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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 San Sebastián Industry

Martín Rejtman • Director of Riders

“When I look at a film, I don't distinguish between fiction and documentary”


- We talk to Argentina's Martín Rejtman, winner of the Eurimages Award for his in-development documentary, Riders, which tackles the issues of immigration and the gig economy

Martín Rejtman  • Director of Riders

Martín Rejtman is a familiar face on the festival circuit. This year, at the Europe-Latin American Co-Production Forum, part of the 68th San Sebastián International Film Festival, he scooped the Eurimages Co-Production Development Award for the documentary Riders (Argentina/Portugal). Since the COVID-19 crisis prevented him from travelling to San Sebastián in person, we turned to technology to bridge old and new continents and find out all about his latest project.

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Cineuropa: Where did you get the idea to take on this highly topical issue, the gig economy?
Martín Rejtman:
In Buenos Aires, home delivery has been big for decades — it’s as much of a city tradition as psychotherapy. You name it, they deliver it, from a short white and a croissant to cigarettes to ice cream. A few years ago, apps came along and everything changed. Deliveries that had been handled by businesses themselves were now being taken over by corporations. The underlying model changed. Today, the majority of delivery drivers in Buenos Aires are from Venezuela, and so here we have two intersecting themes: immigration and the new economy.

How did the pandemic affect the project?
One consequence of COVID-19 is that the role of delivery drivers has become so much more important. In the strictest days of the lockdown we decided to go out and document a few scenes and do some research. It was a chance to get some unique and, hopefully, unrepeatable footage, since the city was deserted — delivery drivers were the only ones around. As well as the social and urban transformation they represent, I’m intrigued by the way they are constantly in motion, and visually I love the image of these bright, neon uniforms and backpacks zipping across the city. It occurred to me that these elements will be part of the cinematic background from now on.

How did the co-production agreement with Portugal come about?
Un Puma, the Argentinian production company for Riders, had previously worked with Terratreme Filmes. They approached them about the project and they were keen to be on board. 

Are you open to making space in the final cut for things that emerge organically during filming?
Not only are we open to it, it’s our whole working philosophy. We’ve already shot a few scenes, since we couldn’t waste the opportunity of the quarantine, when the city belonged to the drivers. But we kept the crew to the bare minimum and almost everything was shot outdoors. In these times, I think it’s more straightforward to shoot a documentary than a fiction film. The small team allows for social distancing, and almost all of the drivers’ work takes place outdoors. It feels like this shoot was tailor-made for the pandemic.

At this point, you’ve taken part in quite a few European festivals. Which ones do you think might take an interest in your film?
We’ll see... It also depends on when we get it finished. This is my second documentary; a few years ago, I filmed Copacabana for Argentinian TV, never dreaming it would end up on the festival circuit. Nevertheless, the unexpected happened: it was never shown on TV (for political reasons; the channel that commissioned it got taken over), but it was selected for various festivals (Rotterdam, Locarno, Los Angeles, BAFICI, etc.). The strange thing is that, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t shown at any festival dedicated specifically to documentaries. I don’t know why, but it’s something I only just realised; I never really thought about it before. I think it was a good thing in the end, because generally when I look at a film I don’t distinguish between fiction and documentary — it’s all just cinema.

How would you describe the film in terms of genre or style, and who is it aimed at?
Riders is an “observational” documentary; it’s not investigative, in other words. As far as the audience is concerned, that will ultimately depend on how it ends up being distributed, whether on an online platform, in cinemas, at festivals, or wherever.

Can you tell us a bit about the research and casting process?
Research and casting were two sides of the same coin. We had spent some time talking to drivers — in the street, where they gathered or on the doorstep when we had ordered something. We engaged them in conversation and that’s how we did our research. The driver who will almost certainly be the protagonist, or one of them at least, we met on the front steps of the Abasto shopping centre, one of the biggest in Buenos Aires. It’s been closed since March, but some of the restaurants in the food court are still taking orders for delivery, so the entire mall is just a big delivery centre.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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