IONCINEMA.com’s IONCINEPHILE of the Month feature focuses on an emerging creator from the world of cinema. This month, we are pleased to introduce filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor and her third feature film Too Late to Die Young (Tarde para morir joven) which debuted at Locarno in 2018 (she won Best Director prize) and it would be featured prominently on the fall festival circuit at TIFF, New York, Viennale and BFI London (we met her at Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival back in November). Starring first time actress Demian Hernández, KimStim opens the film on Friday, May 31st at Film at Lincoln Center in New York. As per usual, make sure to check out the second portion of this profile – where Dominga lists her favorite (ten) films.
Eric Lavallée: Not unlike the characters in Too Late to Die Young, you didn’t have access to cinema at an early age. But when you finally found movies, what were some of your first recollections of discovery?
Dominga Sotomayor: My mother is an actress, so she took to the theater and we did not have television in the house, until I was 7 we did not even have electricity. I saw very few movies as a girl, just a couple of VHS tapes that I knew by heart like “Home Alone“, “The Lion King“, “Beauty and the Beast“, or movies I saw in friends’ houses with Macaulay Culkin as “My Girl” and “The Good Son“. I remember when I saw “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape“, I liked it a lot, from then on I followed Leonardo Dicaprio, going through “Romeo and Juliet” to “Titanic“.
At 15 I started discovering more movies. Sometimes I stayed at my grandmother’s house in the city, she is a painter and very much a cinephile, so we went to the video store on the corner of her house and would rent movies such as Ettore Scola’s We All Loved Each Other So Much and Percy Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe. Not many things came to Chile, from time to time we went to the cinema mainly to see European cinema, she had notebooks where she pasted clippings from newspaper reviews. I remember when being moved by “The Taste of Cherry” by Abbas Kiarostami, and it is then I started to get curious how the movies were made, I started to follow some directors. I became friends with my school history teacher who had many VHS in her house, there I discovered Antonioni or Haneke, I specifically remember when I saw “Code Unknown“, “The Celebration” and “Blow Up” for the first time.
Lavallée: During your formative years what films and filmmakers inspired you. Were there any Chilean filmmakers/films worth mentioning?
Sotomayor: I remember I was in film school and Jafar Panahi was invited to Festival in Chile, Valdivia, I was there and it was very important moment for me. “The Mirror” left a huge impression on me. At that time we saw the movies of the Argentines, I met Martin Reijman, Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, they were movies close to my life, what I observed, things that perhaps I never imagined before that it was enough to make movies.
At 20 I traveled to Buenos Aires to BAFICI, it was my first experience knowing directors that I liked, it was key personal moment for me. I remember perfectly being in a Q&A of “Désir(s) ” with Valeska Grisebach — listening to her talk after having seen her film and that also had a huge impact on me. I was influenced by different directors, at that time, I was very impressed with formality, with how language could generate discomfort. While I was studying, I was mostly attracted to Iranian, Argentine and German cinema.
Lavallée: You’ve been writing, directing and producing since you burst onto the scene in 2008 with a trio of short films in La montaña, Debajo, Noviembre. What are some of the lessons you learned from working on writing and directing in the short form that inform you still access today when you are working on your feature.
Sotomayor: The lengths of my films are a continuity of what I explored very freely in the shorts. It’s as if all my work was a long timeline that I enter with fragments. My first shorts are quite formal exercises, we never spent more than 100 USD in doing them, as it did not cost anything I could do what I wanted. I was able to try things, shoot everything on the top in “Below“. Video games for example could be a scene from “Thursday till Sunday“, I was in that search. I like to return to the shorts, after “Thursday till Sunday” I made two shorts, “La isla” and “Los Barcos“, were spontaneous, open and improvised jobs, I think they changed my way of thinking about Too Late to Die Young. Above all, I realized that although I had everything written or thinking the movie was not there, I’m not interested in staging a script but capture something alive, something that was only going to happen on the set. The rule of Too Late to Die Young is that there were not many rules, everything could just be. My way of observing with some discomfort the everyday comes from my first shorts, also a search around the blurred lines found between the characters and nature.
Lavallée: Three films. Three world premieres at major film festivals. You’ve traveled the world. Once you delivered the final cut, how do you engage with your film in terms of materials/poster/festival trailer and what to you gain the most when you discuss your art with cinephiles?
Sotomayor: I do not think about it before filming, at all, it’s something that starts later. In fact, I have always had problems because I do not have enough shooting photos, for example, for posters or press. Since we finished the films I got involved in all the diffusion materials, poster, trailer, I collaborate with a trustworthy designer, I speak with moviegoers, my family, friends, I think it is key that the materials are coherent with the film.
Lavallée: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your Cinematographer Inti Briones…
Sotomayor: I made LA ISLA with Inti, a short film that I co-directed on the island of Chiloé. It was good to be able to work with him again, I admire his work and we understood each other very well. I had planned to make the film with another DoP that at the last moment could not join the project so we called Inti, he was available, and he traveled the next day to Chile. It was one of the best happy “accidents” to occur.
Lavallée: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your Art Director Estefanía Larraín…
Sotomayor: Estefanía and I had worked before on THURSDAY TO SUNDAY — she is one of the most talented people I know. I feel that she always has the same movie that I have in my head. I had a very precise idea of what Clara’s house might look like, and so we looked at several houses under construction but we liked none of them. Finally, we got an empty place and the art team built the “house under construction”. The other day, I recalled that we filmed an entire production day in a warehouse (a market kiosk) and it was quite complex to create and very detailed, and Estefanía approached me and said: I know that you are going to eliminate this scene, and I smiled because somehow I knew she was right. I deleted the scene the last week of editing.
Lavallée: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your Editor Catalina Marín…
Sotomayor: Catalina Marín is one of my best friends and partner of CINESTACIóN with Omar Zúñiga, producer of the film. The three of us met at the university, Catalina has edited 95% of everything I’ve directed since my first short. It’s a very good relationship of symbiosis and friendship between the three of us, and we change roles from production to production as I’m now a producer of Omar’s first film with director, “Los fuertes” (currently in post-production). With Catalina we are also managers with Rafaela Behrens of CCC, Center for Cinema and Creation, a new movie theater and cinema center in Santiago that opens in December 2019.