‘Tempest’ Director Tatiana Huezo Talks ‘The Echo,’ Her Career and Style at Visions du Réel

Tatiana Huezo
Credit: Alejandro Carbajal

Mexico-based, El Salvador-born Tatiana Huezo has quickly emerged in the world of documentary as one of its most talented and thought-provoking directors of her generation.

As she finally jumps from documentary to fiction with the upcoming “Noche de Fuego,” a strong big fest candidate, the director delivered a three-hour masterclass at this week’s Swiss doc fest Visions de Réel.

Drilling down on her award-winning features and short films, the director expounded on her own understanding of filmmaking as a personal journey in a talk that took a chronological take on her career. Five key points made by Huezo:

“Retrato de Familia” (2005)

Having studied at Mexico City’s celebrated CCC film school, Huezo initially worked as a DP, battling to find her place as one of Mexico’s then few women cinematographers  -a story shared by so many women in the industry. “It was a male job in a male world, especially in Mexico,” she remembered.

After having made her graduate film, a sci-fi short, “El Ombligo del Mundo,” she ended up directing her first documentary short film, “Retrato de Familia,” where she explored the dynamics of a love triangle between two sisters and the man they shared.

The experience changed her approach to filmmaking as she delved deeper into the reality of the film’s characters, living with them for weeks and learning to observe with “peeled” eyes.

The Tiniest Place” (2011)

Huezo’s big breakout, which received a rave review from Variety, “The Tiniest Place” won a berth in Official Selection at 2011’s Visions du Réel. Her first doc feature explores the legacy of ghastly violence from El Salvador’s 1980-1992 Civil War between guerrilla insurgents and government forces.

Picturing the still remaining traces of massacre and the haunting memories of the survivors, whose voices echo through the forest, Huezo uses the voiceover as a major device that carries the film. “After my research, I came back to Spain, where silence became the heart of my dramatic structure,” she added.

This became one of her most emphasized points in the masterclass. Huezo’s capacity to express herself through sound and silence was a point that she and the masterclass moderators returned to time and again. “You need to have silence after a big moment, if not, that may be lost and forgotten,” Huezo explained.

Tempest” (2016)

Highlighted by the class moderators, “Tempest” has built into a major, influential title on Latin America’s documentary scene, driven by a powerful voiceover in which a female inmate describes what women go through inside Mexican penitentiaries.

Crossing Mexico from north to south as she returns home by bus through Mexico’s vast landscapes, the documentary has the bus stopping at a military checkpoint. The producers were denied a shoot permit, however. “When I asked for permission, everything changed and fell apart. All I really wanted was those anonymous faces of fellow passengers in transit,” Huezo recalled.

Exploring the boundaries between documentary and fiction, Huezo’s production team created checkpoint scenes, hiring retired military personnel and renting army uniforms.

“The military we hired did what they usually had done in such scenes, so everything came easily to them, Yet you could feel the passengers’ vulnerability, their fear when being questioned,” Huezo explained about using fiction to drive to the heart of reality.

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Tempest Courtesy of Claudia Tomasinni

Noche de Fuego

Based on Jennifer Clement’s novel, “Prayers for the Stolen,” this is Huezo’s first fiction film. “After I wrote a first draft, Nico said they wanted me to direct,” Huezo recalled referring to her longtime producer, Mexico’s Nicolas Celís, a producer on “Roma.”

“It was a big challenge, since here we had to create everything from scratch”  said Huezo, pointing to this as one of main differences between documentary and fiction. “Now, I feel I can move freely between fiction and documentary.”

The Echo

Currently Huezo’s next documentary project, “The Echo” will take place in a remote village in Mexico. She plans to follow three families for one full year, focusing on the children  – reflecting Huezo’s interest in lost childhood.

Set in a village where conditions change drastically between seasons, “The Echo” asks “what survival means at this remote location in Mexico,” said Huezo. The name of the village, El Eco, gave its name to the title of the project.

Huezo has now consolidated her status as one of the key directors in the international documentary community. “Research, for me, is the key step in documentaries,” she said at Visions du Réel. “No matter whether a film’s documentary or fiction, a film is indeed a film,” she added, with reference to the ever more conflated borders between the two.