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Guillermo Del Toro And San Diego Latino Film Festival
Cinema Junkie / March 15, 2019
With Alfonso Cuaron’s recent multiple Oscar win and San Diego Latino Film Festival entering its second quarter century, I felt it was the perfect time to pull up an archive interview I did with Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported K PBS cinema Junkie podcast. Empathy commando. With Alfonso Cuarón recent multiple Oscar win in the San Diego Latino Film Festival entering its second quarter century he felt it was the perfect time to pull up an archive interview I did with Mexican director Geir Mar del Toro Del Toro is one of my favorite directors. One reason I love him is that he displays sympathy for monsters. I got to explore where that love came from.
In my 2006 interview with the director one night I just stood in my claim I'm told the monsters in my room if they allow me the road to peace I would be their friend for the rest of my life.
And that's how I fell in love with monsters.
But before we get to the rest of that interview I want to briefly highlight the San Diego Latino Film Festival which kicked off this week. It's been showcasing Mexican and Latino films for decades. Founder and Executive Director Ethan Van Tello says that being in a border city in these politically charged times with the president talking about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico makes the festival all the more important.
Yeah I mean what's been happening at the border is exact opposite of what we as an organization as a film festival have been trying to promote for the past 26 years. The festivals had screenings on both sides of the borders for almost every year. You know we're trying to open up doors we're trying to break down barriers build bridges and we have a federal government that's trying to do the exact opposite right. But once again so what is happening now. It just shows you how important our film festival is. I think maybe you know we get a little complacent like oh yes.
You know quite don't just win an Oscar or you know summer hikes and a new Hollywood film so everything must be good going well right. There's more Latinos in the industry. But what's really important about the film vessel this is why we started it in the first place is to break down barriers to tell the world really about the realities of the Latino experience. You know not what they're seen on mainstream news. You know we don't need the average person in the United States or politicians you know watching just news programs or looking at Hollywood like some of these kind of narco films you know that Hollywood's producing we really want them to understand the realities of the migrant experience of the border experience and that there is no crisis here on the border for you for example.
So I'm really excited this year is a late November December we started something called the Migrant voices film competition in partnership with the Senegalese Tribune very excited by this receipt over two hundred ninety three entries all over the world so we started getting migrant stories immigration and stories from friends from from Africa and you know unfortunately just had to choose this border.
So we chose 15 finalists that we're going to screen at the film festival then we're going to decide who who's the grand prize winner. So these videos at least kind of go deeper start interviewing the migrants why they came or look at the border. Also artistically as well which I think is important. So I'm excited about migrant voices. And again it just shows at the film festival is really needed we need to see more films about the Latino experience we need see more films about the immigration experience because ultimately I believe it's a universal story right.
You know everyone's searching for a better life for their kids and for their families.
So it's really important that this film festival try to show that Media Arts Center San Diego is the sponsor of the Latino Film Festival. And you guys do a lot of work with young kids and kind of giving them an outlet through film and you have a program a sidebar called Youth Voices.
Well the media center has been around for about 20 years I learned this is my 20th anniversary of the media's understanding of the actual nonprofit right. So time flies. But one of the first programs that we created was called the Teen producers project and so working with youth mostly underserved youth and Migrant Education different schools across the county and we have our own programs here now in our digital Jim cinema North Park. But teaching them the importance of telling the stories of the realities in their community whether it's a family immigration story or there's health issues in their community or it's just about Little Saigon a area in City Heights you could just be community stories.
But the importance for youth to learn the tools and how to edit preproduction production post-production and then what's wonderful about the film was they get the opportunity to screen the big screen. It's March 20 3rd at 2 p.m. in front of an audience. Good get and take photos of the red carpet. And so there's this sense of pride to that that's really important. Any time you're doing any kind of arts programming arts education it's yeah I teach the process of making it. It's a lot of work as we all know but also as celebrate the successes and have them in front of the screen talking about the film and they also start learning about the issues too so they start talking about the issues and educating us or educating general audiences as well.
So again this is what what keeps me going after many years too is that the film festival is not just a passive experience of just kind of watching these movies right. It's about us as an organization trying to teach people to make their own content and so every year getting this call for entries and getting these films from all around the world we're having the film competition with the micro voices having youth produce content again that's that's an act of experience. And then on top of that we screen the movies and then we have close to 80 plus actors and filmmakers that are going to be in towns almost every night.
You can learn about the experience and meet people ask them questions about their film this past the Academy Awards that just happened.
Alfonso Cuarón was a winner triple winner I believe. And so what does that mean for you in the festival. I mean does that help bring more attention to Latino film and does it show that there's this ability to kind of move back and forth across the border.
You know Roma's is an amazing example. It was our highest grossing film here.
The diesel Jim cinema in North Park. I think we screened it over 10 weeks which is just unheard of. It's usually they last a week right. The phenomena of the promo film was incredible. It's just brought so many more people to us. And then just you know the celebration of the main actress Julieta you know the celebration of an Indigenous woman and seeing everyone at the Oscars I think this is a major moment for her for all of us right and for Latinos and among Mexican cinema. That said that I think there's a lot more work to be done right.
