Daniela Seggiaro, Argentina, 89’
Husek is the second feature film you have made with members of the Wichí community in the Chaco region (after Beauty, 2012) and you are also preparing a documentary project with them (Our Demand, FIDLab 2020). What led you to pursue this work around the community issues?
When I was a film student, I started going to Chaco salteño to make short documentaries on request. I went alone with my camera and when I came back, I was glad that I had discovered such a different, powerful and creative space. At the same time, I quickly noticed the depth of the disagreement between that indigenous world and the western world. After one of my first trips and upon completion of the work that I had been commissioned to do, I spent a lot of time making a small animated short film. I think this totally personal and independent experience was a proper way of rehearsing my gaze on that territory that seemed to be narrated only from the perspective of conflict and lack, as if it should be perpetuated like this, in discomfort, and hide its power, its creative capacity, its resistance, its beauty. From that moment on, in my films, I have tried to generate a fiction or an experiment that sets a space to observe that cultural disagreement, that broken dialogue, to try and find out where it can be fixed. In order to do so, it is crucial to recognize how central the indigenous perspective is, and all the different ways of inhabiting this contemporary world it proposes.
The film plays on the line between documentary and fiction: it seems to start from a real situation of expropriation around which you create fictional situations. Could you go back to the narrative construction?
I really like spending time in the forests, just enjoying life and sharing moments. Sometimes it sparks an idea for a film. Generally, the film is based on a story that someone told me, mixed in a particular way with observations, direct experiences, conversations, images, thoughts yet to be deciphered. And thus, a project begins, things start to happen and they provide the necessary foundation to build the film. Sometimes the beginning seems like a call that we do not really understand and that perhaps we will still be trying to decipher when the film is finished. I think that accepting that we might not understand everything is a major key in our line of work, so that we can indulge in that mysterious game that is so much like entering the forests.
Members of the Wichí community are acting with professional actors. How did you choose Leonel and Valentino and how did this collaboration take place?
For both Husek and Nosilatiaj, our team worked a lot on the casting process, and we approached each character in very different ways. The experience of the encounter between professional actors and people who act for the first time, added to the intercultural encounter, becomes a very fertile ground to work, a rich source of collaboration. Leonel Gutiérrez, who plays a young Wichí, was found in a very large casting that we did in La Puntana (Wichí community). Together with Verónica Gerez they worked in an incredible way, I know it was an intense experience for both of them, but they created a relationship based on tenderness and solidarity, their bond was built in a very particular way as it was being printed on film. The case of Juan Rivero, who plays the character of Valentino, was special because when we wrote the script with Osvaldo Villagra, who is of Wichí descent, we already wanted to work with him. It was a great joy that such a master, such an important reference for us and for the community accepted to act in our film, at that moment we felt for the first time that we had a film. Juan as the character of Valentino represents a whole generation of Wichí leaders who began the struggle for their land and for the recognition of their language, a generation that has begun – as shown in Husek – to delegate its leadership to the young. This process has unfortunately been accelerated by the pandemic during these last few months, as many of those great leaders died from Covid, including our dear Juan Rivero. The film is dedicated to his memory and to that of chief Valentino Díaz.
The first part of Husek is mainly set on the living places of the Wichí community, then we switch to the city. How did you think about the editing (image and sound) regarding the encounter between these two worlds?
We filmed the forest and the city with the same camera, we edited images in the same way, we tried to make sounds and colours match, yet these two worlds always look different. What we did was to emphasize the elements of union, of mutual contamination, of encounter, of contemporaneity. These lines are not easy to follow, the ruins in the territory that project from the city are a key. Through editing, we also generated the idea of a porosity in the part of the story that takes place in the city, where the indigenous world also creeps in and somehow influence it from a more subjective and human perspective.
The question of language is the main place of this confrontation. When we speak to them in Spanish, Leonel and Valentino sometimes answer in Wichí Lhämtès, and some passages are not translated – just like the title of the film Husek –. Can you comment on this aspect? Why did you decide not to translate everything?
Again, it deals with the idea of porosity and contamination, of dissolving borders a bit, of understanding that repairing intercultural dialogue also means listening to other words, even if we don’t understand them. While we were filming, it became more and more evident that the conflict also occurs in the field of languages. Indigenous people speak another language. Communicating in Spanish requires a huge effort and you only have access to that perspective if you are also in that position, if you want to understand. The power of the Wichí language is great, it is a very lively language, spoken by many people who protect it and who also take refuge in it. The game of translating or not translating that occurs in the film gives us access to that reflection.
Different systems of violence and power are represented through fiction: that of the white promoters against the community, that of the sexist violence Ana suffers, all the more in the city. Was this present from the moment you wrote the project?
Indeed, I think that we need to denounce that violence, the institutional coercion, the historical violence, but also the daily one, racism, sexism. Violence runs through us all the time and life goes on, but it hurts people and their ties. We have to pay more and more attention to these events. All the scenes in the film are imbued by this tension.
The film has supernatural overtones, particularly related to the figure of the shaman, which disturbs the arrival of the promoters. Could you comment on this dimension?
I love the supernatural dimension of the story, I would have liked to explore it even more, perhaps in an upcoming movie. In northern Argentina and particularly in the tropics, supernatural presences are real, they can be felt, they are also mixed with myths, with fears. In the Wichí world there are sorcerers and also forest dwellers. In the urban world too, there is a broken mirror of the city in which no one wants to look for fear of the destructive earthquake that threatens and tests people’s faith. There is also the myth of “el familiar” who takes the lives of workers, and there are always presences, an unexplained side of the world that emerges, that is perceptible, and that acts on all levels of beliefs and life.
The last sequence offers a moment of harmony between men and nature, where two women gently make fun of the men fishing. Could you come back to the end of the film?
There is something that I really like in the communities and in popular culture, that has to do with always looking for that moment of relief, knowing how to laugh in the face of a hurtful situation, as something vital, it is a way to heal and it also becomes an act of resistance. In the communities in particular, the feminine world knows how to laugh, it knows how to heal and that is what the “Husek”, the spirit, the gift of people, their good will, feeds on so they can continue to be people, good people. The end of the film is a great moment of relief, of return, of withdrawal to regain strength and then go on.
Interview by Louise Martin Papasian