MORELIA — This year’s Impulso Morelia, the festival’s works in progress section for Mexican films, runs Wednesday to Friday, and ends with writer-director – and in this case supporting actor – Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical coming of age film “This is Not Berlin.”
Set in the art-filled, politically charged world of 1986 Mexico City, the film turns on two best friends and neighbors bored with their lives in the suburbs. Carlos and Gera do everything together, from fighting to school projects, sneaking out at night and selling Gera’s dad’s porn collection to horny classmates.
Gera’s older sister is a punk rock poet who fully embraces the massive social changes of the era, and thanks to her the boys are able to make their way into the very heart of the alternative art scene. More and more frequently the pair escape to the drug-fueled world of barely-legal night clubs and become overwhelmed by the sex, drinking and partying available on a near-nightly basis.
The film is produced by Mexico’s Catatonia, the group behind previous Sama features “Sunka Raku” and “The Dream of Lu,” as well as Alonso Ruizpalacios’ break-out hit “Güeros,” a prize-winner at AFI, Tribeca, San Sebastian, Berlin – where it took best first feature – and many other major international festivals.
The project is in Morelia looking for a co-producer, sales agent and distributor, largely to help mitigate the cost of its impressive international soundtrack. Sama talked with Variety ahead of Impulso about the music, art and experiences that fueled the making of “This is Not Berlin.”
Music is a real driving force behind this film. Can you talk about putting the soundtrack together, and where the original music came from?
Nearly all the music was curated by me. The soundtrack is the music that I grew up with in my teenage years. When I couldn’t get the rights to some music I made my own that had the energy I needed. For the band in the film I picked people with a strong understanding of the genres of the countercultural ‘80s, and we have a soundtrack that makes me extremely proud.
The film is full of art from other mediums as well, where did that come from?
Much of the research I did alone at first, then with Diana Quiroz, the art director, and finally with the actors themselves. First we collected things that interest me in art. Then we did a series of workshops and courses with very important people from the Mexican art world that did us the favor of sharing their vision of the ‘80s. And we saw a lot of documentaries. It was important that each character in the art circle had a voice. For example, Nico’s pictorial work is from my friend, Javier Areán, a great artist whose work I admire a lot.
Why the decision to set the film in the ‘80s?
There was no decision. The film was set in the ‘80s because it’s my life. It is absolutely autobiographical. It’s about a boy who grows in Lomas Verdes. I grew up in Echegaray, a few blocks away. And it is properly my life, my arrival with these artists, my arrival after growing desperate in this suburb where there was no art, there was nothing. I also felt that it is a historic moment in Mexico that deserved more attention.
What was the process like with your co-writers?
It was very organic work. First we did ambience work, where I showed them a lot of things that interested me and that had to do with my way of growing up and seeing the ‘80s. We did an outline together and then each of us did a treatment independently. Rodrigo did the first, I did the second, Max the third, then I did two more and finally we came together on the last. There is something of each of us in there.
The films at this year’s Impulso have been praised for their honest and critical look at some of the problems facing Mexico today and throughout history. Can you comment on that?
‘86 is a little-known historic moment. I feel that in the ‘80s we brought a bit of attention to the very intense management of oppression. However, it was the moment when young people went out to try to recover the public spaces that had been stolen by the dictatorship. In this sense the artists of my film have a political position very much in accordance with the opposition of art that there was in the ‘80s. It was a very postmodern atmosphere and there was a reflection on what art is, what politics is, where we are standing and where we are going as a society. On the other hand, it is also the moment where very important plastic artists like Gabriel Orozco, Francis Alÿs or Damián Ortega started, and it’s not well-known that the seedbed was these dark clandestine places, because at this time in Mexico there was nothing. It was all shadowed in absolute secrecy and born from there were very important musical and artistic projects and a new totally political language.