Film school provides you with pre-packaged toolkit and a handy piece of paper that certifies that you are a filmmaker. This might be the shortest, but certainly not the only or even necessarily the best way to establish a filmmaking career.
Young filmmaker Manuel Almereyda Perrone – born in Switzerland but by now, a citizen of the world – bears it out with his own story where the detours of life, fortuitous encounters and occasional missteps have proven to be a far better school.
With Almereyda Perrone the starting point was a slip-up which turned into a stroke of luck. “At 18 I went to Burkina Faso and Senegal to tour with a Theater Company, and after six months of obstacle course I understood I needed to take acting classes,” he said recently at The Locarno Film Festival where he was participating in the Filmmaker’s Academy.
This detour led him to the Acting School first in Bruxelles and then in Padova where he learned the Lecoq method, and then shifted to Anthropology studies at the University of Neuchâtel. “What the anthropological approach and storytelling have in common is that instead of judging the outer world you learn to observe it with scientific attention, seeking for anything atypical and fascinating that is worth telling,” he said.
At that time he shot his first school documentary “Nel nome del pane (In the name of bread)” and learned the basics of editing. Even more importantly, he met Pietro Botte, a Neapolitan kitchen hand with whom he created a street show that, ironically, took them to Locarno where they performed during the Locarno International Film Festival. “There we performed unofficially everywhere in the streets and earned more than 8,000 bucks in 10 days: that was my grand debut at an International Film Festival,” he said.
With this money, Almeyreyda Perrone bought a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, where he struck up a friendship with theater director Adhemar Bianchi, who served as a mentor. Bianchi allowed him to stage theater pieces with the actors of his company.
In Argentina, with no money and little experience, Almeyreyda Perrone started shooting a documentary where he follows a group of elderly amateur actresses performing in public spaces while disguised as nuns. “I can say that ‘El Habito (The Habit)’ has been my real life Film School: at the beginning it looks like a poor TV documentary, while towards the end it properly turns into cinema the more I realize how much lights, good framing and camerawork matter in this complex language.”
Already, the director has found success with his second project, a compilation of five short movies called “Rêves d’occasion (Occasional Dreams).” One episode, “Santex,” has been bought by Canal + while another, “Adios Muchachas” won a prize at the Nice Short Film Festival. With almost no budget, “Rêves d’occasion” was shot in a second-hand superstore with the actual salespeople playing themselves.
More recently, Almereyda Perrone has just concluded “Golconda,” a cabaret-like short movie that is starting to travel on the festival circuit. Starring his lifelong friend and now clown for the Cirque du Soleil Pietro Botte, the film was shot in two days and the production expenses were minimal.
The filmmaker is hopeful that this will be the last no-budget movie of his career, although he appreciates how limited resources can be a boon for creativity. It “undeniably triggers the imagination because it requires you to find original solutions to carry out your over-ambitious ideas,” he said.
With three feature screenplays complete, Almereyda Perrone said they are more like loose outlines. He explained, “my stories need to keep evolving before and during the shootings according to the places, the circumstances and the people which make them. They have to stay open to receive the unforeseen errors that might create the magic in a shot.”
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.
READ MORE: The 2015 Indiewire Locarno Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival