A ridiculous number of obstacles stood (and still stand) in Alonso Ruizpalacios’ way as he takes black-and-white feature “Gueros” to Tribeca and the world. The TV screenwriter from Mexico City has a lot of heart behind this project, as well as one of the most unconventionally inspiring answers to the “did you go to film school” question that we’ve heard.
Tell us about yourself: I was born and raised in Mexico City and, like most middle-class kids growing up in Mexico in the 80s, looked up to everything that came down from the U.S. We treasured Milky Ways and Nerds sweets as the greatest food on Earth, and grew up on Vanilla Ice, G.I. Joe action figures, and teenage comedies – everything that was on steroids and radioactive hues was god. Consuming this stuff left us without a clear sense of belonging to the place we actually lived in. So, coming of age for me was a painful eye-opening process of really getting to know Mexico and learning to love it.
I write this because my film is a love letter of sorts to Mexico City. It’s about overcoming the fear of the unknown, by traveling. I was very insistent that we, the cast and crew, make the same emotional journey as the characters while filming, and come to know and understand our home a little bit more in the process.
Biggest challenge in completing this project? I don’t think we’ve passed the biggest challenge yet. Every time we think we’ve made it to the next phase, something – some force of nature, some piece of bad news – comes along and makes everything more complicated again, threatening to drag us down. It’s all to do with the financing, as always. We’ve been to so many pointless meetings with people who said they liked our “little film” but could see “little or no revenues” coming from it. When we won the Best First Feature in this year’s Berlinale, people started to pay a little more attention. Still, it’s all state-funded as of now, and we got a lot of our friends to work on it for peanuts.
Did you go to film school? Nope. Tried to get into NYU, made it to the final interview but had a scary panic attack in mid-interview. The suits on the other side of the desk looked at me with puzzled faces and kindly showed me the door.
Looking back on it now, I thank them. I don’t think I would have enjoyed being in such a competitive place (drama school in London was more than enough of that for me). I went to a couple of lectures at NYU and Columbia and everyone seemed to me to be at each others’ throats all the time, waiting for the others to trip up (at least that’s how it seemed to me at the time -maybe I was just scared). Anyway, most of my favourite filmmakers didn’t go to film school or were thrown out. So I guess in a way I’m proud to be among the “unschooled”, film-wise.
Having said that, for this film, we watched a lot of Fellini and the French New Wave. In particular, “I Vitelloni,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Vivre Ça Vie” and, of course, “Breathless.”One of this film’s strongest influences was a 1970s Mexican gem called “Los Caifanes,” which is also a road movie inside Mexico City.