"…I understood that what was happening was that the movie was watching the audience, that the audience's reactions depended on their personal experience"
· Member of the San Sebastian Festival jury (where last year she was awarded the Golden Shell) together with , , , , , , and , and having had the chance to interact with celebrities such as Denzel Washington, Pedro Almodóvar, Antonio Banderas, Charlotte Gainsbourg, François Ozon… Mariana Rondón has arrived at Buenos Aires to receive the Argentores Prize, hold conferences and attend the "Bad Hair" (PeloMalo) premiere (October 30).
· “Bad Hair”, written and directed by her and produced by MaritéUgás, has already won 13 international awards since its premiere last year: San Sebastian, Cannes, Montreal, Turin, Argentina, Viña del Mar, Puerto Rico, Greek, Morocco; and it has been sold in 32 countries. Samantha Castillo y Samuel Lange star in the movie.
· Mariana Rondón is a director, producer, scriptwriter, and visual artist. She studied film-making in France and Cuba. “Bad Hair” is her third movie after “Street 22” (“Calle 22”, a short film), “At Midnight and aHalf” (“A la medianoche y media”, 2000), co-directed with MaritéUgás, and “Postcards fromLeningrad” (“Postales de Leningrado”, 2007). In total, she has received more than 60 international awards.
· As a visual artist, she created “You Came with the Breeze” (“Llegaste con la Brisa”), presented in different cities around the world and at the Beijing Olympic Games (2008). As a producer she founded, together with MaritéUgás, Sudaca Films, she produced “The Kid WhoLies” (“El Chico que Miente”, 2011), directed by Ugás, and she is now preparing “Contacted” (“Contactado”), by MaritéUgás, for 2015.
“I'M NOT A PERSON NOR AN ARTIST OF CERTAINTIES”
It's four thirty in the afternoon and Mariana Rondón has been giving interviews since morning for the most important media in Argentina—radio, television and print media. How strange - and how wonderful - that a Latin American movie has got so much attention from the press. There is something in this “Bad Hair”. At the time of my interview, Mariana is with a journalist. Erica Denmond, the incredibly polite press officer from the film distributor in Argentina, approaches to apologize for the delay. After me, she'll have to deal with more interviews and a private screening and discussion at 8:30 p.m.
|Marité Ugás & Mariana Rondón, San Sebastián 2013|
Mariana's simplicity, friendliness and cheerfulness are overwhelming. During the interview, which lasted one hour, we went from chortle to guffaw and vice versa. It was only for a few seconds that her face became a little gloomy. I think Mariana's laughter is a shield behind which you can see sorrow piercing her through and through, like the Caracas Guaire River, deep and loathsome. And like an alchemist she manages to make us see the scented, crystal-clear river in which our grandmothers used to bathe and on whose banks they used to have picnics.
But her sorrow is still there.
Because Mariana is a survivor.
And this is the story about her, her films, her art.
And it is also the story of Latin America in some way.
|Samuel Lange, Samantha Castillo & Mariana Rondón|
“Nothing is lost if one has the courage to proclaim that all is lost and we must begin anew.”
To begin with, Mariana, I want to tell you that I'm not going to ask you about the political situation of Venezuela, as much as it hurts me, because I don't want politics to overshadow art. And I'm not going to ask you either about why you always shoot with the same women nor why your production company is only integrated by women, because if you were a man, no one would ask you such stupid questions. That said, let's begin. You have just won the Argentores Prize in Argentina and last year you won the Golden Shell in San Sebastian, apart from several other major prizes. How do you feel about it?
I feel great, it's awesome. You know what? Recognition is somehow necessary (laughs), you feel gratitude, you want to get it. Now, I have also experienced situations in which the awards won by the movie are at odds with the audience, they do not necessarily respond to what happens with the movie and the audience. But in this case, it's also happening with the audience, so that feeling of being able to really find a point of contact and see how the audience is affected, touched, impressed by the movie is also wonderful, you know?
Erica told me that yesterday you had a very emotional screening, in which people could not stop crying.
Extremely emotional. The theater was packed, people were already leaving and the lights were turned on. Someone said I was there and it was very funny, because everyone just stood standing there. So a conversation among 600 people began, but everybody was standing, and some would talk to me without a microphone, others would ask for a microphone, and others spoke from very far away. But it was really great because they also asked about important issues in the movie.
