Luis Zorraquin talks about his feature debut “GUARANI” and the history of the language lost because of war, casting his film, and the challenges of shooting it
by Oliver Carnay
“Guarani” is a small film about the Paraguayans and touches the lifestyle, culture and history of the people very seldom we see in any indie film. In the story, Lara, a teen-age girl is left and forced to live with her aunts family and grandfather, Atilio, because her mother, Helena, works in Buenos Aires. Lara hopes to follow and live with her mother but get stuck with occasionally helping and working with her grandfather who is a fisherman. Although, she communicates with her mother on a regular basis, her grandfather oddly gives her a hard time and they don't get along well in most cases. It also seems her grandpa have a language barrier with the other people around him as he uses the old “Guarani” language where folks doesn’t use so she acts as his interpreter most of the time. When Atilio finds out that her daughter Helena is pregnant, he sets a long journey with Lara to Buenos Aires to convince her daughter Helena to move back to their Guarani hometown, having a desire to have a grandson he could pass down to their culture. Lara and Atilio, two generations with conflicting cultural values tries to make it despite problems they encounter from an almost impossible road trip, not having much money and the language barrier Atilio has to deal with along the way.
I caught up with director Luis Zorraquin after its movie’s screening at Santa Barbara International Film Festival and here is an excerpt of our conversation:
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Where was the idea born to write GUARANI? What urged you to tell this story? Am I right to say ‘Guarani’ is the language used by local people from Paraguay? What’s the story behind the language?
LZ: I was working in Asunción and I had to travel a lot. I made some friends there and I lived with their idiosyncrasy but I knew nothing about their history. The movie was born when I started to investigate and read about Paraguay´s history just for pleasure. And that was the moment I understood many things about our neighboring country, its role in the conquest of America, its independence, the big war against the Triple Alliance, after this conflict Paraguay held from 1864 to 1870 against Argentina (my country) Uruguay and Brazil had to rebuild everything again and I thought it was sad, embarrassing and fascinating at the same time.
In Paraguay only 30 percent of the male population survived and there were mostly children and the elderly. That 30 percent had to rebuild the society from scratch and language "Guarani" was the centerpiece. Then it had the Chaco War and, last but not least, 35 years of dictatorship, where the Guarani language was frowned upon because it was not a synonym of progress, they had to speak Spanish. It was not until 1992 that the Guarani language was recognized as an official language of Paraguay. Guarani is spoken in many Argentine provinces of the Northwest and parts of the coast. The language is generally transmitted from a parent to their children within the key tools for proper development. The film attempts to reconcile the language, the roots of a culture with the inevitable development of globalized societies, and it is represented in the relationship between grandfather and granddaughter.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Tell me a little bit about the actors you cast in the film. Did you use people from the community where you filmed and how many are non-actors? Is it hard directing non-professional actors? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
LZ: There are professional actors from Paraguay, from Chaco and from Buenos Aires as well, the ones from Paraguay are the protagonists. Grandpa has a very special burden, as during the military dictatorship he was jailed for 13 years and it was the dictatorship that forbade the Guarani language for 30 years, all that was part of the emotional character development. The girl who played “Lara” came out of a casting of a theatre group from Luque, a town in Paraguay. She had to learn the language, her grandparents and her parents spoke very well but she did not. However, she understood everything that was spoken in Guarani and it was not as difficult as learning to ride a bicycle. I always work with casting and discover everything there. For me the secret of working with non-actors was to ask them not to act.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What challenges did you face during the shoot?
LZ: The company move was not easy, but the warmth and professionalism of the team helped to overcome any obstacles. Another major challenge was shooting in the river. Never underestimate the river, but we received the help of locals who grew up along the river and its moods.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How was the financing?
LZ: It's a a low budget film, about USD 300.000 and it was filmed with private resources from Argentina and Paraguay and another large percentage from funds that encourage the Argentine cinema.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How many shooting days?
LZ: It took four weeks to film.
HOLLYWOOFLIP: Did you improvise in directing your actors based on your original script?
LZ: The script is a guide that I do not change. During the rehearsals I work on the lines and change them, but there are no surprises in the set.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How is the current daily life of the people of Paraguay? What is the current state of film in Paraguay and Buenos Aires? How many films are made in a year? Are there any film or acting schools in Paraguay and Buenos Aires?
LZ: Life takes place mostly in Paraguay´s capital city: Asunción. The film portrays characters that are not part of city life in Paraguay. Those people live next to the river, living day to day. The same happens in the other side of the border in Argentina. Paraguay has a short career in films when compared with Argentina. It could be said that it has developed intensively in the last 15 years. Paraguay and Argentina are making more and more co-productions, Paraguay makes 6 films in a record year and Argentina, 150.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Have you shown this film before the screening at SBIFF? What was the reception of the audience? What is your marketing and distribution plan for this film? Which other festivals we can look forward seeing it?
LZ: The film had its world premiere in Europe in the PUFF Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia. It is a class-A festival and the film competed for Opera Prima. It also was premiered at Geneva, in Poland, and soon in Argentina and Paraguay. It will also be available to in the Chicago Latino Film Festival in April. Spectators liked it a lot, and that makes me happy and eager to face my next film. Guarani has Media Luna New Films as its international sales agent and we are relying on their efforts so that the film can be seen in many places as possible. That is the final goal, that more people can watch it.