INTERVIEW – HELICONIA
You shot the film in 8 mm. Can you explain us why you chose this type of film, and especially this format?
The plasticity that I wanted to impart to the film was inseparable from the texture of the film, especially that of Super 8. I am interested in the grainy texture, the instability of the medium, its uncontrollable and unpredictable nature. You cannot control Super 8 like you do with video, or even other film formats. There is always an element of unpredictability and surprise, which I find very exciting. Super 8 brings to mind amateurism and home movies. But it also has a strong connection with experimental cinema. I think that when you use it today, you conjure up the history of the medium. This format is really unconstrained. It seems to have a life of its own. I find this organic aspect fascinating. These small revolver-cameras become an extension of the body, the eye, the arm, and you constantly play with the instantaneous. During the shooting, I really enjoyed the great freedom and flexibility offered by Super 8. Besides, the viewfinder is so small that you feel alone in front of what you are looking at, and therefore, it builds a genuine intimacy with the subject you are filming.
Your attention to the picturality of image and the many carefully-framed still shots connect your work as a filmmaker to painting and photography. Can you tell us more about the aesthetic treatment and the effects that you looked for? What are your main artistic influences?
I like to make the medium and its plasticity visible, to let images live and breathe. I designed several images in Heliconia like tableaux vivants, and in this respect, I am really inspired by frame composition in painting and in photography. Apart from The Bikeriders series by Danny Lyon, which made me want to make the film in the first place, I don’t feel the influence of one artist in particular, but rather of a group of various works. While researching for the film, I was interested in religious iconography and some mythological themes in classical painting, but also in the really contemporary light and image composition in some photographs from Laura Henno’s Outremonde series.
The film’s trajectory follows the evolution of a landscape, from urban territory to luxuriant nature, by way of the desert. What does this trajectory mean to you?
Heliconia takes place in Huila, the region my mother’s family comes from, in south-central Colombia. The structure of the project is closely linked to La Vorágine, a Colombian novel written in 1924 by José Eustasio Rivera. It is about the adventures of the protagonist, who flees Bogotá with his wife to reach the western savannahs of the country. They end up trapped in the green hell of the Amazon jungle. They get lost and the rainforest devours them. The final escape of the characters in the film is built the other way around; we go from the rainforest to the desert, which finally swallows them, even though it looks to them like a kind of wild and enchanting paradise.
In the middle of the film, an almost entirely documentary sequence about cockfights interrupts with its cruelty the ideal trip of the trio and their gentle relationships. How did the shooting of this sequence come about?
I am well acquainted with most of the regulars at the cockfighting area that I filmed in this sequence. I conducted field research while I was writing the film. The violence in the landscape and the territory I mentioned earlier is also related to this type of popular customs. My characters are searching for a form of paradise that appears to them in a violent, oppressive way; it is at once sacred and profane. This sequence shows an entirely ritualised fight, a sacrifice. I take a keen interest in the iconography of Judeo-Christian tradition and in syncretism; in this sequence, I tried to tackle the issue of violence and sacrifice through popular customs.
Who are the young actors? How did you choose them?
I wanted to work with non-professional actors, who have a strong connection with the area. I met a group of young bikers who organise illegal races in the poor districts of Neiva. This is where I met Alejandro Losada, while street casting at night. He was the obvious choice, I wanted to film him as soon as we met. I was enthralled by his sense of freedom and his overflowing energy. Later on, the search for the two other actors went smoothly. I was amazed to see how Ana Sofía Pulgarín was the perfect incarnation of María, I felt like I had written the character for her.
What are your next film projects?
I am working on an experimental Super 8 film, and I am also finishing a film that I started a while ago about my grandmother, who lived through the Violencia period in Colombia. I also plan on making a film with my partner, Martín Arbeláez, a motorcycle road-trip to the Amazon rainforest, with Alejandro (Adrián) and Ana Sofía (María).
Interviewed by Claire Lassole