What Does a Film Festival Look Like Through a Cinematographer’s Eyes?

What is it like for a cinematographer to attend a film festival? We wondered this ourselves and then ran into Esteban Chinchilla at the Guanajuato International Film Festival. As a still photographer who just recently began the transition as a director of photography, naturally, he was snapping photos left and right at GIFF. He was there to present his most recent work Viaje, a gorgeously-shot black-and-white Costa Rican film. The gallery above is a look at the festival through his eyes (or lens). Below are his words.

Day 1

Grabbing coffee in the airport, grabbing coffee at a free coffee stand, 36 hours awake before taking my flight into the unknown, reading Samanta Schweblin for the first time, a zombie on the flight reading Samanta, 36 hours awake and I don’t know what I’m reading, I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know this is the worst cinnamon bun in the whole entire world. The girls on the other side of the aisle look at me, frightened, I’ve always believed that my face is frightening and my timidness poorly controlled. Touchdown.

Waiting for the Turkish lady at the airport. Meeting the Turkish lady, speaking for hours with the Turkish lady, being a VIP from Mexico City to San Miguel, thanks to the Turkish lady. Lost for 45 seconds in Querétaro, Brutalism in the architecture, A Clockwork Orange. The Turkish lady is the other half of my orange. I’m in the center. The center of yet another country. The center of nothing in particular. Susana. Víctor. Carolina. I will love you, I will love you more than I’m allowed. Goodbye to the Turk. Fray Juan de San Miguel #40, colonia Mejiquito, 36 degrees celsius in the shade. I’m greeted by an immense, genuine smile. Alice. Sam, Alice’s dog. For me there was no opening party, 36 sleepless hours have their consequences.

Day 2

Why are the bride and the groom dressed in black? They’re going to bury their best friend: a taxi driver who speaks just as we would expect a Mexican taxi driver to speak. At 2pm the screening of Viaje for 50 people. The heat of San Miguel. At 2pm, 36 degrees celsius in the shade. I think about making a documentary about shyness. I could be the main character. I remember that I would get more nervous than S when she would go dance. Now I feel the same, seeing the projector turned on. I sink into my warm chair. Correction: First screening of Viaje, 175 people. Nina is the German lady who lives in San Miguel. She is in charge of programming for the festival. She speaks like a German who’s lived for 10 years in Mexico. Is a chronicle supposed to go somewhere? Because right now I’m just here.

My timidness hits me like a shot of alcohol, an intense heat in the ears and then in the cheeks (universal language, universal text). “My name is Meril, but here in Mexico it’s easier for them to call me Muro.” Muro is hypnotized by my red shoes. When I leave Alice’s house, I wonder if my red shoes weren’t too flashy, someone who cries out desperately that he wants work, I want to make films, I want to have something to chat about. End of the screening. Why in black and white? It seems people who go to film festivals haven’t seen many films. A couple of beers. I’m better at socializing with much older women. There’s a 65-year-old woman somewhere deep within me. San Miguel after midnight. This is like editing a film. At the end I’ll know what it was all about.

Day 3

A transgender singer who comes home beaming with pride. Made in Bangkok, a beautiful documentary. I record a conversation in the taxi hoping that it would inspire me to write, but it doesn’t work. In a corner bar I meet the son of the U.S.’ best sniper. They invite me to move to the Cantina Tenampa, next to el Gato Negro, on calle Mezones, but I feel intimidated by the amount of free mezcal. The Costa Rican national team has lost to Mexico, unfairly, and the dignified Mexicans give me their apologies in the form of liters and liters of mezcal. I divide by 15 and multiply by 530 and suddenly I realize: here I am paying for half of each beer I drink. I haven’t made a lot of filmmaker friends. At least by the end of Sunday. On the contrary I’ve made friends with three bartenders, two waiters, three retired gringos, and two taxi drivers.

Anyway, I met Jesús in San Miguel. Barra del Tenampa. How can Mexico win like that? Then Vanessa appeared. Now in faded retrospect due to my exaggerated levels of cheerfulness, I’m ashamed to think how Vanessa must have seen me crossing the streets of San Miguel. I also discover that mezcal can wipe out shyness altogether. All my doors are open. El Charco del Ingenio or Jardín Botánico are obligatory stops. It’s incredible that I’m not hungover. I think that you could make a beautiful short film in this place, one of those shorts where you know from the start that everything will end in tragedy. S always tells me that one of my only true talents is making the end of a film better.

Day 4

In my notes the following phrase appears: remember the idea of how we arrive at an image, but I can’t remember having that idea. That’s how this no longer resembles a chronicle, it’s turned into a precipice, a cliff, a geological remnant. El Charco del Ingenio [The pool of ingenuity], what a name, I want to drink from that pool. (I will repeat this at the end). A giant wasp passes very close to me. It wakes me up. Suddenly I have this idea to go to the places where I took some picture or another, and go back to take another one without it working. Taxi: El gallo, Hijo de Guarache, that’s your brother-in-law. I go back to Tenampa: Marcos spits. Marcos spits. He sings. He’s been here for three days straight. He spits. He’s sitting at this corner of the bar. Once again my shyness, talking to myself as I walk. The muffled sound of a bell. The lively sound of another. Screening of Por las plumas.

I feel more and more comfortable alone. Well-ironed shirt, industry party. Sandro is the wisest decision I’ve made in the last few days. The Turkish lady says hi to me from the other side of beauty (of the bar, I mean – that was autocorrect), her elegant husband also greets me. I like to think in simultaneity, I imagine the landscapes of Turkey. I feel more and more comfortable with someone by my side. I think that this is somehow related to the fact that the trees’ leaves grow more and more confused – this isn’t a metaphor but something very concrete – thanks to the simple fact of beauty.

Day 5

Ducks. Sun. A lot of sun. Bye Alice. Bye Sam. Now Ernesto, those momentary friendships that last 45 seconds during bus rides. A stop in the middle of nowhere so that the actress can pee. Landscape shots between San Miguel and Guanajuato. Four infallible mezcals to make small talk. Mexico is defined by blood and jokes. I had idealized Guanajuato because of a hug with my father and brother on the stairway of the cathedral back in January of 2001, now it’s different. The crowd overwhelms me, rain comes. Barra 33 (it’s a café, not a bar). I invite a group of teenagers to see Viaje the next day, they said yes, but they never showed up. Changes in my perception of beauty. I cheerfully await my departure, and I hope to never come back. I’m moved by Frida’s death, or I’m moved by this hotel from the 60s where I see a documentary about Frida.

Day 6

Second-to-last day in Guanajuato. Last screening of Viaje. A pianist has also traveled several decades and he lightens up breakfast. He reminds me that I used to be a musician. I’ve always liked the feeling of simultaneity. Where might the Turkish lady be eating? Obligatory mummies, defining decadence, a child tells his mother, “His name was Camilito.” I feel a pressure on my chest and run out. Two subtexts: timidness, simultaneity. The feeling of spending time with people we care for. His name was Camilito. I think Mexico is also defined by a closeness among its people; the scope of these words doesn’t allow me to explain this any better. And it doesn’t matter. Not everything depends on me, the readers can make their own conclusions. The subtle intelligence that it takes to understand the place of the other, as well as the precarious substance of what is communicated through words. It’s just starting to drizzle in Guanajuato. I have to be quick. The need to add some final touch. Ways of burying our dead.

Day 7

Last day: embrace Neto in the airport.