Waiting in the Sun

On the filming of "Ojalá el sol me esconda"

March 20, 2016
This is the second in a series of articles co-presented with Cinema Tropical, the leading presenter of Latin American cinema in the U.S. The series explores themes in contemporary culture and the overlap between the visual arts and film.
 
We invited artist Alberto Rodríguez Collía to share his experience collaborating with fellow artist Andrea Mármol to create set props for the film Ójala el sol me esconda [May the Sun Hide Me] (2016) directed by Julio Hernández Cordón. The set props were subsequently exhibited at TEOR/éTica (San José, Costa Rica) in 2014 and at Proyectos Ultravioleta (Guatemala City) in 2014 and 2015. 

On the 14th of May 2011, the Zetas invaded Los Cocos Farm (Petén, northern Guatemala) and decapitated 27 of its 28 workers as they awaited the arrival of their boss on payday. Using one of the victims’ legs, they painted a message on the front of the main house for the owner, who was absent at the time. This brutal crime brought to mind the viciousness of the massacres that had taken place during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996).

Julio (Hernández Cordón) would come to use this event as a starting point for what would be his fifth film, a western based on narcos—drug traffickers—with the dry settings of the country’s east as a background. We had first collaborated on Until the Sun Has Spots, a film for which all of the backdrops were drawn in chalk, in a sort of reimagining of the origins of film. That picture, like Work in Progress, was awarded a prize that paid for the production of the next film without needing a script.

My relationship with Julio had begun years before. Oddly and incredibly, we met on Facebook when I asked him for a copy of Gasoline, his first feature film, to include in a cycle I did at a cinema club in downtown Guatemala City in 2009. He accepted without hesitation, taking a leap of faith. As we got to know each other, he mentioned that he preferred talking with visual artists because they’re interested in everything and don’t get wrapped up in their jobs, and that’s how I think he conceives of his films: not as  conventional movies, but almost as almost artisanal, handcrafted works that provoke wonder through their imperfections, which lend them authenticity in an era in which everything is industrially produced.

The new project has come about with more ambitious ideas and larger painted settings, continuing with the hyperrealist aesthetic of the previous film, props, various locations, filming in hi-8… He asked me to be in charge of the art direction and I decided to work with Andrea (Mármol) because of her outstanding technique in painting (oil and acrylic) and our ability to work together.

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Ink sketches on tracing paper, which were used to choose the images that would best fit with the shooting locations
Ink sketches on tracing paper, which were used to choose the images that would best fit with the shooting locations

A short time later, while I was editing Until the Sun Has Spots, Julio decided to include a song by the punk group Warning in the film. We set up a meeting with the band’s founder, Héctor “Warning” Mazariegos, to ask him for the song. Julio didn’t know it then, but Héctor is one of the most prominent figures in the Guatemalan punk scene, and also one of the most widely traveled.

As they talked, Julio became interested in Warning’s Quiché background and the fact that he appears to be 15 years younger than he really is. Warning got into punk because of an earthquake: after the quake of 1976, the children of US volunteers brought with them vinyl albums by The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. They left some for Warning, which left their mark on him for life.

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“Warning’s House,” a composition based on the photograph “The Guitarist” by Jeff Wall. Posters and drawings by Warning were included with several vinyl albums, including El Jardinero by Wilfrido Vargas (in the center) and Caifanes’ first single (below)
“Warning’s House,” a composition based on the photograph “The Guitarist” by Jeff Wall. Posters and drawings by Warning were included with several vinyl albums, including El Jardinero by Wilfrido Vargas (in the center) and Caifanes’ first single (below)

Julio immediately proposed that Warning act in the new film, and he accepted and brought along his own personal baggage. The project would now be a narco-punk western. Then Julio asked Andrea and me to prepare the following: 1- Several decapitated corpses 2- Heads and limbs of the decapitated bodies 3- Firearms and bladed weapons 4- The narcos’ hideout 5- A small plane, crashed 6- Bundles of drugs 7- Warning’s house (based on a photo by Jeff Wall) 8- Warning’s parents’ house 9- Photoshopped newspapers and some other items that we didn’t end up using in the filming.

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Warning’s family’s house, built with sheets of wood joined by hinges, so it could be easily adapted to the chosen location
Warning’s family’s house, built with sheets of wood joined by hinges, so it could be easily adapted to the chosen location

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The narco-hitmen’s hideout, the firearms were painted with oil on canvas, then they were cut out of wood in the same shape so they could be used by the actors during filming
The narco-hitmen’s hideout, the firearms were painted with oil on canvas, then they were cut out of wood in the same shape so they could be used by the actors during filming

We did research on narco-blogs, tabloid newspapers, press releases: any information on the narcos, especially photos of their victims (or what remained of them), as a basis for painting the bodies that Julio wanted as props. Shortly thereafter we went to El Progreso—a department near Guatemala City—on the banks of the Motagua River to film, basically with no permission whatsoever, but with two tourist police officers accompanying us the entire time.

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Bank of the Motagua River with the crashed plane and bundles of drugs packed in the cargo hold. In the photo: Andrea Ixchíu (co-star of film and real-life political activist, community leader), José Rommel Tuñón (sound engineer) and Warning (protagonist)
Bank of the Motagua River with the crashed plane and bundles of drugs packed in the cargo hold. In the photo: Andrea Ixchíu (co-star of film and real-life political activist, community leader), José Rommel Tuñón (sound engineer) and Warning (protagonist)

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The small plane was also constructed out of sheets of wood in a modular fashion, so that it could be assembled on site. Unlike the bodies and weapons, it was painted with acrylic
The small plane was also constructed out of sheets of wood in a modular fashion, so that it could be assembled on site. Unlike the bodies and weapons, it was painted with acrylic

The dry climate, powerful sun, flies that gnaw at your skin, horse spiders, snakes, cactus and a narco-hotel with a pool (where we stayed) were all parts of the landscape. Abandoned homes in the middle of nowhere, steep hills, small forests of dry trees, the bank of the Motagua and an old, burnt-out farm were the locations. The old farm had cattle bones strewn about everywhere; the only thing that remained standing was a brick house full of garbage. A year prior, some loan sharks had set fire to it with all the animals inside when the owner failed to pay a debt. Passing through the surrounding area, we found more abandoned homes with similar stories, tales of vengeance and murder ripened by desolation.

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Some of the body props (oil on canvas over cut wood) on site: an abandoned home we found in the middle of nowhere. Once they had been placed for filming, several crew members became uncomfortable, while Andrea and I were happy that the pieces were working
Some of the body props (oil on canvas over cut wood) on site: an abandoned home we found in the middle of nowhere. Once they had been placed for filming, several crew members became uncomfortable, while Andrea and I were happy that the pieces were working

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Some of the body props (oil on canvas over cut wood) on site: an abandoned home we found in the middle of nowhere. Once they had been placed for filming, several crew members became uncomfortable, while Andrea and I were happy that the pieces were working
Some of the body props (oil on canvas over cut wood) on site: an abandoned home we found in the middle of nowhere. Once they had been placed for filming, several crew members became uncomfortable, while Andrea and I were happy that the pieces were working

We arrived back in the city and Julio began editing and digitizing the hi-8 cassettes we’d recorded in El Progreso and the city: a punk concert at Proyectos Ultravioleta in the basement of a decaying mall, fights between Warning and his bassist James, and Ceci, the stuttering protagonist, doing punk covers of Pimpinela, among other scenes.

Paradoxically, the same prize that had allowed for the making of the previous unscripted film became a hindrance, since it required a non-existent co-director in the form of a filmmaker chosen by the festival. The film is in limbo, without a forthcoming release date despite being almost finished. Julio has already premiered another project, his fifth film, I Promise You Anarchy, and is in production on two other features with more plausible release dates than the narco-punk western.

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*The exhibition “The Day Before Yesterday” at Proyectos Ultravioleta’s second location (the second basement of Centro Comercial Capitol, Guatemala’s first mall). All of the props were exhibited, along with the sketches
*The exhibition “The Day Before Yesterday” at Proyectos Ultravioleta’s second location (the second basement of Centro Comercial Capitol, Guatemala’s first mall). All of the props were exhibited, along with the sketches

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*The exhibition “The Day Before Yesterday” at Proyectos Ultravioleta’s second location (the second basement of Centro Comercial Capitol, Guatemala’s first mall). All of the props were exhibited, along with the sketches
*The exhibition “The Day Before Yesterday” at Proyectos Ultravioleta’s second location (the second basement of Centro Comercial Capitol, Guatemala’s first mall). All of the props were exhibited, along with the sketches

What has been seen by the public are the props that we did with Andrea, exhibited in TEOR/éTica as “May the Sun Hide Me” in March 2014, and in Proyectos Ultravioleta with the title “The Day Before Yesterday” in January 2014 and “Knock on Wood” in May 2015. Each exhibition has had a different focus, with “The Day Before Yesterday” being the most fully developed, because as you entered the locale, it simulated the feeling of having stumbled upon the macabre scene of a monumental crime. The gloomy environment of the basement of a run-down mall (which was a branch of the gallery at the time) boosted the sense of anguish while the pool hall next door was bursting with reggaetón and Los Bukis.

Julio’s film offers a critical eye that wanders amidst a grim reality, faithfully depicted, and handmade two-dimensional settings, inviting us to reflect as we watch. The concerns that Julio expresses are not only social and political, but also literary, cinematic, musical, and aesthetic, and he condenses all of them into each project to create a complex conglomeration, strung together with simplicity.

Esperando bajo el Sol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*Extended caption:

The exhibition “The Day Before Yesterday” at Proyectos Ultravioleta’s second location (the second basement of Centro Comercial Capitol, Guatemala’s first mall). All of the props were exhibited, along with the sketches. People approached the display with morbid curiosity, frightened to enter the locale. A rather cynical detail was seeing those macabre paintings propped up by beer cans and empty paint buckets