What impacted them so much?
They were impacted by the pain in the movie. And they asked me why so much pain, and I told them that partly this was the pain I was feeling when I made the movie. I felt and feel - I'll tell you why now - oppressed when I see how human beings are so dumb and keep chasing the impossible.
Mariana, I haven't seen the movie, and it's not clear to me, when reading the synopsis, watching the trailer or listening to your winner speech at San Sebastian, what the movie is about: if it's against racism, against sexual discrimination or against nothing (Mariana laughs). What's the movie about?
Well, let me answer with what I said yesterday at the forum. I thought I was making a movie about Venezuela, but not with the idea of accusing or defending, but as a way of saying: this is what is happening to me, regardless of everybody else's truth. The thing is that there's a pain in here and I can't find hope for it. So what happened to me when screening the movie around the globe was that I realized that this problem is not unique to Venezuela. Apparently, that's the situation in the world, so now I'm a bit more distressed than when I began making the movie (laughs).
Oh, come one, dear, you're not God, and you don't have to bear the pain of the whole world on your back.
(Laughs) No, of course not. Mind you, I don't mean to play the victim. I'm having a good time, but I have also had to face the fact that the world is full of rifts. And that's why the movie is about many things, that's why it resonates. Because when I decided to make the movie, it was about the absolute, urging need to respect differences, to respect those who think in a different way, who believe different things, who are different.
Is the fact that the boy is Afro-Venezuelan circumstantial, or are you condemning racism in Venezuela?
No, you see, I don't mean to condemn.
Did you choose him by chance?
No, not by chance, because as you know “bad hair” is not a coincidence in Venezuela—most people have bad hair even if they're not black, which is also the most interesting combination in Venezuela. I started to make Bad Hair not to speak about black people only, but about the great mixture of racial groups that we have. And if we are so mixed, if we have such a complex mixture, why not respect mixtures? But at the same time, for example, the mother in the movie doesn't accept the fact that the boy wants to straighten his hair, and that also is a sign of disrespect—not allowing you to straighten your hair. Not all traditions need to be respected, however. I think we need to respect individual needs, I deeply believe in the construction of identity, which may be that of a country but also that of the individual. Each person's needs are important too. So, given that I don't judge my characters and leave room for each spectator to stand before the movie and watch it from their personal experience, the movie is actually about many things, and it relies a bit on the particular standpoint of the spectator at the time they watch it.
For a theater full of black people, in Washington, the movie was about racism. But if the theater is full of gays, it's about homophobia. If it's in Istanbul, it's about religion, politics and fundamentalism. And if it's in France, men and women get into an argument about whether women are like that, whether a mother can be like that or not. So what's so fascinating about the work we've done is how its scope has broadened and is now talking about differences and respect, but for the whole world.
And did you imagine this when you started to write the script?
That's what I set out to do, but felt completely incapable of achieving (laughs).
And when you finished the script, did you still feel incapable of doing it?
Yes, of course. I was really surprised when I saw what happened after screening the unfinished movie for the first time in France, at a Films in Progress festival, which is made to raise funds to finish movies. There were about 5 movies that had been chosen. They would screen a movie and say: “Well, you should improve montage, add the music…” I was very nervous because my cut was not as well-prepared as that of the other movies, it was far from being ready, I had no mockup, it was all very raw. I thought: This is the end, they'll tear me to shreds. After screening the movie, a brutal discussion began, but people were talking about their mom, their uncle, their cousin. I thought: What is going on here? This is very bad, this is serious. Because the fights in the room were also very violent. All the differences among people came out, and these were all people from the film industry and from several countries, who were used to watching movies. I didn't understand what was happening and went out of the room, but a person who works in a very important festival went after me and told me: “Hey, Mariana, are you OK? You know what just happened?” I said: No, well, it's all really complex, really unsettling.” And he said: “No, you didn't understand whathappened.” I asked: What happened? And he said: You've succeeded. People are talking about their personal issues, and when a movie makes the industry talk about their personal issues, then you've just made a very good movie, so come on, don't be sad and go have some wine because this is very good. And if by the end of the festival you're not already in another one, then you're in mine, OK?” (laughs).
That's right, and after he told me that I swear I still couldn't understand his words, because it's very disturbing to show a movie that is not ready and witness such chaos. I still couldn't understand what had happened but then I started to get an idea, because I immediately received 5 offers from very important sales agents, and the movie was not finished yet. So I went back home and continued working as before, given that at the festival no one had told me to change anything. At the Toronto Festival premiere I was more conscious of what was going on, because several distributors took it on the first day. And by now, the movie has been released in 32 countries—there were 50 copies in France, and it was a great success in Brazil, in Italy…
I found out about the success of the film through my friend Luis Sedgwick Baez, a critic that covers the Toronto Festival, because as you know in Latin America we find it hard to watch our movies and even have news about them.
Yes, bringing the movie to Latin America is harder than for the rest of the world, though we're making it. There's a film distributor called Aura Cine that decided to take the movie; however, releasing movies in Latin America is always a very difficult and complex journey. I'm talking about art films, of course.
Mariana, I have the impression that “Bad Hair” has actually been very good for you, like an international recognition. Because when I saw you at Televisión Española as a member of the jury in San Sebastian, I felt so happy and said: oh, this girl whose work I discovered when she made her first short films (Mariana laughs) is next to Nastassja Kinski, an icon of my generation!
And mine too, because I'm a huge fan of Paris, Texas.
So when I saw you there I said: Mariana has made it. Do you feel the same?
Yes, meeting the Paris, Texas star is closing a loop in your life. (We laugh out loud).
Do you feel you're there already?
No, not at all.
Really? Don't you feel it'll be easier to shoot from now on?
No, I don't think it'll be easier.
Didn't the San Sebastian award open any doors for you?
Yes, yes, of course, there's surely more respect, people who used to walk on by now stop to ask what projects you have (laughs), but I think that the type of cinema I make requires hard work and continues to be made in an intimate, private space, austerely. Otherwise you would have to believe there's a higher level for this. But no, what you have is, on one side, an industry that's very far from me, with huge industrial mechanisms, and on the other, there are directors like me who try to build a project little by little.
Is the industry not open or are you actually not willing to be open to it?
Oh no (laughs), I'm open to anything. But I believe the main point is that you need to have your own space, have the support of your country, and I'm not sure how open that is (laughs).
So you feel that if you don't have Venezuela's support you can't shoot.
I think it's very complex, yes, very complex.
Getting money from the rest of the world is very difficult.
Yes, very difficult, because the rest of the world needs it as well.
Even after winning San Sebastian and so many other awards?
Sure, there's more respect of course, and I imagine that any project I present now will have much more attention than I used to have, but it's not like 'You're there'. No.
No one is going to offer you 10 million dollars.
Oh no, no one. Where are they? Please tell me! (Laughs out loud).
And what happened in Venezuela when you released it?
It was very interesting. The movie ran for 5 months, and for this kind of movie, this is very difficult; in the end, it stayed in 3 small theaters and people kept going. We had a bit more than 240 thousand spectators, which is also a good number. Of course it ran at the same time as a commercial movie which had 2 million spectators, so my 240 thousand sound small, but these are two completely different worlds, I'm very conscious of that. Perhaps people are not so conscious of it but I am, and I think we had really good numbers. But above all I think that what happened with the movie was fantastic in two ways—first with the critics, who only write their reviews, and then with the audience. And what happened with “Bad Hair” is that from housewives to historians, philosophers, psychologists - especially psychologists - everybody took some time to write about it. There were tons of articles in Venezuela, there were also numerous international reviews, but what was so magical about it was that so many people in Venezuela took the task to write about and reflect on “Bad Hair”.
What about the audience?
I was coming to that… on the other hand, there seemed to be no theater where showings did not end up with arguments, conflicts, “I'm not like that!”, “Of course you are!” (laughs). The internal discussion of recognizing oneself, of identity, of who you are similar to and who you're not, how you behave…
Do you like it when this happens?
Of course I like it, I love it, and I'm very surprised at some of the audience's reactions. It happened to me, and to the actress too, that we found people who told us furiously: “I didn't like it, it's a bad movie.” And I would say: “Ok, you didn't like it, that's alright, it's bad, tell me why it's bad.” And the answers were: “It's that you end up really sad!”, “There's no hope, they don't tell you what they're going to do”, “I couldn't finish my popcorn” (we laugh). So when you start to analyze people who say “I didn't like it”, you find out that these people were actually deeply hurt, they didn't like the fact that they had suffered. Those comments changed my perspective. And some people told me: “I don't get why people say Bad Hair is violent, there's nothing violent in it; besides, nothing happens in this movie.” This shows there are people who live in contexts where they've assumed and decided that this violence is natural, so that's really shocking. Starting to see those signs, to discover those things, has been incredible.
