SANTIAGO, Chile — Santiago-based production company Equeco have announced their involvement on a new feature project from director Bernardo Quesney, a dark-comedy revolving around a small-town theater troupe, a classic Chilean play and the recent influx in Haitian immigrants in Chile, titled “Break a Leg.”
Directing the play is the now-metropolitan Gioconda Millán, returned to her hometown to direct an adaptation of the classic Chilean poem “La Araucana” in order to save the cultural center that her sister manages. Among the hurdles she will encounter along the way are family that feel she’s abandoned them, a community disinterested in seeing a moldy old play, and a cast unwilling to do a show based on the native Mapuche people.
500 years of racism confronts the new, more subtle form facing Chile today, as a number of Haitian immigrants seek to be involved in the production. It’s much more than Gioconda ever expected to face.
The sisters are played by veteran actress Paulina Urrutia – who also worked for a time in Chile’s Ministry of Culture and has real-world experience directing theater – and Amparo Noguera, who just last year appeared in Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar winning “A Fantastic Woman,” and has been a mainstay in Chilean film and TV for three decades.
Quesney has a growing profile in Chile, both behind and in front of the camera. In 2011 his debut feature “Efectos Especiales,” (“Special Effects”) was made on a next-to-nothing budget of $50,000 Chilean pesos, or about $80 at the time. The film premiered modestly online before picking up a viral following and surpassing 550,000 views, eventually winning best feature film at the Lima Film Festival in Peru.
His follow up, “Desastres Naturales” (“Natural Disasters”), was written with Pedro Peirano, screenwriter on Pablo Larraín’s “No” and “Young & Wild,” a winner at San Sebastián and Sundance.
After seeing the influx of Haitian immigrants in Chile the past decade, and the public response to it, Quesney decided that he wanted to go revisit the screenplay with co-writer Símon Soto – who previously wrote eight seasons of the popular Chilean series “Los 80s,” as well as two best-selling novels – to address more contemporary issues facing his country, and his rural hometown.
“I want to address the problems of Haitian immigrants more,” said Quesney during a discussion with Variety at this year’s Santiago International Film Festival. “After writing the first draft I discovered that it is a problem that must be covered, that I cannot leave out.”
To that end, the filmmaker has secured the help of one of Chile’s most accomplished script doctors and longtime Sebastián Lelio contributor Gonzalo Maza, best known for co-writing last year’s Oscar winning “A Fantastic Woman,” as well as a number of other Lelio titles such as “Gloria,” which inspires high-profile Toronto Fest title “Gloria Bell,” with Julianne Moore, and “The Year of the Tiger.”
“Now many members of the acting workshop are going to be Haitians, alongside the Chileans,” Quesney said, explaining his vision for the finished script. “I want to show this shock in the theater workshops that comes as the immigrants express their truth of their experience.”
Set to take place in the filmmaker’s home town of San Felipe, Quesney will borrow from his own experiences to represent rural Chile.
“What I want to show is that many of the people in this village are ignorant, and because of this ignorance, they are even more racist,” he said. “The conflict in the film grows because it’s really difficult to do the play with these uneducated people.”
“What most concerned me was not writing these people to behave like caricatures, like just some lady who hates black people,” he continued. “But being there, reading local papers, there have been many real, recent incidents. One thing I ended up putting in the script was that a group of people attacked a home, throwing stones, just for housing Haitian immigrants. That’s when I started to say ‘This is a subject that I cannot let go.’”
Currently a co-production with Jose Miguel Matamala at fellow Chilean prodco Artistas Felices, a first draft of the script was used to produce a teaser which is being shared with other possible co-producers and sales agents, domestically and abroad. International money is almost a must for Chilean films in an industry that often sells better to foreign markets than it screens in its small domestic market.
That’s not going to deter the film’s production team however. Equeco has been down this road before with a similar film, 2017’s “Little White Lie.” That film won a screenwriting award in Miami for writer-director Tomás Alzamora, before enjoying a fruitful international festival run including San Francisco, Warsaw, Iran and a host of other locations.
“Next we go to Toronto, which feels like a perfect market for this,” explained Equeco producer Pablo Calisto on moving forward with “Break a Leg.” “Our intention is to take it to markets or North American festivals like Sundance or Miami, where we went with ‘Little White Lie.’ There is a whole market there that we want to explore, and for that Toronto is perfect.”