The official Peruvian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Juan Daniel F. Molero’s Videofilia (And Other Viral Syndromes), is not for all tastes. The film is a mashup of Meso-American apocalypse prophecies, online sex, and glitch-art, concerning a “virus” that takes over the story and the screen at the same time. Molero’s vision is unabashedly gross and, it must be said, millennial. It concerns an amateur pornographer named Junior (played by an actor named Theron), who strikes up a relationship with teenaged Luz (Muki Sabogal) that edges on a Peruvian remake of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.
Molero is a cinephile par excellence with a background in film criticism – he describes himself as Peru’s first videoblogger-critic – who spent a year as one of UnionDocs’ resident filmmakers in Brooklyn before returning to Lima to make Videofilia, a process that took five years in total (and a year and a half to shoot).
The day before the movie began a week-long run at Williamsburg’s Spectacle Theater – where, full disclosure, I am a volunteer – I sat down with Molero and Sabogal to discuss Videofilia, both in the context of its native country and the rigid confines of “world cinema” at large. Among other honors, Videofilia won a Hubert Bals Post-Production grant, and the Tiger Award for Best Film of International Feature Competition at Rotterdam, 2015. The film is distributed in the United States by Factory 25.
Juan Daniel F. Molero on the relationship between his autobiographical debut Reminiscencias (2010) and Videofilia
Reminiscencias took me places, but not so many. After I went to the Berlinale, I returned to Lima and wrote the script that would become Videofilia – at the time it was just called Viral Syndromes. I started applying for grants, residencies, etc. – then I realized, maybe it wasn’t gonna happen. (Laughs) A friend told me I should apply to UnionDocs, in Brooklyn. MoMA had selected Reminiscencias for their Modern Mondays and they paid for my ticket, so I was like “I’ll just use this to move to New York and do something else.” This was in August of 2011.
Another filmmaker, Adam Khalil, got me into video art – and so I got him into film. Beforehand, I hated video art – I wasn’t used to “art” as a concept, I was into “movies.” Especially the ones Americans call “cult” movies. I had the video art aesthetic inside of me – glitchy, ugly, etc – but I didn’t realize: “People like this?” It made me feel like what I do could be valuable to many people, eventually. I rewrote Videofilia here, and went back to Lima – but I was in search of an actress there.
The original idea involved a prophet character, inspired by a real-life person I met online – she predicted the earthquake in Japan, and got onto Reddit or something – I started to follow her and realized, she was getting crazier and crazier over time after that prediction.
Sabogal on how she described Videofilia to people during production
Too many Latin American movies are not actually made for our youth culture, our population.
I guess I said it was a very strange movie about young people going inside the internet, taking drugs, doing amateur pornography – and there is a virus, too, which goes inside the movie and the screen and finally, the spectator, the viewer’s head. A virus like a god. Juan Daniel didn’t talk to the actors too much in the moment, but he would say things like “Be natural,” or “Enjoy the situation.” In the moment, we were frustrated, like, “Say more!” But if you look at the final edit of the movie you see it turned out well.
Molero on the original Videofilia idea, and experiential vs. textual:
The original script involved rotoscoping, not datamoshing – I was thinking of it more like a painting. The original story involved a guy falling inside a “dream machine”, and I was really violent with that script – putting it inside Videofilia.
I want to do something different with every project, and I think that comes from being a cinephile. In some way, Videofilia is an homage to piracy – Peru is a pirate country. That was my film school, actually! In Quechua slang, we use the word bamba to describe, like, a bad copy. If you see a Bugs Bunny spray-painted somewhere, but it’s not quite right, you know? You can tell it’s its own thing – that’s a bamba. It’s a noun and an adjective. Unofficial, but in a sometimes dangerous way. You don’t say “Fake Brad Pitt”, you say “Brad Pitt Bamba”. Maybe “lookalike” is the word in English. But, lowbrow. You don’t say “DVD pirata”, you say “DVD bamba”.
With films I have a good memory, but not with life. I think I used all my RAM. (Laughs). So the story was in my head, but I didn’t want to confuse people with my changes at the last minute – “Why do I have to write a script and change it?” So we had an 11-page treatment, and we just worked out each scene then and there with the actors.
