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Documentary Filmmaker Gustavo Gamou: ‘All of My Shoots Have Been Punk Rock’

“The Return of the Dead” (El Regreso del Muerto) takes a hard-hitting look at another facet of Mexico’s destructive drug war. Filmed over three years, Gustavo Gamou’s documentary has its world premiere at the 2014 Los Cabos Film Festival. The film, which won recognition in the Work in Progress section of last year’s edition, examines Don Resendo, a former hitman now nearing death, awash in alcoholism and remorse in a shanty hotel in Tijuana. Variety spoke to Gamou about the documentary.

Q: A year after having won important recognition at Los Cabos, you are back in the competition. How do you see the Los Cabos Film Festival among the other Mexican festivals?

A: We feel that even though the Los Cabos Festival is very young, it has managed to achieve a very interesting maturity. We decided to premiere there because you have in attendance (festival) programmers and an industry delegation unlike anywhere in Mexico. In addition, the festival feels very fresh compared to other festivals in the country.

Q: You are aware of the horrible crimes that Resendo and others in the doc committed in their lives. Did you ever consider trying to seek some kind of justice for these acts?

A: No, because it would it have just been kicking a man while he’s down, and the film is about something else, it’s about remorse and feelings of guilt that definitely happen in the participation of any war. Also, the film, as we were filming it, slowly became a kind of confessional for the protagonist, and it was also turning into a film about redemption in the release of the main character’s pain.

Q: Do you plan to make another documentary, or are you thinking of a fiction project next? Do you have anything in the pipeline?

A: I have plans to film three more documentaries, and I’m not ruling out doing another fiction. But so far, there hasn’t been the possibility of being able to work so comfortably that I can sit down and plan a fiction (project) and get it going. All of my shoots have been punk rock.

Q: The film comes out at a difficult moment for Mexico, specifically related to violence and impunity. What do you think about this in light of your experiences making the documentary?

A: I think that war and the disregard for life are present everywhere on the planet. Maybe (it’s) because the planet and governments have other plans, and maybe it’s more about how people need more education and perhaps see life in another way. (It’s) because money has become a goal, not a means.

In the case of my movie, violence stems from a lack of money and a lack of opportunities, from the people who leave prison and have nothing. And, after having spent 20 years living in hell and then leaving and having nothing, I think a person becomes open to be capable of doing the worst.

Q: Do you think that films like “El Regreso” could help bring about important changes in Mexico or is it just a reflection on the lives of many today?

A: It’s just a reflection.

Q: The footage changes as it progresses throughout the three year shoot, going to from black and white for example to color.  How did the project begin? how did it grow over time?

A: The project was born a bit by chance. I didn’t go looking to speak to him. The protagonist and I just crossed paths, and that was the birth of the story.

Up to now, all the films I’ve shot have been about people I run into casually.

And (this film) improved, because there was a moment where I was really adrift and didn’t know how I would finish it. And, little by little, old friends began coming together to help me finish this film.

I worked for a long time with Octavio Sierra, putting together the storyline, then my producers Elisa Miller and Alejandro Duran appeared. Then, once we were exhausted with trying to work out the story, Yibran Asuad showed up, who helped the film grow a lot, not only because he is a great editor with many flight hours logged, but also with the general decisionmaking that went to expanding the film.

Q: The way events play out through the course of a documentary are important. And, sometimes it seems incredible that they just happened by chance – such as the conversation with Resendo and his friend about death just before this friend dies. I am sure you have a mountain of footage.

A: It was not luck, neither good nor bad. It was perseverance and a lot of work, spending a lot of time in the places where this story develops.

Q: What do you want spectators to take away from this work?

A: I just want them to reflect on war and death.

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