And so that's why we have the film festivals that we need to keep on bringing new stories bring in new filmmakers and new directors from you know across the world around the world to the film festival and promote their new films and videos because I think it's is important you know. Yes Quattrone is amazing but there's others out there that we need to find and keep on promoting.
That was San Diego Latino Film Festival founder and executive director Ethan bond t lo. I'm always amazed at how calm he seems right before the storm. I got to speak with him earlier in the week and the festival just started last night. Since I'll be highlighting my interview with Gary Montel TRL later in the show I thought it would be appropriate to also discuss the own Mondo extraneous showcase at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. The showcase looks to genre films most notably in horror and sci fi Moy says Esparza is the festival programmer and Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival helped to curate the Mondo extraneous showcase this year.
Moy says as one of the most thoughtful and meticulous programmers I've ever met and has the enters his sixth year as the programmer at the San Diego Latino Film Festival I asked him about the challenges he faces each year.
So every year there's the issue of relevancy. How do you maintain your festival attractive to your supporters who have been with you since the beginning but also how do you appeal to brand new audiences. That has been my quandary for the past six years but what I always go back to is select films that speak to issues that the San Diego community cares about. So through my programming I tried to think of these communities very specific groups who I know will want to come see these films and we'll bring people to them.
So in the festival lineup you'll always see films on immigration and art because those have been topics that are unsuccessful at the festival. We always bring back successful showcases like so most which is our LGBTQ showcase. When one looks Daniel which is a Trojan horse showcase so it's always about connecting with the past while trying to look forward. So it's a challenge. I'm not going to say it's not. I think this year the programming is pretty unconventional in a very.
Dynamic and exciting way.
This is a border city hosting a Latino Film Festival and we have a very politically charged environment at the moment. We have talk of a border wall. So how does the festival respond to that is that something that you want to program for or is that something where the films you're getting are different. How has it been.
Absolutely we as a festival that caters to a predominantly Latino audience feel that it's our responsibility to address these issues head on particularly the theme of immigration and the humanitarian crisis taking place at the border. So this year we have a special shorts program called Migrant voices which is a collection of 15 shorts 3 minutes in length each that tackle that issue head on. So we are as a festival taking a stand stands in solidarity with these asylum seekers and refugees and we hope that comes through with this program. Now you have programs like this where it's very new or young filmmakers you have youth voices which is.
Kids making films but you're also looking kind of backwards too in the sense that you have restoration of I Am Cuba. So this is an older film. What makes you want to kind of go back and showcase these kind of older titles too.
Yes as a festival it's always you're stuck in the middle in a way you're trying to look to the past but also reaching for the future so a way to stay connected to the roots of cinema and perhaps expose audience members towards edition that may not be so familiar with is to maybe go back into the archives and pull out these restorations that may either not have been screened in San Diego before or another film festival where people only have the opportunity to see them at home never on the big screen.
So this year we're screening I am Cuba. So. Crowbar.
Oh no these are key. This is Marco Polo. Salon Mexico.
The classic Mexican film and movie that look at that Chicano classic. So retrospective programming is something that I've always wanted to bring wanted to bring to the festival. This is the first year at least in my tenure here that we've given these films around showcase so it's called De Soto sort treasures. You know it's really nerve racking to screen these movies because I don't know who's gonna who's gonna show up. I hope people do. And I think they'll be excited by what they see and also moved. And then they'll also be able to examine how those films really set the groundwork for a lot of the other types of films we'll see our festival.
So I try to connect everything together and maybe not so obvious ways.
When you first looked at the program but if you sit through the programming you'll definitely see bridges and connections. And. I'm. Really excited to screen I Cuba because it's a for K restoration. And that film has been so deeply influential to so many.
Modern filmmakers. So to be able to see it on the big screen is going to be. An excuse. And. I myself have only seen it. On my computer. So during that actual screening I'm going to sit down and kind of. Treat myself in a way to see. The big screen.
Now you brought up Mondo Strangio as this sidebar that you have as a programmer for a film festival I always feel like festivals are the place where you can take risks and with this in window Australia it seems like you're taking a bit of a risk because these are not going to necessarily be the crowd pleasers. Why do you feel it's important to showcase films like this that are not going to please everyone that you know they are sometimes challenging and they are sometimes films that people may not want to see.
As a programmer of course I hope that people show up to the movies that I book. However I don't necessarily set being a crowd pleasing festival as a priority for me. I want to screen confrontational cinema. I want people to feel a little bit uncomfortable. I want them to feel like they've seen something new and fresh and innovative. I had the pleasure of including a programmers note at the beginning of our program this year for the first time. So I laid out really you know to the point saying that not all of her movies have happy endings.
And if our festival was full of films like that then why have a festival like this. We're all about poor programming films with new voices challenging topics.
And it's really I think from a personal place through film school or through my own exploration of films and genres and modalities it's when I see a movie that makes me think Oh God that was a weird or how bizarre that I go back to think why did I feel like that how can I expand my horizon to learn more about this particular sensibility.
