Juan Andrés Arango and Paola Andrea Pérez Nieto • Director and producer of Where the River Begins
“Stories have to have the ability to knock on the doors of viewers in any part of the world”
- We talked to the director and the producer of the Colombian project, which has taken home EFAD and CAACI’s DALE! Award from the tenth Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum
The tenth Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum, which took place during the 69th San Sebastián Film Festival, saw the project Where the River Begins by Colombian director Juan Andrés Arango, produced by Paola Andrea Pérez Nieto for Inercia Películas, pick up the DALE! (Latin America-Europe Development) Award. This prize, handed out by the European Film Agency Directors Association (EFAD) and the Conference of Ibero-American Audiovisual and Cinematographic Authorities (CAACI), is endowed with €20,000 for the winning project’s majority producer, and at past editions, it has contributed to the creation of successful films such as La llorona [+see also:
interview: Jayro Bustamante
film profile] by Jayro Bustamante and The Mole Agent [+see also:
interview: Maite Alberdi
film profile] by Maite Alberdi. This year, the gong was bestowed upon this “story about the richness of the Emberá culture and the complexity of its present situation”, in the words of its director. We talked with him and with his producer after he received his prize.
Cineuropa: What led you to start working on this project?
Juan Andrés Arango: Where the River Begins is a film about the memory spaces that we carry inside of us and how they are getting increasingly distant from external spaces. My interest lies in getting closer to the Emberá community that has been living in Bogotá for the last few years and to those that are still present in the Pacific region of Colombia, and understanding the reasons for their displacement, the experience of radical adaptation that life in the city entails and the spiritual links that still bind them to their land.
What did you know already about the Emberá people, and what was it like getting to know it in more depth?
JAA: Initially, I only knew that the Emberá people are one of the most important indigenous populations in Colombia. A few years of research enabled me to learn a way of perceiving the world from them, in which everything is linked to a close-knit relationship with nature. It’s precisely this profound relationship with the jungle, which encompasses knowledge transfer, spirituality and everyday life, which makes it so hard for the Emberá community to find their place in an urban and marginal environment like the one they inhabit in Bogotá.
How did you find your protagonists?
JAA: The protagonists of this story stem from observing what is happening in neighbourhoods such as San Bernardo and Voto Nacional, where young Emberá people are interacting with youngsters who have grown up in the complex realities of central Bogotá. In this way, Yajaira and Jhon are an amalgamation of many stories that I heard during my research and that I saw through the prism of my own specific sensibility. And Where the River Begins introduces us to one of the thousands of stories that could be told about the richness of the Emberá culture and the complexity of its present situation. My intention with this film is to pique the curiosity of the viewer so that they go off wanting to look for the other stories.
The film is born of the encounter between a white teenager and a young Emberá mother. What are the relationships between the white and indigenous societies in Colombia like nowadays? What do you wish to say about this?
JAA: The relationships between the Emberá and the mixed-race society have generally been quite distant, owing to both the strong prejudice with which the Emberá are seen by a good chunk of the population and the traditional authorities’ desire to protect their culture from the “contamination” coming from outside of it. Nonetheless, the new generations on both sides are much more curious about, and open to, the other community. In the film, what I want to do is portray this reconciliation and the universal elements that can be found when there’s real human contact.
The film already boasts French and Canadian partners, and you are still looking for new ones, both in Europe and in Asia. What are the reasons for opening up to the world like this?
Paola Andrea Pérez Nieto: We are still looking for a fourth partner that could come from either America, Europe or Asia. First of all because it’s the way in which we have traditionally made our films, and it seems a very organic method that really contributes a lot to our stories. Second of all, it’s because we feel that even though this project’s starting point is a very local story, it also touches on deeply universal topics, such as youth, migration, identity and ancient communities, among others, and given that these topics are the ones being discussed on a global level at the moment, we think it’s important for perspectives from other corners of the world to feed into our creative process. We believe that stories have to be able to be cross-cutting in their subject matter and have the ability to knock on the doors of viewers in any part of the world, every day opening minds a little more to hybridisation and the acceptance of every single culture.
(Translated from Spanish)
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