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Juan Diego Botto • Director of On the Fringe

“Your primary obligation when making cinema is not to be boring”


- The actor makes his feature-length directorial debut with a social drama starring Penélope Cruz, which premiered at Venice and is now stopping over in San Sebastián

Juan Diego Botto • Director of On the Fringe

On the Fringe [+see also:
film review
interview: Juan Diego Botto
film profile
, toplined by Luis Tosar and Penélope Cruz (who also wears a co-producer’s hat here), can be seen in the Perlak section of the 70th San Sebastián Film Festival following its recent world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, in the Orizzonti strand. We chatted to its director, Juan Diego Botto, a familiar face thanks to his acting in titles such as Stories from the Kronen, Broken Silence [+see also:
film profile
and the series White Lines.

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Cineuropa: Prior to making On the Fringe, you directed the segment called Doble moral in ¡Hay motivo! and one episode (Gourmet) of the miniseries Tales of the Lockdown. Did those experiences give you the strength to tackle a feature, or does making a debut like this always make you giddy?
Juan Diego Botto:
Obviously it makes your head spin, but I made my first film as an actor when I was five, and now I’m 47, so I’ve been in the trade for 42 years. That’s a lot of years spent watching directors, spending time on film sets, learning, absorbing things and trying to understand what this craft of storytelling entails: I had amassed a great deal of experience. Obviously, it’s not the same thing as making the decisions yourself. It’s a huge responsibility replying to all of the questions that you have to field every day during a shoot, from the colour of a jacket to whether you’ll be using a hand-held camera or a tracking shot… A thousand questions every day. But during the process of preparing it, when I was talking to many filmmaker friends of mine, Raúl Arévalo told me something that was spot on: “When you’re really absorbed by a story, the answers come naturally.” The nature of the story is what dictates it. And yes, it’s true that that game we played with Luis Tosar and a mobile phone in Tales of the Lockdown was a great way to practise.

Being surrounded by friends and family when making your feature debut must have given you a feeling of security. But how do you maintain a critical approach and a sense of objectivity when there’s such an emotional bond with some of the cast and crew?
You have to be up to the task of directing Penélope Cruz, and the same thing happened to me with Tosar. I felt a huge responsibility when two actors of their calibre put their trust in a screenplay that we’d written, and in me as their director. When I saw the final cut, I realised that the work by the actors was very strong. As for the emotional material that we were dealing with, I wanted them to get involved in the story, and that’s why we brought in the people we had met, people who had gone through an eviction, when writing the script. We sat them down next to the team and asked them to tell us their stories: when they had finished, everyone was crying and was able to understand why we were making this film. That made people get more invested in it and enabled us all to be on the same page.

When the viewer watches On the Fringe, would you like them to ponder something that has no longer been appearing in the mass media recently?
I think that any film has to function as such, quite apart from any intent it may have: art has to serve as art. Your primary obligation when making cinema is not to be boring, to hold the viewer’s interest, and from there, you can start talking about secondary motivations. I also hope that the movie prompts reflection on an aspect of our reality that seems to have been forgotten, because it’s become chronic: evictions have turned into an everyday thing. If the film encourages the viewer to adopt that perspective, so much the better.

It could be said that Luis Tosar’s character is the most similar one to you…
It’s true that many people can identify with him because he gives so much of himself to others, and he is so invested in his career that he forgets about his private life. To me, that character’s journey with his stepson is one of the things that move me the most in the film.

In the short film Una noche con Juan Diego Botto [lit. “One Night with Juan Diego Botto”], you joked about your political activism… Should one not take oneself too seriously?
You have to take yourself seriously, but not too much. When you get involved in something, you have to put your all into it, but you also have to be able to laugh at yourself, at your successes and failures. Aside from a few essential things in life, which are related to being attached to and caring for your loved ones, everything else always has to be treated with a sense of perspective, and laughing at oneself is a fundamental part of life in general, and of this job in particular.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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