The importance of the creative contribution: Interview with Julio ChavezmontesBy: Aranza Flores @Alvayeah
Julio Chavezmontes is a Mexican producer, screenwriter. In 2011 he co-founded PIANO, (alongside Mexican director Sebastián Hoffman) one of the most important production houses in the country.
Chavezmontes’ first film as co-writer and producer was Hoffman’s horror film Halley, which was released in 2012. Since then, he has had a prolific career, which includes films like We Are the Flesh (2016, dir. Emiliano Rocha); Time Share (2018, dir. Sebastián Hoffman) – which was nominated for the Ariel for Best Screenplay – Antigone (2018, dir. Pedro González Rubio) and Our Time (2018, dir. Carlos Reygadas). In 2018 he presented Gonzalo Tobal‘s film The Accused at the 16th edition of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM).
Chavezmontes was also co-producer of Abel Ferrara‘s Siberia and Natalia Meta‘s The Intruder, both of which have been selected to participate at the 70th Berlin Film Festival, which will take place from the 20th February – 1st March 2020.
FICM had the opportunity to talk to him about the current state of Mexican cinema, as well as his most recent films.
FICM: What vision do you bring to the production and distribution of Mexican films?
JC: The first thing that we are interested in when we decide to take on a project is what it has to say: is it a project that is looking to take risks, or to push the boundaries of cinema? Anything else is secondary, like the director’s nationality or the final configuration of the project.
Mexico is a very talent-rich country, as has been abundantly demonstrated by the success of our national cinema over recent years. This means that our technicians, artists and producers are of great interest to international partners or producers looking for collaborations and therefore there is a lot of interest in co-productions, which are very rich and important exchanges of talent.
FICM: How would you say your job has changed since Halley (2012)? What have you learned?
JC: At the end of the day making any film is a huge challenge; that part never changes. However we now face new projects with a greater sense of responsibility; of responding to the trust that the viewers and funders put in us, both in Mexico and abroad.
When you’re making your first film, which was the case with Halley, you tend to do so in collaboration with friends or people who are close to you, which makes it a different kind of adventure. I think the good thing about a first film is that the expectations are all your own, no one else’s. That gives you a kind of freedom that you later lose, because you have other kinds of obligations.
The most important part is collaboration – finding people you can work with and who feel free to tell you exactly what they think when it comes to making production decisions. In the constant struggle that making a film represents, there are times when one can start to obsess about things or close oneself off; so you need good people around you, who can tell you to stop doing that.
I have always believed in the importance of listening and I think experience has shown me that it is actually essential to be surrounded by people who you can really trust in, and listen to.
FICM: Tell us about your creative process with Abel Ferrara on Sibera (with Willem Dafoe) and with Natalia Meta on The Intruder.
JC: With Abel Ferrara it was a really fun process. Abel is a very endearing man who has clear ideas and who, at the same time, knows how to listen. He never closes himself off; he responds to what he sees and hears, but he always knows what he wants. It is such an amazing experience to collaborate with Abel, to watch him work and to see how, with just a few words, he’s able to make everyone understand what he wants from a scene or a take.
I have had the opportunity to work with Willem Dafoe before. He’s an amazing human being, not just one of the best actors in the history of cinema, but also a very humble person who also has a clear work dynamic with Abel, after having been in six of his films. They understand one another almost without speaking – it helps a lot to have this process established between them. Willem also knows Mexico pretty well, and he understands Mexicans, which helps to make sure that the communication is fluid.
The Intruder was a new collaboration with our friends at the Argentine production house Rei Cine, as well as with Lorena Villareal‘s Barraca Producciones, who were the Mexican co-producer, while Piano was the associate producer.
The truth is that everything was very fluid and easy, because Natalia was really clear about what she wanted to come to Mexico to do, and since we have a lot of experience working with Rei Cine, it was easy to put together a team, which in this case was headed up by a great producer called Gabriela Maire.
FICM: Why did you decide to film in Playa del Carmen?
JC: I can´t say much without giving away the film, but it was something that Natalia had clear from the script stage. The film wasn´t a co-production or collaboration that used public funds, so there was no explicit requirement that it be filmed in Mexico. But the director wanted to film there and this was based on certain needs that arose from the story: she needed it to be filmed at a specific hotel in Playa del Carmen. Between PIANO and Rei Cine we also have a long-standing desire to keep working together and to make more films.
FICM: Tell us your opnion on the state of contemporary Mexican cinema? Where do you think its heading?
JC: We find ourselves at a very interesting moment, which is the result of a highly successful state financial stimulus. I always think it´s important to point out that before EFICINE (Fiscal Stimulus for Projects Investing in National Cinematographic Production and Distribution) was started in 2006, cinematographic production in Mexico was a cultural activity, not an industry.
