Few films coming out of Latin America have had the backing of Celina Murga’s “The Third Side of the River,” executive produced by Martin Scorsese, sold by The Match Factory and selected for competition at Berlin. “The Third Side” also received a thumbs-up from Variety: She is, not unlike the young Scorsese himself, very much a “neighborhood” filmmaker, who renders her native milieu — the sleepy provincial towns of Entre Rios, north of Buenos Aires — with an intensely lyrical, sensuous gaze.” Variety caught up with Celina Murga and director-producer partner Juan Villegas, “The Third Side’s” producer at their production house, Tresmilmundos Cine, on the promotion trail at the Rio Fest, where “The Third Side of the River” plays Latin Premiere. They talked about the film, the build of regional cinema in Argentina, and why a significant number of women directors are currently galvanizing Argentine femme directors. “The Third Side of the River” now plays at the IFF Panama.
You were born in Entre Ríos, you’ve shot some of your films there. To what extent is “The Third Side of the River” a return of the prodigal daughter?
CM: (Laughs) I’m always “coming home”, but my first home-coming was “Ana and the Others,” because it was shot not only in Entre Ríos, but also in my home town, Paraná, which is where my documentary, “Normal School,” is set. The Entre Rios government and municipal authorities always gave logistic support. On “The Third Side of the River,” we also received larger financial support from the provincial government of Entre Ríos, and also municipal authorities though the larger financial support came from the provincial government. On the one hand, it involved quite a huge cast and crew having to go to the province. There were more actors, more locations. Ana y los otros was also shot integrally in the province, but since that was my first film, everything was on a generally smaller scale.
The rise of regional cinema across Latin America is one of the region’s key building phenoms. To what extent could “The Third Side of the River” reflect this?
JV: In Argentina, what has been lacking, but that’s kicking into gear now, is support from regional authorities. This is something producers complain very much about, but it’s starting to happen. It’s more established in Cordoba, but there’s still no solid legal framework in this regard in Entre Ríos, so the amount of money that can be given by the province is not very much. Things are still not firmly structured in this respect. But they’re working on it. San Luis was the first province to establish support for films. The experience of Cordoba has been a good one: Many films are being made in the province and that has given sufficient incentive to other provinces to act. I think there is [enabling] legislation now in Misiones and San Luis. And films like “The Third Side of the River,” which have not only a national but an international, impact, definitely help the cause. Governments can realize that it’s a worthwhile investment.
The film’s title suggests a metaphor….
CM: Yes, because the main character, Nicolás, is torn between two situations that are completely foreign to him, to his making: the situation of his father, with his aims and objectives, and the situation of his mother. So the idea of that third position, that third shore as it were, is the idea of a place that doesn’t exist, physically. A third shore doesn’t exist, but it’s a place he’s searching for; for himself, a new path he’s trying to forge.
So it’s a kind of coming-of-age film?
CM: Yes, I’d say so…but in a very special context. I was keen to talk about this character, his subjectivity, his growth, but also from a social standpoint, because it’s clear that he’s the eldest child of a second family, a parallel family, one of whose members is a doctor, who’s well known in the city, who’s had a lover –Nicolas’ mother – all his life. It’s the unofficial family. So we’re talking about certain types of social realities that still exist in the provinces, which are still governed by very machista codes with regard to roles…
Entre Ríos has a very singular landscape. How did you enroll it, its poetry, in the film?
CM: It’s definitely there, in the weight of imagery of the landscape, sounds, colors, textures, all that, and a lot of it has to do with my childhood; All of that provides a great source of inspiration and poetry for me, as you say. The film is definitely set in a very naturalist context and atmosphere, but there are moments when all of that is tinged in a veil of nostalgia, and that’s where the poetic aspect comes in.
The film’s center is psychological, a character, Nicolás. But he’s set in a social context that, as you said, is important t you. Isn’t one of the challenges for Latin American directors how to present social issues and dilemmas to a world that craves ever more entertainment values from cinema?
CM: That’s true, and I’ve really got no answer to that. But I do agree it’s a very big challenge for us. How to find that balance? That’s a very big and difficult question. Maybe “The Other Side of the River” has more mainstream trappings. The dramatic structure of the film adheres more to classical narrative and plot.
“The Third Side of the River” competed at Berlin. How important was that?
JV: We finished the film in November 2013, and the best option, in terms of a world premiere, was Berlin, and luckily that happened. Berlin’s a very generous festival towards Latin American cinema, and Argentine cinema in particular. There’s definitely an audience at the festival that’s not only accustomed to, but also always very eager to see Latin America cinema, and we were well treated and received. For example, they helped us a lot to release the film in Argentina. We released two weeks after Berlin, when it normally takes a lot more time and effort to release in one’s own country. We took advantage of the momentum from the Berlin release to launch in our own country. Bernardo Zupnik’s Distribution Company handled the film. It was our first experience with him, and we’re very pleased indeed. He’s now going to start getting involved in production of our next film..
You’re a film director in a country where the number of high-profile female film directors – Lucrecia Martel, Lucía Puenzo, Anahi Berneri, just to mention a few names – is quite extraordinary judged by almost any country save, perhaps, France. Is this pure simple chance?
CM: It is indeed striking, because the proportion is far greater than in other countries. I think that one of the root causes has to do with the new impulse that was first noted in Argentinean cinema in the late ¡90s and continued into the early last decade. It stemmed from the crucial appearance of film schools. That meant that cinema was no longer a space that could be conquered by dutifully moving up the rungs of a rigid industrial framework, and became something more democratic. Lots of women go to university every year. There is an equal proportion of both sexes. I think that has allowed this high proportion of women….
Adolescents, teens are at the center of all your films, including “The Third Side of the River.” Again, is that pure chance?
C: On the one hand, I think that I saw teens, adolescents and children as very apt characters to whom I wanted to give a voice, give value to their stories, to tell their stories seriously. I get the impression that as one grows, gets older, one has a tendency to see them as something lesser, and to see their conflicts as such as well. I think there’s nothing further from the truth. That’s one thing. The other thing is that they are a vehicle that allows me to speak about the adult world, through a kind of reflective visor: Wherever there’s a child, or an adolescent, there’s always an adult that contains and controls him, that shapes and determines thing for him, that very often takes decisions for him. So it’s a way to reflect that adult world, but through a more distanced look.