Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Over the course of eight feature films, Olivier Assayas has built a solid international reputation as a director of stylish, naturalistic thrillers and social dramas that team with sensuality. Assayas is a boundlessly resourceful director and in his most recent film, Boarding Gate, a lower key, appealingly absurd riff on the same erotic, globalization-era techno thriller he first brought us in 2002's explosive Demonlover, the fifty-two year old French filmmaker uses his signature loose, montage-y style to tell what is essentially a lurid and oblique crime story, full of people with secrets and double agendas, whose longings to fulfill the need for human intimacy and love come smack up against the system of international capital and wealth distribution that binds all of us to a sick and untenable game of craps, where we’re compelled to behave as both needy human actors and mere commodities to be traded or disposed of.
Featuring a dynamite performance by Asia Argento, Boarding Gate was made in an even more off-the-cuff manner than Assayas normally works. Shot quickly on a low budget with largely foreign crews and without either of his usual d.p.’s, Eric Gautier or Denis Lenoir, Assayas' film is perhaps the only film I’ve seen that simultaneously harkens back to the skid-row auteurs of the post-war Hollywood (whose work was ironically first heralded by Assayas’s ’60s forefathers at Cahiers du Cinema, where he cut his teeth as a journalist and critic in the early ’80s) and the heady, global-minded concerns of our most rigorous contemporary filmmakers.
Filmmaker caught up with Assayas at his home in Paris to discuss Boarding Gate, his working method, the effects of the internet on modern sexuality and just how much the Asian economy impacts all of us.
TOP OF PAGE: MICHAEL MADSEN AND ASIA ARGENTO IN BOARDING GATE. PHOTO BY: MAGNET RELEASING. ABOVE: BOARDING GATE WRITER-DIRECTOR OLIVIER ASSAYAS. PHOTO BY: MAGNET RELEASING
Filmmaker: The film was inspired by an article you read about a similar incident in Switzerland?
Assayas: Yeah, well I suppose the initial spark had to do with this story that was in the press. It’s a famous case — there was even a piece in Vanity Fair a couple years back. It was about this big-time French banker who had been involved in major deals in French industry. He been involved in some shady deals, especially in Russia, and he had moved to Switzerland, and one day he was found shot dead with this kind of S&M latex suit on him. Obviously the moment he was murdered he was involved in some kind of sex game and the woman who obviously shot him in the back of his head had been his girlfriend for ages. She fled from Switzerland to Sydney, Australia, stayed there and locked herself up in a hotel room for a few days and then freaked out, flew back to France or to Switzerland and was arrested when she got back. I still don’t think it has been to trial, so it’s kind of hard to figure out. But when I was writing I didn’t want to know too much about [the case]. It really just started me going, and then I moved in another direction. What was interesting about it was the questioning of [whether the murder] was about their relationship or about business, [whether it was] some kind of contract murder. I thought it might be part both, which is the option [the press didn’t explore]. And what really shocked me is that I felt it was like a story out of Demonlover. It was like reality had stolen from something I had staged in one of my films, which I had staged as something kind of abstract and all of the sudden it was very flesh and blood. I suppose that’s what got me going.
Filmmaker: What was the process like developing and putting together Boarding Gate, and how do you think it was different or similar to your other recent films, which were also multi-national, multi-lingual productions?
Assayas: It has a slightly different dynamic in the sense that there were two prerequisites. I started writing at a stage when I had a lot of trouble getting projects happening in France for some reason. It was kind of absurd because at that point Clean was my biggest hit, and I thought that after the French success of that movie I would have open doors, but it was absolutely the opposite. I started working on a couple of projects, they were not happening, so I thought I might as well do something much more radical, but maybe within a framework where I had some minor security that the film would happen, meaning that it would be a straightforward genre movie in English. I had met Asia Argento at the time, had wanted very much to make a film with her, and I thought maybe it would make sense if we made that kind of film. The whole notion of some kind of weird English language film halfway between a European independent movie and some kind of international B-movie made sense. I knew I would have to be working on a small budget so the logic of it was to shoot the western world scenes in very few locations and then shoot in the streets in Hong Kong in a semi-documentary style. I also wanted the film to be partly about something Asia has had very few opportunities to do — more elaborate dramaturgy, something [that brings together] her inner emotions and the action things that she loves to do.
