5 New Faces of Independent Film That Filmmaker Magazine Missed

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Twitter: @infoCinelandia

The Latinbeat film series at Lincoln Center is winding down this weekend. One of the major events left is a panel discussion that brings together some of Latin America’s best and brightest young new cinematic voices. The filmmakers come from Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Costa Rica and have just completed their first or second film. It’s a chance to listen to their war stories about shooting on a shoestring budget and fighting their own fears to get a film made. In a preview of what’s to come at the New Voices in Latin American Cinema panel, we got a chance to catch up with the young filmmakers before they take the stage on Saturday.

You know that Filmmaker Magazine list “25 New Faces of Independent Film” that just came out yesterday and had only two Latinos on it? Well, here’s five names they may have overlooked.

Neto Villalobos
Director of Por Las Plumas (All About the Feathers)

Where are you from?

Costa Rica

What city do you call home?

My home is in me, it’s a feeling. But if I have to name a city, right now, it’s in San José.

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

In high school. One time they told us, “You have to start thinking what you want to be when you grow older.” So I thought, “I’m going to choose something that I love, films.”

Did you formally study film?

Yes, I went to Centre d’Estudis Cinematografics de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

How did the idea of this film come to you?

Once a friend invited me to a cock fight. I found out that I didn’t want to make a film about cockfights. Instead of that I wanted to make a movie about the people who go to that activity, and I wanted it to be a comedy.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

I could say looking for the money, but actually I think it was losing the fear of making my first feature and understanding that in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, it’s just a film.

If you could make a film with any actor who would it be? What would be the story?

Gena Rowlands, because it scares me a lot to work with someone that talented and I also think I could learn a lot from her. And I would like to make a deadpan comedy with all that crazy female energy she has.

Mariana Chenillo
Director of Paraiso (Paradise)

Where are you from? What city do you call home?

Mexico City

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I started film school right after high school. I had an intuition about it, but had never even been near a camera. At the time, I worked as an oral storyteller in book fairs and schools. I didn’t know it, but that is where I was really learning my craft: telling stories.

Where did you study film?

In Mexico City, at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica.

What was your inspiration for this story?

Paraíso was a film I was initially hired to write. It was based on a short story that was very dear to Pablo Cruz, the producer of the film, since it portrays life in the outskirts of Mexico City, the place where he grew up. I think that in the first and second drafts, I was quite lost. I was trying for the very first time to enter a world that was not mine. I had to learn how to make it my own, how to inject life into the characters, which was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

Writing the script took a very long time. As I struggled to find the story, I discovered that I had to change the protagonist from the husband to the wife, and that I had to inject the characters with issues, hopes, doubts, and problems that were really palpable, concrete, and close to me.

If you could make a film with any actor (living or dead) who would it be? What would the story be?

Javier Bardem. Because he can turn into anything. The story… I don’t know. Finding stories is always my biggest problem. That is why I end up portraying what is around me.

Diego Araujo
Director of Feriado (Holiday)

Where are you from?

Quito, Ecuador

What city do you call home?


When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I grew up drawing comics, but at 13 I saw the Batman film by Tim Burton (though at the time I didn’t know who Tim Burton was) and it made me want to write a script and be behind the camera.

Did you formally study film?

When I started college in Ecuador, I knew I wanted to make films but there was no place no study film in Ecuador, so I went for graphic design instead. In my junior year in college, I had the chance to come to the U.S. as an exchange student, so I applied for a prestigious design program but didn’t get accepted. So I was offered as a second option, Boston University. I went and found that they had a film school. I switched immediately to film and made my first shorts there, on a Bolex. Later, after graduating in Ecuador, I got a scholarship to study screenwriting in Norway and then went to film school at Florida State University.

What was your inspiration for this story?

The story of Feriado originated in a childhood memory. At a party, I witnessed a group of grown men attacking a teen caught stealing parts from the fancy cars parked outside. Being a kid, I felt powerless, unable to intervene, and the images stayed with me. In Feriado, Juan Pablo, an introverted 16-year-old of upper-middle class background, witnesses a similar episode of violent oppression while on holiday at a hacienda in the Andes. The reaction it triggers in him propels Juan Pablo into a journey of self-discovery. It gives him the courage to silently rebel and pursue a relationship with Juano, a black metal fan from the nearby pueblo.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

In Feriado, a big part of the relationship between these two guys develops through looks and glances, more than what’s being said. The protagonist himself is observant and, in a way, conventionally passive. Being a non-actor and very young (Manuel was 16 when we cast him), it was a challenge to build the character with him; finding the right action-verbs to describe his emotional progression was essential. Another part of it was sharing with him this book where I wrote stuff when I was a teen (some of the writings that I used in the film for Juampi are taken from that book), that helped him understand another side of his character.

