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CANNES 2023 Marché du Film

Chilean filmmaker Thomas Woodroffe takes his project Erratics to Cannes


- CANNES 2023: The exciting project, which combines a 100-year-old film shot in Tierra del Fuego with global warming, cultural appropriation and ghosts, is taking part in La Fabrique Cinéma

Chilean filmmaker Thomas Woodroffe takes his project Erratics to Cannes
Director Thomas Woodroffe

Chilean filmmaker Thomas Woodroffe is coming to La Fabrique Cinéma in Cannes with his first feature-length project, Erratics, which is a co-production between Fiebre (Chile), La Belle Affaire (France) and Un Puma (Argentina). It is a century-spanning fiction film inspired by the little-known ethnographic title La Terre de Feu, which Lucien Le Saint, the cameraman on a French expedition to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, filmed in 1925. This is the oldest existing footage of the region's indigenous peoples, the Kaweskar and the Yaghan.

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In Woodroffe's project, Le Saint's spirit was trapped in a glacier, and it wakes up 100 years later when the glacier melts. Then he follows the same navigation route he took a century ago, observing the new inhabitants of the places where he filmed indigenous peoples.

Erratics combines this idea with that of erratic blocks – large boulders that get stuck in a glacier, ending up 1,000 miles away as the glacier melts. Similarly, Le Saint's film was discovered in the Toulouse Cinémathèque, thousands of miles away from its origin, which Woodroffe learned about in an article by French anthropologist Dominique Legoupil.

“Le Saint is also a kind of erratic block because he is caught inside a glacier, he freezes as a result of a curse and is set free because of global warming,” says Woodroffe. “This became a metaphor for the whole idea that was at the centre of the film.”

Tierra del Fuego was also the setting for Woodroffe's short fiction film Austral Fever, which world-premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, and was shot by cinematographer Emilia Martín and produced by Rodrigo Díaz and Pascual Mena. The same team, who first met while studying at the University of Chile in Santiago, is again joining forces for this intriguing project.

“Initially, it was based on two main materials: the remains of La Terre de Feu and the present-day retracing of Le Saint's travel route,” Díaz explains. “During the writing of the treatment, strong elements of fiction started to appear, so we brought in Valeria Hofmann as a co-writer. Thomas and Valeria began to shape the figure of Le Saint's ghost, and stretched the script to the point of breaking down the boundaries of the real and fantasy. This moment of transition led us to redirect our production strategy.”

The research and development started in 2019, when Woodroffe first went to Toulouse to see La Terre de Feu, and continued with development funding from the Occitanie region and Chile. In 2022, the script was written in conjunction with the Pop-Up Film Residency in Bratislava and Arca, a multidisciplinary residency in Puerto Williams, Chile, in the region where the film takes place. This enabled them to apply for and win fiction feature film production funding from the Chilean Audiovisual Fund.

Erratics by Thomas Woodroffe

It was crucial for the team to closely collaborate with members of Kaweskar and Yaghan communities. “The people who appeared in these images were never able to see them, and it's an issue revolving around who produces the images and who appears in them – who looks and who is being looked at,” explains Woodroffe. “At one point, when I was visiting the Yaghan community, I had Le Saint's film on my computer and I showed it to them. Two of the oldest people actually recognised their mother in it; she was a baby at the time, and they started crying.”

Mena is the producer in charge of building and keeping up the relations with the local communities and organisations. “We have been working closely with the communities, discussing each aspect of our approach,” Mena explains. “We want them to be involved, and we want to listen to them so that we can be responsible, given the sensitivity of the archive footage that drives the film.”

This is one of the aspects that attracted the French co-producer on the project, Jérôme Blesson, of La Belle Affaire Productions. “First of all, I was blown away by Austral Fever, and I have a great affinity for Thomas's aesthetics and especially his skills in building the mise-en-scène,” says Blesson. “Moreover, the issue of cultural appropriation is very present in France today – for example, with artworks from Benin that belonged to the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, as there was a heated debate about the decision to return such artworks to Benin. It's crucial for indigenous people to feel properly linked to the traditions, the values and the past, and this is what’s at the core of Erratics.”

This will be the second time that the project has been present at Cannes. In 2022, Díaz and Blesson pitched it at Focus COPRO while Woodroffe, Mena and Martín were off researching in Patagonia, testing out how the method they designed to portray the spirit of Le Saint would work in practice. They say this was a crucial juxtaposition to understand the relationship between fact and fiction in their project.

Now, with 40% of the budget in place and with them awaiting results from funding competitions in France and Argentina, where Jerónimo Quevedo, of Un Puma, is joining the team as a co-producer, they are looking for sales agents and distributors that can potentially get involved.

“With the budget that we have, we can produce the film in Tierra del Fuego and in Toulouse, but we are looking for additional funding to be able to shoot in decent conditions in Ushuaia and Patagonia, and to post-produce the film,” says Díaz. “I think the project is at the perfect stage to go to the Marché du Film and be presented to partners who can also see its ambitions and all the work that we have done.”

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