Filmmaker: Your female leads are always fantastic as Asia is in this film. She seems to be for me the only person I can think of who could have played this role with such gleeful abandon.
Assayas: I think I would not have made the film without her. I could not imagine a French actress who could have dealt with both sides of the character. There are, I suppose, a few actresses who can feel at ease with the action parts, and I suppose there are many actresses who could feel at ease with the more interiorized aspects of the character, the deeper emotions of the character, but I think the only person who could be completely at ease with both sides of the character, someone who has this magnetic, physical presence and at the same time this incredibly likeable personality is Asia. To me, this film as it is, is completely dependent on her.
Filmmaker: The first half of Boarding Gate seems to be a series of chamber set pieces in these sterile modern environments that you ofte like to film. I couldn’t help but think of the scene between Bridgitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli in Contempt or the scene in the center of Breathless with Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Were those things that you consciously devised beforehand, these scenes where you sort of stop the film and we see this intimate dance between these two people?
Assayas: I had wanted for a long time to have space to go further into… relationships, and in a way that filmmakers I admire, like Bergman or Fassbinder did. I always thought it involved giving myself more space, more time, even if it’s not within the logic of contemporary storytelling. The murder scene in Boarding Gate is 25 minutes, almost half an hour. It’s something you don’t do in film, but of course it has to do with things that theater can do. Recently cinema has been very scared of that texture, but it’s stuff that Godard and the great filmmakers of the ’60s were not afraid of. We shot that scene in four nights, and I had no idea Asia or Michael would ultimately go that far in terms of the way they inhabited the characters.
Filmmaker: Do you allow your actors to help shape the words and phrasing and intonations of the characters or are these pretty set in your mind before?
Assayas: Yes, especially when I’m working in English. It’s something I suppose I started with Nick Nolte when we were shooting Clean. I gave a lot of freedom to Nick to rephrase what I had written. What I discovered that excites me about the process is that I write in French, then I get it roughly translated in English, then I rewrite in English, but then I give it to the actors to change, so ultimately it’s not about the words or the phrasing, it’s all about the actual emotion I want to express with a specific line in a specific scene. More and more I consider my dialogue as indication of emotions I want to reach at that moment, and of course I’m incredibly happy when Nick and Michael [Madsen] can find ways of expressing them in rougher terms. Ultimately Asia’s [character] is closer to what was originally written, but she has this kind of genius to make anything sound spontaneous and natural.
Filmmaker: How do you know you’re ready to shoot a scene while your rehearsing?
Assayas: Ah…[laughs] I am ready to shoot a scene exactly when I am not ready. [laughs] I almost never rehearse. I don’t like rehearsing. Usually what I do is sort of roughly explain to the actors what we’re going to do so that they’re comfortable with the fact that at this point they’re sitting or standing or walking from here to there, that it all makes sense to them. If for some reason they’re not comfortable with this or that I kind of change it to fit what they feel will be better for the character and their acting. Then I explain to them what the shot will be, the way I will structure it and then we do technical rehearsals to make sure the guys with the camera, pulling the focus, have a notion of where we’re heading. But I ask the actors to not rehearse anything that has to do with acting, just to rehearse the positions and the specific movements from here to there. Sometimes I don’t even do that. On Boarding Gate, I’d shoot without even doing any technical rehearsal. Usually when I work with actors who are not familiar with that way of working I’ll tell them, “Don’t worry, I just like to shoot the rehearsal, it’s normal.” [laughs] And most of the time, it’s the first take that I end up using. Sometimes I shoot 15, 20 takes, but very often, when we don’t fuck up, which also happens, I will keep the first take, because the first take, before it has been rehashed, before the actors have gone through their lines too many times, when there is something completely virginal about their relationship between the words and the positions and that specific moment and the partner they’re working with, there’s something unique. You can struggle and [redo] the scene so many times just to get back to that initial point when there is this kind of spontaneity to their emotions and to their acting. So to me its essential that the actors are not ready, that I am not ready, that the crew is not ready and we still go for it [laughs].
