Jorge Thielen Armand is a Venezuelan film director and producer. His short Flor de la Mar (2015), revolving around a community of fishermen on a remote Venezuelan island, premiered at Sarasota, RIDM - Montreal International Documentary Festival, FICMA International Environmental Film Festival, and Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Short. Having participated in the Biennale College - Cinema, Jorge Thielen Armand's feature film debut La Soledadpremiered at Venice before going on to win dozens of awards at film festivals across the world.
In an exclusive interview for Filmatique, Thielen Armand discusses patience and stamina, cinematic representations of violence, the subjective nature of sound, and his upcoming film La Fortaleza.
FILMATIQUE: La Soledadchronicles the precarious existence of a family residing in a dilapidated Caracas mansion. You have stated in the film's press notes that the impetus to make this film arose during a long absence from Venezuela, when you heard that the film's shooting location, your family home, had been scheduled for demolition. What motivated you to incorporate narrative elements into the film rather than capturing this story in a strictly documentary fashion?
JORGE THIELEN ARMAND: I thought a more fictional approach would allow me to incorporate the supernatural elements of the film, and provide me with a more malleable canvas to utilize the film's visual metaphors.
FLMTQ: Glimpses of Venezuela's current economic crisis can be seen in the scarcity of food and medicine, as well as José and his family's struggle to survive amid a lack of support or opportunities. The crisis is thus viewed obliquely, framed within the intimate stories of the film's characters, rather than being exploited. What challenges did you face while filming on location in Caracas during these deteriorating conditions, and how did you overcome them?
JTA: Filming in Caracas was extremely challenging. Inflation makes it impossible to control a film budget and the scarcity of certain products really weighed down on us. One day we had someone in the art department ride a motorcycle around Caracas for the whole day in search of consumer C-type batteries that we wanted to use to power the metal detector. Our camera assistant couldn't find tape for marks, and many talented people left the country. In fact, 80% of the crew that worked On La Soledad no longer lives in Venezuela. The crisis just weighs on everyone logistically, and emotionally. It takes a lot of patience and stamina to make a film under such conditions.
FLMTQ: While never overtly visible, the theme of violence lurks at the edges of frame, whether in the Youtube videos José watches or suggestions by his brother's friends that José resort to kidnapping for money. What was your approach to representing the threat of violence in La Soledad, and what responsibility do you believe filmmakers have to address violence and its conditions without sensationalizing it?
JTA: I wanted to make a film without any visible violence. There is a tradition of crime films in Venezuela, and I wanted to stay away from that. Violence in film can be distracting sometimes, and I wanted to focus on how the crisis, along with the threat of violence, impacted the life of the people in La Soledad.
FLMTQ: Alongside the film's sensuous cinematography, La Soledad's sound design heightens the tension onscreen, particularly as José becomes increasingly fixated on locating a long-lost colonial treasure on the mansion's grounds. A richly textured aural dimension of birds, ecological rhythms and the enclosed soundscape of the metal detector enhance José's interior world while further isolating him from those around him. What connection do you see between these cinematographic techniques and La Soledad's affinities toward magical realism?
JTA: From my point of view, I understand hearing as something more abstract and subjective than sight. I think the mind can take us into mysterious places when we hear a sound and ponder it. Sometimes we can't identify what a sound exactly might be, but our mind begins to fill in the blanks and emotions emerge within us. In trying to infuse an element of magic realism in the film, while preserving a naturalistic philosophy, my approach was to tie the presence of spirits to sound. My sound designer Eli Cohn and I treated the sound as the score for the film, and as a way to show the psychological state of our protagonist.
FLMTQ: Like the film's real-life location, you collaborated with nonprofessional actors to bringLa Soledad to life. Can you briefly discuss your relationship with the characters onscreen, and how you worked with them to deliver such naturalistic performances?
JTA: José is one of my earliest childhood friends, and Jorge is my real father. Those are the strongest relationships I have to the characters of La Soledad. My subjects didn't have the script and they didn't know the content of the scenes until the camera was rolling; I didn't use marks and I let them improvise. I gave them a lot of freedom. Sometimes I would whisper into the ear of a character, explaining what the scene was about, then I'd go on to the other character and I would tell them something else. This allowed me to capture a moment of truth. Other times I'd let their actual moods dictate the tone of a scene. Rather than typical rehearsals of the scenes, I employed concentration exercises and a lot of physical activity. My main characters also worked with the art department. This produced a look that was true to reality—it built a strong bond between my crew members and also empowered my subjects to take ownership of our film.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
JTA: I made a film with my father this year, and we are currently finishing post-production. The title of the film is La Fortaleza and it was shot in the south of Venezuela, in the Amazonian jungle. There's a loose relationship between the two films—in his last scene in La Soledad, the character Jorge tells José about this new journey. That's all I can say for now, but I'm really excited to show this new work next year!