Cardoso set to click

Simplicity, says indie filmmaker Patricia Cardoso, is the key to a movie’s success. “The more simple the story, the more I can work with the visuals,” the 35-year-old filmmaker says.

Although Cardoso’s background is distinctly ethnic — she comes from Bogota, Colombia, and refers to herself as Latin American — she believes it’s her style that dictates her work. “That’s the way I want to be seen as a filmmaker.”

Her simple story-telling has won her wide acclaim. Cardoso’s first film, “The Water Carrier,” played the international festival circuit from Sundance to Tel Aviv and captured the Academy Award for best student film and the Cine Eagle Award. She also was named the DGA’s woman director of 1995.

“The Water Carrier” is a 50-minute film about an elderly blind man who regains his eyesight following successful cataract surgery. The story is set in 1926, high up in a mountain village in northern Colombia.

For Cardoso, the film is partly autobiographical (her grandfather performed Colombia’s first cataract operation), and its rich textural tones bring out some of the country’s cultural heritage.

“I think that it was just a simple story,” she says from her modest production office in Santa Monica. Her company name, Lechuga Films, is taken from the Spanish phrase meaning “fresh as a lettuce” or lighthearted. Cardoso, who left her post as an anthropology professor in Bogota to attend UCLA’s film and television program, believes that visual story-telling is the best way to express her ideas. “I thought that if I could tell these stories in an accessible way, people would be interested,” she says.

Producer Michael Aglion (“The Glass Shield,” “The Wife,” “Muriel’s Wedding”) saw Cardoso’s film at Telluride and definitely was interested. “She’s a very natural story-teller. Her film had style and it was coherent and pretty remarkable,” Aglion says. While many first-time filmmakers tend to be conspicuously autobiographical, Aglion notes that Cardoso’s style is not self-conscious. “She made a commitment in that film to a particular style. It’s noticeably competent and specific. It’s very rare to see a first film that is so assured and tender,” he says.

It’s also rare for a studio to give a relatively unknown independent filmmaker money upfront based upon a student project. But Ciby 2000, the French-based production company that financed “Muriel’s Wedding,” “The Piano,” “Secrets & Lies” and Wim Wenders’ upcoming “The Age of Violence,” offered Cardoso a development deal to write a story. Tentatively titled “The Milky Way,” the movie is about a Colombian immigrant woman in Los Angeles searching for romantic love.

Meanwhile, Cardoso is writing a script about the life of Jose Gregorio, the noted 20th-century Venezuelan doctor believed to have performed miracles. “There are millions of dollars for a budget of a movie, but there is no money for the development of a screenplay,” Cardoso says. “Most (indie) production companies underestimate the value of a solid screenplay.”

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