Once I went to a forum where there were many psychologists, and people would stand up and say: “After watching it three times…”, wow, “After watching it four times…”, what's going on here? In the end I said: “Look, next round is on me, I'm begging you, I'll organize a screening for you, I'll give it to you as a gift, but don't watch it 4 or 5 times because that makes me nervous” (we laugh out loud). And something very beautiful happened that helped me understand the movie. A psychologist stood up and started talking, nothing unusual at first, but then she started taking her fury out and proved to be a homophobic, a racist, and she was expressing all that and the whole theater was absolutely appalled, and I was thinking: “What should I do?” Because something really personal had happened to her with the movie. She was taking out some significant personal issues, because she was not talking about the movie, she was talking about her problems. When she finished, the only thing I could tell her was: “Look, not only were you watching the movie but the movie was watching you.”
When I said that, the woman broke down, and I had to comfort her for hours, so I understood it was actually true, that what was happening was that the movie was watching the audience, that the audience's reactions depended on their personal experience.
Mariana, isn't that exhausting?
Yes, you can't imagine…but it made me reflect and understand the ethical side of it. That you have to be careful with your work, because you also need to support the audience, and you won't always be there to take care of them yourself.
But that's not your duty.
Of course not, but you do have to reflect on the ethical side of filmmaking, and when you make a movie, you need to be careful… You don't have to leave out what you want to say nor the way you need to say it, but… In “Bad Hair” there's a final sequence that is very important to me, which I didn't want to include, and the editor said: “If you cut it out, I quit.” And given that she was also the producer, I would have been in serious trouble. “If you don't put this scene in the film, I can't keep on shooting, because it's essential, because when this film is over, you have to give the audience the chance to breathe.” I didn't want to. In the end, we came to an agreement and the scene stayed, and now I thank her every day, because there are many spectators who can only manage to stand up because of that final scene.
Well, and have you considered writing an article to explain “Bad Hair” so that spectators don't need to come crying to you or tell you “I didn't like it!” and all that?
(Laughs) Actually, I've been thinking about this for two days, about how my trade is that of the abyss, of doubt, of uncertainty, working with pain and with the soul… And now I understand the dimension of each word. But I'm an artist who needs doubts, contradictions, to be able to survive with my own contradictions, and feel one thing today and something different tomorrow, but I'm not a person nor an artist of certainties. No, I don't have any. And suddenly you end up surrounded by universes and worlds where…
Where you wound up by chance.
That's right! And you say: but tomorrow I may tell you exactly the opposite from what I said today and it will be alright, it must be alright, because that's how I am as a human being and that's what my work is about.
Mariana, why did you decide to be a filmmaker? Did you choose cinema or did cinema choose you?
No, I chose it, as I also chose to abandon it. But it's not that I quit, it's just that I understand there are things about cinema that I don't like so much.
What I don't like about cinema - see how contradictory I am - is its excessive love for certainties, for techniques, for its unique truths. So what I do to escape from cinema is to become an electronic artist, and I make robots! (We both laugh). And when I talk to engineers, they are very dogmatic with bolts, and you need to be dogmatic with bolts, because if they're not straight, they don't fit into the nut. So that's when you say: look, being dogmatic is reasonable and logical in certain spaces, but not all of them!
Ok. But that doesn't tell me why you chose cinema.
I chose cinema because some members of my family were close to cinema but I also chose it because of the kind of life I've had, where every ten minutes I would think: “Well, you could make a movie with this.” It was the life I had with my parents, who… I'm not sure if you had the chance to see “Postcards from Leningrad”…
No, but I would really appreciate it if you could tell me about that movie.
‘…IT WAS A COMIC STRIP BECAUSE, GIVEN THAT YELLOW SUBMARINE WAS MY ONLY REFERENCE, HOW ELSE COULD I DO IT? WITH YELLOW SUBMARINE AND THE SONG I LIKED MOST, WHICH WAS BATMAN'S THEME, BECAUSE THE ONLY SONG I HEARD UNTIL I GREW UP […] WAS “HASTA SIEMPRECOMANDANTE”…’
Well, that movie starts like my life did. My mom was in the guerrillas in Lara, she went down to Barquisimeto to give birth, she arrived at the hospital, I was born and I happened to be the first baby to be born on Mother's Day in Barquisimeto. Given that nothing more important ever happened there, we got to the newspaper front page with a picture of me and my mom (laughs). Well, from that day we started running away. From then until I was about 6, when Caldera started the Pacification…
Did your mother go to the mountains?
No, she was with me in the city all the time… There was no home, we moved from one place to another, always living in the shadows, using fake names…
Were you conscious of what was going on?
Yes, fairly conscious. The other day I talked about something terrible, that when I had an argument with my dad, I used to threaten to say his real name at the laundromat. I was actually threatening to give him away! (We laugh). And that's what the movie is about—about how to construct a false identity.
And when did you become Mariana Rondón?
With the Pacification.
Have you treated such painful childhood experiences in therapy?
No, that's why when I made “Postcards from Leningrad” a very good friend of mine told me: “Mariana, it would have been cheaper to do some therapy, instead of spending a fortune on this movie”, though it wasn't that much actually.
And when did you start thinking about writing it?
When I was a child, because one of the few places where I could escape to, to have some privacy, was when they took me and my cousins to the Cinemateca to keep us occupied for a little while. But they always got it wrong and took us to see the same movie, so we watched Yellow Submarine like, I don't know… 200 times. That's why, during my childhood, I thought cinema was only one movie: Yellow Submarine. And the first time I went in and they were showing something different from Yellow Submarine, I said: This is not cinema! Let's go because this is not cinema! (We both laugh out loud). So, of course, when, some years after this, I watched Yellow Submarine I thought, and my cousins too, that we had to make a movie, and I started to realize that every story could become a movie. For a long time, I said: No, I'm not ready to make that movie, because I still had this pompous idea of the heroic guerrilla fundamentals (smiles). Until a friend told me: “Look, Mariana, that movie is never going to work, you'll never be able to make it and, of course, you'll never be ready if you don't get into it, if you're not a character in the movie.” That changed my perspective completely. And the movie is a complete mess, because it's not the story of a particular guerrilla but a story of memory rebuilding and a story of fear, of the way we learn to fear. (A shadow of sadness crossed Mariana's ever-cheerful face for a moment).
Was it painful to write the script?
No, but one day I remembered a scene about the start of Pacification, when they told us: “You're all going to be free”, and my mom said: “Not me, because I escaped”. Before I was born, my mom had been put in jail and had escaped. So my mom said: “There will be no Pacification for me; I'll have to serve my previous sentence and then I'll be out”. So we packed our things and left, she turned herself in, and we were taken into a small room for hours…
Your mom turned herself in?!
Well, yes, she turned herself in because it was the time of Pacification and they told her: “You're free of these charges, but you have to serve the previous sentence, you must stay in jail, have a trial…” It was like the standard procedure, you know? She did it, and never parted from me. I was about 5 or 6. They kept us in this room for hours and hours, and then they took us to the Los Teques jail. It was early morning, they made us wait at the gate until they opened, and we went in. This instant, while waiting at the gate… when I remembered this instant, which I had forgotten about, I said: Oh, what I'm talking about is fear. That scene is not in the movie, that one's mine, it's the one I'll keep for myself, but that's when I knew that one of the things I wanted to talk about was fear. Of course the movie is absolutely playful because my parents are absolutely playful and have taught me to play with everything (smiles), and that's one of my signatures, I play, I build toys, toys are my trade.
But, sorry, did your mom stay in prison?
Yes, she did, and I was with her for a while - sometimes I went out with my dad, other times I went back with her. Political prisoners could keep their children and could have them in their own cell.
So you were in prison as a child?!
Yes, exactly, that's why at 12 I gave up all political affiliations - with that background, I could easily retire already (laughs and makes me laugh). They asked me about this yesterday, and I said I was not interested in any political affiliation - I don't believe in that.
In spite of this tragic situation, I read that you created the film as a comic strip.
Yes, it was a comic strip because, given that Yellow Submarine was my only reference, how else could I do it? With Yellow Submarine and the song I liked most, which was Batman's theme, because the only song I heard until I grew up and was able to buy my own discs, was “Hasta siempreComandante” (“Until forever, Commander”) by Carlos Puebla. If I'm not indoctrinated, then no one could be. So I asked the musician to make a version of “Hasta siempreComandante” but using Batman's theme (we laugh). The guy stared at me like this (makes a bewildered face) and told me: “Mariana, could it be the Green Hornet? Because Batman is too ambitious for me.” And I said: Sure, the Green Hornet! (We both laugh out loud). And then we were joined by lots of Mexican rockers, and they made a wonderful version. So for me this was great because it allowed me to affectionately and nonchalantly put an end to my relationship with all this world, all this universe, with complete love and criticism.
Did your mom and dad see the movie?
Yes, they love it. My mom has seen it like 15 times, and she keeps on watching it. There's a scene - and this is amazing - where the little girl asks her mum: “Mom, what if they kill you, what would I do?” And my mom turns around and tells me: “Did you know that you used to ask me that question?” And I thought: This woman has not seen anything; who knows what happens to her when she sees the movie. So I told her: And how do you feel about the movie, mom? And she says: “The thing is that when they mention my mom” - that is, my grandmother - “I can't really see it anymore, I'm no longer aware of what's going on.” Imagine (laughs). So all my actors tell me I'm a bit of a psychologist. All of sudden, life puts you in situations in which you learn to discover and… my dad was the guerrilla chief of intelligence, and I believe he just passed me those mechanisms you need to protect yourself, by watching other people and knowing how they move and so on. For many years, I've been making efforts to block those mechanisms and avoid guarding against anyone, so I end up doing foolish things and talking nonsense to the press, because I don't want to be careful, I don't want to be careful anymore, I want to say whatever I want and make mistakes, and if I made a mistake, so be it, and if I didn't make a mistake and there's a problem with that, well, there's a problem, but that needn't be serious.
And what was the public's reaction to “Postcards from Leningrad”? Because I don't remember many films from Venezuela about the guerrilla.
No, there aren't, and at that time - 2007 - we didn't have the opportunities we have now, with the Cinema Law; however, many people saw it, about 40 thousand people, which was a lot in those days. This was a very strange movie for Venezuela at the time. After that, there were other movies, not with the same topic but sort of imitating the way the movie was made.
Was there no controversy like with “Bad Hair”?
No, with “Postcards from Leningrad” people were very respectful.
With your pain?
With the universe. I think there was an acknowledgement that we were talking about the grounds of memory, and I also believe I made the movie in a very respectful way, which was also true for “Bad Hair”, though they've not been so respectful. But the audience in general has been very generous.
Wouldn't you like to write a novel about “Postcards…”?
Oh no! Here I'll give you the same answer my mom gave to me when I told her I would make “Postcards from Leningrad”: “Oh no, Mariana, that's so boring, who would want to talk about that!” And I kept on going. When “Postcards from Leningrad” was released, that same year there were very similar movies made across the continent. My generation sort of needs to talk about this topic, about what happened. For me, it was really interesting to talk about it, to know if I would still want to make movies after that.
And did you?
Yes, I still wanted to make movies… (laughs out loud).
“…THE EXHIBITION IS AN ILLEGAL LAB WHERE EVERY 12 SECONDS AN ATTEMPT IS MADE TO CREATE A NEW MYTHOLOGICAL BEING, A NEW GENETIC COMBINATION”
You've make few movies in 20 years. Is it because you don't get the money or because you're interested in other things?
Both actually. After I made the first movie, there was no more funding for shooting in Venezuela, it was hard, I couldn't get anything. When I made “Postcards from Leningrad”, there was barely any money and they told me “Take it or leave it”. I took it, and though I didn't rip everybody off, I had to ask for help and shoot with such a low budget that it was almost a rip-off, but if I hadn't made it this way, I wouldn't have shot anymore, because it was a long time - almost 7 years - until I could shoot again. During this path, this awfully hard path before shooting “Postcards…”, I told myself: I can't limit myself to cinema, because for me, you need several worlds and several ways of doing things, and money can't be an issue. I said: Well, I'll start by stealing things, and so I would walk along the street stealing things, and I made an installation that was like a cop story: Y Yo que la quisetanto (“And me, who loved her so”). It was a crime scene, and you had to find the clues to discover how the crime had been committed. So what I did was to take cinema into a museum room, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. And every day they would call me because someone had damaged the installation, so I went there and… the room where the crime had been committed was really seedy, and every time I passed by, I would write some really obscene phrase on the wall. So the Museum was very nervous because the artwork was being damaged (laughs), and they made me go there every day, but when I arrived, what they had discovered was one of my obscene phrases (we both laugh out loud). Another thing that happened once was that there was a couple making love, and one day I arrived and thought: How strange they haven't discovered this image, what's going on? So I went to the back and discovered they had put tape covering the genitals (she can't stop laughing) of the characters.
Yes. What we don't know is if the person who did this was the watchman, the curator, the Museum director. We don't know who was responsible, it was a mysterious censorship.
And did anyone solve the crime?
No, but there were some teenage fans who would stay there the whole weekend.
Wow, you've mobilized young people.
Yes, it's funny because they say I make elitist cinema and popular installations with big box office takings, because it always happens to me that installations become a big sensation among people. I did that and discovered I had a whole world before me, and that if there was no money for cinema, I still had a lot to do.
And could you make a living from it?
Oh no, none of the things I do allow you to make a living. But I live. So it's OK (laughs). That installation had a lot of electrical components that I worked out sort of intuitively. So I started to work on a new project, and that project took 10 years. All movies need hard work, but with that project I was stepping on grounds I had never imagined I would explore. In order to fund it, I started to make projects and get support from different sources. I got a grant in Mexico and spent some time working in a Robotics department. After that, still in Mexico, they asked me for a synopsis, I gave them 10, they asked me for 20, I presented scripts with my partner MaritéUgás and they hired us as directors, and we shot a television series for the USA here in Argentina. It's called Post-Data and I'm not sure how that turned out, but I could live off my job, and they let me write the scripts, direct. I worked with amazing Mexican and Argentinian actors. It was at that moment that I said: I'll make “Postcards from Leningrad” with whatever is available, and I made the best I could with it, and I went back to Mexico and there I finished “Postcards…” and shot another movie for television. So I put my things in a box and said: I'll be right back, I have to release “Postcards from Leningrad”. But I didn't go back. I left my house fully furnished because we were shooting films in Venezuela with Sudaca. Marité shot “The Kid Who Lies” and she did very well abroad. We had the premiere in Berlin and it was right after that, while we were attending a series of festivals, that I started writing “Bad Hair” and shot it.
Are things a bit better now?
Right now we are preparing Marité's movie, which she's going to direct and I'm going to produce.
You're having a bit of continuity.
Yes, we're having a bit of continuity after 10 extremely harsh years trying to be able to shoot again, but not bad for making robots.
What are the robots like?
You can see them at the Sudaca Films web page - there you have all the videos - or you can search for “You came with the breeze” in Vimeo. Robots are defined by their degree of freedom. This (makes a movement) is a degree of freedom. And if a robot can do that automatically, it becomes a robot. But it also has 8 independent programs. First, I built a robot with bicycle and roller skate wheels, but then I looked for an engineer and in the end, engineers made it, though only after I had made the whole curve, learned how it was, learned to make circuits. So I went to a Simón Bolívar University lab with a suitcase and I told a professor I needed somebody's help to make that robot solid, and he got help from the least busy professor in Simón Bolívar University as well as two students who had to prepare a thesis but didn't know which topic to choose. So I got my robots and made the exhibition “You Came with the Breeze”, which I would present at least every 6 months in a different place. The last version was at the Beijing Olympic Games. The cultural activity at the Olympics was an electronic art exhibition, where everyone who did this kind of art attended, and I traveled with my engineers. We were there 15 days - I don't even know how to add, subtract or divide, but I was there, and afterwards I also ended up teaching at Simón Bolívar, a subject called “Ingenuity”. From that project onwards, they changed a bit the way they assessed professors, because the project was very hands-on and they needed theoretical data, but given that it came with a whole artistic concept… the thesis ended up being gigantic. When I presented it in Mexico, people thought I was an electronic artist, no one imagined I made cinema. I also presented it in France, Spain, many countries, in its different versions.
How strange, Mariana, to go from cinema to robots, which is like the exact opposite.
Yes, but I was only talking about the machine. Now, what happens within that machine, what that machine does is the reason why I began to make it. The thing is that I had so much fun building the machine that I almost forgot about what happened within it, and what happens inside is much more fun. The robot creates a soap bubble that is 2 meters in diameter, and inside it I project transgenic beings, genetic combinations between human beings and animals.
And where do you take them from?
I make them. And for me the exhibition is an illegal lab where every 12 seconds an attempt is made to create a new mythological being, a new genetic combination, which I believe is what happens in genetic labs these days. This is not something I made up, I heard it from a member of the European Community Bioethics Commission, who was telling a nephew that they had to dismantle home genetic labs where geneticists were trying to create a mythological being.
And do your robots manage to create the mythological being, do they always fail, or is that something you can't reveal?
There's an instance in which they are created and another one - the one I'm most interested in - which is the genetic accident, because I believe that in a couple of years we'll start seeing genetic accidents walking down the street.
Are you worried about this issue?
Oh no, I love it because I consider it a creative space. Why are geneticists trying to create a mythological being? Because writers have done it, painters have done it and sculptors too. In the past, they were made of stone, clay, paint, now they're created through genetics. (Erica plays the video, and Mariana continues to talk about the images). At that installation, I start playing with images, mixing them. Sometimes the fish has a human eye, and there's a really magical moment in which the bubble pops and that being starts to vanish.
What was the public's reaction?
This is totally hypnotic. When I want people to love me, I show this. People simply ask to give me a kiss, which gets unbearable after some time (laughs).
How did you manage to make the bubbles?
It took me 9 months to create a formula that could stretch like that, it's called surface tension.
Have you studied Engineering or anything similar?
No, I played it all by ear, "de guataca" as they say in Venezuela. And the total weight is 1100 lb.
Mariana, you're a scriptwriter, director, producer and visual artist. Which is your best means of expression?
It depends on the moment. I work in production because I need to, not because I like it, but if I didn't have the ability to produce, I wouldn't be able to make this (referring to the robotic installation).
Mariana, what do you wish would happen in your artistic life? What are your dreams?
There are so many things I would like to do that need scientific research, from going to space… Because in cinema the way you do things is clearer, but this, in contrast, is a continuous discovery.
But isn't it the same with cinema? Isn't each script something new? Isn't the public's reaction something new? You've just won San Sebastian and you're already bored, come on girl! How's that possible?
(Laughs) I don't know, I suppose I like challenges, starting new things. I did this because what I wanted to do was study Genetics. That is the creative space right now: Genetics, because that's where you can create the future. But I said no, I can't be bothered to start studying at this stage. And it took me 10 years to finish this project - if I had studied Genetics, I would be making little monsters by now.
If you believed in miracles and you could make one true, what do you wish would happen in your artistic life?
At a personal level, I would like to live without fear - in fact, I decided to talk about fear because I felt that fear was getting closer, that it was about to come. But at an artistic level, I'd like to… what I enjoy most in life is having adventures, so I would like the next thing I do to have a lot of adventure. Right now we're working in MaritéUgás's project, about which I cannot say much because it's her project and I'm only the producer, but which implies some degree of adventure. It's a project for which we did some documentary research, and it was very exciting, so I want to get into that new adventure.
What about Hollywood?
I would love to make special effects there, see how they make special effects in Hollywood. It's not that I refuse to direct, I don't, but that is not my main objective, unless I come up with a project whose ideal setting would be Hollywood - in which case, I would want to go there - but given that I don't have it… The thing is that I like being backstage, I would love to see the whole Cirque du Soleil machinery, or to participate in the creation of the Olympics opening show.
Who influenced you as a director?
Tarkovski. He'll always be my guide. I'm more of a movie fan than a filmmaker, and I'm a big fan of him. (Stops to think) Bergman… Italians, of course, whose movies I watched when I was a teenager - later on I set myself aside from them but now I'm starting to appreciate them again. And something very beautiful happened when I presented the movie in Turin, where critics and people from the audience would stop me and say: Your work is true Italian neorealism! OK, this could be my place, I thought. It was really nice, because I received the Scuola Holden Best Screenplay Award, and they told me “Would you like to come and work writing screenplays here?” and I said: Wow, that's nice, it sound good, I'll take some time to think about it (laughs).
Mariana, it's been a very interesting interview. Thank you so much.
Buenos Aires, October 22, 2014
Translation by ©Luciana Valente