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Here’s Why This Costa Rican Filmmaker is Getting International Attention

Here's Why This Costa Rican Filmmaker is Getting International Attention

Ernesto “Neto” Villalobos’ feature debut, “Por las plumas” (“All About the Feathers”), premiered simultaneously at TIFF 2013 and San Sebastian 2013 and was selected by 30 other festivals, including Rotterdam, Vancouver, San Francisco and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Latinbeat series. This deadpan comedy tells the story of Chalo, a security guard who wants to get into the cockfighting game and acquires a rooster, whom he names Rocky.

This year Villalobos was part of the Cannes Film Festival Cinéfondation Résidence, where he finished the first draft of his second project, called “El hombre de la mancha.” Indiewire recently chatted with Villabos at the 2015 Locarno International Film Festival where he was participating in the Filmmakers Academy.

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Tell me a bit about your background.

I graduated in Sociology in Costa Rica knowing that I really wanted to study film. But before studying film, I wanted to study something else. I didn’t want to leave the country so young. And when I finished college I went to Barcelona to study film. I studied directing and then returned to Costa Rica and began to work. I started working a lot on advertising and teaching at the new film school. Then the time came when I started to need other things, and that’s when I started applying to Talent Campus, first in Berlinale and then I went to BAFICI. I really like workshops.
In your video presentation for the Cannes Cinéfondation, you use the term “deadpan comedy” to identify “El hombre de la mancha,” your next project. Could you expand on that?

The term “deadpan comedy” is not a term that I like. I believe comedy is comedy and that’s it. I don’t know who invented it, but it refers to a type of “dry” comedy. If I had to say a director that I love or that has affected me in terms of comedy, I think those would be Aki Kaurismaki, Jacques Tati, Emir Kusturica and Roy Andersson, who I discovered recently at the Cannes Cinéfondation Résidence.

In the Cinéfondation video, you also state that you want to talk about “people who live their lives not looking for big dreams, not caring too much about why we do what we do.” Is this a declaration of principles?

That’s how I try to see life. Once a fellow Résidence trainee asked me why I worked with these people if they aren’t close to my reality, but I think he saw it in terms of professions. Yes, I have no links with security guards. I don’t come from there, but I think there is actually a point in the way they see life that surprised me in many people I knew in that world, which is not to worry about long-term issues, but to see life as everyday, and how to discover what’s going on. I think sometimes large goals are more bourgeois concerns.

Can you talk about your working method in “Por las plumas”?

My way of working is through research, writing a script from research and then to confront it with reality. What I like to do is to find the cast from the characters I wrote and then transform those characters again.

Why did you choose to work with non-actors for this film?

When you can find the personality of a character you wrote, and it works that way, you don’t necessarily need an actor. We also had actors on our casting process, but none of them achieved what our cast achieved. I felt more comfortable, even though it meant much more preparation.

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What was your method of working with the performers?

I decided to change the entire script into a basic framework because I couldn’t expect the non-actors to memorize dialogues. I don’t think it works that way. So what I had clear is how I wanted them to talk, how I wanted to start the scene and how should it end. Then I worked that way: building everything before going back to basics. 

So the script became like a structure to work around.

Yeah. I like improvisation, but after you’ve gone through the entire construction process. I know that with “El hombre de la mancha” (for which I’ve just finished the first treatment) we’ll have a script to apply to film funds, but when I return to Costa Rica and start working with real locations, with real people, things are going to change. And when we start shooting more things will change. But I believe it’s also really boring to shoot a movie that’s exactly like the script.

How hard is it to make a film in Costa Rica?

Sometimes people tell you: “Oh, how difficult it is to make films in Costa Rica, because you have no government fund and there’s virtually no support for cinema,” but I think anywhere it’s difficult to make films or it could be very easy. What do I mean by that? For example, in Costa Rica we may have few filmmakers and not have many funds, but the fact that there are so few of us makes it easier for us. In Argentina, they may have film funds, but there are also many more filmmakers. So many people applying to funds also makes it more competitive or more corrupt. So I think that, regardless of all those things, it will always be difficult, but you can do it.

Tell me about you new project “El hombre de la mancha.”

It’s also a comedy. It’s a comedy about motorized messengers, about sex on motorcycles, about losing your job, about doing whatever you like. You could say I want to try new things, things I didn’t try in “Por las plumas.” I want, in some cases, to make it more absurd, in some cases, more violent, but always with the same kind of comedy, without necessarily telling a story with perfect plot points. It’s a challenge. I want to rethink many things I learned in “Por las plumas” and to learn what happens if you do things differently.

This article is part of a series written by members of the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy, organized by Indiewire, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Locarno Film Festival.

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