PANAMA CITY — As Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante finalizes post-production on drama “Tremors,” the follow-up to his Berlin Silver Bear-winning debut “Ixcanul,” he’s also prepping his next feature, “La Llorona” (The Weeping Woman).
It will be produced by his company, La Casa de Producción. “La Llorona” – starring Maria Mercedes Caroy and María Telón, the lead actresses of “Ixcanul” – is about the Guatemalan genocide, the mass killings of Maya civilians during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), for which Guatemala’s former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt was tried and convicted in 2013, but whose sentence was then annulled in the same year.
“Tremors,” to be released by Memento Films Distribution in France and sold worldwide by Film Factory, takes place in Guatemala City and tells the story of an evangelical Christian and father of two children, Pablo, who falls in love with another man, and then faces the risk of losing the right to see his children unless he agrees to be “cured.”
“These situations are very common in evangelical and even catholic families,” says Bustamante. ”Guatemala is an extremely conservative society, and many people place pedophiles and homosexuals in the same category. This film began when I met Pablo, who told me his story, then I did a lot of research on the topic and met many others in the same situation. I even submitted myself to one of these treatment programs to see what the Church does, but I had to desist because they found out who I was.”
Bustamante is also producing films by other Guatemalan helmers.
“1991” by Sergio Ramirez has been shot and is now in post-production, with Bustamante hoping to find co-production partners in Mexico and Norway.
The pic is about upper middle class youngsters in Guatemala in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who began a hobby of hunting rural peasants with baseball bats to maim or kill them. Now they are grown up with families and respectable positions in society, but they killed people and were never tried for their crimes.
“I know a lot of people who used to do this,” says Bustamante. “They even laugh when they remember this period.”
He is also prepping “Tigre de Ixcan” to be directed by Tatiana Palomo, and co-written by Bustamante and Palomo, about an indigenous Quiché tribe. The main character is the granddaughter of a rich landowner in Guatemala who was killed by guerrilla soldiers in 1975. The story takes place 30 years later. As she grew up she started to become interested in democratic socialist movements and became the black sheep of the family.
Alongside his production and distribution activities, Bustamante has set up a 60-seater non-profit cinema, La Sala de Cine, in the Centro Cultural Asturias, in Guatemala City, which organizes free daily sessions of independent films.
“In Guatamala it’s very hard to show independent films, because less than 9% of the population has access to the cinema and cinema theaters that do exist are in very nice neighborhoods and expensive.”
To access films free of charge for these screenings, Bustamante says that many people offer films free of charge, especially fellow filmmakers and he has also established partnerships with the Institut Français and with several foreign embassies, including the Italian Embassy.
He is also establishing partnerships with film festivals and says that sales agents Film Factory and Memento are also preparing catalogues to be shown in the cinema.
He also hopes to open a paid cinema for independent films, to increase access to such films in Guatemala.
“We need to open people’s minds in Guatemala. which is very different from much of Central America and very different from the Caribbean. We are more of a mountain people and very conservative. Our society is extremely racist and classist,” said Bustamante. “Ixcanul” helped change mentalities somewhat, but was misunderstood by many people, who called it a communist film because it gave a voice to indigenous women.
“I’m hoping that my next films, starting with ‘Tremors,’ will foster further change. It’s important to open people’s minds.”