Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day Four - Polvos Azules

Its fair to say that, as a Latin American filmmaker, I very much cherish the world of pirated movies in poor Spanish speaking neighbourhoods. An instant access to a world of cinema and television that would have never reached the DVD players of these folks is an art form that deserves its own merit. If it wasn't for these hard working vendors who hustle like no other, how could these people have access to this world of independent and foreign cinema? The truth is that they wouldn't. The day will come when I am randomly walking around in a market within the ruins of a Latin America city like La Paz, Quito or Buenos Aires and randomly spot a copy of one of my films and at that moment I'll know - I've made it.
Known amongst various international filmmaker circles, Lima has one of the most respected kiosks in Latin America of pirated independent and foreign cinema, located en el barrio de Polvos Azules. Cesar and his store/stand "Mundo Trasho" (Local 18 / Stand 17) has been providing pirated DVDs of the highest caliber to the citizens of Lima for years. During my six days in Lima I visited Cesar not once but twice for an afternoon of searching and flipping through hundreds of foreign and independent titles. Lets not forget that the trek from where I was staying to the beautifully textured neighbourhood of Polvos Azules can take up to forty five minutes in taxi, depending on the traffic.
It was as impressive as I've heard people speak about it. The titles he had in stock were shocking. One that stands out is, having had its Canadian theatrical release two months agao, an original DVD of Guy Madden's new film "Keyhole." Also a fully pimped out DVD box with menus of both Denis Cote's "Bestiaire" and "Curling," not to mention six titles of films that were actually playing the film festival where I was presenting El Huaso. Three of six titles were autographed by the actors and directors that have made the pilgrimage throughout the eleven days of the festival to Polvos Azules. How does he get all of these titles? His dead pan face reaction when I ask the question is enough to say that the provider's identity is a secret that will die with him. When I first heard about Cesar and "Muncho Trasho", I was at an outdoor screening in Montreal through Los Ășltimos Cristeros director Matias Meyes. One of the things he mentioned that was really common were filmmakers going there with their films and making a five for one trade for other titles. Now because one of my feature distributors may read this, I'm not going to mention how in the world that at during my second visit to this wonderful mecca that I found a copy of El Huaso with a picture of the film's poster, standing tall in the festival section. What I can say is that my heart fills with warmth with the idea of some kid walking up to the stand and asking Cesar "¿Tienes El Huaso?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day One - Coming Home

It's overwhelming arriving here, Chile and Peru in a single day. Not because of the 15 hours of flying or the two layovers totally almost 10 hours. It's not the nerves that consistently stay present because the very idea of bringing this film to Latin America has me sporadically tearing up with love, pain or confusion. I have this continent running deep inside me and arriving here only confirms it. Every time I step off a plane and touch Latin American soil, I'm confronted with my other half. A half that only perks up in small spurts when I'm not here. Eating an expensive but decent 'completo' at la Chilenta in Montreal after an hour osteopathic treatment and even hearing pockets of spanish being momentarily spoken in random public places gives me the fix that I need. The simple sounds and smells that waft, weaving in and out of my senses, I always smile and enjoy these moments, always hoping they never end. But they do.
Today I wait in a line at a Santiago subway station to get my first metro ticket. During this very long afternoon layover, I eventually arrive at my cousin's house in a wealthy part of the city. His lovely maid prepares us a plate of 'charquican' and I politely thank her after ever course. The homemade flan she made tastes like poetry. With every piece of conversation my smile grew and I felt warmer.  On our way to the airport  to catch my next flight, this time to Lima, the streets seemed empty. With plenty of time to watch some sunday night HBO and AMC television, I waited at my gate with my shoes off very content. After boarding we spent four hours in the air and almost two hours in a terrible line at Peruvian immigration because of their lack of organization. After completing a task of incredibly patience I was whisked away through a very large crowded airport into a very large crowded vehicle. Off to my hotel. spinning through the city, I realize how many horribly contrasting worlds exist not just in Lima but every Latin American capital city I've ever experienced. With no help from the door men because of my 'no money over here' apparel selection, I juggle my belongings across the lobby. After checking I strangely step into the partially gold plated 'ascensor' in a semi-glazed sleepy state. I catch in the corner of my eye a group of men and women. They ignore me while attempting to hide their roots under a blend of make-up and expensive suits. I arrive at my room and collapse onto my king size bed with exhaustion. This bed is a cloud. Staring at the ceiling, despite the incredible apathy and contrasting states of wealth, I realize how much I still love this continent in the same way that I continue to love my father. A man that was sick and too stubborn to get better. Too set in his ways to look at his errors… but he was glorious. Those he touched flowed deep. I was lucky enough to have a father that sacrificed himself for his family. But to such a degree that he was willing to take his own life. He fell on his sword and I wish he hadn't. But I do love the fight he had in him. I remember him in the same way that I recall my formative years growing up on a small street in Quillota, Chile. They all merge together now, as one vivid memory. I smile with thoughts of pots and pans at 8pm while my mother is trying to put me to sleep. Laying in bed at this hotel, moments race through my head at the last 24 hours. All that lingers are small evidential moments of how this continent is still recovering from its past, still too proud and ashamed to admit it. 

