This Chilean Filmmaker Avoided the Sophomore Slump With a No-Budget Second Feature

For most of us regular folks, it might seem like directing a huge festival hit like De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Till Sunday) is an enviable position to be in. When the film picked up a Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival back in 2012, director Dominga Sotomayor was barely pushing 26 and the unpretentious family road movie happened to be the young Chilean’s first feature film. From there, the prizes kept rolling in from festivals like Buenos Aires’ BAFICI, Los Angeles and Valdivia.

But when the dust settled from the film’s festival run, one pressing question remained: how do you follow up such a successful first feature? It’s no accident that one-hit wonders and sophomore slumps are part of our cultural vocabulary, so Dominga Sotomayor decided to do something unconventional. After getting a call from an Argentine producer interested in collaborating with her, she gathered together a few actors, booked a couple of weeks lodging on an Argentine beach, and improvised a small and artistically daring film entitled Mar

Shot over eight days with a minimal budget and virtually no script, Mar follows a young couple that takes a broken down car to Argentina’s Villa Gesell beach, where they shack up for a short vacation. After spending several days bickering, the couple’s tryst is thrown for a loop by the unexpected arrival of an alcoholic suegra. Along the way, death rears its ugly head when a dramatic thunderstorm takes the lives of several tourists.

With Mar, Sotomayor showed a continued fascination for family conflicts and short holidays, but she also showed that she’s unafraid to dive into less comfortable and more experimental territory. And her gamble paid off: Mar had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and later picked up an award for Best Actress at Las Palmas Film Festival. On the occasion of Mar‘s screening at the Film Society at Lincoln Center earlier this year, Sotomayor fielded some questions from an eager Manhattan audience.

Here are some highlights from the conversation.

On Going Beyond Borders

For me cinema has nothing to do with nationalism. This was my first experience shooting abroad and I confirmed that I’m not looking for anything that has to do with territories or time. I’m just trying to portray relationships. For me this film is kind of a study of randomness, just observing these people on this holiday. Holiday is supposed to be a relaxed time or a place where you can forget your routine or your crises.

On Exploring Mother-Son Relationships

I’m very curious about mother-son relationships in general, and I like how the roles can be shifting as well. In this case it’s this guy who’s kind of an young adult jumping into adulthood and he doesn’t know if he wants to have kids or be a kid. So were were playing in this borders. So I think the film portrays this distance of this couple and then the mother gives another perspective and kind of explains the deep problems of this guy.

On Working With Children

I really like working with kids. In my first film the two main characters are kids. I also wanted to add the kid in order to have a contrast with the protagonist and this idea of being a father or son — it’s almost like a competition for him. So when I work with kids or also non-actors, I want them to be reacting and not acting. So they’re just playing and I will do some games in the scene, because I don’t think they can be really acting. I prefer to get something alive or genuine from them. And he was amazing. There was a scene, he was really obsessed with death, and he was talking about it a lot, so then I incorporated it.

On Being Open to Happenstance

“How small is all this when you can see how close we are to death?”

The sixth day of shooting this lightening happened and it was a big thing for us, so we were thinking about what to do… You’re making a tiny film, you don’t even know why you’re making it, and suddenly some lightening kills three people in the same beach you were shooting three days before. So we said, “okay, let’s keep shooting very respectfully, and lets try to add this to the film, because it gives it another dimension.” It gives it another perspective, like how small is all this when you’re confronted with the fragility of life and when you can see how close we are to death?

On Pleasant Surprises

We didn’t even know if [Mar] was going to be a film, so it’s a surprise that it’s a film and that it’s playing here [in New York].