December 10, 2013
Andrés Di Tella, filmmakerTuesday, October 1, 2013
As a documentary maker, I’m an anthropological spy
Buenos Aires, 1958
Studies: BA in Literature and Modern Languages from Oxford University
Latest films: Hachazos (2011), ¡Volveremos a las montañas! (2012) and Máquina de sueños / El ojo en el cielo (2013). Founder of BAFICI (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) in 1999. Since 2002, director of the Princeton Documentary Festival.
Media preferences: Online media on a regular day, newspapers on weekends - El País, La Nación, Página 12. Doesn’t watch TV, except for soccer and sometimes The Simpsons (with his daughter) and Breaking Bad (with his son).
Argentine documentary maker Andrés Di Tella has released two new films this year, focused on the creative process in art. Máquina de sueños and El ojo en el cielo were made for television and the latter premiered on September 29 on ISat. The day after, Di Tella met with the Herald to talk about his fascination for the creative process, his take on Argentine cinema and his hopes for the near future.
With Máquina de sueños and El ojo en el cielo, you have created a diptych focused on the creative process in art. While doing these documentaries, have you found the answer to the eternal question: what is art?
I think the answer is somehow obvious: art is what artists do. I believe that the truly interesting side of what is happening in art today is precisely that the artists’ work-in-progress is not visible. We’re no longer speaking about that long-established image of the painter working in his garret with his beret all askew. Today, an artist does so many things you wouldn’t normally associate with this métier. For instance, in El ojo en el cielo, the artists act as researchers, scientists or historians.
Your definition shifts the focus to the artist. If art is what an artist does, the question then becomes: what or who is the artist?
I would say they are people formally recognized as artists. Since 1912, when Marcel Duchamp put his famous Fountain in a gallery, the gesture became more important than the form. To me, the most interesting part of it all is that, at some point, the process becomes more important than the result, the creative process which includes the artist’s research, creation, his trial and error tribulations, all of that is so fascinating.
How did the television commission alter the documentaries?
We had to use a particular language, which was slightly different from my more personal films or ‘d’auteur,’ if you wish. Another particular condition was the time. A feature such as Fotografías, focused on my mother’s life story, took me five years in all. These two television films took me six months each.
Doesn’t this inward look respond to a certain fascination toward the artist’s privacy?
Yes, of course. On the other hand, my documentaries have always had a particular focus on privacy. I’m glad to see my intention becomes so clear in the end and we, the filmmakers, emerge as a sort of anthropological spies following the behaviour of a fascinating tribe of artists. I believe viewers are interested in the artists’ private experiences in order to relate or identify with them.
If we take a look at your own creative process, you are a filmmaker, a writer, the artistic director of a film festival, you teach. Which of these is your favourite role?
In my mind, I’m a filmmaker. If you ask me, I want to make films but life is a changing thing and it leads me to do other projects as well. However, I am everything that I do and I put passion in everything I do. When we founded the BAFICI, it was an epic struggle... fighting with City institutions in order to press forward something that, as fate would have it, turned out well and continue, almost miraculously, until this day. I’m also very passionate about teaching, for me that’s just another creative space: actually, teaching is, from my point of view, a creative act just as much as writing, making a film or an installation or a performance.
How do you balance these different sides of your professional life?
How do I do it? It’s about discipline, above all, it’s about setting smaller targets instead of telling yourself: It’s New Year and I’m going to turn my life around. It’s better to stick to something like: I’m going to work on this for two hours. Other than that, I’m also a father, a husband and a friend and that’s a part of my life I have no intention relinquishing I took my daughter Lola to the theatre yesterday... I found that interaction with her absolutely spellbinding.
Do you find yourself altered by your different interests?
It’s actually stimulating: I do or try to do new things all the time because, on some level, that allows me to be someone else, it helps me become and evolve. Take my relationship with my kids, for instance: it changes in time and, at some point, we find these comfortable spots of complicity, of being able to share something. And then I forget how fast children change and, six months later, I can’t find the same complicity in the same old places: my kids’ interests have shifted and I just have to follow.
What’s your take on Argentine filmmaking nowadays?
I believe that, coincidentally with BAFICI, the last 15 years have brought a revolution in Argentine cinema: the quantity, the quality, the variety of the films, the different outlooks, the presence of female directors. Actually, the best filmmaker Argentina has today is a woman: Lucrecia Martel.
Would you improve somehow the local production or the Film Institute’s (INCAA) involvement?
The financial support granted by the INCAA is a fact and no one should deny it. You know, outside of Hollywood and Bollywood, there’s no real film industry without the state’s support. I’m saying Hollywood, not the US: without the many foundations — which would be the American counterparts of state institutions in Europe and Latin America — we’d only have Hollywood. And Bollywood.
No improvements, then?
Obviously, as much as I appreciate the state’s support, I believe the system could be improved: we should have more transparent mechanisms behind the granting of state subsidies. That being said, I approve of the openness toward supporting local cinema and, above all, its diversity. I think there’s a sort of democratic obsession at work in Argentina right now that prevents us from saying “no” to anyone. If you don’t offer subsidies to everyone, you’re discriminating. So you end up giving little money to a lot of people.
What model would you rather apply?
Actually, I was just thinking about Chile: I’ve been invited there as a member of the jury by INCAA’s counterpart. You know, Chile grants subsidies to a lot less films but they end up giving more money to each of them. Moreover, the whole process is extremely transparent: they’re even inviting the jury from abroad. I’ve seen the same model in Colombia and Uruguay, also as a member of a jury. We should emulate it in Argentina: a foreign jury would put an end to the whole “parti pris” system of granting subsidies, which currently works based on the good old “today it’s for you, tomorrow it’s for me.”
How do you see the shift in television programming, which today includes cinema-rooted productions?
To tell you the truth, when I started to work in television, I found it frustrating, it was like hitting obstacles all the time, finding many preconceptions on what television was supposedly about. In that sense, I think it is... sort of like art, where we don’t know what is art but we acknowledge it as the artists’ work: television nowadays is beginning to open up and accept ideas which are both novel and interesting.