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IDFA 2020

Arami Ullón • Director of Nothing but the Sun

“I would have needed to embark upon a lengthy process of investigation and learning”

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- We chatted with the Paraguayan director living in Switzerland Arami Ullón about Nothing but the Sun, which was presented in a world premiere in the opening slot of the IDFA

Arami Ullón • Director of Nothing but the Sun

Arami Ullón returns to her native Paraguay to investigate the history of the Ayoreo people, told through the tales of her protagonist Mateo Sobode Chiqueno in her new film Nothing but the Sun [+see also:
film review
interview: Arami Ullón
film profile
]
, which enjoyed its world premiere in the IDFA’s opening slot.

Cineuropa: Was it always your intention to explore your native land once again in this film? How did your Paraguayan nationality influence the making of this work?
Arami Ullón:
Living for the most part in Switzerland helped me to realise that there are some European groups - too many, in my opinion - who look at indigenous peoples from an idealised, romanticised and “exotic” perspective. This outlook is different from that held by certain groups within Paraguay, who discriminate against them rather than idealising them, and deny their roots, their cultural heritage and they even continue to deny their existence as inhabitants of that country. All these tendencies are the result of a persistent colonial attitude.

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The fact that I’m Paraguayan made it easier for me to understand some of the exclusion mechanisms that are enacted in similar ways against socially excluded groups, who are seen by the system as “undesirables”.

I think it helped me to be able to move between these perceptions, consciously forcing myself not to favour either of them…  I knew I would have needed to embark upon a lengthy process of investigation and learning [in order to understand the reality in question], which would have taken years.

The particular reality which you film is complex. How did you manage to capture it?
Yes, the realities we explore in the film are very complicated. And it’s important that I mention various people who made it possible to conduct a proper, sensitive investigation. My first meeting was with Benno Glauser, a Swiss national who’s lived in Paraguay for a number of years, someone like me who has been exposed to different points of view and who had worked with the Ayoreo people for many years. Glauser took his time and armed himself with lots of patience to explain all the details I asked of him. After that, other viewpoints entered into the fray, as well as other people who were deeply familiar with the Ayoreo’s plight: Miguel Alarcón, Daniel Gómez and Miguel Lovera, who are all members of the NGO Iniciativa Amotocodie which is headquartered in Paraguay.

Obviously, I also spoke with our producer Pascal Traeschlin, with Sabrina Blanco - an Argentine director and writer who oversaw the process alongside me – and with my partner Patrick, who always plays a part in my creative process and who I talk to about elements which speak to me in a private and personal way. And later, I spoke with my editor Valeria Racioppi with whom I had constant, enriching and much-needed discussions about the socio-political dimension of the reality in question and how this should be translated, aesthetically and formally.

But all of that wouldn’t have had the same weight if we hadn’t had the experience of spending time within the Ayoreo community. Being with Mateo, with his family and with members of his community – that’s where our learning really took shape and where the necessary bonds were strengthened, which then paved the way for the film’s visual and sound narrative.

How did you meet Mateo and how did you win his trust?
I met Mateo during my first visit to the Chaco region with Glauser. Mateo is an old collaborator of Glauser’s and of Iniciativa Amotocodie. The fact that I always arrived in the community with people Mateo had known for years was fundamental in creating an atmosphere of trust between us.

That said, Mateo and I also needed to get to know one another, to talk; we needed mutual recognition. On top of that, we made several trips to different communities and this not only helped me to get to know the geography of each area, as a logistical challenge and as a narrative context, it also allowed me to better understand the indissoluble links Mateo maintained with other, more senior Ayoreo people.

Can you talk to me about your aesthetic approach, and how your approach interacts with the reality you observe?
We came up with a visual language which Gabriel Lobos was able to translate with great sensitivity. We were looking for a certain closeness with people, an aesthetic process stripped of sensationalism, but boasting texture, and involving close-ups; a poetic yet restrained filming approach, which would allow the film to be influenced by the context, by body language, by the dry and dusty landscape, by the heat, the pace of life within the community, and by the devastation surrounding it, without slipping into complacency.

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(Translated from Italian)

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