Marialy Rivas had a hit on her hands with the delightfully provocative Sundance hit “Joven Y Alocada” (Young and Wild), a film that is an energetic
kaleidoscope of sex, defiance & artistically experimental – everything that pretty much happens to you when you come-of-age. Rivas was back at
Sundance this year, which saw her switch gears to a short documentary entitled “Melody.” Set in Chonchi, a small town in Chiloé, one of the most southern
islands in Chile, Melody Jerez is a teacher who was determined to bring escape through music to her students, one being Georgina, a flower on the wall, precocious young girl. Here we capture their journey from a poor, seemingly inescapable
town to the grand Teatro Municipal in Chile’s capital, Santiago.
“Melody” is one of the most beautiful, delicate films about the virtue of what the simple act of caring can do in a child’s life.
How did you meet Melody Jerez and Georgina and what exactly made you decide that you wanted to make this film?
I was participating in the short film challenge of the Sundance Institute, sponsored by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The premise was: to tell a
story about people that help other people to overcome poverty. There are good people in the world they said, let’s show their stories. I do believe that
with all my heart so the challenge sounded perfect. What drew me to the film was an actual serious problem in Chile. My country, after Pinochet’s
dictatorship became a place with one of the most expensive education system in the world, this in time has generated no social mobility, if you are born
poor, you won’t be able to study so it’s almost certain you will stay poor for the rest of your life. I thought the story of the Youth Orchestras, a free
music program for at risk children, was a good example on how education can change your life forever so this would show how urgent is to make education
free for everyone. This little story will mirror the big picture of my country. I knew the first youth Orchestra started during the 90’s in Curanilahue so
I start asking who belonged to that Orchestra.
Then one day Melody appeared. She was working as an Orchestra teacher herself for the Chilean Youth
Orchestras Foundation. From then on everything was a mix of luck and the beauty of the always giving Universe. Approaching the Sundance challenge, I knew I
wanted to tell the story about a woman and a girl, both musicians, I wanted the story of them to mirror each other. I spoke to Melody on a Tuesday by Skype
and I flew to shoot her on Thursday because she was having the big concert that appears at the end of the film that same Sunday. I knew I have to shoot
that event. The first day I arrived I asked Melody to introduce me to all her girls between 8 and 12 that played in her Orchestra. I took them all to a
nearby gym and interview them about how they felt about music. Georgina struck me for her determination and hunger for music. When I told Melody I picked
Geo, she asked why and I said I could see in her eyes she wanted music more than anything.
Only then the story of Geo was revealed to me, how she was
living with Melody as a “daughter”. I didn’t know they were connected when I picked them separately and the story of both of them was more powerful than
anything I could ever have imagined. When I was editing my editor told me: I think I have heard the name Melody before, I think a friend of mine did a
short film in the nineties with a girl named Melody… we contacted the filmmaker and again another amazing gift: there she was, Melody on film, at 10
years old. That ended up closing the circle of the story. It was a beautiful experience to say the least.
The voice over is spoken in such a wonderful manner you would think Melody and Georgina are thinking aloud to themselves or to anyone who may listen. What
was the process of that?
When I approached the documentary I knew I wanted the short to have a poetic feel to it, like Hiroshima Mon Amour or Miguel Gomes Redemption. I recorded
hours of interview with both of them, I reviewed the material, I edited the conversations and then we went back with Melody and Geo to all the subjects so
we will use their words and experience but sounding like a stream of consciousness, we recorded that and it was the final voice over of the film.
Did you enjoy making a documentary as much as you do a narrative?
Oh my God they are so exciting in such different ways. With the documentary it felt all the time like a gift, I was just there watching an amazing story
unravel, these diamonds were there ready to shine and I just needed to pay attention. It is also a lot of improvisation, trust in the moment, to go where
the story is taking you, you have to be present at all times. And wow, the places they can take you. At least this is how this experience felt to me. I
liked the smaller crew. I liked the fact that the scripts builds itself as you go BUT I also think IT IS SO INCREDIBLY HARD!!! This was a short film and I
was lucky that everything flowed almost in a magical way but I can see how hard a feature documentary can be, building the trust, waiting, being there, I
really think documentary filmmakers are heroes.
You start the next film this week? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I can tell you that I feel like I am gonna start escalating the Everest and I know I need more weeks of training and more weeks to arrive to the top but
it’s now or never. Movies in Latin America and probably at this point everywhere in the world except Hollywood and Bollywood are always lacking money. I
would give everything for one more week of preproduction and one more week of shooting. But what we have I have to make it work, so I will leap into the
void hoping I will be able to make it. Are we ever ready to anything I wonder? Maybe I keep telling this to myself to not go crazy.
Do you hope your film can open eyes in Chile to further enhance children’s education through the arts?
Oh yes I wish it could. Kids are everything, they are so willing to learn and grow in all the possible ways and it is our duty as adults to open a world of
opportunities to them. They can all make it and the arts introduce amazing values in the children. Creativity and Discipline in the same extent. Enjoy the
music you play but also experience the tremendous effort to play it well. I think like sound pretty similar to life no?
The closing shot of them is gorgeous. My favorite. They look like sisters and you feel the love formed between them. What is their relationship today?
The have formed a family. A family with their own rules and timings, but a family. When I was shooting them, they used to only make jokes about music and
talk long about composers. It’s true they are like sisters maybe even more than an “adoptive mom”, they love each other profoundly and this love is what
you see piercing the screen. They admire each other, they support each other. It is profoundly beautiful.
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