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Jayro Bustamante • Director

Jayro Bustamante  • Director

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Cineuropa met up with Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante to talk about Ixcanul Volcano (read the review), which he is presenting in competition at the 65th edition of the Berlinale.

The starting point for the film
It all began when I met Maria, the real Maria; a woman from Kaqchikel who lives in a very isolated region called Sololá, where there is a great concentration of people of Mayan Kaqchikel ethnicity. My mother, who is a doctor, was carrying out medical campaigns to try to convince women to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio, which at the time was ravaging the country. She then met this woman and introduced her to me. She told me her story, I imagined it, and when I met her again, I asked for her permission to tell it to all of you. She said, “I really want you to share this story because it is the story of many women, not just mine. But I don’t want you to share my name, and I don’t want to see the film.” She added, “You did a good thing in telling me, but don’t come back to show me.” And there you have it - that is how it all began.

Shooting in a Mayan country 
I had this idea of making the film in two parts, one of them being purely social. I went to that exact region next to the Sololá plateau. After, we shot in a region not too far away; it was the volcanoes that made us decide to film there. So we filmed close to the active volcanoes, and we shot the social part around the dormant volcanoes. I set up expressive workshops and created spaces where I invited the Kaqchikel women to congregate and talk amongst themselves about whatever they wanted. But these workshops soon became an issue because it was practically unheard of for Mayan women to have places to express themselves. This was, very selfishly, quite useful to me for setting the scene in a realistic way and to set up an area where women could meet up and talk... I also had the very naive aspiration (because it was, in fact, an aspiration) that I would find actresses in these workshops. I hadn’t thought that perhaps people would not be interested in becoming actors. I simply suggested it, but they were either uninterested or could not do it. Those who were interested couldn’t leave their homes, their husbands (because they had to cook, etc) or their parents. So at that point, I decided to have a more “traditional” casting call. I went to the other region where the volcano was active, in Santa Maria de Jesus, and there, at that time, it was dormant; we called it the Water Volcano. It is very green, with a lot of vegetation. I set up a stand at the market and wrote “casting” on a sign. I thought people would show up, but no one did. The next day, I wrote “employment opportunity”, and there were lines of people queuing up. I filtered them through very quickly; I explained that the job was to work as an actor in a film, and we could see those who were interested in the job and those who were curious or felt passionate about the film. 

Contrast between two cultures
I've always been aware of it. In fact, I lived up in the high plateaus of Guatemala until I was 14. That is also the reason why I wanted the film to be in that language. I am and have been beating myself up because I can’t guarantee the film won’t be dubbed. I feel that it would lose a lot if we took away the Mayan language. And it is something that I have experienced.... I made a short film before, obviously a story I very much wanted to tell. But I wanted the experience of making the film in Guatemala, a country where there are no cameras, no films and no studios. The idea was to set off with the French team, arrive and just start filming, telling ourselves, “Afterwards, we will see if we can save anything.” It was about the story of two little girls. We had a rudimentary casting call, and we found a girl that fitted the character perfectly. In fact, she was only there to work on an onion plantation but lived in a small house very far away. We went to see her mother, and when we arrived, we could not explain anything to her because she did not understand Spanish. We had to go back with an interpreter and explain to her that we wanted to make a film. We were very careful in the way we introduced the project, but she could not understand what a film even was. We told her that it was similar to television, but for a much greater audience. She told us, “I have never watched TV in my life.” It was that kind of contrast. Even if I was born and raised there, even if I was part of the daily routine, we can overlook the fact that these things are happening close to home. 

Your upcoming film projects
I don’t think that I am building up a specific career line in terms of style, but I am sure that the next film that I am currently writing will be a Guatemalan film with a Guatemalan story. This time, I want to depict the urban part of Guatemala; that place that isn’t very pleasant or welcoming, but is in fact very hostile. Clearly, the Mayan factor, even on the urban side, cannot be separated from Guatemala, where 30% of the population is Mayan. There will always be a mix. 

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