Aruba 2012: Jonathan Vieira Q&A
Posted on Friday June 29, 2012, 09:16 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
Arubafest 2012 winds up today with a red-carpet dance display and a closing night party at which, it seems, it is mandatory to leap into the pool fully clothed. The Empire tuxedo will remain in the closet.
To be honest, the AIFF is not a tuxedo kind of affair. As you might expect, given its setting, it is extremely laid-back. And if it doesn’t have the star-wattage of the big festivals, it doesn’t have the insanity either. It’s been a charming, intimate event with thoughtfully programmed films, several of which were outstanding, and, with the Caribbean Spotlight Series, a celebration of local filmmakers and local subjects - which is what a film festival should be about. In addition, there was the Aruba Flavor short films competition, a subdivision of the Caribbean Spotlight Series. The jury prize here went to Wake Up (which got Empire’s vote), directed by Ken Wolff, an animated comedy in which a depressed canary contemplates suicide by leaping off a building, only to realize that he can fly. The Audience award was won by Francisco Pardo and Ryan Oduber’s Awa Brak, a dream-like film about a solitary woman searching for herself in a hut on the beach. Probably very deep, but not as much fun as a suicidal canary.
The Aruba Film Festival was the brainchild of Aruban entertainment industry producer, composer and musician Jonathan Vieira. Taking time out from a hectic schedule, he filled Empire in on the festival’s three-year history and his aspirations for its future.
Where did they idea for a film festival in Aruba originate?
It happened when I met up with a good friend, Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Cioccarelli who had decided to settle in Aruba. We were discussing attracting film production to Aruba; at the time I was living in New York. And we casually mentioned a film festival. Then we kind of let the idea die while we were trying to get movies and commercials to come and shoot here. A year went by, we created a website, but nothing really came of it. Then the ATA, the Aruba Tourism Authority, decided they needed some local help; I had just moved to Aruba to open a restaurant. I became kind of like a PA for them, and I thought, Oh wow, this could really work here. I was running the restaurant with my mother but I really wanted to get involved in production, because that’s what I am. I knew the Minister Of Tourism through my producing and my music and he came up to me while I was having lunch one day. He said, ‘Hey Jonathan, you moved back to Aruba. What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get film productions to come shoot in Aruba; I think that’d be a good thing. He said, ’That’s exactly what I was thinking. We should have a film festival.’
So he had the same idea as you.
Yeah. Tourism Ministers always want to do events. I said to him, ‘If you really want to do it, give me an appointment on Tuesday and I’ll put together a presentation. This was Thursday, so over the next four days I called every living soul I knew in the entertainment industry and asked them what they thought. I pitched it to the Minister and I said, ’This is how much it’s gonna cost.’ He said, ‘Okay.’
What did that pitch constitute, what was your initial vision for the festival?
The original idea was to do a comedy festival, just comedy movies - because if you read our license plates they read ‘One happy island’. I thought, It’s be kind of awful having Angelina Jolie here talking about Darfur and kids dying when everyone’s getting liquored up and partying on the beach.
You wanted it to be appropriate to Aruba.
Yes. I thought a comedy festival would work and that we could get somebody like Seth Rogan or Will Ferrel. So I went to the board of the ATA to try to raise some seed money. They said they’d think about it. After that I was on vacation in Italy, and I wanted to talk to people in Italy about doing production in Aruba.
So the aim of the festival was still to attract film production to the island?
Yes, I was trying to get business. And the wife of my co-founder Giuseppe said, ‘Listen, Caludio Masenza who can really help you guys out. He’d been a selector for the Venice film festival and a consultant to the Rome festival. So we took him out to dinner and we talked. I said, ‘In Aruba I have the government ready to sign on the dotted line to say we can do a film festival. But we need someone like you to put it together.’ He said, ‘Alright, if it’s true you have the government’s commitment, I’ll take the job and I’m going to go call my friend Richard Gere and get him to come.’ So he called Richard Gere and said, ‘If I do this festival in the Caribbean, will you do me this favour?’ And Richard Gere said, ‘Claudio, anything for you.’ I jumped on the next plane down to Aruba and I said, ‘Guys, I’ve got a director and I’ve got Richard Gere.’ They signed on the line Christmas Eve 2009, and we started production.
When did you abandon the idea of a comedy festival?
Once we got Richard Gere on board, and Claudio didn’t think it would work.
What is the criteria for the programming?
It’s entirely up to Caludio. He decides what he wants to do each year, what he wants to put a focus on. And there’s also finding the combination of the right movies with the right talent so the festival gets exposure. That’s a really difficult aspect of this festival.
And you also have the Caribbean Spotlight Series.
That came about when we were planning the festival, we had Richard Gere and we had Claudio and so on. And I thought there was no film industry in Aruba; I was trying to get it started, right? Then we found out that there were some local kids who were shooting things. They saw the festival as a magnificent opportunity to get a platform for their work. So for months we scoured the area for locals who had shot something. We even pulled locals in who had been a production assistant on a movie - ‘Oh, you worked on that movie. Let’s get it in the festival and highlight you!’ We were looking for anything. But look what we’ve achieved in three years. The first year we were chasing people for any material they might have shot. If you filmed your baby shower we’d have considered it. We found material that people had shot twenty, thirty years ago from Curacao and neighbouring islands, we speak the same language wo we invited them. We put together a little program and it went pretty well. The next year, immediately we had submissions. Kids were shooting stuff to get into the festival. This year we had to turn people away.
And what’s the criteria for that section of the festival?
We had to be realistic, so the citeria is that you have to be from the Caribbean or you have to have shot something in the Caribbean. There has to be a connection.
But it has been a stimulus to local film production.
It’s played a big part in that, but it’s not just us. People in the Caribbean are becoming more savvy and it’s getting much easier to make movies. But they have somewhere to bring them - ‘We can go to the Aruba Film Festival. Richard Gere was there!’ You need to realize, it’s hard for people in the Caribbean to relate to Europeans or North Americans. We see them on the movie screen, but we feel like it’s a different world that we’re not part of. It’s hard for people to think that one day they could be a Hollywood star. We would like to give our kids the chance to dream big. And that’s what we try to do with the Caribbean Spotlight Series. Look at something like Children Of The Wind, it’s such a fantastic story; it’s a local story and it got its world premiere here at the Aruba Film Festival. This thing of act local but think global is what we’re all about.
What are your ambitions for the festival, do you want it to stay small and intimate or do you see it growing to Cannes-like proportions?
JV: It’s impossible to get to that level. There are only 100,000 people here. When you have a big place, you have a big festival. What we try to do is offer an intimate setting for the press and talent to mingle, and not have the situation where you’re behind barricades. Aruba offers that. We can’t expand too much. What we can do is add events so people have fun. At the end of the day, we are a vacation destination, so it’s expected that people come down here and relax. I think anyone would want to sign up for that assignment.
You can certainly put Empire down for next year.
JV: Of course, you’re a friend of the island now.