Theo Court, Eva Chillón • Director and co-producer of White on White
“I wanted to find the lie behind the image”
by Marta Bałaga
- Cineuropa talks to director Theo Court and co-producer Eva Chillón about White on White, winner of the Eurimages Lab Project Award at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival
Awarded the Eurimages Lab Project Award of €50,000 euros in cash at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival by the Work in Progress jury, comprised of Gaia Furrer, Trevor Groth and Alex Traila, White on White tells the story of a photographer (El Club’s Alfredo Castro), who arrives in Tierra Del Fuego at the beginning of the 20th century to immortalise the marriage of a powerful landowner. Fascinated by the beauty of the bride-to-be, he betrays the rules and is left to face the land, crawling with violence and marked by the genocide of the Ona people. “It’s a film that was inspired by early examples of capturing image on film and uses the medium to explore a tragic story that is lost in history, but has ramifications for what has happened all over the world” – argued the jury. “And does so by artistically trailblazing into uncharted territory.”
We talked to director Theo Court and co-producer Eva Chillón (Pomme Hurlante Films, France) about the film, which is being produced by Jose Alayon for El Viaje Films (Spain) and also co-produced by Giancarlo Nasi for Don Quijote Films (Chile) and Andreas Banz for Kundschafter Films (Germany).
Cineuropa: In White on White, you concentrate on the photographer played by Alfredo Castro, but you decided to play with different formats yourselves. Why?
Eva Chillón: The daguerreotype frame, which we refer to in the film, was typical of that period. Theo decided to use it to create a link and a contrast between photography and cinema. When we watch a film, we are looking at it through the eyes of the cinematographer. Here, we are also looking at it through the eyes of the photographer.
Théo Court: I was interested in this distance between reality and fiction, but I also wanted to allow the viewers to participate in the process of creating the photography with the main character. You can understand the subjectivity of his gaze and his obsessions, as well as experience how he creates his own reality. Back then, people had to stay still, without moving, for a very long time due to the exposure time, so the moment you were capturing was fake. I wanted to find the lie behind the image.
Does the film’s main character give in to his forbidden desires, or is it only through photography that he can express them?
TC: It’s only through his gaze. He has this sensibility and appreciation of beauty that was actually very common at that time. Let’s take Lewis Carroll, for example, he had this desire to capture some kind of innocence that might seem a bit ambiguous nowadays. But later, he sells his soul and his art to become a slave to people with power, staging their crimes. Alfredo is a wonderful actor, and he managed to capture his pain and desperation perfectly. He works so well with silence and doesn’t need a lot of dialogue. It’s all in his eyes.
EC: The most important point in the film is how he deals with his desire, his troubles and his morality. Not so much at the beginning, but at the end, because he turns into a person who comes up with a lie to cover up the massacre of the Ona people. It was mostly European mercenaries that were responsible for their total extermination in just 15 years and to whom Chile and Argentina assigned those virgin territories in 1900. They just went there to kill, and the governments allowed them to do it.
In recent years, it seems like the western genre has been rediscovered by European art-house cinema. How did you want to use its tropes?
TC: I actually discovered that White on White would be a western while we were shooting it. It was all down to the strength of the landscape and how small it can make you feel, especially when trying to survive, faced with its vastness. Nobody has ever recognised these crimes. They never apologised to the indigenous people, their suffering was never a part of the official history. But everybody knows about it. The authorities wanted to use their lands for farming, so it was all financially motivated. It’s a topic that has been properly researched, but politicians still prefer to sweep it under the rug.
When did you first become aware of it?
TC: I saw a photograph taken by a man who went there. It’s almost as if all these images were screaming: “Look at these wild savages and our brave pioneers who managed to tame them.” In the lands where snow, a symbol of purity, covered up all these horrors, I started to ask myself who he was and why he could do something like that. What kind of person could aestheticise death like that? This film shows that when we find ourselves in front of images showing tremendous suffering, we are also guilty. We are participating in it with our passivity.
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