Oct 22, 2008

Interview: Mabel Valdiviezo

Mabel Valdiviezo was part of the emerging experimental artist movement in Peru during the mid '80s that was very active and questioned the establishment. She studied film in Peru and won a grant that allowed her to study in a film school run by Armando Robles Godoy, an iconoclast filmmaker. She also studied film in the University of Lima. However, she later realized that in order to make films there she just had to be daring and asking people for favors, so she ended up borrowing equipment from a film company, Grupo Chasky and attracting great young talent, thus making an experimental video called Transparency Accessible.

At that time she became interested in watching a lot of European films, especially the neorealist period in Italy, the French Avant-Garde with François Truffaut, most Federico Fellini's films and one of her favorite auteurs, the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Later on, she wrote and directed Soledad Is Gone Forever, a short film that was featured in the Cannes Film Festival, now going through the process of becoming a feature-length film. I met Mabel in the New York Latino Film Festival '07, where she won the Pitch Contest. Based in San Francisco, Mabel was so kind to answer my questions via the cyberspace.

Pablo Goldbarg: How did you come up with the idea of making a film about the Chilean dictatorship?

Mabel Valdiviezo: Soledad was born of my desire to understand and relieve the pain that many Chileans have gone through when dealing with the aftermath of the Pinochet era. I was married to a Chilean and have several Chilean friends, and today they are still trying to heal from their country’s dark past. Soledad Is Gone Forever brings their voices to the screen while at the same time it is a universal metaphor about a brave young woman searching for truth about herself, her family and her country to bring peace to her life.

P.G.: How close you feel stories about Latin American dictatorships from the point of view of a Peruvian?

M.V.: I remember vividly when I was five years old and saw military men with machineguns taking young people from their homes in my neighborhood. Like in Chile, this time was a dark time in Peru’s history and become even more tragic during Fujimori’s reign. I see the parallel between most Latin American countries sized by military power and the great need to heal and find peace among ourselves.

P.G.: How was your experience in the Cannes Film Festival?

M.V.: It was very positive in the sense that our short got a lot of coverage and buzz and we connected with a lot of budding filmmakers who are doing very interesting work around the globe. We also got a distribution offer but decided to wait because the deal was not as flexible as we thought it could be.

P.G.: Tell me please how is the process of turning Soledad Is Gone Forever into a feature-length film.

M.V.: Since we began this project I always had a feature-length film in mind. The short, however, was a great visual laboratory that enabled me to test scenes and storylines that would be fleshed out in the feature script. This has taken a life of its own, exploring a darker and complex Chile with characters based in true accounts that not only hold explosive secrets but also threaten Soledad Gonzalez's life and challenge her to forgive the unforgivable. With the script completed and the support we have been receiving so far, I know that we are getting closer to achieving what we set out to do: to share the universality of Soledad Is Gone Forever, crossing generations and cultures, ultimately raising awareness of the power of healing and forgiveness.

P.G.: What is the role of film festivals in the way you work? Does it work? Is it the only way independent filmmakers can be known?

M.V.: Soledad has been to Cannes Film Market-Short Corner, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, International Latino Film Festival San Francisco, Anthology Film Archives and several others. It has been rewarding to see our film screening at these festivals and see how the audience react to our story. Yet having a short in a festival is filled with many obstacles. First, a short usually gets lost in the big array of films and features get most attention. The festival’s publicists and the media are not so concerned about a short film. We got some attention from the media, however but I soon realized that we needed to look beyond them. We needed to build an audience for feature and the short needed to be our main tool to achieve this. That’s when I decided to immersed myself in DIY online distribution. My team and I competed to be part of the From Here To Awesome showcase, a discovery and distribution festival spearheaded by Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, The Last Broadcast), and Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monsters). We have fully embraced the DIY spirit which is expand our audience, find distribution, drive people to the sites where our short film is being sold, be seen worldwide and get support, including finding a producer for the feature.

P.G.: What kind of support you feel you have as a Latina filmmaker in the U.S.?

M.V.: I feel that I need to create my own mark and niche making films that have magic and uplift the human experience. I can’t sit and wait for grants or recognition to come and knock at my door. My best support is to build my own audience with real people who can to see the stories I am sharing with them.

P.G.: What is the role of the Latinos today in U.S. media?

M.V.: The Latino image is controlled by the mainstream media and its sociopolitical bias. The new generation of media makers - including us, the filmmakers - should create empowering images of real Latinos that contest the status quo.

P.G.: Why do you think that if Latin American cinema is today one of the most recognized in the world, it is still so difficult for Latinos to have a project done?

M.V.: Latin America is a complex region with contrasting realities and a rich history of great literature. Filmmakers there want to tell their stories without giving too much thinking to the commercial potential of their films. Here, I feel that there is so much emphasis in the market potential and therefore the artistic integrity is compromised. There is also a great divide between Latinos in the U.S. because of our roots. I think we should all unite and become one and then we will raise a stronger voice.

P.G.: Would you like to make films in Peru?

M.V.: I absolutely want to make a feature in Peru. Today, as I am getting ready to go back to Peru I am revisiting my Peruvian self and I am finding many fascinating stories that are part of me growing up as a young woman and the Kafkanian/Almodovaresque world I knew then.


Soledad Is Gone Forever can be purchased at following sites:

For more information about upcoming screenings they can go to:

Picture above: Araceli Gonzalez plays Soledad, age 8.

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