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‘When you can't travel the world, you are inspired by the little things on your street.’
Gems in this
When Ali Alvarez’s memory was wiped after a serious horse riding accident in London, she reconnected with her roots in Mexico and the US through documentary filmmaking. Through this global search for connection, Ali reignited her creative inspiration.
The result was her first feature film, Muerte Es Vida, which premiered at the Thessaloniki Film festival and was awarded at the International Wildlife Film Festival. Since, Ali has continued her passionate pursuit for powerful storytelling, both across film and advertising. But it's the intimate moments of personal connection — both at home in London, and further afield — that Ali values most about travel. We chat to Ali about finding creative communities, living in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and her favorite Travel Gems to explore in London.
On where you’re from
I was born in Mexico City. Both my parents are Mexican and when they had kids they decided to go spend some time in the US, so they moved us to LA. From age six to about 24, I was in LA.
On moving to London
At art school I took advertising classes. At that time, the best agency in the world that everyone was talking about was Mother, which was based in London. And I just thought, ‘I'm going to get a job there’. I'd never been to London before. I didn't even know you needed a visa to live there. I just packed a bag and came. Mother didn't hire me, but another agency did. That was 20 years ago. And then, as you do, I got wrapped up in the city.
On adjusting to a new city
It's not crowded in LA — you have so much personal space. You drive yourself everywhere, you don't walk anywhere, the weather's glorious. I remember when I was getting ready to move here, I started walking around in LA to practice. My friends would call me and ask, ‘Where are you? It’s so noisy. Why does it sound like that?’ And I would say, ‘I'm practicing walking for London’.
On living in Tokyo
I had a tiny blip of living in Tokyo for about four months. As a traveler, you get itchy feet, don't you? And I remember getting itchy feet from my job and telling them, I'm either going to move to Asia, or they can help me work in the Tokyo office. And so my company arranged for me to work in the Tokyo office for a couple months. Tokyo felt like this crazy dream that I was transported into. It was mental and so amazing to be there for four months. I cried all the way home to London just thinking: ‘I can't believe this weird, psychedelic dream I've been having for four months is over’.
'Muerte es Vida follows the monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico, and it reconnected me back to America and Mexico — to the real roots of where I was from.'
On rebuilding your memory through filmmaking
The way that I create is so intertwined with my personal experience of life. I was in a really bad horse-riding accident. The horse slipped, I fell and hit my head really hard, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I was in the hospital for a month, and I lost my memory for two weeks. I had to learn to write and walk again. But there was one memory that I could recall: on the morning of my accident, I was in my office recording myself to try and raise money to make this film. I remember the white chair I was in, the camera on the tripod in front of me, my dog getting in the frame, and a map of Mexico on the wall behind me. I don’t remember anything else from that day, but I did remember the process of trying to make this film. So I said, if that's the thing that I remember, I have to make this film. My life then took this right turn from advertising to filmmaking. I rehabilitated from the accident by making Muerte es Vida. It follows the monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico, and it reconnected me back to America and Mexico — to the real roots of where I was from. It was so important after the accident, as I was trying to find myself and find my place in the world again.
On finding quiet connections in big cities
My connection to nature must come from having grown up riding horses and connecting with animals. When I lost my Mom I didn't really want to get close to people, but I knew I could get close to horses. They were my best friends. When you live in a city it's hard to have a horse, but you can connect with the plants and animals — the dogs and the greenery. I love not having to talk. You can't talk to a horse because they don't use words. Even dogs use words, but horses don't.
On finding inspiration
In general, I'm super inspired by human behavior and human insight: whether that's connecting to personal stories from my films, or really trying to find a personal connection to whatever I'm doing in advertising. It's about people, and that's why I love cities: they’re packed with people. I remember when I first moved to London, everyone was so different. I’d ride the bus and hear 12 different languages. In a city you have to live together, alongside all of the differences. Don't you love that?
'Film is about people, and that's why I love cities: they’re packed with people. In a city you have to live together, alongside all of the differences.'
On finding your tribe in new cities
For me, it was through finding the creative community. I did a very typical American thing and moved to Notting Hill. It's beautiful there, very picturesque London. But I remember asking people, where are the warehouses? All my friends in LA lived in warehouses, and that's where all the parties were. It took me a while to find East London, where everyone's living in warehouses. If I was transplanting myself to a new city today, I would try to find where the creative community lived.
On where to look for inspiration in London
There's a little place that I used to go to all the time when I first lived here. It’s near Soho and it's called the RIBA Library [Royal Institute of British Architects]. It's so posh and a very beautiful building. They have this gorgeous library full of all these architecture books. I remember going in there to think, and to come up with ideas. I would absolutely recommend any person to go there.
On London’s green spaces
I can't navigate a city without knowing where the green spaces are. London is so green, I think that's why I've been here so long. There are so many parks. I live in an area called Lower Clapton and it connects to Hackney Marshes and then that connects onto Walthamstow Marshes.
'One thing I love about London is the local markets. On Sundays, right at the end of my road, is Chatsworth Road Markets. It has a coffee stand, street food, fashion, people creating, setting up stalls and doing their thing.'
On the perfect day in Clapton
One thing that I love about London is the local markets. On Sundays, right at the end of my road is a coffee stand, street food, fashion, people creating, setting up stalls and doing their thing. They’re called the Chatsworth Road Market. We’d walk up to Hackney Marshes and have a look around, because anyone would be amazed that a green space like that exists in London. Then we’d walk back down to the market, pick up breakfast or lunch, depending on the time of day. On Chatsworth Road there’s a place called Jim’s Café. It's this really cool old café or biker bar. They have amazing cocktails and burgers, so I definitely would recommend that. Then there’s an old cinema where you can catch movies, get a bite to eat, get a cocktail. The Castle Cinema is the hidden gem of this neighborhood.
On a London dinner
We can have dinner at Morito, which is in London Fields. It’s the east London outpost of the original Clerkenwell restaurant. If money wasn't an option we could totally splash out and go to The Wolseley. It’s bang in the center of London, it’s quite posh and expensive. I think it used to be a Wolseley Motors showroom. It’s a beautiful restaurant, you walk in and there's this amazing staircase and it's just really a proper English kind of beautiful. I've only eaten there twice, but it's such a treat.
On inspiration on your doorstep
The street that I'm on, when it was really locked down, every Sunday at 3.00 pm we would have a spontaneous dance party. We would all go out to our front doors; someone would bring a wireless speaker and we'd play music for 10 minutes. We’d all just dance in the street and then get back inside. We did that every Sunday for like eight Sundays in a row. That's the beauty of a city. My street is so important to me. They're my family, I know almost everyone. And to do something like COVID in a city, you really lean on them to be the ones that you have your chats with, or you're sharing boredom, or your frustrations or fears. And when you can't go traveling around the world to be inspired, you are inspired by the little things on your street.
'The Wolseley is a beautiful restaurant, you walk in and there's this amazing staircase — it's really proper English kind of beautiful. I've only eaten there twice, but it's such a treat.'
On a window or an aisle seat
I used to love the window. Wouldn’t fly anywhere but the window. But then as you become a jaded traveler, you say: I just need to be on the aisle, I need to get off here as soon as I can. Four years ago, my wife and I had a baby, a little boy. When we travel with him, he gets the window and watching him look out is amazing. That’s how it used to be for me. I mean, he can't get over the fact that we're in the clouds. You have to think that’s amazing. We all had a moment, just looking out that window and we couldn't believe what was happening. So now I want the window, if I can wrestle my son away from it.
On London in one word
I don’t want to sound generic, but for me, London is just a contrast. It’s really British and really proper, but then at the same time, they're crazy drinkers and when the sun shines in London people go mental — they're crazy. All properness goes right out the window when the sun comes out. Then there’s the old buildings, the new, the green spaces smack in the middle of the city. The contrast of people and cultures.