Cannes: Ruben Gutierrez On How the Drug War Ravaged His Hometown & Inspired His Melancholic Short Film

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The Cannes Film Festival is up there with the fanciest, most lavish, celebrity-filled, red-carpet driven fests. Yet, it still manages to maintain its commitment to fostering the next generation of filmmaking talent. Amidst the black-tie galas and yacht parties, is the Short Film Corner. A curated selection of short movies from around the world, it allows newbie directors the chance to meet with producers and distributors, attend workshops, panels, and happy hours to get their feet wet in the vast ocean of the complicated film industry. The hope is that the right person will see their short and launch their career.

This year’s Cannes has a high-profile Mexican presence. The not bad-looking charolastra, Gael Garcia Bernal, is on the jury that chooses the fest’s top award, the Palm D’or, plus stars in an Amazon-set, Argentine-helmed western, El Ardor, also premiering at the fest. Flying below the radar is multimedia artist Ruben Gutierrez. Hailing from Monterrey, Mexico he’s hustling at the Cannes Short Film Corner to raise the profile of his Finland-set directing debut, Sickness of the Present.

Ahead of his trip to Cannes, we caught up with Gutierrez to chat about his dream of making a movie with Michael Fassbender, how the drug war influences his storytelling, and filming his short in Finland.

Where are you from?

I am from Monterrey, Mexico.

What city do you call home?

Monterrey is my home even if I do not spend so much time there.

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Many years ago but I pursued a career in visual arts producing mainly drawings, photography and videos. About two years ago I decided to focus on making films.

Did you formally study film?

I did not; I am a professional artist. I have a Master in Fine Arts and Design and I am currently working on a PhD in visual arts with a focus on filmmaking. (For both I studied at UNAM in Mexico City.) Since I have been working with images for more than 15 years, it was very organic to move from the still image to the moving image. Also, I believe that technical skills are always helpful but imagination and creativity mixed with the will and determination to build a collaborative project is more important. You can be a very skillful film technician and know all the slang and terms but if you do not know how to inspire other people with your idea then to me, it’s useless knowledge.

What’s a movie you are embarrassed to admit you really like?

Anchorman 1 and 2. But actually, I am not embarrassed to admit it.

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

There are a few but I have to say Michael Fassbender. Why? Because I think he is one of the most talented actors right now. I really like what he did in Shame by Steve McQueen. Plot? For sure it would be another exploration of the universe I am creating: a world falling apart, isolated, and melancholic individuals looking to find sense behind the chaos while trying to fight their destiny and survive.

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

The story is about a writer who lives alone in a permanent conversation with himself. At some point all the people in his town go crazy in a rampage of chaos and destruction. In order to survive he needs to run and hide in the forest where he continues with his endless monologue. But the thing is that we never see any violence in the film. It is rather, a very peaceful film. We only see some smoke on the horizon and then we follow this guy walking and thinking out loud. This idea grew in my head while living in Monterrey during the worst years of the so-called war on drugs which transformed Monterrey from a very safe city to one of the worst to live in. As the main character of my film, many people had to flee.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

I guess the biggest challenge was to complete All the pre-production and production in one month. I filmed it in Finland and it’s in Finnish. From scouting to putting together a crew, finding the actor, translating the script, everything was done in a short period of time. That was a challenge. Lucky for me, I had a great group of inspired people to collaborate with.

What do you hope to achieve with your film? What sort of response do you think it will have?

This is my first short film ever so I see it as a brief exploration of a universe that I want to create. Also, it’s one step closer to my goal which is to write and direct a feature film. I cannot imagine what kind of response it will have in the long run. So far, this short film got me to a great festival [Cannes] and to me that’s amazing.

What is next for you? Any new projects?

I am currently working on a script for a feature film. The idea is to begin production at the end of this year. The story happens on some sort of parallel universe where we follow a young couple who is looking for a threshold, a hidden spiritual place where they will learn the truth about existence. We see them walking as they are also trying to fight their destiny – a destiny still being written by an author who is also struggling with his own.