Even though he or it is partially resting, the past feels very present.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Day 8 - The Family

Last night I travelled again to upper Potosi so that I could officially meet the entire mining family, which will mostly likely be the characters to this documentary. With a whole chicken and two litres of beer in hand,  the initial met was very formal. Any preconceived ideas that I had on how an indigenous Bolivian family would behave with a new stranger was confirmed the minute I walked through the door. Before anyone would drink their beer, which was tasted after the chicken, everyone would pour a little onto the earth for prosperity and the Pachamama. We would then acknowledge everyone in the room, looking them in the eye and saying "cheers," with some other quit verbal token of appreciation as we drank from our glasses. I thought that was pretty normal, considering the fact that most westerns say "cheers" before they have a drink. But what was different in this case is I could not take another drink until someone initiated the "cheers" with another out pouring of appreciation for what we had at that moment; food, drinks and each other's company. In some cases everyone would directly thank me for bringing the food and beer. Giving thanks to every single person in the room for every sip of drink or food being served, was a custom that had me a bit nervous. I'm usually the kind of person to just dig in which intensified my nervousness because I wanted to make a good impression. This custom continued with conversation and some laughter for the next hour and half. During the dinner I was also invited to stay permanently by the family and members of the rooming house at their home throughout my stay. I, of course thanked them profusely and bowed my head in endless remarks of appreciation. I privately and politely declined to Wilson when the night was over. My decision to stay at the hostel is mostly based on my own sanity. Being in this city is challenging for me and having the comfort of a room with a heater and working internet, so I can follow and contact the world I mostly understand, seems almost essential.
At the end of this late supper, Wilson my contact and probably future fixer for the film, walked me towards a main road at about 10:45pm to catch a bus or cab. It was almost pitch black and we entered a part of his neighbourhood which although looked a bit run down, I didn't sense any danger. As we entered the principal dirt road, which seemed to have large piles of rocks instead of sidewalks, Wilson suddenly stopped and bent over to look at some large stones. I asked him quickly, "What are you doing?" Hunched over, carefully selecting his stones, he said "You never know." I exclaimed quietly and quite naively.  "What do you mean, you never know?! Are they for throwing?" Wilson didn't look up. "Well, you see those dogs over there? They're angry dogs. They have a lot of rage and you never know when they're going to act on that rage." I stayed silent. "Also... you never know what could happen." I just left that last bit of ambiguous information alone. We continued down the road with our hands full of defence. By the time we reached the main road, the dogs had stopped barking. As we settled on a flat side walk, cars would randomly pass us, at speeds which were clearly illegal. While waiting for a ride, we watched the cars race down these impossibly narrow roads. I was amazed that they these vehicles weren't scratching up against each other. Strangely enough, it was at this point that I started safe again. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 7 - Mini-Bus

In a bus crammed with mostly Cholitas, I am lucky enough to have found a seat. On my way to meet a family that may potentially be the subjects to this documentary I'm here researching. My nerves are swimming with relief that the search may be over and the hard work begins. The miners have blocked the entire city from anyone getting in due to national protests, so the mini bus I'm riding in has to take an alternative route. The older Cholita next to me is watching me closely as I scribble away in my notebook. Even if I was writing in quechua or spanish she probably wouldn't be able to read my scratchy cryptic cursive. The door is wide open. As we hit the incredibly sharp turns, going up hill through these very narrow colonial streets, it feels as if the bus is about to collapse into the road. On a good day, the people are kind to me and this is one of those good days. The Cholita next to me exclaims with a mix of quechua and spanish to each person that squeezes onto the bus "sit here! on my my bag, on the ground. Sit here, it's okay!" I've received a few compliments on the only sweater I've brought on this trip and wear every day. "My mom made it!" I say proudly. People continue to cram onto the bus and push softly against one another in order to get through. A few moments later, a woman from the back exclaims, "I need to get off on the next block!" The entire bus bursts into sighs, murmurs and laughter because. The impossibility of this poor person exiting the with any kind of ease will be challenging. An elderly man and myself are the only ones with a handkerchief as we blow our noses on this cool Potosi morning. A small boy stares at me through the corner of his eye in disbelief as people continue to pile on and off the bus. If I was to guess, I'm sure he's thinking "why the hell didn't this gringo just take a taxi?" But I may be wrong.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 6 - Blockades

Blistering heat in the sun. Freezing cold in the shade. Bolivia's existence within these two polarizing realities of everyday life in the Altiplano, reflects how people push their way through a challenging reality. Blockades come up as fast as they are taken down. Each day, everything comes to a halt at 12:30pm. People stop what they're doing. Whether its civil war between local cops and military police shooting at each other for days in downtown La Paz, bringing a prisoner to justice or just building a house. People stop so they can eat. An essential part of Bolivian life, which most North American's see as a luxury, stopping everything in order to eat dinner here in Bolivia is not perceived as a privilege but a right.
It seems like the recent protests that have hit home in Montreal, Chile and in Bolivia, everyone is fighting for something similar but with highly contrasting economic realities. What they do share in common is a group of people trying to push back. Pushing back so that their ideals and rights are kept alive and not buried with them. Looking back on my early twenties, I was always first in line to join a major protest in Toronto. Today, I see myself on the outside with my head down trying to push in a different way. Going into the streets use to give me an integral sense of strength and unity, knowing that I wasn't alone enhanced my thirst to make a difference. Today, being alone gives me that same sense of strength and unity that I once felt chanting and screaming at Queen's Park. Being alone scares me and doing what I fear most pushes me to lean forward instead of falling backwards.
Although pushing too hard can be dangerous and damaging within these movements, this doesn't include everyone who is a full time activist. Throughout the years I've often read interviews, articles and have seen documentaries where the activist leader is loved and respected by their community but not in their home. The leader in these cases believes in "the cause" to such an extreme that they forget what is happening, literally, in their own back yard. They neglect their domestic life in order to fight for the bigger cause. I guess today I try to invert that same way of life and try to focus on myself and the people in my own back yard. So that I can be a better person. Could I do both? Probably not. The energy I expend in order to evolve often leaves me scared and exhausted, unable to put strength else where.

Day 5 - Dragon's Den

Watching television shows downloaded from the internet without commercials has become an obsession and quite often a vice of mine. It's probably one of the few things that can calm me down when I'm feeling emotional in any way. The idea of entering a story that doesn't just last 90 minutes, like most feature length films, but to enter a world that almost feels endless with their 12 to 26 episode, running in most cases, for 5 seasons. The need to be addicted to something is a realization that I've come accept and feel no shame.
The last time I was in Bolivia it was very important to me that I embraced every aspect of the culture by not bringing any music, movies or television shows from home. It was clear, looking back on it, that I wasn't being good to myself. When I arrived last year for the third time in Bolivia and first time in Potosi, I so desperately looked for signs of home so that I could soothe the wounds of being called "the devil" and often treated as an outcast by some of the locals. This time around I've brought an entire arsenal of television shows and movies on my hard drive to combat those moments of loneliness from a city that sometimes does not want me here.
Going to business school, while still a budding young faux-anarchist, at the age of 19 is an indicator that my taste for things tend to be very broad and sometimes contradictory. From cheesy romantic comedies to detective/lawyer shows to docudramas to short films by the Whitney Brothers. If its done well and I can connect with some element of innovation or drama, I'm hooked. The British and Canadian television series Dragon's Den is no exception. The objective of what seems to play out as a sort of "game of life," has entrepreneurs pitching their dreams and ideas to multi-million dollar equity investors. The entrepreneur presents their pitch and are immediately grilled by the "Dragons" about the product, evaluation of the company, finances and projected sales. Much like a stand up comic, there's a level of vulnerability that I appreciate and admire in these moments. For someone to put themselves and their ideas out there in front of a row people who's primary objective is to make a lot of money, seems like an act that should be respected. In Drangon's Den, where a great idea, solid business plan and flawless presentation is the highest form of currency, the film/documentary world's aggressive demand for a great story, eye catching premise and a strong director are essential elements in order to be heard by broadcasters or producers. I'm not naive to think that something like the Dragon's Den and the film/documentary world are practically the same but having witnessed dozens of pitches to broadcasters, producers and distributors by filmmakers from all over the world, their similarities are staggering.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Day 4 - New Home

I've finally found a home. A room to call my own. The room I'm staying is large, rustic and has a desk. Hardwood floors with a large bathroom. The higher ceilings are important, compared to other places I've stayed. Fewer places to smack my head against the hard concrete arches. Yes sir! Hostal Casona is my new home.