Blanco, by Melvin Durán, chooses to observe the world of its protagonists before focusing on the genetic condition that they suffer. The film portrays the daily life of six albinos of different ages in the region of Constanza, Dominican Republic who have more in common than just their visible condition. Uninformed about the effects of albinism, they assume normal lives despite their outward appearance, vision problems, and the inevitable changes the sun has produced on their fragile skin.
Blanco premiered at RDOC, DR’s first documentary film festival, where it received the award for Best Dominican Documentary and will be in competition for the “Mayahuel” prize at the Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara (known as FICG) which started last week.
Not only was Durán, alumnus of la UASD, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, able to shoot some stunning images of the Dominican Republic’s mountainous landscapes, he also created a personal and honest portrayal of his subjects by not ignoring the social conditions in which they live. In order to raise money for his film the director turned to Kickstarter and with the help of 141 backers was also able to provide medical services for the subjects of the documentary.
Ahead of his screening in Guadalajara we caught up with Duran to chat about about how he met his movie’s protagonists and dealing with the DR’s complicated relationship with the notion of skin color.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Constanza, and lived there until I was 19, then I moved to La Capital to start my studies in cinematography.
When and how did you become interested in filmmaking?
I’d say since I was very young. I always made stories about school dramas, sometimes my friends from the neighborhood and I would re-create “scenes” where I was a supposed cameraman; and one can’t forget the “chinoiserie” puppet shadows with toy soldiers in the candlelit darkness of so many electrical apagones in my country. For some time I dedicated myself to dance, I designed clothes and I would always get involved with everything that had to do with art and expression. I understood then that life had prepared me to jump into something that united all of my sensibilities and that something was film.
How did you choose the theme and tone of this film?
I was interested in feelings, sensations, achieving a portrait where my compueblanos would show themselves just as they are everyday, with their particular vision of the world. During the documentary the voice in off is absent, the interviews are scarce, the images express themselves. Blanco is intended to be a canvas that dignifies the humanity of its protagonists, filling its frames with shades of colores where each character represents the possible succession of the other. Any documentary work that presents a largely unknown topic with honesty -one that is also enveloped by prejudice and ignorance- is extremely important, as it paves the way for a better understanding of another person, their circumstances in life; and sure, how can one not say it, “make the unseen, seen,” which brings us back to our own reality exposing its problems.
What was the filmmaking process like?
Making a film is like birthing octuplets while broke. The first months of observation where fundamental, the fact of going from being a stranger, invading a private space, to being a personal friend, to then turn into a voyeur the moment I turned the camera on…It was a real catharsis, believe me. The montage was crucial, because although the film editor, Israel Cárdenas, and myself had a clear idea of the essence of the film, our creative interaction was fundamental to connect with Blanco over and over. Montage may result discovering, illuminating and simultaneously exhausting.
What inspires you to use the medium of film to educate others?
Honestly, assuming a position of ‘educating’ with Blanco sounds a little pretentious to me, because educating is a really big responsibility and it hasn’t been my objective with this film. I simply wanted to tell the story of a reality of my hometown, focus on something that makes us all equal and that is precisely the human condition, which is what the film is about.
How did you meet your subjects?
I met them all in a very curious circumstance where I was taking pictures for a portrait book called “The People of My Town.” I met them all by accident, Cherry one day while I was watching the local TV station, Ariel while I was walking under the rain, and so on with the others, it happened like an unnamed amount of things that strangely flow by themselves and come to you. [I know ] many more [people with this condition], although sadly many live forgotten and socially exiled; and the lack of budget limited me quite enough. Some I met after the shoot, they would stop by my house to say hi and introduce themselves, that was nice.
What has the reaction been of local audiences?
The Dominican Republic faces a daily identity crisis where skin color represents a national problem that even turns into the “normalized” values that establish human relations. Its nice that people can appreciate a certain sensibility in the documentary, I think that in our country we have that need to see ourselves portrayed just as we are, to find something we identify with, and Blanco includes a complete cultural context, an essence and an idiosyncrasy with a certain universal character.
What other local topics are you interested in exploring through film?
There are many topics I want to embark on, such as human contradictions, the interior world of humans that escape the patterns of reality, the decadence and beauty of the social context to which I belong and don’t deny. Right now I am working on two topics that have personally touched me, I like being on the other side of the river and seeing how the stream flows.