All of us, producers and spectators, would like to see a higher percentage of gains from Mexican cinema at the box office. We would like to reach a larger public within Mexico. You´ve also got to keep in mind that 14 years ago, maybe 4 or 5 films were being made per year, and between them they didn´t get to 10,000 spectators. Today, Mexican films are being produced continuously and are often reaching more than a million spectators in the cinemas.
Art cinema like Time Share (2018, dir. Sebastián Hoffman), The Good Girls (2018, dir. Alejandra Márques Abella) or Museum (2018, dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios) easily got more than 100,000 spectators in the cinemas, something that would have been impossible to imagine 5 years ago.
It is important to keep in mind that the Mexican film industry is indpendente and competes against the Hollywood studios, which are machines with unlimited resources to promote films, even before the first frame has been shot.
We are coming up against important changes in how films are distributed and how they connect with audiences, and this opens up huge possibilities. It is hard to know where the industry in general is headed, but what is certain is the enormous talent of all the people who work in the national film industry – from gaffers, staff, production designers, DoPs, screenwriters, directors, producers and editors.
We have confirmed that these people can perform to the highest international standards, with projects like Siberia or The Intruder. Getting into the competition at the Berlinale is no small feat.
FICM: As a representative of one of the most important production houses in the country, tell us more about your view on the current state of film production in Mexico.
JC: Mexican cinema, both commercial and arthouse, has always been outstanding, but I think that the difference we are seeing today is that there is a much more diverse panorama.
We’re no longer seeing extreme commercial, or extreme arthouse projects; rather we now see a much greater diversity in the kind of cinema being made. The quality has always been there, but what we’re seeing now are more ambitious projects, because people have access to greater resources, not just in Mexico but also thanks to foreign co-productions, private investors and distributors.
No doubt there are many issues still to be addressed in terms of film production in Mexico. Last year I said: Mexican production houses, especially those who are as successful as PIANO, have a very important obligation to boost diversity and plurality. We still haven’t done enough on that front.
We all have to do our part to make sure that there is greater parity in the number of films made by men and women and, of course, look to be more inclusive of indigenous and marginalized communities. This is one pending issue with national producers because, at the end of the day, we are responsible for finding the projects and making them happen.
For us, 2020 is the year that we will see a change in trends at PIANO. I am really pleased to say that, of the two films that we are premiering, one is directed by a man and one by a woman. So we are starting to see a positive trend. Last year we produced a film by Mía Hansen Love, Bergman Island, which we hope will premiere this year. We’re doing our part to reach gender parity.
FICM: What cinematographic genre do you think is the most difficult to make, and distribute. Which genre is your favorite?
JC: There’s really no set formula. One of the peculiarities of film is that it has an industrial production process, but it can’t be predicted like other industrial products. Even producing and distributing a romantic comedy doesn’t guarantee you success, just because of the film’s genre.
I think, ultimately, audiences respond to great stories and, above all, the ways in which they are told. When a creative team has a coherent vision, which has been properly developed, the audience can connect to this. This is independent to the film’s genre.
For me, two great examples of this are The Shape of Water (2017, dir. Guillermo del Toro) and Roma (2018, dir. Alfonso Cuarón): they are totally different visions from Mexican directors, in genres that don’t traditionally gain great results at the box office. But they were both enormously attractive to Mexican audiences; in their different ways they connected to the public and became hugely important films.
I don’t think so much in terms of genre, rather I´m more interested in the kind of people I collaborate with. What’s important to me is to feel a certain synchronicity with the director, to feel that there is something important in their proposal and that I can make a creative contribution; that I can be part of this process.
FICM: Why do you think there’s no Mexican presence at the Berlinale this year?
JC: Any year that there are Mexican productions in the competition at the Berlinale – one of the most important showcases of international cinema in the world – is something to celebrate. I think it is important sometimes to remember that the cinematographic industry is much more than just the director or the screenwriter. It is important to understand the creative contribution made by producers, actors or DoPs.
In any case, I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about – there was an important Mexican presence at Sundance this year and there are some very exciting projects that we know are due to be released at some point this year. For example we know that Michel Franco, Carlos Armella, Natalia López, Joaquín del Paso, among other Mexican directors, are finishing up new films, and I’m sure that we’ll see these films at the big Festivals in 2020.
The year is just starting and on top of the projects that we know about are the wonderful surprises that always come out – because just even you think you know the national panorama, you can still be surprised.
We should also have in mind that we’ll surely have another Workforce (2019, dir. David Zonana) or The Chambermaid (2018, dir. Lila Aviles). Aside from the talent we already know about, various new voices are emerging – evidence of the richness in cinematic arts in this country.