, we didn’t know what was happening to him, and it really gave me a good scare, to say the least,” Bech said. “It sets your priorities straight immediately.”
Having since moved back to Denmark, Torben Bech has never had to experience what Escamilla’s character goes through in Swamp Lion. But his time living in Santa Cruz gave him an idea of what it might have been like if he and his family were trying to care for a sick child in the U.S.
“I just got to think about what it would have been like if I had been in America, and if I’d been in a situation where I didn’t have money or the health care that I needed,” he said.
With a $70k budget and Mac Ruth, the Oscar-winning soundman from Dune, Bech and producer Magnus Kristiansen decided to film Swamp Lion in Texas, where Escamilla assured them they could make the film under a tight budget. That’s how a handful of Scandanavians, including Bech, his cousin and executive producer Aksel Bech, and Kristiansen, ended up shooting a neo-Western in the dusty Texas border towns of Pharr and McAllen.
Though Escamilla passed away before he could see the finished film, he was on to something about the advantages of shooting a movie in rural Texas.
“He is from that area, and he said we can do it there for nothing. That means that we can actually go out and just shoot it,” Bech said.
Turns out that filming a movie in a town that isn’t used to having film crews around can also be a plus. Torben Bech enjoyed getting to work in a community “that hasn’t been polluted by a lot of other movies that just came and basically — you know what it’s like — ‘Oh, can we borrow your house?’ and then you go there two days later and everything’s a wreck because nobody thinks about it when they start shooting,” he said. “They actually liked it, that we came and told a story from their area.”
Swamp Lion has screened at six film festivals so far, winning Best Feature at CineSol International Film Festival, Arizona International Film Festival, and Pioneertown International Film Festival. Next, it will make its European premiere on August 22nd at The Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund, Norway.
Swamp Lion also stars Bre Blair, Luis Bordonada, Jack Elliot Ybarra, Dominic Hoffman, and Karen Sours Albisua. It’ll hit theaters in Norway and November, but the team is still seeking distribution in the U.S. Watch the trailer for Swamp Lion here.
Main Image: Michael Ray Escamilla, Bre Blair and Luis Bordonada in Swamp Lion written and directed by Torben Bech, courtesy of the filmmakers.