Filmmaker Lisandro Alonso (center) with the Film Society's Lesli Klainberg and Eugene Hernandez and Jaeger-LeCoultre's Laurent Vinay and Phillippe Bonay. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso is having a good year. His latest feature, Jauja, won the critic-centered FIPRESCI Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of this year's Cannes Film Festival, and the film also marked a milestone in his filmmaking career. Jauja stars Oscar-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen, the first professional thespian Alonso has worked with since he began making films in 1995.
Jauja incorporates themes of wanderlust and far-off destinations that have been consistent through his other films. The Harvard Film Archive observed of Alonso's work: “Few directors today possess the fortitude of vision and resolute commitment to an ideal of formally rigorous narrative cinema of Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso [b. 1975], one of the most accomplished and original artists working in contemporary Latin American cinema.”
His first feature, La Libertad (2001), starred a nonprofessional actor he happened to meet on his father's ranch. It went on to play in Un Certain Regard and caught the attention of Argentina's film community and festivals abroad.
Alonso flew to New York for the official announcement that he was selected as this year's Filmmaker in Residence. He even looked a bit overwhelmed by the spectacle of the evening, which included the likes of Michael Almereyda, Lisandro Alonso, Michael Barker, Laura Bickford, J.C. Chandor, Lisa Cortes, Charles Finch, Naomi Foner, Bennett Miller, Mira Nair, Terence Nance, Ed Pressman, Ry Russo-Young, Bob Shaye, Oliver Stone, Julie Taymor, Marisa Tomei, and Christine Vachon at Indochine restaurant in downtown Manhattan to meet him.
Sun-Jung Jung, Oliver Stone, Mira Nair and Bennett Miller. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
“We are very proud of this program and our partnership with Jaeger LeCoultre,” said the Film Society's Deputy Director Eugene Hernandez at the event. “On a personal note on behalf of the Film Society, it means so much to announce the name of the Filmmaker in Residence and it means so much to us that Jager LeCoultre has been a partner for the second year.”
With that, Jaeger Le-Coultre's Laurent Vinay introduced Lisandro Alonso to the crowd: “This is something that's very important for us because we're big supporters of cinema. We try and go beyond the red carpet and be [inside] in everything we do. When we work with festivals [in Venice and Shanghai] we try and do something more and here in New York it's the Filmmaker in Residence program… [Alonso] is a maverick of Argentine cinema. There were a number of names put forward by the Advisory Board but your name quickly reached the surface. Congratulations.”
Prior to the dinner Tuesday, FilmLinc Daily had a quick chat with Alonso about his upcoming residency.
FilmLinc: When did you find out about being selected as this year's Filmmaker in Residence?
Lisandro Alonso: The first mention I heard was from [the Film Society's Programming Director] Dennis Lim. We were someplace during this year's Cannes Film Festival and he told me about the program informally. I then Googled to learn more and I quickly realized that could be a great opportunity for me to get out from [Buenos Aires] and experience New York. You can see from the films I have done that I like to go out from the city I live in and go as far as I can go. So this will be a great chance to explore New York.
FL: Are you very familiar with New York?
LA: I've been here a couple of times both at film festivals and visiting friends for a few days, but I haven't [explored] it very much. I just have some pictures.
Producer Lisa Cortes having a chat with Todd Solondz. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
FL: Well, now you'll be here for the fall—or the Northern Hemisphere fall…
LA: Yes for like a month and a half and also planning for my next project. I'll spend part of my time focused on that, but I'll also be here to meet people and to just enjoy the city.
FL: What will you be working on?
LA: I have some ideas actually. I'm hoping to develop those ideas while I'm here, but the last film I made was just two months ago, so I do have many things in mind. Perhaps coming here will remove me from my initial ideas and we'll see how it comes. Of course I'm happy to be here and also to be removed from my daily life and be open to other ideas.
FL: Travel is an important aspect of your creative process, correct?
LA: Yes, my films typically will be 3,000 km away from where I live [laughs]. My last film [Jauja] I shot in Denmark. I like to go out and see the atmosphere in different places. I'm not necessarily saying I'm planning to shoot in New York, but I'm certainly going to be open to advice when I get here.
FL: There's a consistent theme that is present through your films in which an individual is removed or is in somewhat of a self-imposed exile from society. Is that something you consciously think about or does it simply manifest naturally for you?
LA: I live in a very big city with 20 million people so I enjoy so much getting out. I like contemplating how people's lives are very different when they are outside of a city with its endless choices. Jauja was actually the first film in which I worked with professional actors. My previous films were with people who I just met where they live.
FL: How was it working with Viggo Mortensen in Jauja in particular and how was it generally a different experience, if at all, having professional actors this time around?
LA: It was great. I had professional actors from Denmark but also great actors from Argentina and it was fantastic. I think I was a little bit afraid using professional actors in the past—or maybe not afraid, but I didn't feel I needed professional actors in my [previous] projects. But for this one, I felt it would be impossible to do it without professional actors.
I was lucky to start writing the script [for Jauja] with a poet [Fabian Casas] from Argentina who really knows Viggo. We started thinking of him for the main role. Two years after that, he read the scriptit's very short, only 20 pages. I never write long scripts. Anyway, he liked it and said, “I'm in,” and also said he wanted to produce the film. He got very involved in the idea and the entire process.
James Brolin and Molly Brolin. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
FL: How was it having a strong collaborator?
LA: I have [collaboration] with everybody—the DP, the sound guy, the actors. I'm not the kind of filmmaker who just says what to do and what not to do and not listen to anybody. I organize everyone's ideas including my own and then decide what's best even if it means taking a risk.
FL: Well similarly, this fall will hopefully give you some meaningful collaboration with the people you'll meet and attending the New York Film Festival generally.
LA: Yes, that is what I'm very excited for and looking forward to later this year. Meeting people and the whole process for me is having that chance to meet people. If I can learn in the process that means everything to me.
FL: You have several features under your belt and have had success internationally with your films. So what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are just in the process of starting out?
LA: Of course there are very different conditions in how films are made in Argentina vs. the U.S., but my advice as a filmmaker from Argentina is to be sure what you want to work on because it's going to [consume] several years of your life. You don't want to be frustrated with something you're no longer interested in. And, of course, surround yourself with people you can rely on and trust because you need that support.
I grew up outside of Buenos Aires on my father's ranch, which made me curious how other people live. Film can [connect] different people and lifestyles. When we work together through film we are equal partners despite our differences.
Mira Nair and Julie Taymor. Photo by Julie Cunnah.