[A]ntonio Mendez Esparza’s first feature Aquí Y Allá was named the Best Film in International Competition for First Feature Film of Directors at the Mumbai Film Festival 2012. A documentation of the struggles, joys and challenges in the life of a family in Mexico, the film won the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival 2012 and went on to screen at 50th New York Film Festival, 17th Busan International Film Festival and 56th BFI London Film Festival.
Antonio Mendez Esparza talks about his film with Anita Thomas
How did the idea of the film occur to you?
I did several short films, sort of related in a way, about love stories, different approaches to life of people in big cities and usually their characters were immigrants. In the last film Una Y Otra Vez I decided to cast non-actors and I met Pedro who eventually played the protagonist in the film. While shooting we became friends and he told me a little bit about his life, that he will soon go back to his hometown to start a band which I found very appealing. I found it very moving in a way. I wrote something, went to his village and met everyone. I spent two months there and realised I wanted to make a movie. So then I rewrote the script, looked out for funding and finally was able to make the film.
Both your films, Una Y Otra Vez and Aquí Y Allá, are based on your observations of the lives of common people.
When you have a certain appeal, have certain admiration; you dig in those things where you know you will find something that you won’t find anywhere else. Many a times we take the power of cinema for granted. When you think that you are showing a place that is so far away and different, suddenly your characters become so big, I think that’s very powerful.
The problems portrayed in the film like migration, unemployment, poverty etc. are common in most parts of the world. So you believed these themes will strike a chord with the audience?
I didn’t think much of these while making the film because I was telling a story of a man who returns home and tries to regain his family. Then while I was shooting and editing, I realised how many similitudes I could have in my own life with Pedro. There are many invisible links that you make with the characters. Little by little I realised that the film is very universal. It’s from a very specific small town in Mexico and maybe it’s a story nobody cares about, but for me it became huge. I just happened to understand it. Nowadays in the market people are looking for ‘family films’ and distribution of such films is very difficult, but I say to those people that this is a family film.
How different is your film from other Spanish films?
Well, it’s certainly very different primarily because it is based in Mexico.
Which other filmmakers do you like?
Filmmakers are also from a country, they too belong to a culture and that’s what we are educated in. But when it comes to films, my interest is very global. I feel much attached or very inspired by filmmakers from Japan, China and France. Now film is so global, you see so many films that you are constantly provoked by them. Therefore, although I come from a very small place but the influence on me is very broad and global.
You hail from Spain and the film is based in Mexico. How come you decided to go all the way to Mexico for a story that is so universal? This film could well have been set in Spain itself.
This film happened because I met Pedro. It’s his belief, his life, his family and friends. It is because of him that I decided to make this film, so I couldn’t make it in Spain but had to do it in his hometown. In a way that was the spark of the project and if Pedro was from India I would have made the film here. I met Pedro, he inspired me and I decided to try and make a film.
Tell us something about your background.
I studied law and then I studied film for a long time, most of which was done at the Columbia University. I made a few short films, they were okay and not super master pieces and then I made this film.
Your next venture?
I hope I can make something next year. It will be a Spain – Brazil production, similar to this one I believe.
What do you think of the Mumbai Film Festival?
This is my first trip to India and I have just arrived. So far I feel really great. The selection of films is really good, the catalogue says it all. Everyone is very attentive here. Making such film is very challenging and there are many pressures and difficulties along the way and when I show it to an audience that is so attentive and respectful, it moves me completely.