Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Waiting for the Barbarians by ‎J.M. Coetzee

Moderators: Liz, fireflydances

User avatar
fireflydances
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3307
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by fireflydances » Fri Aug 23, 2019 8:21 pm

Image
Actress Natalia Reyes as Zaida in Birds of Passage (2018)




Ciro Guerra - Director

We are now only two weeks away from Waiting for the Barbarians’ debut performance at the Venice Film Festival, and the biggest reason this film is bound for such a major competition is its director: Ciro Guerra. Who is he, and does he have what is necessary to assure that this long-suffering adaptation is finally positioned to bring Coetzee’s masterful story to a wider audience?

Ciro Alfonzo Guerra was born in Rio Oro, Colombia in 1981. Active in the arts even as a child, Guerra became enthralled with filmmaking when he was 14 years old and saw Fellini’s "8 1/2" -- regarded by some as the best film ever made about making movies. (RogerEbert.com) He remained true to his vocation and upon graduation from high school, enrolled in the National College of Colombia to study film and television.

At college he took off like a rocket, making his first short film Silence at all of 17 years and just a year later, his first documentary Siniestro about the work of Colombian filmmaker Jairo Pinilla. These were followed in the next two years by another short, Alma, and in 2000 Guerra’s first animation short, Intento. By 2003 Guerra was working as director of photography with the famed Spanish director Aitzol Aramaio on a short entitled Terminal. Guerra’s work on this film brought regional recognition and awards from Venezuela and Colombia.

In 2004, at the age of 24, Guerra wrote and directed his first feature film: Wandering Shadows and launched himself into the world of major film festivals. The film was selected by over 60 film festivals across the world, scored another three awards for Guerra, and was nominated for ‘best narrative feature’ by the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival (2005) in New York City. Guerra’s second feature film, Wind Journeys (2009 was nominated for the 2009 Prix Un Certain Regard, an award which recognizes ‘young talent, innovative and audacious works.’ Guerra and the film also won seven ‘best director’ awards and four ‘best film’ awards at international film festivals, and six other nominations.


Image
Guerra as Jury Head, Critics Week, Cannes Festival 2019


Guerra’s third feature film, Embrace of the Serpent, was nominated for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 2015 Academy Awards -- the first such honor ever received by a Colombian film. The film had its premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 2015 Cannes film festival and won the CICAE Art Cinema award, ‘given at major European festivals [such as Cannes] by an international jury of art cinema programmers [which]aims at bringing high-quality films to the art cinemas.’ Embrace of the Serpent received an astounding 42 awards and another 34 nominations at international film festivals, and also garnered much acclaim from American movie-goers and critics. Ted Bugbee at MTV website called Embrace of the Serpent the first narrative film to be shot in the Colombian Amazon in thirty years’ stating that ‘the film is both an honest exploration of the possibilities and dangers of cultural exchange and a thrilling journey into one of the last places on earth where nature has yet to be tainted.’

Guerra’s fourth feature film, co-directed with wife Christina Gallego, was Birds of Passage (2018). The film premiered at the 2018 Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes where it was judged likely to figure prominently on the shopping lists of distributors specializing in high quality arthouse fare. In total the film won 17 awards and 28 nominations at festivals around the world. ‘The movie generated US $507,259 at the North American box office and $901,929 elsewhere for a worldwide total of $1,409,188, making it the most successful Spanish language Colombian film since the international festival sensation Embrace of the Serpent in 2016 by the same director.’ (Wiki) The film site RogerEbert.com considers Birds of Passage one of the best films ever made, awarding it 4 out of 4 stars.

This past May Guerra was appointed head of jury at Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival which each year showcases a select set of feature films and short films that deserve wider viewing.

