Neighboring Scenes 2019: Directors’ Interventions at the Film Society of the Lincoln Center

Filmmakers Eduardo ‘Teddy’ Williams, Camila José Donoso, Cristóbal León, and Paolo Buontempo. Photo by Juan Pedro Agurcia

Filmmakers Eduardo ‘Teddy’ Williams, Camila José Donoso, Cristóbal León, and Paolo Buontempo. Photo by Juan Pedro Agurcia

By Guillermo Severiche  

In its fourth year, Neighboring Scenes, the program organized by Cinema Tropical and the Film Society at Lincoln Center, showcased a selection of new Latin American cinema. The works selected showed a vast and diverse range of aesthetics, styles, themes, and social concerns that are shaping current Latin American production in the entire region. With thirteen films, eight short films, and ten filmmakers in person, Neighboring Scenes demonstrated once again the value of current Latin American cinema by selecting both emerging artists and established auteurs from the international festival scenes.

In the opening night, Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Veiroj discussed his most recent production, Belmonte (2018). The film follows the daily life of Javier, a visual artist in a moment of crisis, by exploring his artistic concerns, family conflicts, and his relationship with his young daughter. Being a father himself, Veiroj pointed out that for this film he intended to show “how domestic and family life combine with creative life.” Not only Veiroj’s autobiographical inspirations were important to create the character, but also the role of Gonzalo Delgado - the lead actor who, in real life, is a painter. “He’s one of my best friends, from Uruguay, and a real artist who has collaborated with me in previous films… I felt it was important to have someone who knew me and knew what I wanted to transmit, to depict, in this very emotional project… I wanted to express the character’s loneliness and dark side, but also his luminous part, all combined in one person. Gonzalo was perfect for that.”

Another filmmaker who visited the Film Society of Lincoln Center was Julio Hernández Cordón, representing his film Cómprame un revolver / Buy Me a Gun (2018). In this apocalyptic story, women are endangered in a country completely dominated by narcos and drug trafficking. By combining Mad Max and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hernández Cordón created a futuristic film that proposes a critical and intimate view on current social issues in Mexico.

Regarding the inspirations for this film, the filmmaker spoke of his fascinations for other artists. “In order to create this world, I combined things I like: Mad Max, Huckleberry Finn, baseball, the film The Night of the Hunter. So it’s the first time I wrote a screenplay based on the work of other directors.” He also referred to what he considers the most important topic of the film: “I feel this movie is mostly about fatherhood… When I told my producers I would never make a child do anything on the set that I wouldn’t ask my own daughters to do themselves, I thought it would be great to work with them, with my daughters. For me, movies are memories; and we directors create moments. I tried to create a special moment with my daughters by making this film. They’ll never forget this experience.”

Family ties and relatives involved in production also relates to Camila José Donoso’s recent film Nona. Si me mojan yo los quemo / Nona If They Soak Me I’ll Burn Them (Chile, 2018). By mixing 16 mm, digital, and video, Nona immerses the audience into a circular experience that explores the life and memories of sixty-six year old Josefina Ramirez, the director’s grandmother. “The films I made are connected by the love and affection of the characters I’m portraying. The only difference with previous films is that the story and the research I’ve made for Nona have been with me throughout my life.”

Director Federico Veiroj with programmer Carlos A. Gutiérrez. Photo by Juan Pedro Agurcia

Director Federico Veiroj with programmer Carlos A. Gutiérrez. Photo by Juan Pedro Agurcia

In terms of her aesthetic approach, Camila José Donoso explained her view on cinematic form and experimental ideas regarding narration. “We had a script, but it was changing throughout shooting. I did what I wanted to do. For example, one day I was with my photography director and we were using Super 8 materials. Previously I used my camera to film Nona at home, playing dominos or just being her. Then we also had the chance to use 5k cameras, make-up artists, and everything that comes with a production group. So the different textures we developed were reflecting the different sensations and feelings that cinema can transmit.”

Another Chilean filmmaker who introduced his film was Cristóbal León, one of the directors of La casa lobo / The Wolf House (2018). Alongside Joaquín Cociña, León created an animated film that combines stop motion, photography, and painting to develop a surrealist docu-horror-fairy tale inspired by a real sect of German religious fanatics in Chile. León explained the details behind the production: “Everything was real scale. Real furniture, real spaces. Everything was in real size. We shot the film in different museums and galleries… We both come from art practice. We make sculptures, drawings, and paintings. When we started with the production, we received a lot of invitations to make exhibitions in Chile. We had to decide either to stay in the studio and reject invitations or to find a way to combine all of these opportunities and projects. We asked to be artists-in-residence in the galleries and they started to say yes.”

In terms of the script, León mentioned that “we always had a script, but it kept changing. We knew it would be like this because we like to change things during the process. We started to shoot from the middle in order to change things later. This would also make the evolution of the technique we deployed less obvious. We starting going forward, then backward, but the last thing we did was the last scene. Not really a chronological shooting.”

These filmmakers’ works are just a small example of the diversity that defines Latin American cinema now. Their different approaches for cinematic crafting, political concerns, and cultural backgrounds made Neighboring Scenes an important event for depicting the significance of Latin American cinema. The international reception of these films reinforces once again that Latin American film artists play a significant role in the global conversation of what cinema is, and can be.