Just as someone who wants to become more enriched really in the art of filmmaking. I like challenging audiences. I'm not really necessarily interested in whether our supporters like the movie in a very conventional way or what appeals to me is through willing to have a discussion about what they just watch because I think that fosters growth and understanding. So for someone to have an initial reaction like oh I didn't like that or I hate it that what interests me more is digging a little deeper like quiet angel like chatter.
What about this dislike. Can we dissect to maybe make it more appealing for you in the next round and also for myself to learn as a as a programmer McGill.
You are the festival director for horrible imaginings Film Festival which showcases horror films and you are curating these films along with my says. How do you feel about kind of a festival's purpose in highlighting works like this.
Well I think that the purpose of the festival is to offer a platform for various types of expression and those modalities are not always pleasant. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. And frankly there is an audience out there for things that are not saccharin or more joyful or musicals or romantic comedies. There is. There is definitely an audience who want to be challenged by cinema and who wants to use this art form to go down or experience a darker path. So I just view this as an opportunity to cater to those audience members as well.
Now you mentioned it showcases horror but it doesn't it's not exclusively highlighting horror films so how do you define kind of the qualities that a film needs to be part of this in one strong.
So really the name itself one strange world when one looks drawn your is really I just view that as using a lens of a fantastic lens to deal with real life topics. So we might be able to talk about something that is that causes anxiety or fear and use something like science fiction or horror or crime thriller for example to to access that and maintain a little bit of distance from it. But honestly all I'm really looking for are films that are a little off kilter. And as we said maybe a little uncomfortable or for my personal view films that showcase a topic that a filmmaker is using to express some type of anxiety about the world and using a fantastic means or an unusual means to get that message across and why says what led the festival to want to create a sidebar for this growth and expansion and being able to cater to audience members who want to see something maybe a little bit out of balance out of the ordinary.
It's our responsibility as a festival to not rest on our laurels in a way. And really I think there's a demand for this type of movie I think in our community and we've seen that either through programming through film geeks Horrible Imaginings digital cinema. There is a community here that wants to see these epic movies.
One of them is going to be on opening night which is murder me monster which I have to say is my favorite of the three films programmed. I don't want to give away anything but it is a monster film on a certain level. But it's how would you describe it. How would you kind of define it.
You know what that film for me is defined by how it opens. So with such a hit again without giving anything away the audience needs to prepare themselves for the first three minutes of this film. But after that it kind of takes a more measured pace and it's certainly it's a dark family experience. I would say it's full of atmosphere and surreal imagery that you know might be unexpected after such a a shocking beginning. But what I find interesting about it is it is a one of you know one thing I think is across the board.
And when one looks through any of this year is collaborations for from different cultures from different. So this is a co presentation of Chile Argentina and France and I think you have certain elements and influences of all of those cultures in it. And that just leads to this nightmarish stew of a film that's really hard to explain. But you know I think it will satisfy those people who like surreal nightmares and who like just a creature feature they're all in there. So this is something for horror fanatics but it is a lot more than that.
And I think more says you used the term kind of a thinking man's monster movie.
Yeah thinking man or woman's horror film really.
It's insightful and it speaks to interior fears I think became becoming exterior.
There is the element of seeing the monster and such and that shock value finally witnessing what's causing all the mayhem. But there are as Miguel mentioned surreal moments and really vivid imagery that I think evoke a explicit feeling of dread and that dread carries from frame to frame. And it's less about in a way who is doing it as. And the greater question becomes like what are we doing to ourselves which I think is a really horrific question to contemplate. And I think the film tries its best to answer that in both interior and exterior ways.
It also knows how to compose images in a way that is really evocative. You know there's one image of just three people riding in a car but it's something about it just reminds me of every time I felt uncomfortable driving down a very dark and lonely road. And it's perfect because it's perfect. It gets those feelings across.
Yeah. And it's so stylized and there's such frame to each there's such care to each frame that's on screen and then you have classic tropes dark foggy forest whodunit seat others all these archetypes that you recognize and then the innovative stuff the innovative stuff kind of comes creeping behind the door you're like What am I watching. This is hallucinatory. This is beyond almost the realm of comprehension. And you know it makes for a very exciting.
And the question the question how do people live like this. You had you ask that question a lot. Sure yeah yeah.
Yeah. And it also evokes a little sympathy or compassion for the monster. I think the last shot of the film is.
Unforgettable in many ways. But you also think maybe this monster isn't that bad.
I don't know.
So everyone should stay through to the end of the film. Let's stick through it. You'll be you'll be rewarded.
One of the film La Casa Lobo is not so much the storyline that is so strange and fantastical but the actual style of the filmmaking so describe what that's like and why that helps it qualify for the sidebar.
So just so Lucas Lobo is a Chilean film and it is a stop motion animated feature. And I do want to warn anybody who thinks that stop motion animated is for kids. This one features the real life story of the colonia Disney dad which is a kind of cartel that was started by a former Nazi who ended up in Chile. And it is narrated by the former Nazi himself or at least an analogue of him.
