Chile’s Juan Cáceres on ‘Perro Bomba’

Taking aim at societal racism and antiquated laws facing immigrant living in Chile, “Perro Bomba” resonated with Guadalajara Construye jurors

Guadalajara Construye Winner Juan Cáceres Talks
Alejandro Ugarte

GUADALAJARA  —  After successful trips to the Bolivia Lab and Viña del Mar worshop, “Perro Bomba,” the first feature from Chilean director Juan Cáceres. was the biggest winner at Guadalajara Construye, the festival’s works in progress section.

Cáceres finished the night having secured the Chemistry color correction prize, Yagán Films post-production sound award, Mondgragon Music – Disruptiva Original Score Award, and the Habanero award of $10,000 towards international promotion.

That kind of winning record attracts attention and, according to producer Alejandro Ugarte, offers from sales agents are already coming in. However, with the film set to participate in the Toulouse Latin American Film Festival’s pix-in-post section on March 22-23, he and fellow producer Esteban Sandobal prefer to hold off on making any firm commitments until the film is closer to its final form.

The two produced the film through their companies Infractor Films and Pejeperro Films, without domestic or international funding, in a conscious decision to avoid other investors, allowing them full control of the production.

“Perro Bomba” takes aim at the arcane racism affecting above all Chile’s working class, and immigrants’ suffering from laws born in the time of a xenophobic dictator Augusto Pinochet which remain today and affect more than half a million immigrants.

Chilean actors Alfredo Castro, a Pablo Larraín regular and Blanca Lewin filled out a cast made up mostly of natural actors. Partly necessity – Chile doesn’t have many Haitian black actors – and partly done for authenticity’s sake, the use of non-professional actors is a good fit for a highly improvised script.

The film follows a Haitian immigrant called Steevens who is willing to put in the hard work to earn a residence permit. Taunted by construction site foreman Frederico (Castro), who may have a covert crush on him, Steevens takes a swing at Frederico, is lynched by the Chilean media, and begins a descent into living totally beyond the law.

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Alejandro Ugarte

Cáceres and Ugarte sat down with Variety at the Guadalajara Festival to discuss the film, its future and its message.

What other workshops or WIP events have you participated in?

Ugarte: The first work in progress was at the International Festival of Viña del Mar. The prize there was a invitation to come to Guadalajara. Before that we were at Bolivia Lab, in the project development lab, and we won the biggest incentive there.

This is your first feature, can you talk a bit about the work you have done to get here?

Cáceres: I’ve done two short films. One of them premiered very humbly in Sanfic, and the second one also premiered in Sanfic and then had a tour of Havana, Sao Paulo and Toulouse. Then last year just before “Perro Bomba,” I did two other short films that are about to premiere. At Sanfic we had special mention from the jury with the short film “La duda,” which is also with Alfredo Castro and Steevens Benjamín.

And what do these awards mean to you? What do you want to do with the prizes?

Ugarte: The awards are important because we made this film from private financing that we got from my company Infractor Film Factory and Peje Perro Films, and without traditional state aid or international funds. But we did it with an aim at self-management. These awards will help us to finalize the film, and also open up some international possibilities we are looking for.

What did the jury have to say about the film?

Ugarte: In general, they considered it a fresh movie, very attractive because it is not the typical classically well-made film, but rather it’s dirty, street and very urban.

Cáceres: Our cast is very attractive too because we work with natural actors, that is, people who have never acted before, mixed with awarded Chilean actors like Alfredo Castro or Blanca Lewin. We worked without a script and based on improvisation, so the entire film has a lot of vertigo and style. This is an art-house film with massive reach, with popular reach. We have to get our message to people used to watching Hollywood blockbusters. So, we couldn’t be boring. And what we got from that is something very interesting to watch.

This film looks at extreme poverty affecting immigrants and native Chileans, but it’s not poverty porn. How did you want to show poverty on the screen without it being exploitative?

Cáceres: Poverty porn is a concept that we consider totally opposite to our film. Poverty porn uses exoticism to show situations that hide human suffering. It turns suffering into something entertaining. In making this film, we went into the immigrant community and lived with the people who appear on camera. If we were going to record a fiction scene and there were Haitians nearby we interviewed them. We tried to include their opinions in the movie. So I see that as a defense that this film is not considered poverty porn.

What is the message you hope to convey with this film?

Cáceres: Basically we are a new generation of people in Chile making movies. Until 10 years ago in Chile there was no way to study cinema other than to borrow or pay a lot of money. That meant that half of the population didn’t have access. Then scholarships began, university aid, and that is why many people could access higher education. I am the first person in my family to go to university, and I decided to study economics, not film, because I wanted to earn money. But, because I believe that cinema is a tool of change, it’s a medium that can affect many people and generate reflection and political change. That’s what is behind “Perro Bomba.”