Filmmaker: Your films exhibit this lovely stylistic fluidity and looseness while still suggesting the breathless pace that people seem to live at today. In Boarding Gate the camera is constantly twisting and turning around the characters in very elegant and almost mysterious ways. How do you think about the camerawork for each film? Do you impose a style beforehand?
Assayas: I think I invent the films while shooting them. I never start making a film knowing, this is how I will make the film, this is how this film will look like, this will be the style of the film. I have a vague notion of the framework I’m working in, and I think that somehow I kind of adapt to the specific energy of the scenes as I’m discovering them day by day. A movie like Boarding Gate took me a bit further than usual in this direction of just using contemporary energy, of using a mixture of realism and abstraction, of mixing documentary and completely poetic abstract moments. I think with Boarding Gate, because I was working in some kind of genre framework where it’s all about life and death, there is also something slightly cartoonish about it, and that gives you a huge amount of freedom in terms of your visual style. I wanted to capture this kind of electricity that emanates from Asia, and I wanted to find the right style to capture it. I think the same way in which I pushed her further in many directions, in return what she gave me kind of encouraged me to go further in terms of the style of the film. Also of course it has to do with the way you function with the cameraman. Boarding Gate is the first film I shot with Yorick Le Saux. Yorick is a great cameraman, I’ve known him for ages, he was doing second camera on many of my films, I think starting with Late August, Early September. He did a lot of second camera work on Demonlover. We just get along really well, especially when it has to do with the really rough, abstract stuff. So I think I was very happy to be working with Yorick because we get along on in terms of energy. For me the best way to sum it up, Clean is a movie that has some kind of rock & roll background, whereas Boarding Gate doesn’t have a rock & roll background, it’s like the movie is rock & roll in its own way.
Filmmaker: How was working with a Hong Kong crew different than your experiences elsewhere, particularly in France?
Assayas: I suppose that working in Hong Kong is pretty much part of what we’ve just discussed. The modernity and energy and abstraction [in the film] has also to do with Hong Kong. Hong Kong I knew from the start would just take me in that direction. I’ve been traveling to Hong Kong since the mid ’80s. I think that something about the energy of Hong Kong, about the beauty of the modern architecture in the city, the pace of the city, has always been an inspiration because, even for my early French films. It was something that you did not sense at the time in Europe. For me at some point it was just vital to be there, to deal with the real thing and to make a movie that would be in the streets in Hong Kong and that would just get at the core of something that has been an inspiration for me for ages. So yes, Hong Kong is not just a city in the film, it’s like the core of what cinematically animates the film.
Filmmaker: The protagonists in some of your recent films have been women in trouble who frequently find themselves culturally displaced and antagonized and in with very bad and complex men whose violent, sexual natures in some ways may represent the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. What draws you to these types of tales?