So Goodman was the shot at the new low but did he get the. Any were lively selfish.
He takes to the dilemma and luckily so this stop motion goes some very dark places. But just like the last one it does it. You know what stop motion is so real in and of itself. You don't even have to do anything but it is strung together with certain imagery has certain imagery that is just not only stunning and immediately engaging but also very off putting. This one is for me for my money. This is one that goes beyond a film going experience and is just an experience you come to a film festival for a film like this that you're almost certainly not going to experience a different way.
Well and it's also just kind of endlessly clever and innovative in the way it creates its imagery.
Absolutely. And it's a conceptual art film it's one that you almost see the work behind each frame but it doesn't matter that you see that labor because what you're seeing on screen is so wholly creepy and bizarre and I have never seen a project like this so as a programmer when I see something that's supposed to be perhaps innocent. And as Miguel said four children get its turn on its head in a very adult way. I mean it makes you take notice and it is going to make people scream skin crawl.
You know a lot of it is it plays with images of innocence itself fairytales. Yeah. Well it is a fairy tale. Yes it's a fairy tale retelling of this. You know what happens when a Nazi escapes at the end of World War 2 and it completely is allowed to rule the land in his new found home in Sheila at a time in their history where they were ripe for that kind of thing. But you know you've got little children you've got pretty pictures you've got dancing and it's all of these images of innocence are corrupted.
Oh yeah. And I think that lends itself to being you know kind of heartbreaking. It's more than just horror. It's actually tragic.
And the third film in the showcase isn't you Father. You talk about unease and one of the things in this film that creates so much unease seems to be the sound design and the music.
What is this one about. So at is to Papa it's a. Cuban film. And what I find interesting about this film is the filmmaker is Cuban by birth but grew up and went to school in the UK and wanted to do a film that is a psychological thriller that reflected his own kind of conflicted feelings about his home country of Cuba.
This comes especially at an interesting time with the U.S. his new found are kind of not burgeoning new relationships with Cuba in the last couple of years. But ultimately the feelings of this filmmaker for Cuba is reflected in this very abusive relationship of a family to their father figure. And I mean some this domestic situation is really intense. And despite all that this family has a need and a longing for that abusive father figure. When he disappears and so it's kind of this back and forth about you know being lost in the love of this authority figure.
Ultimately it's strength as a psychological thriller is in kind of yeah manipulating us with sound and images and music. I think that is that is where the effects come. The strength of the effects come from this film. But I was drawn to it for the very personal aspects of why this film got made.
And what's interesting about this film too is that you may think you know where it's going at a certain point. And early on there's kind of a turn and you think how is it going to go on for another hour when it seems like it it's it's hit a climax on a certain way.
Yeah I definitely think that was unintentional feeling because the film starts out about one thing but then it completely turns that on its head because it's really about something else. And I'm trying to talk about this without revealing anything but the rest of the film is largely the actual thesis behind it. It's the whole point. So if people do wonder if there's a sudden dramatic change of pace you are really at the midpoint and the rest of it is really the most important stuff.
Stick around. One of the other sidebars that you were focusing on is called in the ring and you have a quartet of films that are about boxing and literally Bray. What prompted this. I think as a performer you have to follow trends and what you receive in your submissions and if there are four or five films about a similar theme you put them together into a showcase they celebrate such.
A rich tradition of literally wrestling mixed martial arts and the films are all about I think perseverance and really relatable struggles that I think even if you're not an athlete even if you're not a boxer you'll be able to to root for these individuals. On screen I look at them as almost like real life Rockies in a way people just struggling in the ring trying to make it happen for themselves. All the films will be really enjoyed by our audience. It's a pretty crowd pleasing selection of films.
That was my sense Esparza. San Diego Latino film festival programmer and Miguel Rodriguez director of horrible imaginings film festival together they curated an Moondog Strangio at this year's festival. Now I'm excited to share my interview with gear mull Del Toro. I got to speak with him in 2006 for the release of Pan's Labyrinth. Del Toro represents a new breed of Mexican filmmaker one who straddles multiple cultures and works globally. Pan's Labyrinth was a co-production of Mexico Spain and the United States. It's set after the Civil War and delivers a parable about choice and disobedience.
Those qualities defined the various characters in Pan's Labyrinth the fascist Captain chooses to tyrannized but the housekeeper and a doctor choose disobedience. A young girl named Ophelia provides our entry into the world of Pan's Labyrinth. Helena. Ophelia moved between the real world and a fantasy one cutting across boundaries is old hat for filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Ethan Van Tello has shown Guillermo del Toro's films at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.
I think his mother Dora was a border crosser. You know both physically by producing and directing films in Mexico United States and Spain and then through his films his films cross all types of genres all types of categories and reach audiences at many different levels.
That's for sure. The director delivers a parable of Franco era Spain in Pan's Labyrinth. But he also delivered the Hollywood hit Hellboy in 2004 and won an Oscar for his recent Shape of Water Pan's Labyrinth contains both incredible beauty and horrific violence. Being able to maintain a personal style whether the film is a studio backed project like Hellboy or an independent film like Pan's Labyrinth is key to Del Toro success.
