The Construction of Narratives

The 33rd Festival is doing a retrospective of the work of French-Colombian filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán that displays the great variety of her resources and the freedom with which she approaches people, history and its past and possible representations. In this dialogue, we talk about the ideas her films promote, as well as the narratives they disassemble. Huertas Millán is a member of the jury of the Altered States Competition.




How did you first approach ethnography?

I come from visual arts, and even though I have been living in France for the past 20 years, I am of Colombian origin. My whole immigration history was highly influential in my work, and, particularly, 10 years ago I started working around the idea of exoticism. This led me to do research on the first anthropological images of America, which were then created through a European point of view, so that is how my interest in anthropology was born. And it has many echoes in my personal life, due to the fact that anthropology is based on the idea of a cultural difference and, given that I have many cultures, it has a strong influence in my own life. Being an immigrant in France and doing research on the history of European views towards America allowed me to understand many of the problems I experience when trying to fit in a certain context in Europe, or certain frictions that still exist between our cultures.


Your films are in constant dialogue with those European records on America. What is it you found in them?

This very series of short films I made around the idea of exoticism came from theoretical texts such as those of Edward Said, who wrote about Orientalism and the construction of the exotic, about how an otherness is constructed and a cultural difference is objectified, or those of Frantz Fanon. All post-colonial studies of that time were highly influential. So I started looking more closely at these accounts from the European travelers who described America for the European audiences during the conquest and colonization processes. These texts were already familiar to me, because during my childhood in Colombia the Fifth Centennial’s celebrations took place, and I guess the same thing happened in Argentina, and there in Colombia we had an education in which they told us that Christopher Columbus was the best, that it was a good thing he came to civilize America, etcetera. So, of course, when reading Said and Fanon that education started to feel funny to me. And I went back to those texts and documents on what I supposed was the history of our countries with a more critical eye. I became interested in pointing out how those texts are built up in a very fictitious way; I did research on many accounts that were written in different centuries –some of them in the 16th century, others in the 17th, others in the 18th– and all of them were structured the same way. In all of them, there were also figures that would return, just like the giant bats that suck the blood out of the men in the jungle. So I started to think that perhaps these texts, before the supposed discovery of America, showed that the travelers already had a voyage archetype, which came from medieval times, or from Marco Polo’s travels, and that they were describing a cultural imaginary that already existed.


…And which the natives simply came to fill

Yes, to fill that fear of difference.


In films like La libertad, it is you who goes for an ethnographic approach. How do you get close to people from a contemporary view?

There’s something that is present in my work, and it’s that I do not feel I have a fixed identity as an artist, but that each project is a very complete experience. The film that comes from that process always leads me to a terrain of form that is also new to me. So I don’t have a compact production scheme that I repeat; I invent it every time. It is true that in La libertad there’s an ethnographic approach, but a more contemporary one, like you said, because I did become very interested in ethnography in its beginnings, in its links to colonialism, and that led me to do a doctorate of practice around the idea of ethnographic fiction, starting off from this idea that ethnography was fiction built from a certain angle and perspective. But later, during this doctorate, I met with current anthropologists and realized that ethnography was finally taking a de-colonial turn, and I started making a series of films in which I would think of this idea on how to make fictions while including ethnographic elements. So in La libertad, which is the closest I’ve been to making an immersive documentary, it was a process that consisted on spending time with the family of weavers, and from that real situation, building abstractions, because the subject I was most interested in for the film was also an abstraction; weaving as a writing process done from the women’s point of view, as an alternative history to official histories. But every film builds its space.


How do you manage in order for your decisions in form to go hand in hand with your discourse?

It’s a tough question. Even though my work is very discursive, and is very strongly linked to research, there’s a part that is also very opaque to me, that is intuitive, that is also sensory, and that is an experimentation that comes from being with someone and spending time. So I think that, formally, I never start off from an assumption of form; it is the device suggested by the film that is always the result of a relation, and to me that question is important because sometimes I feel that in documentary films, or in films related to reality, the relations with the people portrayed aren’t built up. So I try to invent structures for myself in order to create relationships and make sure those relationships are captured in the image in a sensory way so I don’t have to explain them with a voiceover; to avoid interviews or frontal shots. I create strategies in order to get rid of those conventionalisms in language film can have.




Laura Huertas Millán - Program 1

WED 14 - 22:15 - PAS 4

SAT 17 - 12:00 - CIN 1


Laura Huertas Millán - Program 2

WED 11 - 16:00 - PAS 2

MON 12 - 18:00 - PAS 2



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