Assayas: It’s difficult to answer. I suppose it’s a matter of an affinity, a proximity with those characters and those emotions. I think it also has to do with specific individuals. I think it’s also about being lucky to meet the right actresses to depict those emotions. I suppose that Maggie [Cheung] has been an inspiration, not just for the films that we made together, Irma Vep or Clean. As a modern Chinese woman, as the person that she is, she has been a big influence, and I suppose, for completely different reasons, in completely different ways, I can say the same with Asia. And I suppose the last few movies I’ve made, Demonlover, Clean, Boarding Gate, they are, of course, movies that deal with my own preoccupations, that have to do with issues of the transformation of the world, globalization. They have, of course, also to do with the specific relationship with those two actress and I suppose Connie Nielsen also in a slightly different way. I mean, [hers is] a different kind of character. Demonlover is very specific — it’s slightly more abstract, it doesn’t have the same relationship to those characters, but in terms of my inspiration, I started making films after just writing about them for a few years at Cahiers du Cinema. I was lucky enough to be able to travel around, see the world, be acquainted with Asia and Asian cinema when people were not so aware of it, so all of the sudden, when I started to make films, I was completely aware of how the world was changing. I sensed that the booming Asian economy, the opening up of China, and the transformation of Russia were all huge events that were in the process of completely reshaping the world. I just felt there was some huge open space that no was even interested in approaching or dealing with and that I had been lucky enough to be aware of. I thought I was in the right position to handle and understand it. So yes, I think and still do think that what is exciting about film is representing the world and the energies that reshape it.
Filmmaker: You’ve talked about how capital and global commerce in some way predetermine the emotional lives of your characters. Could you talk more about that?
Assayas: I think that the life of individuals is determined by the society that they live in and the more obvious or darker aspects of the culture they live in. I think that today our very idea of ourselves is reshaped by the images we are constantly absorbing. I think our imagination is defined, reshaped by the space occupied by modern media. It can be Hollywood movies, video games, the Internet, comic books, whatever. I think the geography defined by modern images is incredibly broader than whatever previous generations were acquainted with. But not only in terms of how it gives some kind of broader space for our imaginations — I think it’s also going much deeper, much further within individuals, within the more hidden layers of individuals that were not accessed by images before that. I suppose one of the things Demonlover was dealing with was [the way] new layers of images available to individuals on the Internet completely transform not only their imagination but also their own sexuality. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I think, I would say it is a bad thing, not on moral terms, but in the sense of the fact that I perceive it as the progress of alienation. I think people were somehow alone with their own inner imagination and their sex life. Now, somehow, their sex lives are connected to specific images and specific networks within the Internet. To me, it’s like the most private, inner impulses of individuals are commodified by this modern materialism that is incarnated by the Internet and the modern layers of images.
Filmmaker: Does making films in the States or North America interest you at all. Is that something you’re planning on doing?
Assayas: I’ve always been extremely curious to do things I have not done before so every single movie is basically defined by the fact that it’s something that I have not done before. I’m always open to a lot of new things, including making films in the States, but then the problem is more about what kind of freedom I can have. I have been completely spoiled — since I have been making films I’ve had this incredible liberty of how to make them. It’s always very difficult, it’s always horror stories how films are financed, but of course [filmmaking] would not be fun if they were easy to make. Still, the bottom line is that I’ve been able to make the movies I wanted the way I wanted to in Europe, and so freedom is the most precious thing for me.
Filmmaker: What among your films was the biggest learning experience in terms of your filmmaking process and which film do you think you took the biggest leap with?
Assayas: I think that I’ve been learning constantly making films. When I shot Cold Water in four weeks, I had never done that before, I had no idea you could shoot a movie in four weeks and that somehow opened the door for me to make Irma Vep, which I also shot in four weeks, which also had to do with so many complex, different layers of cinema and again something I had never done before, this kind of meta-cinema movie. And again it was something completely new when I made La Destinees Sentimentale. It’s the same with my more autobiographical movies, like Late August, Early September or the latest one I just made, Summer Hours. I think it’s no fun if you’re not learning. I’ve never started making a film thinking, “Oh, I’ve learned how to do this now, so now I can do it.” I’ve always started films having in the back of my mind that I have no idea how I’m going to get away with it. I have no idea how to visually deal with them, I have no idea what the right visual style for them is and I just figure them out on the way.
