×

SANFIC: Juan Pablo Ternicier Explains Why Making ‘Sapo’ Was Inevitable

‘Sapo’ examines how life under a fascist dictator can affect an otherwise normal person

SANTIAGO DE CHILE — “Sapo”, translated to English, literally means “Toad.” In Chile the term is used to refer to private civilians who secretly worked with the country’s fascist government from outside during Pinochet’s dictatorship. In English we might use the title “rat.”

The film is a back and forth journey through the life of fictional TV journalist Jeremías Gallardo. The story is revealed as a series of memories recalled by Gallardo while driving from the state’s most famous prison in Valparaiso, where he has just watched a government-sanctioned firing squad execution of two prisoners, to Santiago de Chile, where he is missing the birth of his child to cover the event.

“Sapo” marks a shift for Chilean post-production company Plataforma Digital, as they move into feature production, alongside fellow Chilean first-timers Pausa and France’s Zapik Films. Domestic distribution is being handled by Storyboard Media.

The film stars Chilean cinema veteran Fernando Gómez Rovira (“Taxi for Three”) alongside Eduardo Paxeco, who featured in 2008’s Goya winner for best foreign Spanish-language film, “The Good Life.”

Directed and written by Juan Pablo Ternicier, “03:34 Terremoto en Chile,” the film represents what he considers to be a right of passage for Chilean filmmakers who were born or lived during Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship. According to Ternicier, making a film about the period is an inevitability for anyone who lived through those years. He went into detail about his theory, and the film itself, in a conversation with Variety.

Sapo” is based on real events: Can you talk about how carefully you adhered to a particular story, or group of stories?

Our film is based on many true stories, not one specific story. It’s a collection. I changes the names of characters because the film is about the institution of “sapos.” A “sapo” gave people up and often those people died. It was important to me that people saw that.

A lot of people are still around today who lived through the events which inspired the film. Where did you go to get your stories you drew from?

At first my stepfather. He was a political prisoner so he witnessed a lot of “sapos.” He saw many of his friends betrayed. He told me of a time he was against a wall and a masked man walked in and shot the man next to him. I interviewed many people who had similar stories, who experienced torture. I heard stories of people who became “sapos” as a means of upward social mobility. They saw opportunity in these circumstances.

Many of these events took place at the prison in Valparaiso. Were you able to shoot on site?

Yes! The context of the execution in the film is the beginning of our protagonist’s journey, so his trip from Valparaiso to Santiago shows his introspection. Throughout his trip he reconstructs the events of his past, and the recent history of the country. It was also important to me to show the relationship of this important news station, and what Jeremías was willing to do in exchange for access from the government. He was in a privileged position to cover the executions.

Your film uses time to slowly reveal the story but in a non-chronological way. Why did you want to tell the story like that?

For me, this is how memories are rebuilt. This was a way to access the character without judgment, I leave that responsibility up to the viewers. I wanted to portray the human condition in a time of crisis. The dictatorship changed the spirit of Chileans and I wanted to show that. I think that this change still resonates today. So this is a period film but it also portrays a brutal side of us that we must continue to recognize.

Chilean filmmaking is experiencing a generational shift. Can you talk a bit about this new generation and how it has been affected by the political climate in Chile?

I was born into a dictatorship, but for me this is a way of moving onto other things. I have only made two films but this is the first I wrote. It’s a movie that I had to do before I was going to be able to make others. I feel that for those born during the dictatorship it is an inevitable topic to discuss. But a lot of directors in my generation delve into other issues. They make love stories and comedies. There are many voices in this generation of Chilean cinema. But we all relate to that period and we are inevitably marked by it.

What does the future look like for the film?

The film is still new, so that is why we are at SANFIC this year. It is starting its international circuit. Domestically, Storyboard is distributing and we are currently looking for international.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    'The Report' Trailer: Adam Driver Investigates Post-9/11 Interrogation Tactics

    Adam Driver is in pursuit of the truth in Amazon Studio’s first look at “The Report,” a tense political drama about the CIA’s use of torture. The film focuses on Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Driver), who begins to investigate the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, a group created in the aftermath of 9/11. As he [...]

  • Fox Searchlight Buys 'The Personal History

    Fox Searchlight Buys 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'

    Fox Searchlight has acquired North American rights to “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name. The deal comes in advance of the film’s Toronto International Film Festival bow on Sept. 5, as well as its BFI London Film Festival premiere on Oct. 2. The studio [...]

  • on day 3 of the London

    Barbara Broccoli, Richard Curtis, Passion Pictures Team on Paralympics Documentary

    Oscar-winning British production company Passion Pictures is teaming up with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and filmmaker Richard Curtis on a new feature documentary about the Paralympic Games. The project, currently titled “Harder Than You Think,” brings together Passion’s John Battsek with producer Greg Nugent of HTYT Films, with Broccoli and Curtis both serving as [...]

  • Tribeca Film Insitute's PitchNY Program Now

    Tribeca Film Institute's PitchNY Program Kicks Off (EXCLUSIVE)

    College students and recent alumni in New York can apply to the 4th annual PitchNY program, an effort to help young, diverse directors, producers and writers fine-tune their pitching skills, as well as to connect them with entertainment industry professionals who will serve as mentors. On Thursday, Tribeca Film Institute, The New York State Governor’s [...]

  • La-camarista

    ‘The Chambermaid’ Cleans Up in the U.S.

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Call it the “Roma” effect but Mexican newcomer Lila Aviles’ engaging portrait of a hotel servant, “The Chambermaid” (“La Camarista”) has found outstanding reception in the U.S. and in multiple territories, giving hope to other arthouse films from Latin America and elsewhere that seek distribution in “fortress America.” “‘Roma’ was a beautiful, brawny and [...]

  • Beograd 20.03.2012 Milutin Petrovic, reditelj, scenarista,

    Lost Script by ABC Studios Editor Turned Into Movie and Series 'Bad Blood'

    An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City. Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power, Responsibility of Cinema to ‘Provoke’

    Gael García Bernal said acting for the likes of Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón helped groom him for the director’s chair and praised cinema as “the only medium” that allows artists to “explore the gray areas” in unparalleled ways. “The world is so full of certainties now, and cinema is the one that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content