Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
Posted on Monday July 8, 2013, 18:06 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
The curtain fell on the fourth Aruba International Film Festival on Friday night with another glittering red carpet event. There to add a touch of glamour to proceedings was the exceedingly fetching Briana Evigan (Step Up 2), star of Mine Games, director Richard Gray’s smart little shocker that made its world debut in Aruba; and the ever-radiant Virginia Madsen, whose menopausal comedy The Hot Flashes, directed by Susan Seidelman and co-starring Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Wanda Sykes and Camryn Manheim, officially closed the festival with its international premiere.
Still, not quite wanting to call it a day, things continued into the weekend with stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell conducting a riotous movie fight masterclass on the beach. After tutoring a group of local kids in the art of faking (and taking) a punch, she choreographed an entire multi-attacker fight scene on the spot. Bell’s film Raze, a hyper-violent horror featuring abducted women forced to fight to the death in a sicko tournament, was yet another enjoying its international premiere in Aruba this year.
Although smaller in scale than last year, Arubafest IV managed to pack in such an abundance of superb films, both from the region and beyond, it seems incredible it only lasted four days.
It’s impossible to see everything worth seeing at a festival, even one as compact and bijou as Aruba, but honourable mentions must go to Terms And Conditions May Apply, Cullen Hoback’s searing exposé of corporate abuse of personal information plundered, quite legally, from the internet; Billy Raftery’s haunting documentary about South African street kids (see previous report); Abo So (Only You), Aruba’s first ever feature film, and a musical at that (although not remotely the lovers-in-paradise, gussied-up travelogue you might expect); Paul Verhoeven’s ingenious, interactive character comedy Tricked; and Ring Di Alarm!, a feature-length collection of eight short films, all markedly different, all beautifully made, that reflect the rich and diverse nature of Jamaica.
On a purely personal level, Empire’s film of the festival was the Venezuelan/Columbian/French co-production Edificio Royal (Royal Building). Directed by Iwan Wild - and personally recommended by Virginia Madsen - it charts one day in the life of a decrepit apartment building in a run-down neighbourhood of Barranquilla, Columbia, and its motley collection of residents most of whom, like the titular edifice, have seen better days. Its billed as a ‘comedy/drama’, but that doesn’t come close to covering it. Since it turns its gaze, with exquisite detachment, onto real lives it is by turns funny, macabre, bizarre and, in places, almost unbearably moving. It is, as I’ve said of other films before, the kind of movie that makes festivals worthwhile; one you probably wouldn’t have a chance of seeing anywhere else, one that deserves international attention, and one that, thanks to the festival circuit, will now get it. That’s why smaller, regional festivals, as exemplified by Aruba, are vitally important: they stimulate and promote local filmmakers and provide the springboard that launches them into the wider world.
“The films were just extraordinary this year,” says Virginia Madsen, a tireless supporter of the festival and now its honourary ambassador (with an award to prove it!), “especially the shorts - and where are you going to see short films except at a film festival? Films from Venezuela, Columbia, Chile, even Aruba; it’s hard for those films to get into a Sundance or a Toronto, so this festival is the life’s blood of filmmaking in this region.”
Which brings us neatly back to Abo So, a film that probably would not have been made had the film festival never have happened. Empire spoke to its director, Juan Francisco Pardu.
When did you first have aspirations to become a filmmaker?
It started when I was seven years old. I always went with my father to rent movies, and I remember I watched E.T. I was fascinated by it. I knew at that age I wanted to make movies, but I didn’t know all the things you had to do to make them. When I grew up, when I was eleven, I realized that, okay, the director is important because he controls the whole movie. So I decided, okay, I want to be a director (laughs). Then I realized you need a story, so I started writing my own stories. I remember my uncle gave me a camera and my grandmother gave me a typewriter, so I started writing stories and then going with my friends from the neighbourhood to shoot short movies.
Was there anyone else on the island doing anything like that at the time?
No. At that time we didn’t have cable television. We had three channels, one from Venezuela and two from Aruba. The movie theatre was very small, and then they closed it, so there was no movie theatre in Aruba. They did shoot one movie here, a Dutch film with most of the cast from Aruba. When they showed the film on the local TV network the whole of Aruba was quiet. Everyone stayed in their home to watch the movie. That was an inspiration for me.
The first feature film made in Aruba, that’s quite an achievement.
Yes. It took a long time, but I’m very proud. The idea came from 2010, but then I was advised by a friend of mine not to do a musical. Before, I did two short films, 10 Ave Maria and Awa Brak (Brackish Water), they won prizes in Aruba and internationally, but they were very different from a musical, very different filmmaking style. But I pushed on with the project and tries to bring my style to a musical.
How would you describe your style as a filmmaker?
I touch on social topics, and I try to bring in some symbolism and I try to make the film realistic, more documentary style.
Which is unusual for a musical.
Yes, it is (laughs).
Obviously you wanted the movie to reflect Aruba, its people and culture. In what ways does it do that?
I chose to talk about multi-culture, because in Aruba we have people from many different nationalities - if I’m not wring, I think we have people from more than thirty eight different nationalities here. With language, Papiamento is the highest, then Spanish, then English and Dutch. In 2000 I made a short film and I cast a Latin American actress as an Aruban mother who spoke Papiamento. A lot of people were not happy with that. They asked me why I cast a Latin American actress not an Aruban. It was important to me that Abo So was in Papiamento.
It’s not so much a culture clash, but you do have the Latin American community here and you have the Aruban community. Sometimes they don’t go together so well. That what I wanted to talk about in the movie, integration and discrimination. They were the key topics - also life and death, I wanted to touch on that too (laughs).
Was part of your aim to show that Aruba has its own culture and identity and isn’t all resort hotels and American tourists?
Yes, exactly. For me it was important to make local people proud of their island. Part of that was the music of Padú del Aribe, because everybody loves him, they call him the Father Of The Caribbean; I use his songs, that everybody knows, to show the emotions of the characters. I thought very carefully about what story I was going to tell to do Padú’s songs justice. And yes, Aruba is not just a resort island, there are people living here, a lot of people struggling to make a living, like the mother in Abo So. I wanted to show the real Aruba. Already I’ve been criticized by local people for showing the places on the island that are not beautiful. But I say, ‘That’s Aruba too!’ Because of the documentary style, I didn’t want to shoot in a neighbourhood that makes it look like Disneyland. There are those neighbourhoods, but doesn’t give the story realism.
What are your thought on the Aruba film festival. Has it been an inspiration to you, and do you think it’ stimulates an interest in movies and an interest in making movies in Aruba and the Caribbean?
Yes. My first film, 10 Ave Maria, was shown during the second festival, and I can say honestly if it wasn’t for the Aruba film festival I would not have made Abo So. 10 Ave Maria premiered in Aruba, and then it went all over the world. When it won a prize in Trinidad, I got emails from all over the world, people saying they wanted to show my movie. The festival gave me a platform. When they started the Caribbean Spotlight and the Aruba Flavor series, that created great interest and inspired local people to make films.
Which in the end, is what it’s all about. In terms of size, scope and commercial buzz, Aruba will never compete with Cannes or Venice or even San Sebastian. But for atmosphere, hospitality and sheer heart it leaves them in the dust. Seriously, when your welcome package includes a fifth of rum and a bottle of aftersun lotion, you know you’re at a great festival.