Arriaga, who was the Fipresci Latin American Personality of the Year in 2014, boasts a filmography that includes three collaborations as a screenwriter with three-time Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Love’s a Bitch,” “21 Grams” and “Babel”), as well as “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” with Tommy Lee Jones, which won the best screenplay prize for Arriaga at Cannes; “The Night Buffalo” with Jorge Hernández Aldana; and “The Burning Plain,” which Arriaga also directed, premiered in Venice in 2008 and starred Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger and Jennifer Lawrence.
He has also written the novels “The Guillotine Squad” (1991), “A Sweet Scent of Death” (1994), “Night Buffalo” (1999) and the book of short stories “Retorno 201” (2006). His novels have been translated into 18 languages.
Based on Arriaga’s concept and curated by Mario Vargas Llosa, “Words With Gods,” which premiered in Venice in 2014, features nine stories of faith, created by some of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers. A dramatic range of beliefs are represented in the film, with each filmmaker speaking about the one closest to their lives: Warwick Thornton deals with Aboriginal spirituality, Héctor Babenco with Umbanda, Mira Nair with Hinduism, Hideo Nakata with Shinto Buddhism, Amos Gitai with Judaism, Álex de la Iglesia with Catholicism, Emir Kusturica with Orthodox Christianity, Bahman Ghobadi with Islam, while Arriaga himself tackles atheism. The movie’s original music is composed by Peter Gabriel.
Only 4% of the Panamanian population is thought to consider themselves to be atheists, while between 75% to 85% identify themselves as Roman Catholic with 15% to 24% as evangelical Christian.
“Our goal,” explains Arriaga, “was to produce a feature film where different sections, each directed by a different filmmaker, integrate to form a cohesive whole. There is only one religion per section, and each director is committed religiously, socially and culturally to the religion he or she chose. There are no ‘external’ versions. It was acceptable for a director not to be a believer, but he or she must have grown up under the norms and beliefs of the religion in question.”
“Words With Gods” is the first movie in a planned series of four omnibus features that are titled “The Heartbeat of the World.” The next in the series, “Encounters,” will tackle sex; the third, “Polis,” will look at human rights and politics; and the final installment, “Into the Bloodstream,” will cover people’s relationships with the often illicit substances they ingest. Arriaga is offering creative leadership across the project with his co-producers Alex Garcia and Argentine Lucas Akoskin.