A visual, poetic and narrative experiment. Santa Teresa and Other Stories –based on Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous novel 2666- is a labyrinthine and dark story set on a fictional city, Santa Teresa, an allegory of Ciudad Juárez. Nelson Carlo de los Santos sets himself on the limits in order to erase them, and he deduces, dissects and builds a new perspective on a city filled with death, toying between documentary, fiction and lyric observation. «In Santa Teresa, despite everything, you live without even realizing».
Where did the idea for making a film based on 2666 come from?
The film wasn’t intended to have a direct connection with 2666. If the project had originated that way, I don’t think the film would have existed. 2666 is monumental, and its adaptation would require strategies and economic resources I don’t have. Also, it’s not the type of cinema I want to make. Santa Teresa… came out of a very personal relationship between a reader and a writer and, on the other hand, out of the need to expand Bolaño’s teachings and to decentralize violence as it has been portrayed in our cinema, knowing that the Third World turns it into the core of meaning of its societies. Thus, violence arises as a goods within art, very profitable goods in the transactions with the First World. Santa Teresa… is an attempt to talk about something that, unfortunately, is always urgent, but reconsidering its representation. It’s the desire I still keep and I’d like my film to accomplish.
Which hyperaesthetic influences did you use in order to portray such a dark and labyrinthine world?
My first exercises and short films were animation films. The work of the animator is very quiet-detailed, the work is so much that the director seems to disappear. It’s the antithesis of the director, who shines all the time when he makes a film. I stopped doing animation but my working style didn’t change that much. Although I made all of my films, including Santa Teresa…, which is my CalArts thesis, in an academic environment, I kept producing things every year. Those dark shots, where the language of Santa Teresa… is built from invisibility and a labyrinthine style, don’t belong exclusively to the film; I had been working on them in previous films.
Up to what extent does the film portray a situation that is not exclusive of a country, but rather of a region: the image of women, femicides and violence as standard practice?
It would be a mistake to think that I speak exclusively about a country, a country I don’t know well. I’m from Dominican Republic and my first contact with Mexico was through literature, its cinema and art in general; then I visited the country but I choose to talk about it through a novel, thinking of Santa Teresa as Mexico, and in a free jazz that substituted the cities portrayed, including -and specially- mine, Santo Domingo. I think that our colonial processes, the American influence on Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean have created very similar symptoms regarding violence and history. I don’t know up to what extent Santa Teresa… speaks to countries like Argentina and the Southern Cone; but the image of women and gender violence are issues we as human beings have not been able to solve. Today, the struggle is for plurality and diversity, not just equal rights for minorities, but the inclusion of their stories and thoughts into the paradigms of knowledge production, which we call the universal, a dangerous but existing word, and which represents that collective imagination of civilization that we are taught and blindly accept.
The aesthetic work is outstanding, the blurred line between the documentary, the extremely poetical and the fictional. How did you work with the technical resources to achieve that effect?
Santa Teresa… and the rest of my films have that handcrafted mark I always use. I develop the film material myself, I use MiniDV, with which I started making videos, and its analog imperfections amaze me. I also explore HD image, they are all part of my formal research. That search expresses my views on cinema and my ideology. I believe that the Caribbean, probably the most complex region of the American continent, where our islands still are the border of some empire, a true and interesting poetics where the mulatto appears. Mulatto not only with its racial connotations, but as political and aesthetical concept. Caribbean peoples denounce things without knowing, and give up, without knowing, on a spirituality, a way of thinking and a collective imagination driven by a conception of identity of a single root. Those mulatto elements that come out as a virus and open doors and structures create films such as this one. I don’t want to make a film where the use of those elements that go through narrative and formal models are defined by evident border lines.
What are your expectations regarding the exhibition ofSanta Teresa… in the Festival and the reception of the audience?
I was very surprised to find out that my film was in a competition. It’s an experimental film that would usually be in alternative programs in festivals as big as Mar del Plata. I’m very grateful for that and I congratulate the programming team for taking such a risk with Santa Teresa… Regardless of the film being good or not, it’s a complex film that doesn’t enter into dialogue with the experience of current Latin American cinema. I don’t know what to expect, but it’s my entrance to Latin America, since the film has been only exhibited in North America and Europe. I’m very curious to know what people will think. I don’t know if it will have a good reception or not, but I do know it’s something different from the Latin American cinema we are used to, and that always leads to two extremes: either you hate it or you love it.