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BERLINALE 2023 Panorama

Joris Lachaise • Director of Transfariana

“I hope that the people I film are an inspiration”

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- BERLINALE 2023: We got the chance to talk to the documentarian, who went to Colombia to tell the story of a former FARC fighter and a community of trans women

Joris Lachaise • Director of Transfariana

Joris Lachaise worked on Transfariana [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Joris Lachaise
film profile
]
, his Berlinale Panorama entry, for six years. Here, he discusses his filmmaking process and how his movie may be used as political leverage.

Cineuropa: You draw a parallel in your film – between former FARC guerrillas, and trans women and men. They are all "fighting" against the way other people see them. Is this parallel something you were aware of before working on the film?
Joris Lachaise:
As soon as I met Jaison and Laura in prison, I understood – by discovering the history of their relationship, the uproar that it caused and the altered political orientation that it prompted within the guerrilla – that something important was at stake. It seemed to me from the outset that this situation was a symptom of a societal transformation. It reveals a cultural, social and political paradigm shift. And while I lived with the FARC – both in prison and in the conflict zones – and with the trans community in the Santa Fe red-light district, I discovered just how much these communities were unaware of each other. The trans girls were excited about going to meet the FARC in the jungle; it was a completely exotic and slightly scary world for them. And in turn, the FARC discovered a social reality and bodies that they had never seen before. And the exceptional moment when the struggles converged, which took place in front of my camera lens, revealed to me at the time the common denominators in these battles that were completely unaware of each other.

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How did you win the trust of Jaison and his group? Did they give you any of the archive footage you use in the film?
I met Jaison in the La Picota prison, as I had been invited to present my previous film there. We talked together about cinema, politics and philosophy. As Jaison and I both have a background in philosophy, we had fun interpreting the situation of his marriage with Laura, and its consequences within his political family, according to a Marxist and post-structuralist reading. I told him that it seemed to me that the FARC leaders, in deciding to defend this "heterodox" couple, had made an important decision, the significance of which could only be understood later. They were giving the right answer to a question that didn’t yet exist, because they weren’t yet able to formulate it. The question came up six months later at the negotiating table in Havana, when the FARC was finally able to ask and fully understand the question of gender, and particularly gender diversity.

Jaison never stopped asserting that he understood my project. When I asked him to film his daily life in prison with his mobile phone, I was very moved by his generosity in the way he played the game – by making audacious self-portraits, full of humour and self-mockery. He also provided me with a lot of material for the film: archives of the guerrillas during the fights in the 1990s, but also videos shot in prison for internal communication, for propaganda or for claims about the detention conditions.

Do you think your film will help to shorten Laura’s sentence?
Laura is serving the longest prison sentence for a trans person in Latin America. She has been sentenced to life, without having killed or even directly injured anyone. This isn’t about absolving her, but rather about recognising that she is a victim of a discriminatory sentence and an iniquitous judicial system. I don't believe that a work of art can change the world, but I hope that people can take this film and use it as political leverage. I went to a private screening at the Cinematheque in Bogotá last month to show the film to the protagonists before revealing it to the rest of the world in Berlin. And I was happy that the girls from Santa Fe were proud of this film and felt represented in it. Immediately after the screening, we had a meeting, where there were Colombian trans activists present, including Giovanna Rincón. We decided that we should set up a strategy to try to free Laura and make her case a paradigmatic example.

Looking at your filmography, it is evident that you take your camera into places of conflict, but you focus on small groups that are suffering from either exclusion or bias. Why do you do that? Do you think that the medium of film can help them in their struggles?
I always choose to make a film based on the people I meet. And it is true that often, these people I like to meet are engaged in struggles. But as I generally consider these folks to be alter-egos, versions of myself that I could have been or that I would have liked to be, I invite them to share reflections through the form of a film. The movie is basically only a pretext to develop ideas, to make questions collide, to deepen our awareness of our real conditions of existence. I don't like to reduce struggles and historical situations to linear and simplistic logic, so I often start from the confrontation between different issues.

What also interests me is the way in which individuals like Jaison, Laura, Daniela and Max lead a double fight – an inner and an outer battle. For example, Jaison is fighting his inner battle, an intimate, personal, private struggle, at the same time as an external, political, collective, public one. This dual dimension of the struggle gives Jaison the characteristics of a tragic character, as he is being pulled, like Hamlet, by opposing necessities, antagonistic driving forces. However, while his two battles should logically come into mutual conflict and destroy each other, Jaison employs the strategy of his political struggle to win personal victories which he transforms into collective victories. He stands firm and his mind is fixed, regardless of the situation. I hope that the people I film are an inspiration.

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