By Diego Molano
Thirty-four year old Chilean director Sebastián Silva has received numerous accolades throughout his skyrocketing career. Among his most acclaimed films is 2009’s La nana / The Maid which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Few days ago, he stuck around after a special Cinema Tropical screening of his new film, Crystal Fairy, to answer a Q&A from a buzzing audience.
Tell us about the process of the film. How did Crystal Fairy come about?
Crystal Fairy was something that really happened to me twelve years ago in Chile. Me and my best buddy wanted to take mescaline down in the desert. At the Whalers concert in Santiago we met a woman from San Francisco that had hairy armpits and she actually went by the name Crystal fairy. And I invited her to tag along but then we regretted it. But when we were there, in Copiapo, and she was there and she was getting attacked by the gypsies and we had to adopt the fairy, exactly like the movie. The only fiction thing was that there was no confrontation between me and her. We were actually really good friends. Everything was smooth and fun the entire trip. The movie is based on a true story, what I learned from that experience was compassion. I actually cried for her pain when she told that story. And I felt that the birth of compassion was so important in a young adult and it was such a new feeling. But I kept it there on my computer desktop forever. But it was something I wanted to do, not necessarily a movie, I didn’t know what it was.
Then two years ago we were planning on making Magic Magic and Michael Cera, whom I’d previously worked with on a web series for HBO, he read Magic Magic and he really loved one of the roles. He asked me if he could do it, and I adapted the character for him. So, I got the financing and he moved to Chile because the character had to speak really fluent Chilean, not just Spanish. So I told him to go stay with my family. And he was with my family for three months. Then I went down there and we supposedly got the money but then it got delayed again, and I’d kinda foreseen that so I spoke with Gabby Hoffman, who I’d also worked with on this other HBO short. I told her maybe Magic Magic wasn’t going to get done immediately, but maybe she’d be down to do this road trip movie, ten days, with Michael Cera and my brothers – no food, no make up. And she said yeah. So she came down. Michael Cera agreed, and I wrote just an outline, twelve pages. And we took off to the desert; we filmed it with a lot of improvised dialogue. But everything was pretty clear, because I’m pretty controlling and the directions were really specific for each actor. Right after we finished editing Crystal Fairy the money for Magic Magic was right there, so we shot it immediately.
You had worked with one of your siblings in The Maid. Is that harder or easier to work with three of them in this film?
I wanted to work with only Augustin, the same kid that was in The Maid. But he’s so bad at auditions. So I tried with Champa, the oldest in the film, and he was great. But I felt bad and had all my brothers in there. But it worked great. Production wise, it worked – it was great to have three kids that all looked alike and had such great chemistry. It’s great to work with family, since you can bully them around, no sympathy. I wanted them to be themselves, especially that scene around the fire—those are actually there fears. Except Michael (Cera) we rehearsed that he was going to say sharks, just to fuck with Crystal Fairy.
There’s this flash moment with Michael Cera that felt almost like a horror movie. What is that?
I love when people ask about that. You know, most people don’t notice or forget it. That’s a frame from The Exorcist. And there’s no real meaning behind it, except as an homage to YouTube videos. You know, like videos that have something really cute, and you’re staring at it and all of a sudden a really haunting image pops up.
What happened to the real Crystal Fairy?
I hope she is alive. I mean, it’s a possibility, people die. I’ve tried googling her but I don’t remember her real name—her real name wasn’t Isabelle. She was a dominatrix, so I’ve looked up “Crystal Fairy Domintatrix” and the weirdest things come up. We showed the film at the San Francisco Film Festival, and we gave her a shout out you know, "Crystal Fairy, wherever you are, fly to us we are looking for you." But yeah, I have no idea how to find her. I think she’ll come around when the movie comes out.
Why did you have such an abrupt ending?
Um, there were other alternative endings. There was one ending we tried where she’s walking away but instead of just going behind the rocks she flies away and Michael is so scared starts throwing rocks at her, and it didn’t work. I mean, the real story is, we had breakfast and she took off with another batch of Chilean guys. I mean, it wasn’t so abrupt, she said goodbye. We were eating eggs and free styling rap and she just took off to another adventure. But I mean, for me, the ending is, both characters had a pretty specific journey. They’re in a completely different place from where the story started. She shares her real name, and eats cookies, and Jamie cried for somebody else pain.
Why did you decide to put an American in the film? Was there an American with you on your trip?
Michael is actually playing me. Uh… I’m a nice guy. I was really driven to get the cactus but… I guess it’s that Michael is Canadian, and he speaks English. It made sense that he’d be American, an American drug fanatic, and he’d invite an American girl. I guess there’s some sort of political message to have American guys behave the way that they did in the foreign country. But politics are so intrinsic to any story that I didn’t even pay attention to that. I mean I was just treating them as people. I kinda forgot about language.
Did you read The Doors of Perception?
Yes I’ve read it. I’m pretty open about the fact that I’ve tried a lot of drugs. I think that we’re not painting mescaline as a party drug. There are so many drugs that aren’t party drugs. Its been characterized as a drug movie, but I think its more of a friendship movie, and it happens to have mescaline in it.
I love the use of sound, especially when he starts to feel the effects of the mescaline. Can you elaborate on that?
That is the only moment where I put the audience in one of the characters mind. Almost everything else is from outside. We see Crystal Fairy playing with the shells or the guys playing games or saying “genes are so weird”. The panic attack that Michael taps into, I thought it was good for the audience to feel the fear in that moment because he’d been so insensitive with Crystal Fairy. E had to be really careful because I didn’t want to go as far as having the audience feel the high if the characters. I guess we broke the rules in that moment. We wanted the audience to have a very objective view.
Crystal Fairy opens in theaters and on demand on Friday, July 12.