How has your upbringing in Buenos Aires influenced your approach to filmmaking?
Yes, it had a lot of influence because Buenos Aires is very far away. There was no internet, no communications so whatever you got was nothing to do with what could be the truth or the facts. There was misinformation. But the movies and the relationship with the movies, it was basically like fantasy. I was quite a fantasy-prone character in terms of I love fantasy, so I was day-dreaming a lot as a child. That society brought me choices of only four or five professions that you could choose from. If you were artistic, you could be an architect. So, in order not to upset my parents and in keeping with my upbringing, I studied architecture which was the most artistic of the options available to me. But then I still had to deal with the day-to-day. I still had more fantasies than to just to build a tower or design a building. I needed more ways of expressing myself, so I went to LA to continue my architectural studies and whilst there, I entered a film production class by mistake.
I opened pandora’s box! I was 22 and I said, “I want to be doing this!”. I had found my destiny. Prior to that, I had trouble in finding a self-expression and now I had found an outlet for that self-expression. Imagine if you were going to tell an Argentinian kid from a very traditional society and upper-class upbringing that he’s going be a movie producer and that at 25 he’s going to be shooting a movie like “Malcolm X”, they are going to say that you’re out of your mind! What kind of acid are you taking? I didn’t have a choice. I had to manifest this, or I probably would be dead by now. It was different times; I wanted to be an actor. Now my son wants to be a youtuber or influencer and he’s eight. I hope he does not succeed in that. It’s too strange.
Can you talk a little bit about some of the specific production challenges on projects which have explored political figures and institutions?
I had a strong career in feature film as well as in documentaries with political figures. With the documentaries on political figures, we did it as a creative team because with most of these people, nobody knows their voice. Everybody accepts whatever the political bureau of a newspaper assumes about them, but not because you listen to their voice. They create an image of those people. I’m the opposite, I’m going to be quite extreme. I’m not judging them morally or judging their actions, I’m talking to them as people which has nothing to do with the reality that you have. The beauty of having someone like Oliver Stone or a Jim Jarmusch doing these kinds of documentaries is that, not only we have the access, but we get to discover one-on-one who these people are as people. And we ask questions which are not the political bureau questions. We get to the truth by asking one-on-one questions like “how does it feel to be you beside your job?”. We get to know the person in a different way. The challenges are the middle people and the control that these gatekeepers want to have. Thank God we never had a big obstacle where they themselves censor us. We only got censored once we had finished the product. For example, the first movie we did with Fidel Castro was censored by HBO. We didn’t get censored by the so-called dictator, but we got censored from the people who call the dictator a dictator. That’s very insane to me.
What appeals to you about working on exploratory / investigative series and documentaries with a director like Oliver Stone?
Both are fascinating. Oliver’s work, what he asks plus the reaction of the people. Listen, first it’s like having an intelligent hard drive which is seeking the truth. Imagine having a supercomputer which is seeking the truth with a very particular point of view, but always asking very relevant questions where sometimes the public or the people or intelligentsia don’t want to listen to the answer.
People don’t want to listen to what a person has to say; they want to have a pre-packaged opinion about someone that fits their own narrative and they don’t want to give the benefit of an explanation to that person. So, I’m very happy to have done this work with these people.
In your exploration of political leaders, from the likes of Vladimir Putin to Fidel Castro. What have you most savoured about portraying such significant public figures?
Well, these people have their controversies. They have done stuff which I don’t agree with. I don’t have to agree with them in everything, but I understand that we, as Western European educated media or film makers or artists, cannot judge the world from only our point of view. We need to be open to see that the world is not unilateral, binary, with us or without us. It’s good to see a bit of context.
In the case of Russia, it’s a country in which they respect strong men/ strong leaders and democracy works in another way.
In the way of Castro, we got to ask him questions like if he went to therapy. Questions that came into Oliver’s mind but people don’t want to listen to that because they just want to re-digest what the newspapers and main stream media say. They say this person is that or this person is this. People are people. In some cases, we manage to influence those people for other things.
A couple of years ago, at The Bahrain Conference, you spoke about the ability of entertainment to change the narrative of “Palestinian victimization”. Much of your work pushes to show additional truths / sides of its narrative, of which of the projects that you have worked on, do you believe your portrayal had most significant impact on the public perception of the subject?
A: I think that with “The Untold History of the USA”, if people watch it, look at it, given the opportunity, it’s very factual research. It has an impact on minds as it allows you to see that things are not based on what the news says or whatever and that history may be different. The facts of history are different into what you believe.
For example, we went into war with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction, but there were no weapons of mass destruction and there were hundreds of thousands of people dead. The news circle covered that, assuming there were weapons of mass destruction. News and media can be very tricky; facts can be very biased. History is the only thing that can tell us what did happen or what didn’t happen.
I’m sure with these current events with coronavirus and Trump etc. we’re going to get the true facts in 20 years. This is a very colourful moment.
The rest of this editorial will be published at a later date.