Labels: Web Exclusives
Monday, March 17, 2008
Though her short-film and documentary projects have a clearly articulated social conscience, director Patricia Riggen says she prefers to make moving films that tell a story with “big emotions.” Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Riggen began writing scripts for television after a stint in the world of newspaper journalism, and eventually became vice chairman of short-film production at the Mexican Film Institute. In 1998, she moved to New York City and attended Columbia University’s MFA program in film studies, focusing on screenwriting and directing. While still a student, she made La Milpa, a 27-minute narrative short set during the Mexican Revolution, for which she won an Ariel Award. Next came Family Portrait, an intimate and heartbreaking documentary about a Harlem family living in extreme poverty that was inspired by Gordon Parks’s hugely popular 1968 photo essay for Life magazine. The film won a Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, screened on HBO, and has found international distribution through Direct Cinema Ltd. and the Independent Film Association.
For her feature-film debut, La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), Riggen draws equally from the wellspring of Mexican soap opera and the American road-movie genre to tell the story of Carlitos (Adrián Alonso), a young boy who makes the perilous, illegal journey across the U.S. border in order to find his mother, Rosario (Kate Del Castillo), who works as a housemaid in a tony Los Angeles neighborhood. As in many road movies, Carlitos’s odyssey is a checkered one, as he encounters human traffickers, border agents and fellow migrants, some of whom help and some of whom ignore or exploit his plight. While Riggen says she did not set out to make an issue film, her deft handling of Carlitos’s harrowing, too-common predicament and touching emphasis on the universal bond of mother and child is clearly resonating with a broad spectrum of viewers: La Misma Luna (co-distributed by Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company) received a standing ovation last year at Sundance and again more recently at the opening night of the Miami Film Festival. And in an election year when illegal immigration is the subject of white-hot debate and xenophobic news-hour editorials, this humanistic, well-observed melodrama of love and migration may find a berth in the hearts of many mainstream filmgoers, too, regardless of which America—North or South, urban or rural, bilingual or English-only—they call home.
Filmmaker spoke with Riggen about the timeliness of La Misma Luna, the politics of acting in Mexico, and why Latino filmmakers working in the States need to maintain an independent voice.
TOP OF PAGE: ADRIÁN ALONSO IN LA MISMA LUNA. PHOTO BY: FOX SEARCHLIGHT. ABOVE: LA MISMA LUNA DIRECTOR PATRICIA RIGGEN. PHOTO BY: CHECCO VARESE
Filmmaker: Did you feel that a child’s journey would allow you to tell the story of Mexican immigration in a more powerful way than it had been told before?
Riggen: Well, when I started making this movie, immigration was not the hot topic that it is now. And actually, I had my doubts about making a movie set in the immigration world, because I had seen some that I didn’t like, and I felt that maybe people didn’t want to watch movies on this subject anymore. I also didn’t see this as an immigration movie, but as a universal story about family separation, so I felt it really allowed me to explore big emotions. I just wanted to show the human side of the immigration story, and stay there, you know? In a way, I think that’s even more powerful, because it has really allowed people to experience this story without any particular agenda, any particular message, and just stay on the human side. I think it’s working well.
Filmmaker: The brother and sister who transport Carlitos across the border are Latinos from the U.S., yet there’s a tension between the Mexican and Chicano worldviews that gets expressed in the way Carlitos’s employer deals with them.
Riggen: Mexicans are discriminatory, sometimes, against the people who leave. I wanted to touch on that and show that other side—because I’m showing the other side of everybody. But also, through the character of Martha (Real Women Have Curves’ America Ferrera), I wanted to show what the second or third generation of immigrants live like. Many times, the struggle is not over—they are still struggling to survive. In this case, to keep themselves in school. I tried to make all the characters unfold, even if they were small, to show their complexity. [Martha’s] doing something bad for a good reason. That makes her very human.
Filmmaker: Did you at any point, given all your experience as a scriptwriter in Mexico and in New York, have the inclination either to tell a story that you had written or perhaps even to make a documentary about this subject?
