Andreas Wildfang | Thursday May 25th, 2017
The films of Gustavo Letelier (La Estación Ausente, La Virtud de la Familia) and Peter McPhee (Refugio del silencio, El ropero del pueblo, El último texto) are part of a new series with which realeyz.de focuses on the new Chilean cinema. Exclusively for realeyz.de Gustavo Letelier conducted an interview with Peter McPhee in March 2017.
The audience can see in your films a special concern about social and historycal issues: how is that?
I have always been obsessed with history and social issues are inevitably bound to it. Whenever you observe a person, a place, a social group or read about a social phenomenon, you are witnessing a consequence of history. When I entered film school, I started to dig into specific historical moments in Chile, a country filled with endless social struggles that remain to this day. That allowed me to revisit those periods in a cinematographic way and to speak about ideas that were wandering in my own mind, putting in my personal and aesthetical concerns. These short films are to me an experimentation phase in my career, when I was able to work my personal style (a search that never ends) and despite the fact that there are many things that perhaps today I would do differently, I’m proud of the fact that they address important issues that affect my country’s past and present.
You probably have some famous directors who you most admire. Can you give us some names and why you admire them?
I admire film directors who make their films as they imagined it without compromising. When I was a film student I thought that was obvious but it’s pretty amazing how many directors have to answer to a producer or a financier. Some of them even work in a specific way to get into a specific film festival, in order to get awards. Films cannot follow a scientific method in order to make money or to win awards to make money. All the directors I admire have that in common. They just seem to don’t care about anything more than their instinct.
You are currently more involved in documentary than in narrative films. How did this happen?
After releasing my first feature documentary, The End of the Day, I got quickly involved in the next one. Since I have always worked both in narrative films and documentaries, I’m not really sure why I am currently only making the latter. Perhaps in the last couple of years I have stumbled upon subjects, stories and characters that require the kind of process a documentary usually has, like personal involvement, long research, long editing process, etc.
I believe that every project has its own needs and you just have to adjust to it. When an idea for a film finally works in your mind and you fall for it, it immediately starts to ask you things, to demand your time and thoughts. These two recent documentaries I have been working on, the already released The End of the Day and now Friendship, which is in editing process, have required me to reflect on them more time than I could have if I had a big production team around me waiting to call the shots. I have worked in narrative films and television series and sometimes a more meditative filming process can be more creative. I truly admire narrative film directors who can find that kind of peace on a set.
The End of the Day and Friendship always involved real scenarios and moments in time that weren’t going to happen again, and that were part of the very soul of their respective stories. Perhaps I could have made a fiction out of them but it just wasn’t going to be the same for me. There was a reality that was more powerful than the fiction I could have invented and there was a social issue behind that was more powerful if presented in a documentary.
Since there were events and spontaneity to capture, gathering the money fast, working with a small crew and quickly becoming close with the story and characters was fundamental. Most people will tell you that those things are very hard to get when working on narrative films. But again, it depends on what the project demands; I don’t close the door to doing fiction.
How do you think is the best way for a young emerging filmmaker to grow as an artist?
I think the best way is to really know how to see and listen. I mean really paying attention to the people around you. To watch people, how they face their daily lives and problems, and listening to their stories and experiences of life will help you a lot when constructing your film. And more importantly, being attentive or connected to people will also lead you to learn from others and be a good listener when someone gives you suggestions. You should listen to everybody and then make decisions in private. It’s very easy to be absorbed in the creative and productive process of making a film, and sometimes stepping back a little bit and thinking things over can be a big help. Many mistakes are made out of inexperience and anxiety, and some mistakes can be avoided by actively observing the world around you. This can be a very good idea to nourish your internal creative world.
Do you think cinema can effectively help changing the world for better? How?
I surely hope so. I mean, I don’t know if cinema will make a great the difference in the years to come, especially considering the wars, environmental issues and the political instability we are witnessing right now. All of those problems seem far bigger than cinema and seem really out of control. But perhaps films, and particularly social oriented and artistically made films, can be an expression of something that will guide people in the opposite direction. A great film or a film genuinely made with honesty and heart can make a difference in someone’s life, that for sure. I think the world would be a little better than it is right now if more people were connected to the arts, as well as their own creativity and imagination.
Do you want to tell us something about the film you are now producing?
It’s a documentary film I have discussed with very few people, but I can tell you that is about a group of people searching a mysterious and secret island in southern Chile named “Friendship”. It’s a very famous island in certain social circles around the world and it’s related to all kinds of myths. It’s a very personal film. I’m in the editing process right now and I think I will be able to talk more about it in the next months, when I’m closer to ending it. I just finished shooting it and we plan to release it next year.
How do you see the emergence of Chilean cinema internationally over the last decade or so?
Chilean cinema has a long track record in history, but for one reason or the other, these films got lost in the mist. Not only political censorship in dictatorships was the cause of this loss. Social irresponsibility about cultural heritage has had more long term impact. Most of Chilean movies from the silent era was lost because the owners of the prints sold them as raw material for many things. Many prints were destroyed in fires or earthquakes. And so on. Later on, the long dark period of Pinochet made Chilean cinema disappear, except in the exile. It took years to give life again to Chilean cinema after the return of democracy in the early nineties. Schools started teaching filmmaking, production companies could find some State support for the first time in decades. From 2000 on, Chilean cinema began to grown consistently and nowadays it is a permanent awarded guest in key film festivals. Several filmmakers from Chile are winners in Berlin, Sundance, Venice, etc. Chilean films have become available in theaters and DVD catalogs in key countries. Our films have grown in quality and international distribution. New filmmakers benefit a lot from that.
Still from EL FINAL DEL DIA, directed by Peter McPhee, international premiere at Visions du Réel Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, CH.