Production on Argentine-born, Swiss-educated filmmaker Marí Alessandrini’s debut feature “Zahorí” ground to a halt in the middle of post-production. With the same amount of already limited budget and an estimated extra year before the film can premiere, she has been forced to finish editing on her own.

With more than a decade of short filmmaking experience in both fiction and documentary, Alessandrini has spent plenty of time in the editing room on previous projects, although never on something as ambitious as “Zahorí.”

Like much of her work, “Zahorí” takes place in her native Argentina, on the Patagonia Steppe. There, 13-year-old Mora, misunderstood by her parents and the school she attends, and her friend Nazareno, an elderly Mapuche man who understands her better than most, embark together on the path toward the elder’s death, in a coming-of-age journey for the young girl.

In a brief presentation video available on Locarno’s website, Alessandrini describes the film as “a re-appropriation of the Western. A feminist Western where we discover a young girl in apprenticeship, emancipating herself from her condition as a woman.”

The screenplay was developed by Alessandrini while participating in the Cannes festival’s residency program Cinéfondation in 2015. The film, in its eventual finished form, is shortlisted for Directors’ Fortnight 2021.

You worked in the visual arts for years in Argentina, then moved to Switzerland when you started filmmaking. What motivated that decision?

At 26 I needed to transform my work in photography, circus and mise-en-scène into making films. It was time. I decided to go to Europe because Europe makes the cinema that I like most. From Patagonia, I came to a village in Austria to work and save [money]. While I was looking for the “ideal” place to study and live I went to Rome, Marseille, Barcelona. I was traveling with an aerial acrobatics show and working on a selection of photos I had taken in the Patagonian Glacier region when I was invited to Lausanne, where I organized an exhibit with the slides, and there they told me about Cinema in Fine Arts at the HEAD in Geneva. I went to visit the place and it was exactly what I was looking for: Auteur-driven cinema, a state university and great professors like Miguel Gomes and  Apichatpong Weerasethakul, among others.

How has your time in both countries influenced your artistic style?

On the one hand, my life in Patagonia included a childhood in nature in a particularly wild context, great trips around the continent, photography and the circus are a generous bases of experiences. On the other hand, Geneva is very cosmopolitan. I always lived in collectives with people from many different countries – painters, musicians, sociologists, doctors – the wealth of being able to live, to share what is loved from so many different cultures. It’s what encouraged me most artistically to live in Geneva.

And your feature “Zahorí,” what state is the production in now?

Currently I need to finish the sound and the music, do the FX, the graphics and the mix to finish it. I was editing it when we had to shut down production. Because of the shutdown I have had to finish editing the film by myself. It has also extended all the post-production work, without knowing how to organize it or whether to cancel it altogether. COVID-19 has postponed the premiere probably a year. I have all this extra time but with the same amount of funding, and now a more complex job to do. It’s all much more complicated.

In the Locarno presentation, the film is described as semi-autobiographical, based on your own childhood. How did your own experiences influence “Zahorí”?

“Zahorí” is not only influenced by my childhood, but by several stages of my life, projected as fiction through its different characters. Of course the role of Mora, her rebellion against what was imposed by her school and parents, the choice of steppe and open road as places of freedom… her desire to be free in nature, a gaucha, that part of her comes from me. But I also recognize myself in the parents and in Nazareno as well, in their mourning, their loneliness.

So far, your resume is a near 50/50 split of documentary and fiction. Do you prefer one or the other? Do you see yourself working in one or the other more going forward?

I’m passionate about both. I’m interested in documentary to grow, and fiction to really dive deep into my work. I think fiction is my favorite creative field and documentary is an anthropological necessity. I could envision dedicating myself only to fiction if the projects had a essential stage of development working closely with other people and actors.