Thursday, August 13, 2009

Q&A: Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo I'm Gonna Explode, Drama/Mex -- and how "Troy" became The Good Times Kid

Yesterday TrustMovies was going to grab a subway to the FSLC to meet in-person with filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo (shown above), but the prospect of traveling an hour from Queens with a cold and/or flu and its accompanying fever/temperature seemed neither smart for me nor good for Naranjo. Mexico has enough problems without its filmmakers being struck down by viral infections -- given to them by critics, yet! So we decided to do it via phone. Highlights appear below, and I apologize in advance if I sound even goofier than usual….

TrustMovies: I didn’t realize until after I watched both Drama/Mex and I’m Gonna Explode -- and then went onto the IMDB to check you out -- that you had worked (acted and screen-written) with Azazel Jacobs for The Good Times Kid!

Gerardo Naranjo: Yes -- and Benten Films is releasing The Good Times Kid on DVD this week, in a kind of Criterion-like edition. There will be extras and everything! We did this film in 2005 with the left-overs of the negative of Troy.

Troy? The Brad Pitt epic?

Yes. That was where they shot it: Mexico. And one day some friend said to me, There is this negative here, and I am not telling you this, but I am just giving you the information that, if you go in and happen to take the negative, well, I am not going to tell anyone.


This was an unused negative: the left-overs. So that is how we got the film stock to make The Good Times Kid. We did each take knowing that this take or that one could only last around 40 seconds because that was all there was of that particular piece of negative. Some rolls were a minute, some were 40 seconds, some only 20 seconds. It was incredible. This was like going to a second film school for us: one of the most educational processes. We were fresh out of the AFI then, doing a Master in film-making.

AFI was where you met Azazel and became friends?

Eventually we were out of projects there but we really wanted to make a movie together. So we found a way.

Can you talk a bit about your earlier film, Malachance?

To this day Malachance is a film that I feel like I never finished. The FSLC asked me to show it, but I don’t think I can show it because it really is not finished.

But eventually, it seems, you have been able to finish your films.

Things have been a little bit easier since I have been able to find people to help and support me. But I definitely found out a lot during those years when Azazel and I were watching movies and thinking that we could start out and find our own way of making movies.

I would never have guessed that the same filmmaker who made Drama/Mex and I’m Gonna Explode also did The Good Times Kid -- the screenwriting, at least.

We have very different ideas and ways of making film, Azazel and I, and I respect and like his way, but it is certainly his way. But I think that very good friendships can come out of very different film-making styles. I would be more worried if we were somehow alike.

Do you now consider yourself to be more from Mexico or the US? In which country have you lived for the longer time?

I was born in and raised in Mexico. In Guanajuato, Mexico, where I’m Gonna Explode was shot. I just came to the US to a get my Masters in film in Los Angeles. I went there in 1999, after studying film in Mexico. We graduated in 2002, then I went on to make Malachance -- in which the title is kind of a nod to Gus van Sant's Mala Noche -- in 2004, The Good Times Kid in 2005, and then Drama/Mex in 2006 and Explode in 2008

I have to tell you that watching films from Mexico often depresses me.


Yes, because, over the years -- the decades, really -- I’ve seen no real change happening there for the people. And for awhile, I think I was blaming Mexican filmmakers for offering such depressing takes on things: from Buñuel through Iñárritu and many of the movies put out by Canana group. Not so much those of Cuarón and certainly not Eimbcke: It seems like when you go to the countryside, or just out of the cities, things get a little better….

You have to understand that these films are reflections of who we are. Our circumstances. Certainly, we do have a lot of problems. It has to do with the way people are educated, or not, and the opportunities, and how the money is spent. We are in a very unequal society: People who know how to read and speak and use computers are very few, and a large number of people are like this. I’m Gonna Explode is not particularly a socially-conscious movie. (Naranjo stops speaking for a moment.) But still, you know, it is. You can not be paying attention to what is happening and not see how unfair it is. I focus more on the politicians, the political class, for many of the faults of our society. They are there to make sure that people get what they need. But they don’t.

Politicians are like that all over. In our country, too. They first line their own pockets, and then – maybe – they see what their constituents need.

That is what politicians do, and why would they not? Unless somebody stops them. Which is what filmmakers want to show. The Three Amigos (Cuaron, Iñárritu, del Toro), these were the guys who did open doors and broke down many barriers.

In the past Mexican filmmakers were given the money by the government, so they would never criticize that government. We are a film generation that has gotten international attention, and because we are not supported by the government, we can criticize.

What is next for you? I looked on the IMDB, but... nothing.

I am keeping it a secret. I am trying to make a movie about the country again, but with much more social stuff and more violence. More dynamic. Before, I was talking about youth and teenagers. But I have to realize that I have grown up now, so I must talk about grown-ups – even if they are behaving like children!

How far along are you with the new film?

I am just writing it. Don’t know yet even in what city it takes place. I’m just starting. I really have no idea how to make an action film. But I hope that by the end of this year, I will. I will try to work hard and have it finished. If you have the film clear in your mind, then it is easier. I don’t have that much money, so it depends of putting the right people together. This one will be a challenge, because I will need certain things, and I don’t really know how hard this will be.

How old are you?


Wow – you Mexicans look much younger than you actually are! When I interviewed Fernando, I thought he was in his late 20s, but he is 38, too, I believe.

I think, actually, Fernando and I are the same age.

One of the thing Fernando told me was that his films were hardly released in Mexico.

Yes, he did not get a good release there.

But your films were released there—and did well.

Yes, mine went out with like 40 prints, which, in Mexico, is almost like Transformers. But I feel the same as Fernando. The new Mexican filmmakers are not getting their films released there. People somehow got used to “bad entertainment” and they don’t see a reason to watch something challenging. They would prefer not to see it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say, while you have the chance?

I feel very privileged to be here and to be supported by the FSLC. It’s the film society that I have admired the most since I was student. The NY Film Festival has always represented something I wanted to be close to and part of. It’s thanks to film societies such as this one that new filmmakers like us get our chance. I think New York City is what it is, because these institutions are showing things that nobody else is showing. And I am happy to be here and be part of it.
Señor Naranjo will be fielding Q&As following four of his screenings at the Walter Reade Theater. Two of these were done yesterday, but there are two more tomorrow, Friday, August 14, at the 6:15 and 9pm showings of I’m Gonna Explode. The complete schedule is here.

PHOTO CREDITS: the photos of Gerardo Naranjo, top and bottom
(with the FSLC's Richard Peña, shown at right)
are courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center/GODLIS.
The other photos are from Naranjo's films,
I'm Gonna Explode and Drama/Mex.

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