It also serves as inspiration to young Mexican filmmakers like Kathy Alba which he could have made Pan's Labyrinth with millions in English and he decided to listen to his heart and listen to his roots and make it in Spanish.
Tijuana filmmaker Aaron Soto appreciates Del Toro's ability to enter the global marketplace without sacrificing cultural identity. He's not want to change Hollywood because that's impossible but. I think he gonna put something.
From his root in from his culture in American cinema. And. I know he feels like a Mexican director. But as the same times I think he feel like. The door of the war of the universe and therefore he doesn't have a boundaries and in that's what I like about him more that because art. Doesn't have a nationality.
I began my 2006 interview with Del Toro by asking him to explain how he came to fall in love with monsters.
Yeah and what and what happened is when I was a kid I the first time I saw any ever and never made any lasting image or horror was for the TV program called the Outer Limits. After seeing the program I unfortunately stared terribly my my brother and I peed on my bed. It was actually my crib and then after that night I started seeing monsters in my room and every time I would see the monsters in my room I wanted to get to the bathroom and I couldn't. So I ended up being in my creativity and my my mother started punishing me.
And one night I just stood in my crib I'm told the monsters in my room if they allow me the road to peace I would be their friend from the rest of my life. And that's how I fell in love with monsters.
So in your new film in Pan's Labyrinth where where do you say your sympathy sympathies lie in that film.
I actually think that I one thing that is clear in Pan's Labyrinth. To me the biggest monster is the fascist the fascist captain and the monsters that inhabit the fantasy world are actually much more benign or much more less perverse creatures than him.
But do you feel that you can find some kind of sympathy or compassion even for him or not at all.
I think that if understanding I don't think I think I was generally more used to say everybody has the reason you know they're not there's not such a thing as a guy that knows something terrible and doesn't have a backstory to make sense of it himself emotionally.
But I do believe that that is. That doesn't mean I have to artificially nuance into into everybody being good and bad at the same time I do believe that there are people that do evil things and that's what they do. And I think this is a character that is like that is a sociopath.
Now you were born and raised in Mexico correct.
And what made you interested in the Spanish Civil War which is the backdrop for this film and for Devil's Backbone when the reality is that it turned into a war that is very close to Mexico and in the 30s and 40s. We were absolutely open to taking a huge amount of immigrants to be refuge from the Republic in Spain two nights ago sure day. They literally changed the way makes you grow Why. I mean the culture the arts particularly cinema there was a huge influence of this generation of US Spanish refugees and the way Mexicans seen I'm ashamed.
And I believe that we became very very close and anecdotally I became very close with the people that arrived in Mexico at a very young age and were refugees one of them became sort of a father figure and a mentor to me. And the more I read about the Civil War through all through his guidance my mind learned that it was I warned him was crucial not only to Mexico but to the entire world because as a writer the crimes of World War Two. And it actually continues in a secret way after a 39 year continuance and without resistance that a resistance that wasn't ever either acknowledged or supported by the international community.
Now do you remember specifically any stories or incidents that people refugees like that told you that really made an impact on you as a young child that stuck in your mind.
Well I remember I read one of the saddest things was to know that a lot of them came like like any other refugee they came into a country where their career and their past none were you know for example the mother of this this person Amelia his mother was a teacher a school teacher. She was fully prepared to be a Republican patrons more than they could only work as doctors and couldn't walk as teachers they couldn't walk as architects and many of them ended up working in menial jobs. That was one thing that impressed me but one thing that made it into the movie is the fact that a death or a disease or a death in the family would beg sometimes months if not years to reach the people in the mountains the resistance because the letters were delivered and hand delivered by people that were aiding the resistance on a day to get food and medicine and whatever when needed up to the mountain by hand.
Many of those couriers were killed and a little bit of that is in me.
What do you think in the film will resonate most for contemporary audiences coming to see it.
I think that the movie is about two things that are incredibly important and now and they were incredibly important then.
And those are choices and disobedience. I think that we have just when we have just gone through an election in this country that shows the importance of those two especially when you have a structure behind power that was telling us to simply obey and conform and support and not question. You know I think this obedience is the threshold of responsibility. You know don't think that you have to go by your instinct and the movie tries to show through a parable that choice and disobedience go hand in hand sometimes.
You know what I've heard about what I heard about the film before I saw it was a lot of reference to the the aspect of being a parable and a fairy tale and in fairy tales you often deal with with fears. And in this film what I really liked was this sense of fear has been in a very kind of much more grounded and realistic way how these people overcame their fear so as a it was an interesting way to to deal with something that you typically get in fairy tales but in kind of a very from a very different angle on it.
Yes yes. When the idea and the idea was to actually show from the permutations of the same of the same angle you know there was permutations of the same crooks which is the idea of a blindly or do I stand by my choices and you'll see it on each of the characters adult or child and in each of them has a choice but takes it or not. The doctor the wife the fascist captain you know how when you display that choice to a religion or a political faction and you stop being responsible for your choices and you just follow orders.