Sabogal on Videofilia vs. “normal” Peruvian movies
Videofilia is an homage to piracy – Peru is a pirate country.
I think the biggest difference is the way of speaking. Normally those movies have the scripts written in very strong, sharp style – so the actor has to say all the lines in a very stagey way, it doesn’t always feel real. Videofilia, we had improvisation, and if somebody was speaking at the same time as another person, it wasn’t a problem, even if you couldn’t understand. Juan Daniel says, “In real life you are losing things at the same time too.” Not all is clear – it’s realistic that way.
Molero on “World Cinema”
Some days I wake up more with a commercial approach, other days I want to make it more experimental – so the first idea was to make it, like, a very commercial film. I even sent the press kit to festivals, saying: “This + this + this = success.” It’s a film that’s not afraid of being stupid. Kids and Gummo were good, they were important in the moment, because they showed parts of the United States can also be kind of like the Third World, which we are now understanding with Trump. (Laughs).
In Peru, we have a poverty cinema by the Grupo de Chaski – a collective who wanted to create a new Latin American cinema. They were very influenced by Italian Neorealism. I’ve seen so many “world cinema” films about poverty, about skaters – but maybe that’s because I’ve been going to film festivals since I was 19. Skaters, sex, poverty… and people really make a big deal out of it. Because it’s cool, it’s easy to make cinematographic, I think.
“World Cinema” is really shitty – it’s like “world music”. Every representation of every country has to answer to some kind of prejudice, some kind of slot each country has to fill. In Latin America, it’s like there is a colonizing virus – of course the market is pushing us to do some kind of film that shows the country in an exotic way, for Western audiences to consume happily. In theory, anyway. So I am interested in creating a new demand instead of answering to another’s. It’s not that they’re disinterested in fucked up shit on the internet, glitches from Peru, Mayan prophecies, whatever – they just don’t know about it yet. I’m not against the market, I’m parallel to it. If it’s just me rebelling against something, it becomes like a cheesy father-son relationship. The cinema marginal, in Brazil, were cannibalizing other cultures – and that was back in the 60s. This is why for me, the Internet fits so beautifully with the Andean idea of cosmovision – where things have many different meanings, and there’s a synchronicity of cultures – you can grab a culture, get whatever you want, and use it for your own benefit.
Many Latin American movies function to serve the French market, of 60-something year old white ladies. This is why we made Videofilia – because too many Latin American movies are not actually made for our youth culture, our population. 30 year old filmmakers should not need to make movies for 60 year old people.
Sabogal on her career before (and after) Videofilia
30 year old filmmakers should not need to make movies for 60 year old people.
Before I was in some short film and music videos, video art, that kind of thing. After Videofilia I’ve been cast in two feature movies: one is about zombies in Lima, so it’s like an underground, trash-style movie… Sometimes you need to scream but you laugh. The director is Rafael Arevalo, it’s his eighth movie: El Año del Apocalipsis. It’s divided in twelve months, and I acted in November and December – all the other characters are in only one month, but I got two!
I acted in another feature too, inside a bosque piedra, we shot a film called La era Olvidada (“The Forgotten Era”). It’s like an epic, Game of Thrones style movie – Peru’s first big historical epic. But it’s not too expensive because they shot 60% of it in that place, in Peru, and they will shoot 40% of it in Poland. There are not too many characters; the most money is being spent on the camera, because the lighting is natural. And a very important actor in Peru, Pietro Sibille, is in the cast – his movie Dias de Santiago was at Rotterdam many years ago.
Molero on Videofilia Becoming the Peruvian Submission for Best Foreign Language Film
Adam Khalil was premiering his film INAATE/SE at MoMA, and the night before was the Academy Awards. I was like, “Maybe we should do a ritual!” Adam did his own Ojibway ritual, and I did a more pagan, or maybe a more mundane, ritual from the Andes, where you burn symbols so they dematerialize, and re-materialize in reality. You can use whatever: toys, representations, something you want to change. So I brought a Native American action figure from the 1970s, like a Chief. He was missing his arms. I burned it, but it wasn’t for me, it was for something else, to be good with whatever energies were out there. And now, here we are, a year later.