Founder of Colombian outfit Contravia Films, Oscar Ruiz Navia’s acclaimed directorial debut, “Crab Trap,” was Colombia’s first ever Oscar candidate and won a Fipresci Prize at the 2009 Berlin festival. Ruiz Navia’s helming follow-up, coming-of-age tale “Los hongos” – chronicling two adolescents’ passion for street art – world preemed at Switzerland’s Locarno Festival’s Filmmakers of the Present sidebar. The Cali-born filmmaker (pictured) talked to Variety about his newest film, a Colombia-France-Germany-Argentina co-production, which FiGa Films is selling internationally, and, after Toronto, played Latin Premiere at the Rio de Janeiro Festival, then hit Argentina’s Mar del Plata Festival. It now plays the 4th IFF Panama.
In “Los hongos” there is a blend of a Colombian specific social context with a treatment that is not a straight-arrow realism, normally focusing on the characters’ emotional journey. Is there the idea that the psychology is universal despite that social context?
Right. “Los hongos” is an urban movie focused on the story of two young people from different social origins who have linked up via graffiti art. This means the film somehow isn’t necessarily focused on major conflicts but rather on situations that are very typical of teenagers, linked to a very specific context in Colombia, even Cali. In the case of “Los hongos,” the film aims to frame conflicts teenagers experience everywhere – love, a lack of money, the need to express themselves, freedom, rebelliousness… And I think that can make the film work in many contexts.
Can you describe the film’s aesthetic?
Strictly in aesthetic terms, there is a bet on finding a language that comes out of the narrative, exploring other types of issues. For example, we wanted to develop a graffiti piece and called real graffiti artists, asking them to paint and act for the camera. With other films we’re producing at Contravia such as William Vega’s “Sal” and Angela Osorio and Santiago Lozano’s “Siembra,” “Los hongos” has in common the desire that our raw material shiuld be reality itself, but not necessarily that reality is represented in a realistic way, but more in a poetic fashion. I say that “Los hongos” is a documentary dream.
What is the meaning of “documentary dream”?
I like working in a limbo between something I can control and something that is out of my total control. Although I always had a script up the sleeve, I constantly adapted it to the non-professional actors with whom I worked. In fact, they all are named in fiction as they are named in real life. My fascination for reality does not translate into realism, but on building from contemporary inputs a kind of sensation that is closer to a daydream. I try to give priority to the poetic rather than narrative, investigating the life, evoking memories or putting in front the camera desires that have only happened in my imagination. Then there are things that are out of my hands, and only happen because the people who are there have their own nature.
What connections exist between “Los hongos” and your directorial debut, “Crab Trap”?
There are new questions, almost five years have gone by, but I really think they have a lot in common: the desire for freedom, their characters’ rebelliousness and miscegenation, to say a few things. What I like in the movies is to displace the essence of the universes I choose. And this film, like “Crab Trap,” are faithful to the research I made over a long time. “Los hongos” is a much less minimalist film because the city of Cali, where the film was shot, is a complex place, of many colors and aromas.
John Hopewell contributed to this report