If you could make a film with any actor (living or dead) who would it be?

Brando and Lauren Bacall as a couple having to reassess their relationship after getting stuck on a deserted island off the coast of Ecuador.

Jose Luis (Pepe) Valle
Director of Las busquedas (The Searches)

Where are you from?

El Salvador, Central America

What city do you call home?

Right now, I don’t think any city is home. I’ve been quite a traveler since I was a kid, and even more so at this point in my life. I don’t have a home base.

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Since I was 13 years old, when my dad signed me up for a film appreciation class.

Where did you learn to make movies?

I studied film at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (CUEC-UNAM) in Mexico City.

What was your inspiration for this story?

I wanted to share an emotional state and some aesthetic explorations within a realistic production framework. Both are true stories — they happened to people I was very close with at that time.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

I don’t remember any particularly big problems. I made it with a group of friends who are a solid work team and we understand each other really well. We thought things through really carefully and there were no big setbacks. Maybe finding audio recorders, which we had to switch every night because we were borrowing them from different friends.

If you could make a film with any actor who would it be? Why? What would be the story?

Possibly Klaus Kinski. I’m not sure what the story would be (it never occurred to me to think about that), but I’m sure it would be about the mystery of the human condition.

Matías Rojas Valencia
Director of Raiz (Root)

Where are you from?

I was born in Santiago, but I grew up in Puerto Varas, a city in the south of Chile.

What city do you call home?

Puerto Varas

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I’m not sure what the exact moment was, it wasn’t an immediate revelation for me. Everything started when my family moved to southern Chile. That was where I started observing things that I hadn’t noticed before. It really struck me how my family, and especially my mother, were affected by the geographical context and the cold, rainy weather there. At the time I wasn’t as aware of it as I am now, but those feelings and memories awoke my interest in images and sound.

I didn’t have the chance to study film after I finished high school; I had to wait five years before I was able to get in to film school. At the time, I intended to learn [filmmaking] on my own but I was also interested in drawing, painting, and literature. More than anything else I just watched lots of movies, and I think that around that time I started becoming more aware of how film contained the elements that I was curious about as a child.

Where did you go to film school?

At the Escuela de cine de la Universidad Mayor, in Santiago de Chile.

How did the idea of this film come to you? What was your inspiration for this story?

Raíz (Root) was influenced by the time I spent living in the south of Chile. I observed the geography, history, and climate of the area for a long time and I began considering how those factors left an imprint on the demeanor of the people who lived there.

The connection between those elements is a big theme in the film, and it was my starting point for putting together the script. I was interested in creating a story based on the experiences of people I knew, and I intended to delve into the intimate world of familial ruptures.

Also, from the beginning I challenged myself to make the film using real locations, without a lot of external intervention. In a sense, the surroundings and landscape are a third protagonist.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

Without a doubt the biggest challenge was the filming itself. Raíz is an independent film made on a shoestring budget, so we didn’t have a lot of options. We had to shoot it in less than two weeks — roughly 9 or 10 days. The time constraint was complicated enough, but even more so because of the locations, which were all real and largely located in difficult to access areas.

We didn’t have a lot of technical equipment at our disposal, so our Cinematographer Gabriela Larraín decided we should use natural light for most of the scenes. The film was shot during the winter, which complicated things even more because it was so cold and it was raining constantly. Nonetheless, it all turned out well and we managed to capture that “natural” image we were looking for.

Another big challenge was working with a team that included professional actors and “non-actors” or “natural actors.” It was very important for me that some of the characters be played by the people I had based them on — for example, the Sra. Chela character. To do that, I had to make a lot of pre-production trips, and try and get them comfortable with the presence of the equipment and the camera. That’s why we made this film with such a small team. We were eight people in total, and that intimate size helped us make sure that the non-actors didn’t feel uncomfortable or like we were too invasive.