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The fantastic world of Pedro Friedeberg: an interview with Liora Spilk

Marco A. Sánchez

Liora Spilk is a Mexican editor and director with a degree in Communication Sciences from UNAM, where she began her career. Among her most outstanding works as an editor are the short film La muñeca Tetona (2017), by Alexandro Aldrete and Diego Enrique Osorno; Pobo "Tzu"- Noche Blanca (2020), by Tania Ximena Ruiz and Yollótl Alvarado, as well as participating in the editing of an episode of the series 1994: Power, Rebellion and Crime in Mexico (2019), available on Netflix.

In 2022, she released her debut film Pedro, in which, in addition to directing, she did the cinematography. In this film, Liora Spilk documents the encounters she had with Mexican painter Pedro Friedeberg, who is considered "Mexico's last surrealist." The film captures the essence of Friedeberg through the experiences of his closest friends and through Liora's own perspective.

Pedro (2022, dir. Liora Spilk)
Pedro (2022, dir. Liora Spilk)

After being part of the Official Selection of the 20th Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) in the Documentary Feature section, it had its international premiere at the Malaga International Film Festival.

FICM had the opportunity to speak with the director, who told us about the process of making this documentary and what she learned as editor and director through it all.

FICM: How did your approach to Pedro Friedeberg come about

Liora Spilk: Pedro has been my favorite artist for as long as I can remember, in fact, one of my first memories is of a painting of him. He was my favorite painter and when I was studying at UNAM and I had to make a short film and thought, “this is the perfect excuse to go and meet him.” My grandmother is an art historian, so she was able to contact him. I interviewed him in 2012 and, from that day on, I lost myself in the magical world of Pedro Friedeberg for over 10 years.

FICM: What attracted you most about Pedro Friedeberg’s art

LS: What I like most is being told stories, I think that's why I went into filmmaking. Pedro's works always tell a story, they have a very important narrative and aesthetic depth, in addition to having a lot of humor. And I am very attracted to humor. It is very important. I think sometimes art takes itself too seriously and that repulses me a little.

Another aspect that I really like about Pedro's work is his fantastic world. Fantasy is very important in this need to tell stories and I think that was one of the things that attracted me most.

FICM: At one point of the film, Pedro says that art is a very slow thing that must be thought out, digested, and sometimes even destroyed to appreciate its value. Do you agree with him? If not, what does art meant to you?

LS: I think that after all this time I have realized that my way of looking at art is influenced by how Pedro sees it. For someone as nostalgic, melancholic and who romanticized the past as much as I do, there is a great value in making art how it was done in historicism, as the artist's craft. That is one of the things I like about Pedro. There aren’t many artists by trade anymore. Who learned to paint and draw with a ruler, pencil, eraser, and a protractor like he does.

And yes, I like the historical view of art more than I like contemporary art. I'm not saying that there aren't incredible things in the latter, but as Pedro says, “art today is just as bad as it was 50 years ago, everyone painted doodles and signed them as if they were Leonardo da Vinci.”

Pedro Friedeberg
Pedro Friedeberg

FICM: After so many years documenting your time with Pedro, I imagine you had so much material, what was the process of selection to achieve a coherent narrative like

LS: This is my first film as a director. I am an editor, a montage editor, by trade, and the first responsibility of the editor is to tell the best story possible with the material available, not to make the director happy.

I included myself in the film as a narrative resource. First, to relax Pedro because he doesn't like the camera and also to make him laugh. Putting me in was a humorous device. And at the end, in the pandemic, when I had a moment of pause and courage to see the footage... I didn't want to see it for a long time because it had many technical problems because of me. I shot it and did the sound all wrong. Then when I sat down with my editors to decide what was the best story to tell, it was this one. And it goes beyond just showing who Pedro is, but rather understanding who he is through this friendship and through the innocent and admiring eyes I saw him through. That was the guideline.

FICM: Did you always think that was the path you were going to follow with your work?

LS: At that time, I had no idea what I was doing and I just filmed and filmed. Wherever I went I took my camera with me, and it was also an excuse. If I brought my camera, Pedro wouldn't run away from me. I think that making the documentary was an excuse to be close to Pedro and everything I shot in almost seven or eight years was just to document it. To live life alongside him and to capture as much as I could. 

When we started the editing process, we shot specific things that were missing and we looked for a way to tell things we didn't have, for example with the use of animation or letters, which are forms of expression that Pedro has done a lot because they are made by hand. At the same time, we used them so that we could be very consistent with his work and aesthetics.

FICM: How did you decide when and how to end the documentary?

LS: I tell all the directors I work with that the work is never really done. Finishing something is a mental health decision, a project is never going to be perfect, I think that's one of the biggest lessons I take away from this film. We must learn to laugh at our mistakes. The more we accept a project's mistakes, the more we allow it to live. A film is finished when you learn to let it go, and you make the decision to finish it because often you don't notice it but if you keep going and going you are subtracting from it, and you are working overtime.

FICM: What is the most memorable moment with Pedro during filming?

LS: I think that one of the most beautiful things about movies in general is that the most interesting things are not always the ones captured on film, sometimes it's the anecdotes that surround them. 

During the Venice trip, we were heading to the airport to return to Mexico and there was a storm, we were all struggling against the wind in the canal and suddenly there was a gust of wind that blew our suitcases into the water, my equipment and my computer were in the canal, so we almost jumped into the water and a lady passed by with an umbrella that we used to get our suitcases out of the canal, all dripping wet. But thank goodness, my equipment was not damaged. I remember that with the belief that you have to fight for your film and not let yourself be defeated.

FICM: How do you feel about releasing the film after being in development for so many years?

LS: You are always apprehensive about people seeing your film, but sitting in the theater and hearing the audience laugh is the most beautiful feeling in the world because I made this film to make people laugh and for them to get to know Pedro, and when you see that it actually worked and people are laughing, it's the sweetest thing.