LOS CABOS, Mexico — “Days of Winter” (“Días de invierno”) begins with 22-year-old Nestor slumbering on a bus returning from his night-shift at a restaurant in a wane dawn. When he gets off the bus, in full plain daylight, the mountain rear behind him, like the Alps or Rockies.
Several scenes later, Nestor and his mother Lalia go to the family home a swish log cabin near the top of a pine-first peak with an extraordinary vision of the sierra opposite, dropping 4,000 feet of near sheer scarp slope to the valley between.
Shot on a micro-budget, “Días de invierno,” a Los Cabos Work in Progress, marks the feature debut of Jaiziel Hernández. Turning on 22-year-old Nestor, it asks what ties Mexicans to Mexico. Its answers are quite simple: An identity with place, and family. Variety chatted to Hernandez during this year’s 7th Los Cabos Intl. Film Festival:
Would you describe Nestor’s situation – a low-paid job in Mexico; uncertain but probably limited future in the U.S. – as typical of Mexican youth and its visceral frustration?
I would not think of Nestor as a typical Mexican young person [wanting] to leave to the U.S., as Mexico is a large and complex country. But it is true that in today’s society the future of a Mexican young person is very limited and sometimes seems hopeless, especially in small cities. In most of the north of the country, people has to leave as there is almost no culture, no tourism, and traces of the war. It changed a lot since Nafta, turning from a rural region to manufacturing-related jobs and people have accepted that as how life should be for everyone.
The film questions the strength of the main residual affective bonds in Mexico: Those of family. In such a context, the sale of the family house takes on a wider symbolic role. Would you agree and could you comment?
Yes, the house represent in a way the past when things where all right for the family, it is their own last treasure of happiness. For the mother, it is what retains her to the past, the future that never happened and their own parents’ inheritance. The story pictures a fragmented family, the thesis of their relationship is that as people we create the greatest bonds with our family, even against our will, even if we never see them. That is why Nestor can not leave, because he finds himself carrying a big burden that you could say he is imposing on himself: to not leave his mother alone.
The film has a very strong sense of place. The city, shoe-horned into a corridor between two sierras, the family house, perched on top of a pine forest height. At one point, Nestor and his girlfriend sit on a rock outdoor above her house and she says she love’s the view. That seems to me to be a comment from your heart. But would you agree?
Yes, completely. I am very fond of where I grew up, as I grew the town changed from a rural context to an industrial city, in a matter of twenty or thirty years. It is funny that my main character wants so desperately to leave when I am so nostalgic about it. I think that growing up in a place like this makes you hate it and not recognize how special it is. You never see how incredible the place is and how the emptiness and beautiful surroundings are so hard to find in the context of our modern and fast-paced large cities. This film is from my heart. I sat on that rock many times. I tried to be honest.
Where was the film shot? Lilia talks about driving to Guanajuato as if its several hours away…
As I wrote, it was shot in my hometown Ramos Arizpe, that is near to Saltillo, the capital of the border state of Coahuila. It has a complex identity, it is far from what it is supposed to be, that Mexico should feel like ‘Mexico’, and it is near to Texas and more related to it a conservative, rural heritage. It has a beautiful sky and as you see people from there, like me, have deep roots, they are proud people. I wanted to show what Mexico means to me so badly. I have been working on this project for years, Mexican cinema is not representing me, nor my people. This is my country or at least the country that I see as mine.
When the American executive asks his factory workers if they understand English, they all nod in assent. Was the use of occasional English dialogue a reflection of current reality or also a market strategy to appeal to young audiences who, in Mexico, and indeed the Latino U.S. market, are ever more bilingual.
Well, I think it is the current reality for young people in north-east Mexico, as in many parts of the third-world countries. If you want to have a decent wage or stand out, you have to talk English because many factories and companies are American or multinationals.
Most older people do not speak English but most of young people are bilingual. In general, I wanted it to feel like a very local story but I always thought about how it could happen anywhere, especially in industrial cities from Taiwan or the Philippines for example.
How has “Days of Winter” been financed? And could you talk a bit about Estación Marte Films?
“Days of Winter” was financed with a Kickstarter campaign I launched in December 2017, a small state tourism grant gained by our co-producers Pirotecnia Films and also with the support from my film school –Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC)–, who were awesome with us. We made it on almost nothing.
Estación Marte Films is a company I founded with Nina Wara Carrasco, a Bolivian friend and excellent producer. Its name comes from an old railroad station near Ramos Arizpe, where there is a huge crater made by a meteorite by which a town was founded with the name Estación Marte, which translates to Mars Station.