Sundance 2014: Meet Natalia Smirnoff, Argentine Director of 'Lock Charmer' and Lover of 'The Avengers'

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Twitter: @infoCinelandia

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. So is my annual bout of S.A.D. or what I like to call Sundance Affective Disorder — I get really depressed that I’m not at Sundance. Instead of wallowing in pain, we here at Remezcla decided to celebrate the Latino films playing the fest.

Of the more than 100 movies premiering at Sundance this year, five are Latino. In the U.S. Documentary competition are Cesar’s Last Fast on the labor leader and United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez, and Marmato, a look at gold mining in Colombia. Natalia Smirnoff’s second film Lock Charmer (El cerrajero) and the Chilean thriller To Kill a Man round out the World Cinema Dramatic section. In Frontier Films, a showcase of movies that experiment with traditional storytelling, is Living Stars a fun peek into different people’s homes in Buenos Aires as they dance to well-known pop songs.

The next best thing to being in Park City, Utah this week is a chance to chat with the filmmakers whose projects were selected for the prestigious festival. We got to sit down with Natalia Smirnoff, director of the Argentinian film Lock Charmer fresh off its world premiere at Sundance. She shares a story of when she locked herself in her home and couldn’t get out. She had to call a locksmith to open the door. Trapped inside her house and with nothing else to do, she started writing Lock Charmer that very day.

Where are you from?


What city do you call home?

Buenos Aires.

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

At 21 first, but really at 32.

How did you find out your film got accepted to Sundance?

I received an email from my sales agent with a beautiful letter. It was amazing. I was at home.

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

The Avengers

You studied engineering, worked as a journalist and in theater — how do these different experiences inform your storytelling?

I think there’s always some things related to systems engineering in my scripts, some mechanism or mathematics in some way. For the other side, doing interviews could be similar to directing actors, it has the same procedure in common. And well, I learned a lot being an Assistant Director and a Casting Director. I learned how to play, how to break the rules on the set, how to shoot, and how to make it a better place for better performance.

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

One time I locked myself in at home, in a strange way. I woke up and when I tried to open the door, it was completely locked. With a second lock I hadn’t locked the night before. After a  few friends tried to help me open the door with other keys, etc., I had to call a locksmith, on a Sunday. It was expensive but he could open it. During the three hours I heard a lot of voices from outside, including my son (5 years old) and my mother (he had slept at her house that night), a friend’s neighbor and even when the locksmith arrived and started to say that he would open, I couldn’t do much more than sit, wait, try to understand who locked the 2nd lock and start to write Lock Charmer.

This is your second film. Was it any easier or harder to make this movie? Did you feel any pressure to live up to the success of your first film, Rompecabezas (Puzzle)?

It’s a mix. It was easier and more complicated at the same time. Easier because I’d already made one but in the middle the rules of sales and distribution on cinema change a lot. All markets got more difficult and a lot of funds disappeared or reduced their help. That part was difficult.

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

I hope that many people will see the film and feel empathy with it. If they feel or could understand and put on the skin of the main characters, I’m really happy! I always think that it’s incredible how cinema allows us to know and to be close to people that are really far from us.