In an interview with Elena Lazic of Seventh Row, a Canadian website devoted to film, Guerra talks a bit about his filmmaking philosophy:

"Commerce is about telling people that everything is alright. So if you want to be a commercial, you just have to tell people that the good guys always win, love always triumphs, everything is good, and we’re going to find a way. Art begins when you tell people, “everything is not okay.” It moves people into thinking that maybe this is not the best world that we can have. The other art is about conformity — this is the best we can do, you should be happy and thankful for what you’ve got. Some people think that way, and it’s valid. But some of us think that the world that we have is not the best world that can be. Storytelling is a way to explore why that is happening.

Just the fact that we are discussing cinema is a wonderful thing, because cinema is, I think, one of the best things that humanity has produced. That we are able to tell stories, that we are able to hear stories from different points of view — I think that is, in itself, a good sign." (Lasic)


Image
Nilbio Torres as the young Karamakate in Embrace of the Serpent



In the process of researching this tidbit I watched both Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage on Amazon Prime. Embrace of the Serpent was free for prime members; I had to pay $3.99 to watch Birds of Paradise. Both are excellent and compelling films, the kind that you end up returning to because they have been imprinted on your brain. They are both movies you will want to see more than once. They are also very different films.

Embrace of the Serpent is a black and white film with a running time slightly over two hours, and a soundtrack that manages to convey the feeling that you are surrounded by the jungle. The cinematography adds to this sense of being surrounded by the unfamiliar. Within moments you are deep into a film that is mesmerizing, at times disturbing, but always deeply engaging. The story revolves around two different European scientists who visit the Colombian Amazon thirty years apart from each other on the hunt for a rare hallucinogenic plant which grows on certain rubber trees living in the twilight darkness of the jungle. Both men are assisted in their search by a reclusive indigenous shaman who routinely challenges each scientist regarding their long-held assumptions about knowledge while introducing them to a profoundly different take on reality. In Guerra’s words, “This film is about the conflict of different worlds, about what happens when different spiritualities come together and clash and have dialogue.” (Bugbee)


[bbvideo=560,315]https://youtu.be/vS73P3hZvPA[/bbvideo]



Birds of Passage is in stunning color, also a little over two hours, and perhaps slightly more conventional than Embrace of the Serpent. Once again the sound track and the cinematography are phenomenal and help to create a beautiful feeling of immersion in this story. The best way to describe this movie is as a crime story in which a family of indigenous Wayuu become embroiled in growing and selling marijuana to the Americans and descend into violence and death. The Wayuu are known for their beautiful fabrics and strongly held traditions that include a great respect for the power of words. The trailer opens on a courting dance:

[bbvideo=560,315]https://youtu.be/_cbzb4pXZT0[/bbvideo]




Filming Waiting for the Barbarians

I was very fortunate to find an interview with Ciro Guerra on the making of Waiting for the Barbarians. The interviewer is Sofia Gomez G. at El Tiempo.com, a news outlet based in Colombia. The interview itself was in Spanish and I have done my best to accurately translate it into English. Guerra begins:

“It was difficult to find a project that I felt as my own, that I liked, that had the elements that interest me. When producer Michael Fitzgerald - who had been trying to make this film for a number of years, offered me a screenplay of Waiting for the Barbarians that was also written by Coetzee, I found it totally consistent with everything I've worked with, and concerning subject matter that interested me. My involvement with this film project began three years ago, after it had faced thousands of obstacles since it was first proposed in 1990."

Image
Mark Rylance as the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians



How did this project get in your hands?

"After Embrace of the Serpent was so successful in the US and Europe, I started getting lots of proposals for film projects. When I learned about Waiting for the Barbarians I felt it was a powerful and very important story for these times. There was also the possibility of bringing together a great cast and crew. From the start I had a clear sense about how I was going to proceed, in other words I could see the completed film with absolute clarity.”

“Although I knew it would be a challenging project to undertake, I also felt that it was the sort of story that needed to be told by someone familiar with the issues the book raises. In the hands of a Western director it would have lost its essence. I felt I had a deep understanding of Coetzee’s narrative and these issues were of great interest to me. In fact, Coetzee visited the set in Morocco and he was very generous in his advice and support.”

Is the film as political as the novel seems to be?

