The final years in the life of legendary bandit Butch Cassidy are shrouded in mystery, from his rumored death in a Bolivian military standoff, to his escape from South America to die quietly on a Nevada ranch the 1930s. In Mateo Gil’s intimate and adventurous Western, a re-imagined and aged Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) is living under the assumed name James Blackthorn in a secluded village in Bolivia 20 years after his disappearance in 1908. Surviving humbly off the land and finding occasional comforts with a local woman, Yana (Magaly Solier, “The Milk of Sorrow”), he longs to end his personal exile and return to the US to see his family. Reluctantly joining forces with a Spanish mine robber (Eduardo Noriega) who promises him a cut of the loot, “Blackthorn” sets out on one final adventure… and discovers he’s not the only one harboring a deep secret. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]
World Narrative Competition
Primary Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier
Director(s): Mateo Gil
Screenwriter: Miguel Barros
Producer(s): Ibon Cormenzana, Andrés Santana
Editor: David Gallart
Director of Photography: Juan Ruiz-Anchía, ASC
Production Designer: Juan Pedro de Gaspar
Executive Producer: Ibon Cormenzana, Andrés Santana, Paolo Agazzi
Composer: Lucio Godoy
Responses courtesy of “Blackthorn” director Mateo Gil.
When did you discover your calling?
I just recall myself as a teenager finding out there was somebody called ‘director’ behind every movie, and then deciding that I wanted to be ‘that person’. Of course, I hid my purpose to everyone else since it sounded too presumptuous in the environment where I grew up. So I told my family and friends that I was going to college in Madrid to study communications.
The easy part…
In Spain, directors usually complain that they don’t receive any screenplays and always have to write them for themselves. I think this is because screenwriting is not fairly paid and everybody prefers to become a director. Curiously enough, I am a screenwriter and nevertheless a good friend of mine sent me “Blackthorn” to read. And it was great! That was the easy part. The difficult one was getting the money to make a Western in Europe.
I would say “Blackthorn” is a nostalgic Western. It is so on two different levels. On an aesthetic level, it is nostalgic of an old way of making movies. I used to see these movies on TV when I was a kid and still enjoy them like crazy. On a human level, “Blackthorn” is nostalgic of the values that used to be embodied in western heroes and seem to be fading away in our days.
Westerns being a genuinely American genre and Cassidy an American legend, one of our main concerns was that the movie wouldn’t turn out to be odd or alien to American audiences. The key was to watch lots of Westerns and also be very careful with the language and accents of the American characters. Obviously, having Sam Shepard in our team was of invaluable help.
While filming in Potosi, Bolivia, we hired some local crew to help us scoop for some extras. We also asked them to look for Shepard’s stand-in among the tourists in the place. For that purpose they were shown photographs of the actor in order to know his size and appearance. One Sunday morning, sitting down on a bench in the main park of the city, reading a book, there was a man that fitted in the features we were looking for. Our local man approached him and explained the situation in English and invited him to become Shepard’s stand-in. The tourist stared at him for a few seconds and said: “I am Sam Shepard”.
Changing it up…
I have got two science-fiction projects in hand. The modest one I would like to direct next. The other one, I am actually writing and would like to sell it to some American Studio, for it can only be a Hollywood feature. We’ll see.