Riggen: I developed the screenplay very closely with Ligiah Villalobos, during a year almost, we did many drafts. I think her original screenplay was very strong and working with her was very enriching. We did a good collaboration. I’m also a documentary director, but no, this was perfect as a narrative because it allowed me to do exactly as I wanted. I think documentaries are beautiful but reality is reality, you know? You get what you get, and then you construct from that, as opposed to narrative, where you construct from zero.
Filmmaker: How did Villalobos’s script first come to you?
Riggen: Ligiah saw my doc Family Portrait and loved it, so she started sending me some of her screenplays. Eventually, she sent me this one and I immediately connected with it. We are both independent filmmakers working without a salary, and it all came about very nicely. The screenplay was blessed with a big star, too, because by the time I was ready for the script to be shot, I had already secured the financing. For an independent film, that’s very hard, as you know. It only took us a year.
Filmmaker: Did sources of funding come from Mexico as well as the U.S.?
Riggen: Yeah. I think it’s a very cool binational production. I was able to access a fund that is the same one that financed the first films of Alfonso Cuarón, [Alejandro González] Iñárritu, and Guillermo Del Toro. And also we had private money from the U.S., so it was good. The way I financed it was great because it allowed me complete creative control. I was able to cast exactly who I thought was best, shoot where I thought was best, for the amount of days that my budget allowed, with final cut and everything else. That just made the movie better. And now we have the fortune of having a studio distribute it, which is the best of both worlds.
Filmmaker: Was Adrián Alonso your first choice for the role of Carlitos, or did you audition a number of child actors?
Riggen: I knew Adrián was special because of the fact that he was in so many movies. At the same time, I wasn’t convinced by the work I had seen, so I auditioned him and a bunch of other kids, and he was okay—nothing special. But then I started some improvisations, and that’s when Adrián really came out. And he is so smart and so quick, and just destroyed everybody around him with his quick dialogue and his wit. I knew that he was a real star. I wasn’t going to make this movie if I didn’t have the right kid. That was something I was very clear about. No matter how good the screenplay was or how well I could direct it, if I didn’t have the right kid, I wouldn’t even attempt it because it would fail. Everything is on his shoulders.
Filmmaker: In your decision to give the role of Rosario to Kate del Castillo, were you ever concerned that her extraordinary beauty could somehow make her performance as a Los Angeles housecleaner less believable?
Riggen: Well, I faced a bigger obstacle than her beauty, and that’s the fact that she’s a former soap-opera star in Mexico. She’s a big telenovela queen. So she’s perceived as a lesser actor in Mexico. She’s not fully respected yet as a movie star. I was questioned by colleagues about her, and they also had that problem. Like, are we going to believe that she’s a cleaning lady in L.A. when we know she’s a rich, beautiful girl from Mexico City? Well, I think she’s an excellent actress, and I think she had a very challenging role because she doesn’t have the journey; she doesn’t have the adventures, the encounters. She’s in one place and she has an inner problem, an inner dilemma, and that’s very hard to play. It’s very hard to make a character interesting and lovable when you don’t have anything to do but sit there and suffer. I was very conscious of that from the beginning, and I think she did a very nice job. So I’m happy with my choice.
Filmmaker: You took a lot of risks with casting: Eugenio Derbez, for instance, who plays Carlitos’s road companion, comes from the world of comedy, right?
Riggen: He was an even bigger risk than Kate. She’s a proven actress—she’s really good, extremely experienced and very natural. Eugenio, on the other hand, this was his first dramatic role. People I respect in the film business were saying, “Are you nuts? Are you crazy? It’s a huge risk.” I just followed my instinct. I felt he could do it. Of course, I auditioned him, as I auditioned Kate and everybody. I think he brought a little bit of his comedy into the character, which makes it light and interesting. It’s the other stuff, not the comedy, that’s really compelling in his character. In Mexico, I think we’re very narrow-minded [about actors]. And that’s why we don’t have a very strong film industry.
