This interview with “Octubre” filmmakers Daniel and Diego Vega was originally published during indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2011 New Directors/New Films festival. “Octubre,” their first feature, hits theaters in limited release this Friday, May 6th.
Peruvian films are a growing presence at international film festivals, and “Octubre” is an excellent example of why this is so. Winner of the Jury Prize of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2010, the film follows Clemente, a small-time money-lender living in a Lima barrio, who one day discovers a baby left on his doorstep. To care for the child—the product of one of his frequent liaisons with prostitutes—Clemente engages Sofia, a neighbor, and soon a new, unexpected family is formed.
Codirected by brothers Daniel and Diego Vega, “Octubre” plunges us into an unfamiliar world, creating an almost visceral sense of the back alleys and tumble-down houses that are Clemente’s territory, while introducing us to a fascinating assortment of complex, surprising characters. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF]
Writer/Director/Producers: Daniel Vega, Diego Vega
Cinematographer: Fergan Chávez-Ferrer
Editor: Gianfranco Annichini
Music by: Oscar Camacho
Cast: Bruno Odar, Gabriela Velásquez, Carlos Gassols, María Carbajal, Sheryl Sánchez, Victor Prada, Sofía Palacios, Norma Francesca Villareal, Humberta Trujillo
Responses courtesy of “Octubre” directors Daniel and Diego Vega.
The brothers and their introduction to filmmaking…
Diego: It’s hard to tell because it was not something that I had in mind since I was a kid. I liked watching films but never thought about making them. We used to shoot ourselves skateboarding or imitating an ad we thought was funny–but nothing more. Later on, while studying Economics, I had two friends who were talking about films 24 hours a day. Daniel was studying Communications, so one day we made up a story with these friends that made us laugh a lot and decided to shoot it. My brother brought some equipment (VHS camera and one light) and we did it. At that time I was quite bored with my classes and those days of shooting were hilarious for me. I guess this experience made me think for the first time of doing something I really enjoyed.
Daniel: For my part, I’d just add that I started studying Business Administration but after a month I knew I wasn’t in the right place. I started looking for careers in the university booklet and two careers caught my attention–Psychology and Communications–and I decided on the second one without knowing really why. When I started taking classes about film, that’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Our first interest was focused on talking about fake money. That’s how we started writing the first drafts. In Lima (Peru) we are used to obsessively checking the bills and coins all the time, no matter how small the transaction. You’ll check a bill given by a bank the same way as one given by a taxi driver. It’s common to experience the sensation of feeling guilty that you are cheating somebody, or that somebody is trying to cheat you, without anything being verbalized. The explanation lies not only in fake money circulation (which has decreased a lot in recent years). There’s an extended tendency of distrust, and to explain this we’d need more than a film. Distrust mixed with a strong emotional handicap is what our main character is about. He is a man who needs monetary transactions to relate to other people, and a man for whom a fake bill could cause a lot of trouble. When we finally got our main character we thought we had the film. But there was still a long way to go. Over time, “Octubre” became a tale without a moral message where we exaggerated characteristics—at times, approaching caricature—to call attention to certain weaknesses and virtues of the human condition. Our film turned out to be a story about how a very particular ‘family’ gets together for just one night around our main character. He will have to deal with something that needs no monetary transactions to work out. And this is the miracle and the reason why it happens during the purple month. Because an unpleasant, cold and lonely man named Clemente has at least one chance to change his life.
A universal story set in Lima…
As we said, “Octubre” is about a ‘family’ composed of very lonely people getting together for just one night. And the reason they get together may be necessity. “Octubre” occurs in Lima, but if it weren’t for the background–the month of October during the Lord of the Miracles processions–the story could happen anywhere in the world. But we decided it should be in Lima, first because it’s our city and we know it, and second because we think what happens to Clemente–a lonely character, cold, constrained, greedy and incapable of showing affection–is a miracle. And a miracle which can confirm the hopes not only of the Lord of the Miracles’ devotees, but also of those believers in any Saint or Idea, who want to change their lives and think that by finding some companionship and affection, or by solving some family problems, their lives can be better. We didn’t want to portray a typical Lima family, nor the typical moneylender, nor the social or working conditions that affect our society. Our main interest has always been to explore the limits of the human condition, taking it to extremes, and trying to resolve it with an open ending to be interpreted by the audience depending on their mood or social condition, but in the end an ending full of light and hope.
“A huge dose of stubbornness”…
It will sound obvious but getting the funds was the big challenge for us. From the day we said “let’s make a feature film,” it took us seven years until we had our first 35mm copy. So combining this long process full of rejections and ups and downs with our lives was very difficult. You need a huge dose of stubbornness.
Adventures in filmmaking: a hit and run…
A lot. But we like one very short one about this guy everybody on the film scene in Peru calls “Chocoton”, he’s a big guy and always arrives to the shoot with his posse with their mafia attitude, very funny, loud music and so on. We were preparing a scene where a taxi (a yellow Tico, the common taxis in Lima) had to stop at a specific point in the street. The shot was close to the inside of the taxi. We wanted to see the main character inside having a small discussion with the taxi driver because of a fake bill and we wanted to do it in one shot (the camera was outside the taxi). So it was getting harder and harder. We were losing time. The taxi never stopped where we wanted. A policeman was already sniffing around. We were getting nervous. So “Chocoton” said “I’ll stop the taxi with my body.” A Tico is not big, but it’s still a car, so it can be dangerous, but “Chocoton” wanted to do it. So we prepared the shot, the driver started the car, accelerated, turned the car off, and hit “Chocoton” and “Chocoton” flew back two meters and
the whole team started to laugh. He came back and asked us to do it again. So we did it with the whole team laughing. It was a very absurd moment with the police standing by and wondering what to do and the team watching “Chocoton” stopping the Tico. When editing, we did not use that scene.
Up next for the brothers: a “silent” film…
Our new project its called “El Mudo” which in English can be translated as “Mute” or “The Mute One” or “The Mute,” we don’t know yet. It’s about a Peruvian government official who one morning leaves his house and a stray bullet pierces his throat. He doesn’t die but becomes mute. After his recovery, the only thing that he is certain of is that someone from his office tried to kill him. We want to reflect about corruption in our country and about human condition.