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FROM CARACAS’ TOUGHEST NEIGHBORHOOD

Read more about Gustavo Rondón Cordova’s film La Familia, Caracas and the making of movies in Venezuela.

Av 3. nov 2017

Gustavo Rondón Cordova made a name for himself with Nostalgi, which was nominated for best short film at the Berlinale in 2012. In this year’s Films from the South we can se his first feature film. La Familia is touching movie concerning family relations in an environment where only the strong survive. Read more about the movie here. 

We had a chat with the director who wants to show the world both the ups and downs of his hometown Caracas:

Your film is done in a very naturalistic way, and it’s easy to identify with the struggle and lost dreams of the protagonists. The whole movie really feels like an authentic experience. Tell a bit of how La Familia was made:

–We used approximately four months for research before we started the pre-production. It was very important to get the right emotions, places and persons for the movie I wanted to make. Since Caracas is my hometown and a place I know really well, I wanted to show all the different sides of an everyday in the city.

How important was all the research for the final result?

– I believe all the preparations and the research were essential for how the movie ended up being. To travel around in the city, meet people and just feel the atmosphere made the basis for a great amount of ideas for the script and the characters in the movie.

What was your main ambition for the film?

– I wanted to do a simple but sensitive film about family ties. I have been working on that theme since my short films and with this idea I wanted to introduce another character, Caracas, the place I was born and grew up. I wanted to put on images and sounds what I feel about Caracas nowadays. It’s richness and its lacks, what I love and seduces me, and what rejects me. We tried to build a world that can be seen as half ruins or as a place ready to be rebuilt, exactly as the story of the father and the son in the film. I really expect that the audience leave the cinema with that story on their minds and with questions more than answers. I hope that people finds a connection with this intimate story and maybe some with the idea how a place can affect our lives, sometimes in a way we are not that aware.

One of La Familia’s greatest strengths is the realistic style and the trustworthy interaction between father and son, Andrés and Pedro (played by Giovanni García and Reggie Reyes. From the beginning, Cordova wanted the son to be played by a non-actor, while he felt he needed a more experienced person for the role of the father. The process to find the former took some time.

–We had a really long casting process where we went to different schools, sports centres and dancehalls to find the right person. We made some camera tests with a bunch of youngsters, but we shortly found out that Reggie Reyes was the right guy for the part. He has a great personality. His performance was strong and tough, yet tender at the same time.

Cordova had worked with Giovanni García in the past, and he knew that he was a classical method actor. During the production García did a minimum of showering and sleeping. He wanted to fully be the desperate and exhausted Andrés, also when they weren’t shooting.

–I made them not to know each other too much before the shoot. They just made a kind of audition together but for me was more a test of physicality and the possibilities they would have to confront each other, to create conflict with the presence of one and the other. So, we started the shoot, which was almost chronological, and what we see in the film in terms of the story between those characters, happened in kind of the same way behind the camera. They started to know each other and get closer during the shoot, and at the end it was a very interesting relationship: Reggie found a supporting and caring friend who was helping him in the role and teaching him some technics and advises, and Giovanni found a friend who was helping him to get a lot of realism and texture and complexity to his performance.   

Venezuela is a country that has been characterized by internal turmoil, a tense relationship with the United States and a host of other challenges. In other words: not the easiest country to make films in. Cordova lists inflation, political crisis and dangerous locations as some of the main challenges for directors in Venezuela.

–I believe making films everywhere has its difficulties, and Venezuela is probably not the toughest country in South America to be a filmmaker. We have a national film fond that gives great opportunities for funding. In addition, there are several filmmakers that make independent films with funds from private investors, and many are working hard to get international attention.

What was the main challenge for La Familia specifically?

– The hardest part for this film was probably that we wanted it to be made on location. We made the film both in dangerous neighbourhoods and in very wealthy communities. Many places we had to fight to get permission to film, but when people was shown the script and told the ideas behind the film it was easier. In addition, several inhabitants participated to the film – both in front of and behind the camera.

On La Familia Cordova has cooperated with French Venezuelan cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga, whom was the man behind the camer on the Films from the South favourite Ixancul from 2015. After seeing Ixancul, Cordova knew he needed to include Artega in the production of La Familia.

–I wanted a rough aesthetic, expressive and hard, but which respected realism carefully enough to reveal its beauty. I knew Arteaga still has family in the country, and meant that he was the perfect cinematographer for this movie.

In the future, do you think we will see a Venezuelan wave of filmmakers with Lorenzo Vigas and yourself in front?

– I would love to call it a "wave" but I think we are not too many yet and we are not so connected one to others. Vigas (his film From Afar won the Golden Lion in Venice last year) and I are very good friends, for example, and we share our work. And I am part of a great creative group of people to work with. But still this "wave" needs more unity, diversity, and to share ways of producing its films. A good new and young generation of filmmakers is popping out not only in Venezuela, but also in the festival circuit and that is great news. I must say we are still working hard and finding our place in the international film world. As I said, I would love to call it a "wave". Time will tell.