Filmmaker: You mean there’s a perennial divide between film and TV that persists there?
Riggen: I think it’s a problem that has kept both television and film from being able to – what’s the word in English? – enrich each other. And that’s one thing I’m trying to do with this movie. I brought in actors from television who are loved by the people and who are delivering good performances. Many filmmakers have also got the talents of the television actors, but then we have all these film actors who are not known and are not loved by the audiences. So now I’m doing that combination, and I think it’s going to help the film industry a lot in Mexico. Hopefully.
Filmmaker: Have you been screening this film either for unions of domestic workers or smaller communities that are not necessarily film-oriented?
Riggen: That’s an interesting question and I should ask. Fox Searchlight is very smart, they’re very good with small movies. They believe this really has strong word-of-mouth potential. I can tell you that during my editing process, I organized several screenings for little groups of people to see their reactions and get a feel for the movie. One of the screenings that I organized, Ligiah and me, was with illegal immigrants. [laughs] We got a group of 20 people in there and it was very interesting. They thought the border crossing [depicted in the film] was very simple—very easy! [laughs]
Filmmaker: The music in La Misma Luna is such an important texture in the film. And I think that a lot of people here in the States don’t realize there’s such a diversity of Mexican popular music, like narcocorrido and norteño, and that it really has a social dimension, reflecting the realities of life on the border and within the country. Why was it important for you to have such a diverse cross section of music in the film?
Riggen: You’re very well informed! [laughs] As you say, there are so many songs, so many musical styles that refer to the border experience, that I thought we had to have it. The more you can put of the context, the more the movie is richer and fuller and more interesting for everybody. For example, the decision to bring in Los Tigres del Norte [who have a cameo] has to do with the fact that, first of all, they are like the Rolling Stones of Mexico: They are super famous, they have a private jet, and they throw 300 concerts a year on both sides of the border. But beside that, they are considered the number-one group that sings about the immigrant experience. They are immigrants themselves. They came to this country when they were young and played their guitars in the street. So I immediately thought Los Tigres would be interested in the subject matter of a kid crossing the border. And of course, I was right, because they came in for no money when they are very hard [to book] and very expensive, and they made a song especially for the movie. I tried to also show more of the spectrum of the music. On this side of the border it’s not only Mexicans, but [people] from different countries of Latin America, so I tried to show a bit of that diversity in the music.
Filmmaker: I loved the song by Kinky, “Superman es ilegal.”
Riggen: They made it for me! I had them record it. Kinky is like an electronic, supermodern Mexican band, and that song we found in the archives—it hadn’t been recorded before, but the lyrics were very cool, very interesting, so they came in to sing it. Kinky is cool. And we also have a song by Jaime López, who is like Bob Dylan in Mexico. He’s a guy with a guitar and very alternative--never mainstream, never on the big networks--and he has songs about the immigrant experience because he’s from the north of Mexico himself.
Filmmaker: What are your thoughts on the challenges facing Latino filmmakers here in the States?
Riggen: One of the challenges is to keep an independent spirit. If Hollywood decides to believe that there’s an audience and to invest, it’s a good thing, but the important thing is that their movies do not blend and become bland. That they are able to be strong and to keep that interesting point of view, that different point of view. And at the same time, be very rigorous and have very good craft and make a good movie. I think that’s a challenge: Be very good as a filmmaker and keep that particular voice. You don’t want an executive from Hollywood telling you what the Latin audience wants to see. You want to tell the studio executive what they want to see.
Filmmaker: Do you feel like you’re accomplishing that with this film?
Riggen: I don’t know. Let’s so how the movie plays. So far it’s gone really well when they’ve tested the movie. I think ultimately you have to be really honest with your choices and not try to, you know, feed into anybody’s idea of what’s marketable and all of that. Just be very honest with the experience that you are telling, whatever that is. That’s the best choice—it makes for the truer story.
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