Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.
Heidi Specogna directed “The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez,” screening in the World Cinema Competition: Documentary section. Gutierrez was one of the first U.S. soldiers to be killed in the Iraq War. He grew up an orphan on the streets of Guatemala City and illegally crossed into the U.S. when he was 22. Specogna’s previous work includes documentaries that focus on socialism in Latin America and a former guerilla group in Uruguay.
Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live?
I was born in Switzerland [in] 1959. I studied journalism and attended the Berlin Film School from 1982 to 1988. Since then I [have been] living in Berlin. Apart [from] being a documentary filmmaker I do lectures at the film academy in Ludwigsburg, in the south of Germany.
What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker?
It was one short step from journalism to documentary film …
How do you finance your films?
After film school I proposed my ideas to the TV channels and the official cultural funding organization to finance them. That is the way we work in Germany: in coproduction with television and with support [from] the ministries of culture.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
This film is the result of intensive involvement with the history of Latin America and the social realities of the continent. This context has been the inspiration for most of my films, as well as the need to contribute to changing these realities.
What are your biggest creative influences?
I am very much influenced by European documentary filmmakers — [such] as Raymond Depardon, Richard Dindo, Heddy Honigmann — with their interest in looking [across] borders into foreign themes. And I am very glad to be able to work mostly in relative freedom from commercial pressures. Our films have to be financed before starting to realize them — so we filmmakers aren’t forced to sell them afterwards and going into compromises we don’t like.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
Shooting a road movie between Guatemala and Mexico — that is quite an adventure.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
I was in Albania with some students from the film school in Baden-Wuerttemberg, visiting the Albanian film school Marubi. It was cold in Tirana, and there was no electricity. We just were sitting in the editing room, with candlelights, waiting for the end of the electricity break when my cell phone rang, and my producer told my this fantastic “hot” news.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
Just to take the chance to present the story of Jose Antonio Gutierrez [to as many] people as possible. And I appreciate very much the possibilities [for] discussions after the screenings, being able to know [how] my film has moved the audience.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
To realize a film in a very personal way without being forced to [submit] it to [a] common way of viewing documentaries.
Who are a few people that you would most like to meet at Sundance?
Colleagues — especially young American documentary filmmakers — in Europe we only know a few [of] them. How do they observe the world, in which realities are they interested? What questions do they have in mind toward social and human problems?
If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?
I would offer it to a handful of students of the documentary class in Ludwigsburg, Germany, with the suggestion just to go out and investigate what they are interested in. With no fixed story in mind, being open and most important: having time, a lot of time to develop what can become a documentary.
What are some of your favorite films and why?
My absolute favorite is more than 20 years old: “Radio On” from Chris Petit. Filmed in black-and-white, filmed by my most important teacher at the film school in Berlin — DOP Martin Schaefer, who died many years ago.
[Get the latest from the Sundance Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Park City ’06 section.]