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Tribeca ’09 Interview: “The Fish Child” Director Lucia Puenzo (World Narrat. Compet.)

Tribeca '09 Interview: "The Fish Child" Director Lucia Puenzo (World Narrat. Compet.)

Editor’s Note: This is one of dozens of interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival in the narrative and doc competitions as well as the Discovery section. The festival takes place April 22 – May 3.

“The Fish Child” (“El nino pez”)
(World Narrative Feature Competition)
Director/Screenwriter: Lucia Puenzo
Cast: Ines Efron, Mariela Vitale, Pep Munne, Carlos Bardem, Arnaldo Andre, Diego Velazquez

Synopsis: Unassuming and pretty Lala (Ines Efron), a teenager from the most exclusive suburban neighborhood in Buenos Aires, is madly in love with Guayi (Mariela Vitale), her family’s gorgeous 20-year-old Paraguayan maid. The two dream of living together in Paraguay and begin to steal and sell all they can get their hands on to fund their escape. But when their risky plan goes terribly wrong, Guayi disappears and is taken into custody for a crime she did not commit. Desperate, Lala will stop at nothing to be with Guayi again… even if it means unraveling the secrets of her dark, hidden past. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Lucia Puenzo. I was born in Bs As, Argentina, in 1976, and have lived here ever since. I’ve been a writter and screenwritter for many more years than a have been a director, studied literature and cinema, published 4 novels and 2 films: “XXY” and “El nino pez.” I spend many a hours a day writing. Happily I’m not alone, my husband is also a writer & director, so we keep each other company.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I must confess I’m surrounded… My father and 3 brothers are directors. I’ve been on sets since I was born; one of my father’s films was shot in the house were I grew up. I started working in cinema at 19, then decided I would only write… Wrote scripts for many friends who then became well known directors. Then finally I won a contest at our cinema institute, directed a short story and after that I couldn’t get away from the camera. Since that day, 4 years ago, I’ve been alternating between literature and cinema.

What prompted the idea for your film?

“El nino pez” is an adaptation of my first novel, which I wrote when I was 23 and published in 2004. While I was editing “XXY,” my first film, I began to write an adaptation thinking some other director would like to take it to screen… The material changed so drastically from the novel to the script (basically because the novel’s narrator is a dog, a very punk and trashy dog, humorous, cynical and passionately in love with his owner) that in the end I decided it would be my second film.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

After working in the script for 7 months, I spent another year finding the producers, cast and team who were willing to tell the legend of “El nino pez.” The situation of cinema in Argentina is tough these days, so the pre-production was stopped 3 times, but we finally made it.

I always begin my films in the same way: finding the characters in a casting that usually takes a long time. I began looking for Lala and Guayi and it took me 7 months to find them. Once the whole cast was ready, we rehearsed for 5 weeks, while I was travelling to Paraguay to look for some locations, together with the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

The shooting took 6 weeks and the editing 2 months.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

“El nino pez” is a films that intertwines several genres, and that was one of the biggest challenges: how to weave together different genres while having at the same time a narration that would be common to the whole film, a tone and rhythm that would give it an identity. I worked on that on the script and while we were shooting, but mostly during the editing. This film had many challenges: an action scene with one only day to shoot it and extremely limited resources, 2 only days to shoot in Paraguay with a team of only 4 people, including the actress… But sometimes that adrenaline makes things work even better.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals?

Success for any artist is having a personal world that can be seen or felt in whatever they do: book, painting, film… Artists like Cassavettes, Nabokov, Haneke, Picasso, Borges, Aira… You can watch a painting or a film or read a book of them and you’ll know it is theirs, that it can not belong to anyone else. For me, that is success. My personal goal is to be able to keep telling whatever story I want with no speculations but my own desire.

What are your future projects?

I’m finishing a new novel called “La furia de la langosta” (“The Lobster’s Fury”) and have some projects to direct, hopefully soon: “The Merciful Women,” from producer Richard Rubinstein; “Satori,” a story of 2 rival karate-girls; “Ishtar,” a true story of a very peculiar relationship of a hermit-“guardafauna” and the last 22 killer whales of Patagonia.

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