GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Start-up Chilean production company Otro Foco scored big in the Guadalajara Construye works in progress section with its first-ever feature “Piola,” a rap-fueled coming of age tale that scored a staggering six of the available 13 awards given out at the event.
The film was written and directed by Luis Alejandro Pérez García, who also wrote the raps featured in the film. Otro Foco’s Cecilia Otero, Rolando Santana and Sylvana Squicciarini produced. While “Piola” is the company’s first feature, it has achieved incredible popularity on YouTube with its innovative short-form comedy films.
“Piola” is the story of three young Chileans. Martín and Charly are friends dedicated to making rap music; Sol is an athlete from a well-off family. Their paths cross when Sol steals her mom’s car. Martin ignores his family ahead of moving to a new home, and Charly tries to deal with a job he hates and the magnitude of responsibility which comes with being a teenage father. Each is running from something. What ensues is a portrait of young people in the throes of the change to adulthood. Through a series of subplots, the film also touches on issues of race, class, immigration and the near-unbreakable bonds between close friends.
Depending on what kind of offers the film’s team receives in the immediate future, the team at Otro Foco plans on having a finished film in four-to-five months, after finishing sound post-production, image post-production and beginning and end credits.
Alejandro Pérez and Santana met with Variety in Guadalajara where they discussed the music, the performances and the intended market for “Piola.”
Can you talk a little about Otro Foco? What kinds of films have you/do you want to make?
Santana: This is the first feature we’ve done. We come from the Internet where we started with our YouTube channel doing comedy shorts. From the beginning, we got a really good reception and feedback from the Internet, both for the quality of our work and the originality of the scripts. We are all moviegoers, so we started looking for feature projects and that’s when “Piola” appeared. Silvana Squicciarini, one of the producers who aren’t in Guadalajara, showed me the project, and it was everything we were looking for. These are universal stories but from a singular point of view. Those are the types of films we are looking for. We want to make films for the indie market, but without giving up the commercial aspect of the films, which is rare in Chile. In Chile there are lots of art movies made for festivals, very good ones in fact, and then there are popular movies, TV series and comedies. But there is not an indie market for those types of films. We want to occupy that middle ground. This is only our first movie, but I think we hit the nail on the head.
What was the driving factor behind you wanting to tell this story?
Pérez: The film proposes a return to the Hip-Hop films that we are used to. We love rap, and we love American rap movies, but we realized it’s always the same story; the ascension to fame of a dishwasher who ends up living in a lonely mansion and heads back to the studio to make a record. We love these films because of the music and culture that they represent, but I don’t feel they represent Latin American rappers. Our story is not ascension to fame, but the collision with the wall that is reality. Here is a protagonist that washes dishes, make music, and then keep washing dishes. We also wanted to avoid the trope of gangs and rap. It’s not always talking about prostitution, drugs and these negative topics. We wanted to come from the side of friendship, from music as a refuge, music as hope. Most of these musicians are really bright people who are thinking about what is happening in the world and write about it. I was interested in that rapper. It’s that majority that we were interested in representing.
When casting did you look for rappers who could act, or actors who could rap?
Pérez: When we did casting I asked the actors, in pairs, to do a small scene from the film, one man and one woman. We watched that performance first and then asked the men to rap. Many were pretty well known in Chilean rap, others not at all. When Nacha (Ignacia Uribe) did the same scene and I asked her partner to rap he didn’t know how, but she said “I can rap.” So she did and we were really impressed. In the end her character didn’t, but the connection that she had with the music touched us. René, who plays Peter, is a self-taught actor. I loved his previous work, so we went directly to him for this part. When I approached him he told us how much he loved rap and showed us his tattoos with rap lyrics on his arms.
The characters in this film use a very distinct dialect. Was there a concern when you use such a specific, regional dialect that you limit your audience?
Pérez: At first I was a little scared that maybe the jargon in our film could be a negative point, but in the end it was the opposite. The Mexicans who saw the film here told me they understood almost everything, and when they didn’t they could figure it out. We were genuinely surprised with how well the film was received here. I think that’s because above all, it’s a movie about brotherhood. When the characters are with their friends, they speak poorly because they know their friends are not going to criticize them. It was important that they spoke in real Chilean. That was a goal I believe I achieved.