Aspen Filmfest: ‘Hermano’ looks at brotherly love and rivalry |

Aspen Filmfest: ‘Hermano’ looks at brotherly love and rivalry

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Music Box FilmsFernando Moreno, left, and Eli Armas star in the Venezuelan film "Hermano," showing at Aspen Filmfest Friday in Aspen and on Saturday in Carbondale.

ASPEN – The notion that the world doesn’t care much to hear what happens in an impoverished ghetto in a poor country is refuted by “Hermano.” The first feature film by Venezuelan director/co-writer Marcel Rasquin, “Hermano,” a story of two brothers in a Caracas ghetto with very different goals, is stacking up the awards, including the Audience Awards for best film at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and at the Moscow International Film Festival.”Hermano” shows at noon today at the Wheeler Opera House as part of Aspen Filmfest, with a second screening at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale. Rasquin responded via email to questions from The Aspen Times.Aspen Times: There are a lot of powerful forces going on in “Hermano” – machismo, ghetto poverty, brother vs. brother, football. Which is the most potent?Marcel Rasquin: I find the brothers’ relationship to be the driving force. Football becomes a vehicle to tell the story and the ghetto is the backdrop. Evidently, both the football and the ghetto have important influence in the brothers’ journey, but our main focus was to tell a story about family and fraternal love. I believe “Hermano” is a football film as much as “Invictus” is a rugby film.AT: Why does the whole world have such passion for football (what Americans call soccer) except, it seems, the United States?MR: I know! It’s tragic! Football is not only the world sport, but it’s actually closer to art than to sport. You learn so much about life by playing football, or even just watching it. I think Americans crave for orgasms too much; they like scoring and get bored with everything else (the flirting, the coming around, the finesse, even the congestion) so they can’t make sense of a great game that ends nil-nil.AT: Your main characters, Gato and Julio, are as different as can be in personality. My guess would be that you identify most with Gato, the sensitive and thoughtful one.MR: I identify deeply with both. I connect with Gato because I’d like to be like him everyday: focused, talented, loving, grateful. His quest is about becoming a professional footballer; mine is to make films. Also Gato is like a green dog that can play the tuba: about the weirdest thing you could think of, because Venezuela is NOT famous for being good at football like Brazil or Argentina. He is like a matador, but born in Japan. Or a guy who struggles to be a filmmaker, but was born in Venezuela.But I also relate to Julio, not because we have similar characters, but because I would like to cultivate some of his features. He has a strong sense of belonging, his priority is to protect his own people, he’s not afraid of confrontation. Julio is like a Samurai to me.AT: The film had some special screenings in the Caracas slums where the story is set. How did it go over there?MR: We didn’t want to be like the circus: Put up the tent, make the show and leave. We wanted to leave something of value. During pre-production we gave a film workshop in the slum, went there every Saturday to talk about the thing we love and help them make their own short film. We brought in cameras, dollies, lights, an editing suite. The turnout was amazing, nobody dropped out. All the students appear in the film as extras and we chose the most eager students and enrolled them as apprentices. A few of them are already working in the film industry in Venezuela. They became our family. Before the cineplex premiere with all the media and stuff, we went to the slum with an outdoor screen and a few cases of beer and watched the film with them … they loved it!We’ve also had some interesting screenings in other slums. One in particular: a very dangerous neighborhood that was going through a bloody gang war. The mothers of the gang members got together and started meeting to try to solve the problem, and started inviting their kids (the gangsters) to the meetings in the basketball court. After a couple of months, the war was over. We went to the court one night to screen “Hermano” with the gangsters and their moms. After the screening they had the chance to talk about the aspects of the film they could relate to. Some of the kids asked if the story was based on them. I had to say “Yes, even though I didn’t know you guys before, this film is about you.”AT: Your co-writer, Rohan Jones, is an Aussie. How did that happen?MR: Hehehe! Yes. I went to Australia to get my post-graduate diploma and masters in film. I met Rohan at the Victorian College of The Arts in Melbourne and we collaborated on all our short films in film school and developed not only a good friendship, but also a great chemistry to work together. So I invited Rohan to write the film together. He came to Venezuela a few times and we wrote and researched like crazy. Even though he wasn’t familiar with the culture, Rohan’s approach to story is very character-driven so he brought depth and universality to the telling. I’ll forever be grateful that he left his family on three occasions to come live on my couch and write this thing with me.AT: I can’t imagine it’s easy to get a film financed in Venezuela. How did you do it? What is tougher – finding the money for the film, or making a film about violence, poverty and loss?MR: Getting a film off the ground is difficult anywhere. It’s easier to sit in your couch and complain than to get off your arse and push your project. (“If I had been born in the U.S. or London or Australia, I’d be making movies, but here in Caracas, why bother?”). We got support from Film Victoria in Australia for script development, then applied for the Venezuelan Film Fund and got first prize. A company, A&B, supported the project, invested in it early on and throughout. We also raised some private money from a couple of crazy dudes who were brave enough to put their money in something that in this country doesn’t make money.But no matter how tough it is to raise the money for even a small movie like “Hermano,” I believe it’s tougher to tell a compelling story.AT: What is your next project? Anything like “Hermano,” or are you ready for something lighter?MR: After the international success of “Hermano,” a lot of interesting opportunities have appeared in my path. I’m currently in development of a feature in L.A. called “Monkey Room.” It’s completely different from “Hermano,” but at its core it’s about a man trying to find himself. It’s a story about belonging and the anxiety to meet other people’s expectations. We plan to start production late 2012. I’m also adapting a novel called “The Other Island” from a Venezuelan genius writer called Francisco Suniaga.AT: Are you from the ghetto? If not, how much did you know about life in Caracas’ ghettos?MR: I’m not from the slums. I grew up in Caracas and by comparison I was a privileged kid, but not because my family had money (we barely made it month after month), but because I was raised in a family of artists and the artistic spirit was always encouraged and nurtured. My family is plagued by musicians, writers, poets, painters, so I grew up in an environment filled with art and culture. I’m the dumb one in the family that chose to become a filmmaker.My interpretation of the ghetto comes from a realization I had the first couple of times I went there: We’re the same; we have the same desires, fears, hope to progress. The problem with films in the slums of Latin America is that filmmakers tend to either satanize the slum or idealize it, and the truth is it’s both. That’s what I consciously tried to achieve with “Hermano.”

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