‘Liborio’ Director on Preserving Collective Memories and Capturing Religion Through the Eyes of Believers

‘Liborio’ Director on Preserving Collective Memories
Courtesy of Carlos Rodriguez

Set in turn-of-the-century Dominican Republic, “Liborio” received its world premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam this week in the Tiger Competition.

The directorial feature debut of Madrid-based Dominican-born film editor Nino Martínez Sosa, the Spanish-language film tells the true story of Olivorio Mateo, a peasant who disappears into a hurricane and returns, it is claimed, with the power to cure the sick and take away evil.

The film takes place as the Caribbean Island was attempting to solidify its independence as well as fighting occupation by the U.S. Marines. During this time Mateo, known to his worshipers as “Papá Liborio” became a symbol of hope and freedom.

The feature, which is being repped by sales agent Pluto Film, is also produced by Sosa and producing partner Fernando Santos Diaz, whose credits include the acclaimed Dominican film “Cocote” – another tale of religious conflict in the Dominican Republic, which also shares many of the same cast, including lead actor Vicente Santos.

During the festival, Variety caught up with Sosa, whose career as an editor includes a canon of acclaimed Spanish titles including “The Hours of the Day,” “Solitary Fragments” and “Me Too.”

Did you know about the story of Liborio as a child growing up in the Dominican Republic?

It was a famous story but it’s dying out. In the Sixties most of the left-wing movement took Liborio to be a symbol of the peasantry against the empire – there were songs about him – but these began to disappear in the 1990s. My nephews, teenagers, don’t know about him. I wanted to grab these cultural manifestations and preserve these collective memories.

Why was the film structured as seven episodes, each relating to characters that orbit around Liborio?

I saw the film as being less about Liborio and a struggle against tyranny, and more through the lens of a religious movement, through the eyes of believers. To describe such a complex thing it is better to attack it from different angles – so we chose seven character archetypes who all revolve around this central figure.

Besides the main characters, most other roles feature members of the local community. What’s your approach to getting the best out of non-actors?

Vicente Santos is a big actor in the Dominican Republic and he also works as a dancer and knows about palos (drums used by tribal brotherhoods to communicate with spirits and Dominican ritual music). He helped me get through to them; he was always Liborio commanding the community.

I also tried to give everyone the freedom to improvise – while we talked and rehearsed scenes the cast were able to walk wherever they needed and the camera would follow, there were no floor markings. The more freedom you give people the more they can express themselves and feel invested in the film.

Did this approach create more work for you during the editing process?

We tried not to make too many cuts while we were improvising and, as an editor I took the same approach as Liborio: to take away the bad things and let the good stay!

I worked with Ángel Hernández Zoido – I was his assistant on 12 films and moved to Spain from Cuba [he worked at Escuela International de Cine y Televisión after graduating] because of him. Ángel grabbed the best material and I took it and cut it myself. What I tried to focus on was expression rather than narrative efficiency, I was trying to find the magic in the material.