That's one ending. If you decide to stand up that's another ending. And I believe that term it's about holding past holding fast on new choices because much like in Hellboy or any of the other movies I tried to say your choices ultimately defined who you are. You know you can do the wrong things. We all make mistakes. We all have these things. But ultimately your choices on your own would things eventually as one defines where you are.
One of the things that surprised me in the film from again. You know you set up certain expectations when you go in to see a film sometimes.
But I was surprised at how horrifying some of these scenes actually were. And not in a bad way I mean I thought they had an incredible impact.
And I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you approach those scenes that that dealt with the torture and not the fantasy elements but the very kind of grounded and realistic ones that dealt with violence.
Well to me violence much like thanks is not just one single type of thing. You know it really can be used in so many different ways. Actually in a single film in the movie there is moments of violence that actually are build by anticipation and emotion like the the leg amputation for example but that are ultimately never shown or defined as shooting. I want to spoil it for anyone but it can be as so many people get shot in a war movie. Now you actually have to on those viewer doesn't naturalistic thing.
Otherwise it becomes morbid you know. So there are each of their moments in the film have different values some of them are meant to shock and make you feel the pain of the guarantee and others can be used as a method for that it's almost a fairytale level. For example the captain sowing his own mouth that is the moment where he becomes the big bad wolf really in the movies and found a larger than life gesture that shows this guy will not help no matter what. So each of the moments of shock and pain in the movie have different values depending on the moment.
Now I've read that in your own life you've been witness to violence and seen dead bodies and how do you think your kind of experience with real violence has affected the way you've shown it or made you different from Hollywood directors who maybe have never seen that kind of thing.
I think that I'm speaking from a knowledge they don't have you know I know that violence by Mother Nature by human nature fascinates us. And by fascinates us I mean in the literary sense of a word which is we cannot pry your eyes away from it you know and I'm not talking just about a traffic accident and how you linger on it as you drive by what I'm talking about the fact that it's one of the basic human endeavors. You know it's a hunt gather reproduce you know as mammals. So we you know I speak about it from a humanistic point of view but from an absolutely intimate knowledge of it because I have experienced it in my life and I've been the victim of and I've been to witness of a lot of violence in Mexico including the kidnapping of my father.
So that it attached. He's not at the best view ever. Even if I do sometimes I choose to do it as an action spectacle intense like hell you know if they were detached. It's always meant I'm calibrated to be either cartoonish a violent take and represent vision unlike kabuki theater almost or it's meant to be emotionally provoking. So I think that when you haven't experienced you're going to have a perverse fascination with violence when you have experience it the language and the syntax and the way you articulate it is different.
Do you think there's a certain Mexican sensibility that covers it. I asked this because I have seen a lot of Korean films recently and it seems like that the quality of the violence in those films has a different kind of spin to it than a lot of other films and it seems to come from the fact that the people making these films come from a country that's divided where you've got families on both sides of the border and all the violence always seems to come down to this for a kind of divided sensibility and I'm wondering if you think that you know growing up in Mexico gives the violence any different kind of a spin or flavor.
I believe so I believe it does because not only the violence but everything about the movie The the willingness the willingness to mix and match and transpose and the transgression of the genre is making a war movie with a fairy tale the desire to not conform the distrust of institutions and the celebration of fantasy all that is very Mexican. I think that the movie is definitely a Mexican movie about a Spanish subject.
Does Catholicism play into it as well.
Inevitably you know once a Catholic always a Catholic and inside of me I may pretend or pray to be the Wildman but inside of me lives are a little cowboy I feel and the little guy that was the official spokesman for the Virgin Mary when I was 10.
Well it also seems I was raised Catholic and it also seems like I remember having the Bible read to me. And sometimes some of those stories were really scary and I mean that's kind of the first exposure to horror in a certain way.
They're incredibly graphic.
And then one one one one says this is old testament violence. It's meant to be both and how absolutely apocalyptic the wrath of something is as much as how representational and how graphic can can become. I mean I remember parables on stories in the Old Testament that describe the mutilation in exacting detail. You know the McCartney brothers and or torture of a saint or you know there's so many permutations of violence in the Bible mass destruction and then not only that there in Mexico the Catholic imagery is particularly gory when you're bringing to Jesus in Mexico your brings to an image that is almost forensic in nature Jesus has purple means purple face bruises bleeding bruises exposed then I mean it's just really almost like CSI.
No I think I read a quote from me where you had mentioned that a lot of horror films use horror to talk about inhumanity but that you try to kind of not just do that but also see maybe a sense of hope for mankind or humanity.
I really think that horror contains particular code or for it. But it's all its own. And it may be exercised accidentally by my own journey man in an Italian film or not Mexican film. But certainly it's the one that approximates method for and parables the closest. And in such as one of the most pointed and liberating genres and in cinema because is the metaphor made flesh and is a spiritual by virtue that the LDS the spiritual appeals to the older the spiritual tales will always be about angels battling the ones or man battling demons and angels.
