Montreal International Documentary Festival


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Exploring Nature - Nov 12 to Nov 18

Interview - Alejandro Telémaco Tarraf

Interview with Alejandro Telémaco Tarraf, filmmaker of Piedra Sola presented in the section Exploring Nature available from November 12-18

What was the starting point for Piedra Sola?

The journey of the film began with the book ´Piedra Sola´, a collection of poems by the Argentinian musician, writer and poet Atahualpa Yupanqui, who spent a big part of his life as a nomadic wanderer in the Argentinian highlands. We were particularly inspired by a poem about a rock - a piece of the mountain - which fell and landed in the middle of a desolate landscape, where it provides shelter and shade for the passing shepherds. We set out to find this symbolic rock, and in many ways the rock became the heart of the film.

How did you come to make a film in these remote mountains between Bolivia and Argentina? Can you tell us a little bit more about this region and your relationship to it?

I was attracted to make a film in this particular region because it is a part of my country that shows a different aspect of our culture. It is a window into a different perception and texture of time. My choice of bringing the camera to these ancient cultures and untouched landscapes is both a political and philosophical choice. A place that, at the time of the filming, had not yet been energetically interfered with, through wifi signals and skyscrapers. A place where you can see the sky in equal measure to the earth and a place where the membrane between nature and man is very thin.

The film is based on the relationship to nature and myths and seems to oscillate at times between documentary and fiction, with an important narrative dimension. Could you tell us about your approach and how the film took this form?

In the Andean Cosmovision, ´Pacha Mama´ does not only signify Mother Earth, but ´time and universe´. There are 3 levels, the underworld which belongs to serpent, the middleworld which is the human terrain and also the terrain of the puma, and then the upperworld, which belongs to the condor and the higher forces. The past is seen to be ahead of us, and the future behind, because the past is what we can see with our eyes, and the future is unknown, and therefore it is not something we can see with our eyes.
In the leaves of the coca plant, a sacred scripture of the entire universe can be read.

This essence of the inseparable union of man and nature and myth and reality, became the foundation of the film, both as a way of creating a diffused interplay between documentary and fiction, and also in the structure of the edit.

In order to convey the wisdom that is held in these isolated, almost forgotten corners of the word, it felt essential to work with real people in their environment. To work with the real challenges that they are facing in a world that is rapidly affecting their habitat and ancient culture, and how this can translate into a more universal message about our relationship to nature and to the mystery of being alive. And it was this archetypal aspect of the film that inspired the more fictional elements, because I believe that you have to use fiction as a way of making things more real, in the same ways that a dream can often reveal more about reality than reality itself.

How did you meet the characters you are filming and what was your collaboration with them like, creatively speaking? How did their lifestyle and culture affect the film and you?

We met the characters after a year of searching the ancient shepherd routes, which do no longer exist like they used to, due to lithium mining in the region. The scouting was very analogue, and involved a lot of walking by foot through the mountains and villages on route, knocking on doors and meeting people on the way. Finally one day, we knocked on the door of Ricardo Fidel (the main protagonist of the film) and it became clear instantly that we had found the character for our film. Interestingly, Ricardo also expressed that he somehow had been expecting us, and so there was a strong connection from the onset.

Throughout the production of the film, I worked very closely with Ricardo, to merge the fictional character with who he is in real life, and he really had a deep understanding of the story I wanted to tell. We lived with his family in total for almost a year, and this time did not only unravel a profound connection to their daily life, but also to their ancestral rituals and seasonal customs. This sharing also enabled a deep sense of trust and friendship, and although we were from such different walks of life, we truly became like one family - little by little discovering that we are not so different after all. Without this deep connection, the film would not have been possible.

Your film is very beautiful and immersive, shot in Cinemascope, with an impressive sound work… Could you tell us more about how the filming took place in such a location and about your formal and aesthetic choices?

Cinescope allows you to include a wider view of the landscape, something that feels important as nature is one of the main characters in the film. All the sound in the film is real and from the place itself, and we actually included a trip only to record sound. In these times, where everything is so over saturated, I feel that the raw texture of both the landscape and the sound can connect us to something of a similar quality in ourselves. And it is this almost forgotten quality of our own nature that I wanted the film to awaken.

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