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Vinko Tomičić Salinas • Director of The Dog Thief

“This city is the only place where I feel like time stands still”


- The Chilean writer-director talks about the most important parts of pre-production for his newest feature and why the film’s La Paz setting is so special

Vinko Tomičić Salinas • Director of The Dog Thief

Vinko Tomičić Salinas’ solo feature debut, The Dog Thief [+see also:
film review
interview: Vinko Tomičić Salinas
film profile
, has just enjoyed its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, in the International Narrative Competition. We caught up with the director to delve into his film.

Cineuropa: The Dog Thief includes a lot of complex relationships, such as the one between the protagonist, Martín, and his father figure, Señor Novoa – but also between Novoa and his dog Astor as well as between Martín and Astor. How did you conceptualise the links between the different on-screen relationships?
Vinko Tomičić Salinas:
I was thinking about the bond between Martín and the dog, and that was the creative trigger for me. It led to a lot of things that made me enjoy the creative process. It’s more common to have a story with a relationship between the son and the father or father figure. But when the dog entered the picture, the challenge was how to build up these two different relationships for him and how both of them would feed into the other one, and make something more interesting and complex. The essence of the film is Martín’s need or desire to find love and to be loved. The challenge for me working as a writer, and then as a director, was how to solve this. Martín finds some love with the dog, but also in his relationship with the father. However, at a certain point, he has to decide what he’s going to do because he gets love from both sides, and they’re in conflict.

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On one hand, La Paz is clearly very urban and well-frequented; on the other, it offers opportunities for personal moments and secrets lurking in different corners.
I think the movie wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else. It wouldn’t have been possible without La Paz, because in my experience, this city is the only place where I feel like time stands still. I think it’s very difficult to find anywhere else in the world with this characteristic. With homogenisation, with globalisation, all cities are kind of the same now. For example, if you take a stroll through central Santiago, Chile, it has a lot in common with cities like Amsterdam or New York. But La Paz has this unique personality. In some places in Latin America, but specifically in La Paz, some trades like tailoring or shoe-shining are still alive and kicking. That’s very unique because in most cities, those trades are disappearing and jobs are becoming more industrialised.

Music plays a unique role in the film, from the diegetic music of the band that Martín is part of to the film scoring that makes use of a lot of environmental sounds.
This was my first experience working on a film with an original score and composer. This process was the last thing in the workflow. During my creative process, from writing to shooting to editing, I was always thinking of editing the film with just the direct sound – doing sound design with the ambient and city sounds. So, when I worked with Wissam Hojeij, the composer, we tried to make some music that felt non-invasive. We also worked with the trumpet because Martín plays the trumpet in the story, but also because it makes a reference to wind, which was something important to me, too.

How did the movie or the story evolve over the course of the development process? You took the film through several development workshops.
First, the development process was too long. It was a long process of writing, and as you said, it passed through many instances of development. The script had many versions but always maintained the essence of the story. But I think the most important part of the process was the time I spent in La Paz with Franklin Aro, the actor, because the more time I spent with him, the more things appeared that were important in the last version of the story. The band and the school, all of this universe that is now in the film, appeared during the time that I spent with Franklin.

Another very important thing that came from spending time with Franklin was the theme of bullying. In the last days before shooting, I was spending time with him, and we were going to some places just to rehearse parts of the film, and I saw and felt the discrimination along with him. For instance, we went to a pool hall to rehearse a scene, and they kicked us out because he was dressed as a shoeshine boy. That was a very important and traumatic moment. But I spoke with Franklin, and I said to him that we had to process what happened and the feelings that arose in another way. We had the challenge of doing it in the film. Something that I think was a great achievement in the final film was actually shooting this bullying part and how he was able to overcome what happened. I say this because, of course, La Cinéfondation and Venice Biennale College were incredible experiences where we learned a lot and the script progressed a great deal. But what was most important and where the most progress was made was when I was spending time with Franklin.

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