“When we started the film we were working on something that presents as an allegory about a distant place and time, but as we were filming we couldn’t help but notice the increasing level of extreme, hateful and xenophobic speech around us. And all of it seemed to fit with what we were doing on screen. The world is more divided than ever. If anything this story is talking about the real and current political processes in countries like the US during the last year. The movie has a lot to say to audiences.”

Was it complicated to direct this cast?

“This is an industry that revolves around actors above all else. But actors are also artists and storytellers, and they are looking for stories to tell and people who want to tell them. The actors working on this film all came with extensive experience in the field, having worked with directors like Spielberg, Burton and Nolan. It is clear to them when the director knows what he is doing and when he does not. That forces you as a director to raise your own level, to provide a deep interpretation of the story and real clarity on the way forward. Working with them was like working with Dali, Van Gogh and Picasso. They were passionate about the story and willingly put all of their craft and talent into the work, completely open to whatever was required.”

“Johnny and Mark were happy to share ideas, each other raising the other’s level in an unspoken competition. It was very impressive to see these capital-sized actors, artists at the top of their art. Everyone was re-inventing themselves, playing very different roles than those audiences have seen or even expected to see, particularly Robert Pattison who is hungry to explore new paths. This makes him very dynamic and lively, a surprising actor eager to take on more than what is demanded. He is a cinephile actor, looking for directors he wants to work with, being able to share with people he respects and who stimulate him, and this gives him the chance to have one of the most interesting acting careers of his generation.”


Image
Robert Pattinson as Mandel


“It was definitely a passion project for all of us. There were no egos involved; everyone was very open, very excited, and eager to make this movie. All of us connected with Coetzee’s story, all of us believing in what we were doing, and the importance of telling this story and doing that in the best way possible.”

How new and different was directing a film like this?

“I came with the idea that it was going to be very different, but the truth is in cinematic terms it was the same. The language was different, but I was able to work with the same freedom and creative stimulation that I have had with all my films.”
“The producer Michael Fitzgerald is old-school Hollywood (he has worked with Huston, Orson Welles, Tommy Lee Jones and Sean Penn) where the producer creates a space in which a director and actors can work freely and squeeze their creativity to the fullest. Michael put all the facilities and production effort at the service of the ideas I had about this film.”

“Before taking on this film I had rejected large and successful projects. I wasn’t sure I could do them; I didn’t think it was a good idea to accept something big just for the money. The important thing is that you feel you can make a movie, that you can visualize it and that you know how to tell it.”

Image
Gana Bayarsaikhan as The Girl in Waiting for the Barbarians



What is your most pleasant memory from this film?

“Having the chance to work with Mongolian actress Gana Bayarsaikhan. She opened the entire cultural spectrum of her people for this film: we had contact with people there, actors, riders, music, culture, and that opened a heart in the film that was very interesting. It was a pleasant experience to learn from Morocco and from Mongolia.”



Ciro Guerra is a bold and creative filmmaker who works from vision. Clearly he has an instinct for taking on environments and topics that haven’t been explored by many American filmmakers. How will his way of telling a story compare to the work of other master directors? And, will Waiting for the Barbarians make it into American movie theaters? We will have to wait and see.




Sources:

Barfield, C. 3 Clips From Ciro Guerra’s ‘Birds of Passage’ Gives A Look At One Of The Most Talked About Films Coming From Cannes. May 15, 2018 The Playlist

Bugbee, Ted. Q &A: Director Ciro Guerra on his Oscar nominated film Embrace of the Serpent - MTV 2/25/ 2016


Cheshire, G. Birds of Passage. RogerEbert.com

Colombia Ministry of Culture, El viaje cinematográfico de Ciro Guerra


Confederation of International Art Cinemas


Gomez, S. Ciro Guerra Ciro Guerra debuta en las grandes ligas de Hollywood El Tiempo.com August 18, 2019


Lasic, E. Birds of Passage, co-director Ciro Guerra on genre, tragedy, and hope Seventh Row 2/25/2019
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

User avatar
fireflydances
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3307
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by fireflydances » Fri Aug 23, 2019 8:27 pm

Well, with this tidbit we begin the tidbit portion of Waiting for the Barbarians to an end. I hope you enjoyed these vignettes of both the book by JM Coetzee and the film by Ciro Guerra. Now we have to sit on our hands for two weeks and hope that we get more pictures, and maybe a trailer, on this long-awaiting project.