You know it is wrestling with an angel all night. Ultimately that's fantasy. That is the horror that is a fantasy. And I think as such we can articulate particularly difficult spiritual subjects through through this run.
You've been able to move very successfully from Mexico to Hollywood to Spain and from kind of more commercial films to very personal films. What do you think has allowed you to do that are made you successful at doing that because it seems to be something that's not that easy to pull off.
It's not easy believe me. I don't think it was easy ever. I think it may seem easy but the fact is I've been working and film I've been in feature films I worked on film since I was 15 but I've been doing feature films since I was 28.
I am now 42 and I have six films. So presumably you know since 93 to now I've been doing a film every two and a half years. That's more or less the average rate. And that's not pretty fast I could have made a film every year if I could if I if I wasn't if I wasn't so stubborn. And I think that's the key. So do what I like to do. I have to restore one and kind of unyielding in a way because I do the movie that needs to be done in the form and that I have at hand.
Yeah I would have never I would have never attempted to do for example find flattering in Hollywood because we would have audience tested and the girl would be alive and well all the way through the movie and we would have a super happy ending with dancing little creatures or something. And by the same token I would never get them to do something like Hellboy in an independent scheme because then I wouldn't have the scope or the freedom technically to do it and they are both personal films to me. Curiously enough I cannot claim the same about Blade or unfortunately about maiming because that movie was tampered with and the other one was part of an already ongoing franchise.
But I can claim it on Hellboy and I may think that I'm a star or number making the movie I need to do in the form of I need to do it.
You know you've been able to kind of crossover from mainstream and art films. Do you think that your audiences is that there's a crossover to that that your Mexican audience or the audience that goes to arthouse films will embrace your commercial films and the people who see your commercial films are more likely to maybe crossover and see Pan's Labyrinth.
At this stage I do believe that it was not true always. Obviously I mean I think that people don't like Kronos or certainly there's a point in my mimics. For example I'm remembering why people don't like devil's bargain were sorely disappointed by Blade 2 but little by little I've been trying to show through my work that ultimately I'm articulating the same universe and there seemed to be a little more crossover every time you know. So I believe that is becoming true.
If it wasn't always well devil it seems even in films like mimicking and blade it seems like there's still a personal touch of yours in those that you could kind of see something of you in them even though they may have been exactly what she wanted to make. There's there still seems to be some essence of your year.
I absolutely I enjoyed the hell out of making Blade 2 I naturally is one of the most exciting and I'm using them fulfilling exile or ending I would say experiences I've ever had because it was pure joy. It was like the difference between dining out in a little French restaurant and having a six pack and a pizza. And I think that I enjoy both. They are both part of my personality in a strange way. But I think that when you sincerely attempt to film with this person only in whatever form and it is something of your remains and mimic whether the same thing.
I was sincerely trying to be make the best damn giant bug movie ever made.
Well even if you didn't like it it still probably is the best giant ever.
No no I think that that belongs to them.
All right. I wouldn't ask you about Hellboy. I saw you at the Comic Con. But I believe you made a comment where you said I'm not going to let anybody read the script to Hellboy 2 because you'd cry since it's so beautiful and it's not going to be made. And now the film is going to be made do you think that those kind of comments at Comic Con had any kind of impact on the film eventually getting made.
No unfortunately no unfortunately. The industry reacts to events like comic con on the internet. My God micrometer but they don't react to it as a rule of thumb or they don't react to it to the greenlight movies or campaign for them successfully and that's that's unfortunate and to a point because I think that we are not by any means an objective audience. We have more particular kings and preferences but we are a voice that should be heard now. And I think that is not taken into account as much. But I do believe that that is an audience that is becoming more and more vocal and for a while we were gaining a little bit of terrain and how we influence the decisions of other studio.
Now I think that's a little dis is dissipating a little bit.
But Hellboy 2 is being made correct I believe so if someone should tell me no in preproduction.
Oh well and also I wanted to at Comic Con I noticed a lot of young filmmakers came up to you and handed you their their DVD and unlike a lot of other celebrities I saw you really take those and you told your assistant I said be careful these are my treasures and I'm just wondering you know do you feel kind of an obligation or an interest in kind of encouraging this next generation of filmmakers.
Well I feel it's a privilege and I actually unfortunately it takes me months and months to get to them. But for example I will tell you a little anecdote I just finished producing a four million dollar movie in Spain called the orphanage and guess what. The guy that directed it showed me his short films you know and I like them and I said What do you want to do in a feature. And we agreed and we did this well we saw I believe that the only way to stay young and fresh is to stay young and fresh and do to really be aware of what what the language is now and what the way of telling stories is now.
And I don't mean the ones that go to the mainstream like MTV or or commercials but the ones that are being brewed by people that love movies. And you know if we are destined as storytellers to have our time and then or time comes and goes if passes we will become irrelevant with time.
But we are not going to go gently into that good night because this is for radio and I can't show people a clip from the film. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the visual style in the visual approach you took to creating this fantasy world. Or that this other world of Pan's Labyrinth.
