Hot Docs 2014 Doc Accelerator alumnus Jorge Thielen Armand’s debut feature La Soledad, the story of a Caracas boy who discovers that the decrepit shanty he unlawfully occupies will soon be demolished, is an official selection at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, August 31 to September 10, 2016.
Hot Docs: Congratulations on having your debut feature film La Soledad premiere at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. You took part in the Biennale College - Cinema, a lab for advanced training dedicated to the production of low budget films. What was the program like and how you were finally selected to screen at the festival?
Jorge Thielen Armand: Biennale College is a program open to filmmakers from around the world. I sent in a demo I filmed for La Soledad in early 2014 and we were pre-selected, along with another 11 projects from different parts of the world, to participate in the first round of workshops and for a pitch to the president of La Biennale, Paolo Baratta, and the director of the film festival, Alberto Barbera. Taught by mentors with different film backgrounds and from a wide variety of countries, these scriptwriting workshops enabled me to improve the vision of La Soledad. I am incredibly grateful and honoured to have been selected, along with another three projects, to receive the full financial support of Biennale College and to participate in two additional script and production workshops.
HD: What is La Soledad about to you?
JTA: La Soledad is the namesake of my great-grandparents home and is about my childhood memories. The protagonist, José, is my childhood friend and grandson of my family's lifelong maid, so he grew up in the house and still lives there. I hadn't visited the house since I left Venezuela, but when I learned the house was going to be demolished I decided to return to Caracas. My father brought me to the house, and I saw José for the first time in 11 years. I proposed we make a film together and he agreed.
The question of why my family ceased the ritual of gathering weekly and on holidays interested me. The answer can be simplistic; it is common that families are broken up with different nuclei after the senior figure dies, but haven't the challenges imposed on us by our broken country had an impact on our relationships as well? Fascinated by what was left behind at La Soledad, I had a desire to conduct a kind of familial archaeological investigation.
I found our remains co-existing with the belongings a new family—garden fountains have turned into fire pits and motorcycles precede a six-foot painting in the once luxurious family room. The house is more than a metaphor for my family's dispersal: it encapsulates the reality of today's Venezuela, forgotten in time, inhabited by people who have hope but are not provided with opportunities. Amidst the economic chaos the country undergoes, moral values are also fading. In the film we see this through Jose’s eyes, when he ventures into a hostile Caracas that provides no solutions to his real-life quest for a better future.
HD: La Soledad has non-professional actors playing themselves, living through the real threat of eviction. Do you consider this a hybrid documentary-drama?
JTA: I definitely consider La Soledad to be a hybrid documentary-drama. My characters play themselves in a drama they are currently experiencing in real life. Perhaps it is better defined as an enactment of a possible future. I am excited to see how audiences categorize the film.
HD: Are there particular films or filmmakers that you admire within this genre right now?
JTA: I'm definitely inspired by filmmakers Roberto Minervini (Stop the Pounding Heart, The Other Side), Oscar Ruiz Navia (Solecito, Los hongos) and Juan Andrés Arango (La Playa DC).
HD: You come from a documentary background. Was directing these characters different from directing them in a traditional documentary?
JTA: When I directed Flor de la Mar I was shy to direct my subjects too much. There were no rehearsals or anything like that, just interviews, trick questions, and moving the camera. My approach to direct the characters of La Soledad was totally different. My subjects didn't have the script and they didn't know the content of the scenes until the camera was rolling, I didn't use marks and I let them improvise. I gave them a lot of freedom. Sometimes I would whisper in the ear of a character, explaining what the scene was about, then I'd go on to the other character and I would tell them something else. This allowed me to capture a moment of truth. Other times I'd let their actual moods dictate the tone of a scene. Rather than typical rehearsals of the scenes, I employed concentration exercises and a lot of physical activity. My main characters also worked with the art department. This produced a look that was truth to reality, it built a strong bond with my crew members and also empowered my subjects to take ownership of our film.
HD: Can you reflect on your experience in the Doc Accelerator program and the relationships that developed from attending Hot Docs?
JTA: The Doc Accelerator program was my first lab and it was definitely fundamental to my development as a filmmaker. The first time I ever discussed La Soledad with others was during the pitch training. I prepared a synopsis, put some pictures of the house together and pitched in front of industry professionals like Dorota Lech, who programs for TIFF and the Hot Docs Forum. The hardest thing is always a blank page, but after you've got a few paragraphs written down and your ideas organized, it's much easier to develop your projects. During Doc Accelerator, I was still editing Flor de la Mar, and not only did the program give me the momentum and motivation to finish a three-year long edit, I also met my co-producers, learned a great deal about distribution strategy and the business side of filmmaking, and I also got inspired by the 20+ films I was able to watch during the Festival. Through contacts I made during the Festival, I also got a job at a documentary company and an internship in the Hot Docs programming department. I am extremely grateful and lucky to have received such wonderful support from Hot Docs.
To find out more about La Soledad visit:
Learn more about the new Doc Accelerator Program HERE.
La Soledad screens:
Sept 3 @ 11:30 AM
Cinema hall : SALA GIARDINO
Sept 3 @ 17:30 (OFFICIAL SCREENING)
Cinema hall : SALA GIARDINO
Screening Sept 4 @ 20.00
Cinema hall : SALA PASINETTI
Interview conducted by Madelaine Russo.