Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja
Lisandro Alonso became the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s second Filmmaker in Residence last fall, months after the NYFF debut of his film, Jauja, which won a FIPRESCI prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The Filmmaker in Residence initiative aims to support a filmmaker at an “early stage in the creative process against the backdrop of New York City and the New York Film Festival.” Alonso’s formal selection last summer, coincided with at a dinner co-hosted by Charles Finch, Lesli Klainberg, Bennett Miller, Todd Solondz, and Lisa Cortes in New York prior to NYFF52. Attendees included Mira Nair, Terence Nance, Ed Pressman, Ry Russo-Young, Bob Shaye, Oliver Stone, Julie Taymor, Marisa Tomei, and producer Christine Vachon.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1975, Alonso has directed four previous features: La Libertad (2001), Los Muertos (2004), Fantasma (2006), and Liverpool (2008), all of which have premiered at Cannes and have established Alonso’s reputation as a “creator of a minimalist cinema that bends the traditions of both documentary and narrative film.” His latest film, Jauja, starring Viggo Mortensen, screened during last year’s NYFF, and began its theatrical release on Friday, March 20 at the Film Society.
The film centers on Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen), who has come from abroad with his 15-year-old daughter, Ingeborg, to take an engineering job with the Argentine army. Being the only female in the area, she creates quite a stir among the men. She falls in love with a young soldier, and one night they run away together. When Dinesen realizes what has happened, he decides to venture into enemy territory, against his men’s wishes, to find the young couple.
During his residency last fall, Alonso worked on developing his next project, which looks to explore the Amazonian civilization and population that still lives in the region while searching for gold. The film will “examine their evolution of living—from the old days to modern times, while eluding any spatiotemporal notion.”
British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights, Fish Tank) was the inaugural Filmmaker in Residence in 2013. The next “Resident Filmmaker” will be named later this year.
FilmLinc spoke with Alonso shortly after he was named Filmmaker in Residence last June. In the conversation, he talked about looking forward to the month-and-a-half-long program, working with Viggo Mortensen on Jauja, and his next project. The interview is re-published below:
2014 Filmmaker in Residence Lisandro Alonso. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
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 [last 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.
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.
Lisandro Alonso with the Film Society’s Lesli Klainberg and Eugene Hernandez and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Laurent Vinay
and Philippe Bonay at the Filmmaker in Residence dinner last summer. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
FL: How was 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.
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.
[For ticketing and showtimes for Jauja, visit filmlinc.com]