On Monday August 26th we will begin our discussion on both the book and the movie. Please stop by and share your thoughts. Whether you read the book or not, your opinion on this project is welcome.

And yes, I did deliberately drag my feet near the end hoping to get us as close as possible to the premiere. Cross fingers, eyes, feet and toes that this film with its brilliant cast and paramount director will be a success.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

User avatar
fireflydances
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3307
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by fireflydances » Sun Aug 25, 2019 11:52 am

I just wanted to point out that the last section of this tidbit contains an interview with Guerra concerning the filming of Waiting for the Barbarians. There is nothing else like this on the scene currently -- no news basically, except for this long interview. So, what does he say? Personally I think he gives readers insight into how the movie will be different from the book.

Frankly the lack of a trailer and the lack of 'news' about this film has intrigued me. At first I thought it was because of the film genre, i.e. an art house production as opposed to a commercial or mass media production. But there were trailers for Birds of Passage and Embrace of the Serpent when they were under competition. So why?
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

User avatar
SnoopyDances
Posts: 50880
Joined: Sun Feb 21, 2010 3:12 pm
Location: Tashmore Lake
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by SnoopyDances » Sun Aug 25, 2019 8:31 pm

:thankyou: FF!

Another round of great tidbits. :applause2:

Looking forward to the discussion. :giddy:

And I've been wondering about a trailer, too. :perplexed: Maybe they can't release a trailer prior to the festival competition?
Hopefully, it will do well and pick up a major distributor. :hope:

User avatar
fireflydances
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3307
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by fireflydances » Mon Aug 26, 2019 11:50 am

SnoopyDances wrote::thankyou: FF!

Another round of great tidbits. :applause2:

Looking forward to the discussion. :giddy:

And I've been wondering about a trailer, too. :perplexed: Maybe they can't release a trailer prior to the festival competition?
Hopefully, it will do well and pick up a major distributor. :hope:

Thank you! And it can't be that trailers are forbidden because I have seen the Ad Astra trailer several times, and yes, Ad Astra will be at Venice.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

User avatar
nebraska
Posts: 29357
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 8:15 pm
Location: near Omaha
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by nebraska » Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:51 am

Last night I watched Embrace of the Serpent. For a black and white film it had some really pretty scenery. I was drawn in by most of the characters as well, the characters will stay with me. But overall, I found the film hard to follow. The scenes at the mission (in both time periods) seemed out of place, the Messiah episode was especially strange. :-O

After I finished watching the movie, I had to do some research to explain the point of it all.
Visually it was really nice, however.

User avatar
fireflydances
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3307
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books
Status: Offline

Waiting for the Barbarians- Tidbit #11: Ciro Guerra - Director

Unread post by fireflydances » Fri Sep 13, 2019 3:51 pm

So glad you had a chance to watch one of Guerra's films. Yes, Embrace of the Serpent isn't anything like most films we see in the States. I think Guerra really likes to make his work as authentic as possible. First, very few people have made films in the Amazonian jungles, in part because of the environment. But the more major thing here is Guerra used locals in the film, and ran everything by local tribes people to insure the film captured the shaman as accurately as possible. So, when you watch it, it feels as though you are being surrounded by something almost beyond your comprehension. While watching Embrace the Serpent you are kind of "along for the ride" you know? It's quite a deep film.

I also strongly recommend Birds of Passage which won't feel so foreign. It is in color and much more of a narrative than Embrace the Serpent. Truly a beautiful film cinematically, and I did wonder why Guerra didn't use his cinematographer on Waiting for the Barbarians, only to learn that he brought him along on the film so that the fellow would have an opportunity to work with a master -- Chris Menges. Makes sense.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies