INTERVIEW – LOS FUNDADORES

Interview with Diego Hernández

Los Fundadores is based on true facts – the Autonomous University of Baja California’s (UABC) debts, and your job in a store selling doors – and constantly hovers between reality and fiction. How did this project come about and what led you to choose this approach?
The idea of playing with the borderlines of fiction was there right from the start, but at first the exercise was more modest. I wanted to film a portrait of the warehouse where I worked for several years as a carpenter’s assistant. I started by doing improvisation exercises with an actor, but when I heard the business was going to move, these exercises took on a very personal turn and I wanted to it to be a kind of farewell to the place. That’s when I decided to quit university for a while to focus on developing the project with Melissa Castañeda.
While we were writing the movie, we decided to include more elements of my life and the context of our lives in Tijuana: the Government’s debt to the UABC was still an issue and there were endless discussions in student circles about the crisis. We also wanted to talk about our working conditions and, at the same time, there were severe water shortages in the city. A lot of questions come into play in the film, but what brings them together in my mind was the reflection about representativeness in everyday life and the relationship between public policy and theatrics. Renée and Andrés, the other actors, also put a lot of elements of their life into the project. It was a kind of self-reflective exercise and, as well as a specific message to convey, it was our doubts about the era and the current context that became the film’s driving force.

We can tell which scenes were written and which were improvisation exercises. How did you tackle the directing? Did the film involve a lot of writing?
The screenplay consisted of a very brief description of the situations without any written dialogue. The actors’ positions were pre-defined for some scenes but never how they were to be delivered. I wanted everyone to talk using their own words and interact as they would in real life. Shooting was fun! We had a very clear idea of what we didn’t want, but there were a lot of “accidents” that we decided to keep because they made the scenes much more amusing. Shooting also gave us a lot more freedom. It was crucial for us to enjoy ourselves during the creative process and I think that comes out in the film’s tone.

Making doors, looking for parts in a breaker’s yard… the characters in Los Fundadores seem to be working on the construction of a set in which the student revolt is to take place but also the film itself. What were production conditions like and how did you manage to work as producer, director, editor and actor all at the same time?
All the film’s locations are places we’d often been to and we didn’t have any trouble getting permission to shoot. It was a very small crew – six of us – but that didn’t have anything to do with the production conditions. It’s how we like to work and it’s also a way of not being too intrusive, adapting to the locations without interrupting the life of the people living there. We spent six days filming in total, almost always finishing at sundown. Every day, we went back to my house where my mother made food for the whole film crew.
Editing was the most complicated part on a personal level – I had a lot of trouble getting rid of scenes that weren’t used for the final edit. Because of the pandemic, the process lasted almost a year. The final stage was the sound design. Saulo Cisneros did a fantastic job with the direct sound that he’d recorded himself and he taught me a lot about working with this element. I like to think of filmmaking as a handicraft, and I discovered that appearing in the frame as an actor, in places that are important to me, and working with people dear to me is something that makes me very happy.
A great deal of attention is paid to composing the frame in your film. Several times, the image proceeds in shifts, like in the bar scene where the conversation between three people is either off-screen or on the edge of the frame. How did you think out the photography and work with the director of photography?
From the very beginning, I wanted to work with still frames to explore in detail the improvisation and the inner rhythm of the scenes, and to accentuate the portrait of youth stuck in political apathy. By staying distant from the characters most of the time, the static camera also gives viewers the chance to observe the places in detail.
In preproduction, we discussed all the shots and camera movements with the DoP and visited the locations to see how we could make the most of the natural light. He quickly grasped the rhythm and tone of the film, which made for a very fluid shoot. For my part, I gave indications about the camera movements in the scenes I appeared in through my movements on the set.

Los Fundadores is the title of the play that Renée’s preparing in the movie and also the avenue where the door store is located where you and Andrés work. The “founders” are also these three characters who are trying to create something: a play, political awareness, and a film. How do you interpret the title?
When we began writing, we wanted to divide the film into three parts named after Tijuana’s main streets. “Los Fundadores” was the title of the first part as it conveyed the notion of “starting something”. When we abandoned the idea, we kept the title Los Fundadores. It suggested something present throughout the entire film – a constant intention to construct something. We wanted the film to depict the power of youth as a political agent, and social conscience that’s usually established at university.

You show, in an almost derisory way, a student movement that’s struggling to get off the ground and seems to leave members of the university completely indifferent. How do you now envisage the student movement in Tijuana, and in Mexico overall?
They’re very different contexts. It seems to me that student political engagement is more significant in the middle of the country than in Baja California. There’s a scene in the film where one of the characters says “This isn’t the UNAM, this is Tijuana!” The state’s debt to the UABC lasted for several years and very few student collectives tried to do something about it, there was a kind of widespread apathy for a long time. Maybe there’s a lack of historical awareness. A lot of the land where the UABC campuses are built was obtained through student movements in Baja California in the early 70s, but this is hardly ever mentioned. The bracelet demonstration is also based on an actual event. I took part in it a few months before making the film, and, on reflection, it was very inept. The film’s also a critique of the student community that I belonged to, of our failures and successes, at a time when universities’ autonomy was at stake.

You’re 23. Can you tell us a little about your life so far, and your future projects? How do you see young, independent cinema in Baja California developing?
Last year, I made my second film without leaving the house, using the tools I had to hand. We’re just about to complete the post production and we’re hoping to release it soon. I’m also finishing writing the screenplay for a feature film that will need more resources, so soon we’ll be looking for funding. We’re really enthusiastic about what’s to come.
There’s a real craze among young people for cinema in Baja California. In Tijuana, there’s already three film schools and more and more young people are trying to break into filmmaking. People are also getting organised to insist on legal reforms that will help filmmakers. All this gives more weight to the region’s film industry. I’ve also noticed that young people are increasingly looking for new ways to make films, very different from the industrial logic, and I think that soon, a lot of new filmmakers from the area will make their work known.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian