Matteo Tortone and Alexis Taillant • Director and producer of Mother Lode
“The subject of the film is the relationship between men, the Devil and gold”
- The winners of the Eurimages Lab Project Award at Thessaloniki, director Matteo Tortone and producer Alexis Taillant, discuss their project Mother Lode with us
Mother Lode, a creative documentary, written and directed by Italian independent documentarian Matteo Tortone, was the big winner of the €50,000 Eurimages Lab Project Award in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s Agora Works in Progress (see the news). Mother Lode is being produced by Alexis Taillant and Nadège Labé for French company Wendigo Films, along with Benjamin Poumey (of Switzerland’s C-Side Productions) and Margot Mecca (of Italy’s Malfé Film). Cineuropa talked to Tortone and Taillant about their project and how the award will help them to complete it.
Cineuropa: Mother Lode is described as a black-and-white fairy tale about the modern-day gold rush. Could you give us some more details on your project?
Matteo Tortone: Mother Lode is an idea that developed during the lowest points of the global economic crisis. The collapse of the stock markets around the world was matched by a steep increase in the price of gold. This meant that the places where gold was extracted multiplied and that a range of pharaonic projects were proposed, even within Europe. One example is the project in Chalkidiki, not far from Thessaloniki, or Rosia Montana in Romania. A real gold rush took place, and the brutal violence of it seeped beyond the borders of the West.
Mother Lode tells this global story from an intimate point of view, in a place and a context – the makeshift Peruvian mines – in which this violence is not only perpetrated on a daily basis, but is also supported by some mythopoetic apparatus that identifies the true master of the gold as the Devil, the lord of the mines. This apparatus develops into a set of rituals aimed at obtaining favours from the Devil and, in particular, luck, which determines the size of the gold vein, also known as the mother lode, and the profit obtained from the gold rush.
As in a fairy tale, the protagonist traverses this world in which material elements and the supernatural merge, from the outskirts of Lima to the Ananea glacier, which overlooks the highest city in the world: La Rinconada, known as one of the most profitable gold mines. This place is definitely symbolic of the contemporary gold rush.
What were the difficulties you encountered while shooting in that region, and how does your documentary blend elements of direct cinema and fiction?
MT: Mother Lode starts on the dusty outskirts of Lima, continues in the Arequipa desert and ends at an altitude of 5,300 metres. It also unfolds in a context of widespread lawlessness, child labour, human trafficking, converging interests with drug trafficking, the black gold market and petty crime. Working at 5,300 metres is limiting from the point of view of one’s physical prowess. But this limit can also be an advantage because it forces you to conserve energy, and to make decisions more carefully. But the context of a mining town of those proportions (around 80,000 people) was certainly more striking than the altitude. In order to shoot safely inside the mine, we were forced to work under the watchful eye of seven armed men.
The subject of the film is the relationship between men, the Devil and gold, and it therefore tries to express and portray something that goes beyond mere material reality but with which it has a visceral relationship. In some ways, the metaphysical dimension and everyday reality are inseparable. I tried to reflect this kaleidoscopic dimension of reality on a formal level.
How helpful will the Eurimages Lab Project Award be for you?
Alexis Taillant: The Eurimages Lab Project Award will allow us to work on the movie’s post-production with less pressure on us and to spend more time achieving it. It will also make it possible to offer better pay to the technicians who invested themselves in the project and brought their creativity to the table, despite the lack of money. The award also brings invaluable visibility to the film, which should increase its chances of finding the best possible distribution network at festivals, in the cinemas and on television. It’s an unexpected opportunity, as documentary cinema is a fragile branch of cinema; it’s hard to finance and less visible in theatres than fiction. I hope that Mother Lode, among others, will help to highlight documentary cinema, and to make it more accessible and popular.
What were your expectations for Thessaloniki’s Agora Works in Progress?
MT: I was happy to participate in Agora because of the opportunity it offers for advice and feedback. And that is indeed what I found there. It was a unique opportunity to observe your work from different points of view, after a long and immersive process, and to gain feedback. Moreover, it was important to evaluate the real distribution possibilities of the film in an international context.
AT: I had a very positive experience with the Agora, which seems very well organised. It is a great opportunity to meet professionals at an international level and to discover the strong creativity inherent in Greek filmmaking. We would be happy to work with this country in the future. We had a lot of useful feedback and meetings for Mother Lode, and got some valuable advice when it came to examining the prospect of establishing partnerships with sales agents, festival programmers and distributors.
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