Arturo González Villaseñor, director of “Llévate mis Amores,” first film in our online programme LOVE YOUR LOCAL answers our questions from Mexico City
(questions and translations by Love Your Local co-curator, Amaya Bañuelos Marco)
I read quite a lot, I am interested in reading as an exercise in which my mind works settings, characters and colours. I try to see one or two films a day, that’s how I get close to cinema. I am also interested in video games, particularly adventure ones. I am also spending time looking for funding to finish my next film.
Your academic background is in journalism, sociology and politics. Were you always interested in making films or was the story of las Patronas (Mexican women helping out migrants) the one which inspired you to decide to get into documentary? How did the project start?
I have always been interested in cinema, but only as a spectator, never I thought it would become a profession to which I would want to dedicate all my life.
Las Patronas were key in this shift as I felt the urge to transform what we had experienced in a story, in a film. I will be always grateful to them for this, thanks to them I know today the type of films I want to make.
Was the story of las Patronas known in Mexico when you decided to tell their story? What was the impact of the film in Mexico?
We were working in our graduation project in a community radio in a village near La Patrona, in the state of Veracruz.
Our participation consisted in helping them so the radio could work legally. In one of these visits, they told us that they called people through the radio to donate plastic bottles and sweet bread, so they could later take these to the women who fed the migrants.
When we arrived, there were several women packing food in plastic bags. I thought it was for a hostel or soup kitchen where the migrants would arrive from somewhere to sit down and eat that delicious red rice that I was hoping that they would share at some point with me too. All of a sudden, we heard the train whistle, and the women started to carry the bags in boxes; one of them was pushing a barrow with water bottles. When I arrived to where the village is split in two, at the level crossing, I saw an enormous iron machine loaded with people on its top, shouting: “mother, toss me a bread”. In that moment, my life and that of my peers changed forever.
Me and Indira (the producer) returned to Mexico City with the same feeling. Of the shots we had from that day we presented a short at Mexico City’s Zócalo International Book Fair. We never imagined that would be the start of Llévate mis Amores. We did more research and found out that they had appeared vaguely in a few documentaries and in a lot of news reports. But none of them explored the feeling we had discovered there.
At Ambulante it was, at the time (I don’t know now), the most seen documentary in the festival’s history. Thanks to film festivals, we’ve had the opportunity to show it in Mexico’s Senate of the Republic, in embassies, and at many prestigious universities. I am truly glad that the film recognises them, keeps their work relevant and I hope it unifies them as family and group forever.
In your documentary you manage to convey an intimacy that goes beyond the usual interview. How did you manage to reach that level of connection and confidence with las Patronas? Did you spend time with them before starting the shooting?
We decided to spend more time with them, we stayed for a week or two, and came back often. Soon, we started to realise that there were very interesting things around their work. It was all very natural and spontaneous, they became our friends, as did their children too. There was a profound relationship, we knew their secrets, their fears, their wishes. And that gave us the opportunity to consider a narrative line always starting from them, who are these women?
Llévate mis Amores was your first feature documentary, participating in numerous festivals all around the world, including Ambulante, IDFA and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Has the interest and success of the film helped you to push other projects?
It made me become the focus of attention. I think I moved up very quickly in an elitist sector in which there are barely two good and state-funded film schools, where they annually choose 15 people. The private film schools are very expensive.
I didn’t start with a short, I didn’t even do school exercises. I started straight away with a documentary feature only driven by my desire and need of making a film that portrayed what these women made us feel when we were with them. Wanting to make films appears as a necessity from a real situation.
I am so thankful for being where I am now; however, there has been lots of difficulties with my second film, particularly, when looking for funding I haven’t been as lucky. It has been a more difficult process than with Llévate mis Amores. I am not discouraged, perhaps this was the way to, again, have the film I want.
What interests you the most about the documentary genre?
It interests me because of the relationship with the other and the spaces, the patience required to complete these films, the sensitivity you develop to what is around you, to become very aware. However, it is also very complex to get into the lives of another person, their past and lifestyle, and it is at this point that the questions come back to you as a filmmaker: Why am I here? What is the necessity of wanting to tell this story? It is a process in which as a documentary filmmaker you are also transformed.
Since you made this film, have you seen the situation of Latin American migrants change? What support networks are there in Mexico?
No, not really, I think that it is becoming more acute. As well as the Patronas, there are hostels that migrants find in their way up north. We have always said that the border with the USA is the most dangerous in the world. The migrants face many problems when they cross from Mexico: corrupted authorities that blackmail them, drug dealers that kidnap them or make them disappear, police officers that detain them unjustly, there are even people that when they see migrants holding on the top of the freight train, they throw them stones.
I think we need to educate young people in particular, so they can learn to live with them. Who are they? Where are they coming from? Why are they on board of a freight train? The large majority of young people do not know why, former governments are not interested either since the migrant experience is a business for everyone.
Our programme tackles the theme of community through different stories of collectives and individuals that, despite their own difficulties, offer and receive support from other people around them. During the pandemic, we have seen how people have helped people in their building, neighbourhood, city. How is your experience with your community during the pandemic?
Honestly, I have felt them quite distant, I don’t think the pandemic will change the way humans act on the planet. I think that, unfortunately, humans have the capacity to adapt to new forms of life, and if this new adaptation requires the use of masks, we are going to accept it. But humans are not going to change because of a pandemic, and the pandemic is not going to create an awareness of anything.
Capitalism is so greedy, a vicious circle, a social illness from which we can’t escape from. The great corporations, for example, are benefitting from selling masks; there are all sorts, of all colours, with the technologies more or less advanced, for poor and rich people. It doesn’t take much for us to queue in the middle of a pandemic the moment a shop reopens.
The women of La Patrona have been helping migrants since 1995. While in other countries this type of projects lose momentum after a while, here we see that the effort continues. What is the current situation in la Patrona and how can an effort like this remain throughout 25 years?
This type of actions makes me find hope for this world. It’s something that from the beginning I always asked myself, what is the force that drives this work for so many years? In the end, I have understood that what is essential in life is what keeps the group together. They are family, they live surrounded by privileges like nature, the countryside, they are free. It is true that they have economic limitations and lack of commodities, but despite all of this, to them these are minor problems when they learn about the life of migrants; and dedicate all your day to help the other and realise that your effort can be seen in the smile or satisfaction of the other, that is the purest joy that I have ever known, and in reality the one that motivates me to get up the next day and do it once more.
and back to our CINETOPIA:DOC club page HERE!
Love Your Local is also supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and National Lottery funding from the BFI.