Bradley Well we have the idea and this movie was more influenced by literature or paintings and done by film. The film was found in the dynamics on how to tell the story about the ethics of the film are very influenced by illustrators like Arthur Rackham who was a late Victorian illustrator of fairy tales are Kane Neilson or Edmund black who were both illustrators of fairy tales and Niels and later moved to California and worked for Disney designing things for a sleeping beauty or Fantasia you know and their sense of style is very pictorial very rich in texture.
And it was also influenced by a school of paintings. The symbolism painters particularly Arnold Baldwin and Carlos Schwab and some of them are divided on and because they they they tried to use the pagan imagery and the big and econo graffiti of elder gods from long lost past to evoke things that are more janky and or Freudian or to use the mythology to gaze into the.
Inner workings of a human soul you know. And I really loved that I love the pagan mythology as much as I love the Catholic anthology and pansies equal parts both visually and and in terms of the story. You know I think that there is a certain iconography that comes from fairytales I tried to quote briefly Alice in Wonderland The Wizard of Oz. You know even Hans Christian Andersen the little magical girl. So the movie is a very strange land. I mean a mixture of genres and ultimately it creates sort of its own little nation along with bands with a Devil's Backbone.
How did you kind of come upon pulling all these elements together for the script. I mean was this something that you've been kind of percolating over a long period of time to bring it all.
No. I've always been like that. I mean Kronos was already that's strange of a film. It was more genre because it was a vampire film but it was already crazy to do an alchemical correct Catholic vampire movie set in Mexico.
And I don't know what what his honor falls in my movies belong in because although I adore horror like crazy I'm interested in the aesthetics of the year on or on the freedom of the genre. But I'm not interested in the scares. I've never been really there was why one was the soul is its whole purpose was to make the ghost a tragic figure. And I believe that you know the crew criss crossing the mixture of elements just leads me to believe that whatever shelf these movies would stand on rightfully in the media club would be a very spares shelf.
There are not many there and I don't mean that that they are worthy or unique to that they are pretty strange.
You mentioned that what might resonate in this film for contemporary audiences this notion of choice and disobedience is a law that was a current events that kind of prompted you to make this particular film now.
Yes absolutely I felt I felt that the world was divinely destroying or innocence and destroying imagination. I still fear that one of the main things that I fear right now is that the most prosaic obedience and the most prosaic materialism is eating away or spirituality in our imagination and my spirituality I don't mean any denomination religious way. I don't I don't I don't think anyone has a hold on spirituality or gratefulness in there. I think that just the fact that we can nothing beyond dollars and cents. I think the dollars and cents is such a nonsense.
I believe that the way we are approaching normal like reality TV existences where we we are becoming incredibly prosaic and fantasy and imagination are the only doorway to spirituality these days the only ones that we accept and in our world where I think cynicism has conserved intelligence so all these things were in my mind along with the incredible swing to the right that up until this week seemed to be taking hold of most of the First World and frankly the sometimes ridiculous swing that that seemed to go with the blessings of the people and on that entire countries seemed to be just going towards obedience blind obedience.
So I'm very happy that the elections came out the way they came out.
I mean I as a citizen of the world I acknowledge the fact that the destiny of America affects the rest of the world. And I was very happy to see the elections turn out the way they turned out.
I notice that you screen the film at Fright Fest in London and actually appeared there. Yes.
I mean I find that great because I think there's so many directors who would kind of look at that and feel like they would be condescending to come to something like that. In the end for you it seems like you genuinely enjoy that kind of venue and I think that's a thoroughly appropriate place to be. Is that true.
It is true.
I mean I and we actually made it a point I made it a point that we were going to go from an official selection at Cannes to Friday Fest in London because I believe that the moment you start believing your own press you will start dying slowly and other woman you'll become an eternal and other woman become so sacred that you have to deny genre and deny passion and deny what you what really gets you going. You start dying a little bit and I actually said in the introduction to fright fest I don't know if this movie fully belongs to a fright fest but I do.
Well that's great. I appreciate it. And then one last thing I'm doing something for Thanksgiving on films and I've been asking people if they could pick a film or two that they feel thankful for for some reason. And I was wondering if there was one or two films that you would mention in that context.
I am very thankful for James Whale's Frankenstein because I believe that it is one of the most beautifully articulate ways of saying how we are thrown into this world by a creator that doesn't care for us and how we have to find our way in it. And I'm very thankful for a taxi driver for being a variation of the Frankenstein monster and in an urban environment.
All right. Well that's great. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate all your films tremendously and thank you very much and thanks for the call.
That was Mexican filmmaker Nirmal Del Toro. I spoke with him in 2006 about Pan's Labyrinth. His next project to be released is scary stories to tell in the dark which he produced and wrote. Thanks for listening to another episode of listener supported K PBS cinema junkie podcast. Coming up on future episodes I'll be looking to the work of film archivists and the TCM film festival. Thanks to everyone who's left reviews for the show. If you like what you hear please recommend the show to a friend and leave a review on iTunes.
It helps cinema junkie get to more listeners. Till our next film fix. I'm baffled commando your resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place