Lucrecia Martel • Director
"I'm not crazy about filming, and nor is it the most interesting thing in the world to me"
- Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel talked to us about her new film, Zama, and about how it fits in with the rest of her body of work and her idea of cinema
UPDATE (3 September 2017): The film has just screened at the 74th Venice Film Festival.
Following the acclaimed La ciénaga, The Holy Child and The Headless Woman [+see also:
film profile], the superb Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel is preparing her comeback with Zama [+see also:
interview: Lucrecia Martel
film profile], an adaptation of the Antonio Di Benedetto novel written in 1956, about Don Diego de Zama, a Spanish official stationed in Asunción, Paraguay, in the 17th century, as he awaits a transfer to Buenos Aires. Now that the film is ready, Martel hopes to premiere it at one of this year’s international festivals. The director answered some of our questions at Qumra, an event organised by the Doha Film Institute.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to make an adaptation of Zama?
Lucrecia Martel: One of the common denominators in countries with rather underdeveloped economies, like Argentina, is that it’s really difficult to get ambitious projects off the ground, such as, for instance, period films, which require a reconstruction, because that’s very expensive. It’s problematic because it means that we can’t delve very deep into our past to tell stories about it. I was extremely interested in making a representation of the past that wouldn’t tie in with the way history is depicted in America. This particular novel is a special case because it unfolds in the past but features a very modern conflict, and at the same time, it’s devoid of any great concern for history.
At first glance, it would seem that the movie marks a change in register for you, as your previous works were on a smaller, more intimate scale.
Yes, it is different if you look at it like that, but it’s not such a huge change. The movies are alike in the way I film them. I still take an interest in certain cultural problems present in South America, like not having decent film or photo archives, for instance, or not having public libraries that are well looked after. Everything involving the preservation of the past seems to be a luxury from other countries. I think Berkeley University has more books than the national libraries of Argentina, Chile and Brazil combined. It’s a privilege to be able to make a film with a budget big enough to let you delve into the past, performing a juggling act and playing lots of it by ear. It doesn’t happen very often in Latin American cinema.
Was it a challenge to get the film off the ground?
You really realise that it’s been hard to get the funding together for a film when there are a lot of producers involved in it. We went to ask for money all over the place, and each person gave us a small amount; nobody came along saying they would give us the total amount we wanted – that only happens with mainstream movies or those with commercial potential. I think the credits last longer than the film itself (laughs). Personally, I’m not crazy about filming, and nor is it the most interesting thing in the world to me; I don’t want to shoot something every year – I’ve never felt that way. But when I decide on something I want to make, given that I already know how hard it is to find funding, I choose things that will keep me interested for many years, so as to hang on in there during the whole process.
You’ve worked with Pedro Almodóvar and his production company for the third time. How did you forge such a strong partnership?
It’s all very respectful. At El Deseo, they back the film without trying to change anything, but they’re just attentive to see how they can help without meddling in the artistic side of things. I think it’s like that because it’s a production outfit run by a director, who knows it’s no use trying to interfere.
The shoot was very challenging…
It was difficult, but it was a lot of fun as well. We had to shoot with animals and put up with various difficulties (such as water, mud, rain, cold and heat)… That lasted two months. And the actors involved were incredible because they had to endure all of these things. It’s a film that takes place on the border, and I needed a mixed group of people – that’s why there’s such a ragtag bunch of actors, with Americans, Spaniards and so on.
You are taking part in Qumra for the first time, which is dedicated to paving the way for up-and-coming filmmakers. Now you are a renowned director, but you had to start somewhere. Which obstacles did you have to overcome when you were starting out?
I always feel very much like a beginner because as I only film every few years, it’s almost like starting all over again. I always feel very close to directors who are just starting out. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest difficulties I’ve always faced is getting my films funded, but another one, which I think is harder to overcome and is more important, is finding my own language. All I do when I teach a class is try to help that to happen. I don’t attempt to pass on a kind of narrative template, but instead provide tools that will allow the person to find a language of their own. And this is something I do because I would have liked it to have happened to me.
(Translated from Spanish)
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