Even the Rain
Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Story : A protest against the privatization of their water supply launched by Bolivian film extras parallels the Spanish conquest and exploitation of the New World.
Opens Friday, February 18, 2011
Interview with Director Iciar Bollain, Writer Paul Laverty
(Q): Let’s get a very basic question out of the way; how did you two meet?
(Iciar Bollain): We met in a film Ken Loach did in 1994
(Q): That was “Land and Freedom?
(Iciar Bollain): Yes. I was acting there and Paul was pretending to act.
(Paul Laverty): I was one of the extras. There was a group of milicianos and I was one of them.
(Iciar Bollain): And he was already working with Ken Loach in a project and then he brought him over to be part of an international militia.
(Q): And you were acting as well?
(Iciar Bollain): And I was as well, so we met there, during the Civil War.
(Q): You have a very interesting background because you were born in India and you actually became a lawyer initially. How did you make a transition to a screenwriter for Ken Loach? You’ve been working with Ken Loach for quite a long time, how did you end up becoming a screenwriter?
(Paul Laverty): It is a bit of an accident, really. The very short version is that I used to be a lawyer working in Scotland, but in the mid-‘80s I became very interested in what was happening in Nicaragua. It was the Sandinista Revolution in 1979 and what they did there was embark on a remarkable transformation. They taught that population to read and write, they wiped out polio, there were mass vaccination campaigns, and so there were many people who were supporting what the Sandinistas were trying to do. At the same the United States was financing the Contras through the CIA to destroy the Sandinistas. And so to cut a very long story short, I became very interested in this.
When you’re in your 20s you want to see the world so I went to work as a volunteer in Nicaragua. And so for three years I became an eye witness to the war. So I met CIA people, I interviewed people that had had children kidnapped or murdered or mutilated. And then at the end of those three years I was sick and tired of writing journalist reports, and in my innocence I decided I wanted to write a fictional story inspired by these real events. And to cut a very long story short, I wrote to Ken Loach and he was very interested and we made the film called “Carla’s Song,” and one film led to another. But it took a long time and there were many stages in between. So it was kind of a benign accident.
(Q): So you two met at that point?
(Paul Laverty): It’s through Ken we met as well, because “Land and Freedom” was the film before “Carla’s Song.” I’d already written the script and then Icíar went out to Nicaragua to write a book about Ken and his type of work and how he approached filmmaking and then so we just became pals.
(Q): Are you a couple, if I may ask? So there’s been a continuity since?
(Paul Laverty) : Yeah, we’ve got three kids together so it’s a busy life together.
(Q): Three kids? How do you get any movies made?
(Paul Laverty): That’s a good question.
(Q): When did you decide to make the transition into directing?
(Paul Laverty): 20 years ago, when I was working as an actress and my partner then wanted to move. He studied in London and then he wanted to do a small production company so I just joined in. I was always in front of the camera so it was quite a lot of fun behind the camera; probably more than in front of it. So I was very curious and very interested in the whole process of not only producing but writing. So I just started along with my mates doing shorts, doing small pieces. Then I made my first feature and I kept going. I kind of did both things for a little while. Now, lately I’ve had less time for acting, but when the chance comes I do it too. But basically, I’m a director.
(Q): Does that give you a better position in terms of how to manage actors, pain in the ass actors?
(Iciar Bollain): Well I started as an actress by chance again. I mean I was chosen; I never went to a casting. The director of a very iconic film in Spain called “El sur,” he just casted in the neighborhood and he just chose me like that, and then since I was there I just kept working. I always loved storytelling, I always wrote things, and I think it’s more in my nature to direct a thing. If you like acting it’s fantastic and it’s an amazing art, but it’s quite isolated. You need to be very isolated from the crew. It’s very dependent on so many other people. So many times it’s just a phone call, it’s someone remembering you. It’s dependent on a good part and a good director and good editing. I mean, so many things don’t depend on you that that really doesn’t go with my nature. So I found a more natural way of telling things, which is what I wanted, through directing.
(Q): Does it give you a better position, having been an actor, to understand how to get the best performance?
(Iciar Bollain): Yes, I think so.
(Q): I mean, this has been the ongoing question when you talk about asshole actors.
(Iciar Bollain): I think it does. I feel very at ease with actors. I really respect what they are put through and I try to work with them and I try belonging with them and not going to the other side of the set and forgetting about them. So I really respect them and I really enjoy working with them. So probably it’s easier for me to work with them.
(Q): I was just curious that in the beginning of the film there’s a helicopter shot carrying across and the filmmaker struggled to follow the moral compass. The struggle to follow the moral compass kind of reminds me of "8 1/2, and the helicopter carrying the cross kind of reminds me of "La Dolce Vita."
(Q): Was it a tribute?
(Paul Laverty): I have to say it really wasn’t in my mind when I wrote the script really. Not consciously, anyway. But I think the question of moral compass that is the basis to every story. You’re looking at the choices that the characters make and how that reveals themselves and those decisions they make as a way of really unfolding the story. I think of a film with a moral compass is usually something that’s very two dimensional. But in relations to “The Cross,” that actually came out of…I must mention that I collaborated with Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu.
(Q): We just interviewed him.
(Paul Laverty): Oh did you? A very, nice, warm man. He was very creative and very brave and very generous, and that was actually and idea that came out of a conversation with Alejandro, so I must thank Alejandro for that.
(Q): In light of that moral compass issue and all this and that, for somebody who’s come from a fairly, I wouldn’t say didactic, but clearly left of center history and background, the film doesn’t moralize as much as you might think it could in terms of that left of center point of view, while still having a strong moral center.
(Paul Laverty): I challenge the premise to your question. There are good films and there are bad films, and I’m very public about my political views and the notion this film celebrates resistance in a way. Simply because I have that that doesn’t mean that when you come to write a story, what is always interesting is the three dimensions and the contradictions. And certainly the films I’ve tried to do with Ken, we try to find a premise which is contradictory and characters that are struggling not with black and white, but with grey, and that’s always a much more interesting thing to do. And obviously with this film too there’s a very complex structure because we have the period piece, we have the ambush of the water wars, and then we have two very different people with very distinctive views on the modern part of trying to meet the film.
One is an absolute cynic who doesn’t give a shit what happened yesterday, nevermind 500 years ago, and you have another one who’s more of an idealist who’s fascinated by something that happened 500 years ago, which he feels has got relevance for the now. So in the middle of all that, what is interesting to do is to find the contradictions and try and imagine. And you’ve really got very little space because there are so many things in those two hours, so to have any sense of nuance and contradiction in those characters, there’s so much in it, was a massive challenge. And I think it’s great credit to Icíar and to actors like Luis and Gael and Karra, that they it wasn’t black and white, it was much more complex.
(Q): Both of you have lived in countries…well maybe less the Scottish; I was thinking more the Irish half. That’s your mom right?
(Paul Laverty): Yeah, yeah. My father’s side too from not too far back.
(Q): But both of you have lived in places that have been confounded by particularly, for lack of a better term, fascist mentality or thinking and all. So I can see why there’s a desire to make a statement about resistance and all this and that. How has that background for you, having grown up in a fascist country, and for you seeing how the English have reacted to your cultural history and treated people for what reason? God only knows. Just because of a different religion or what? How does that influence or affect you and how does it find itself filtered through to this?
(Iciar Bollain): I was quite small when Franco died. He died in ’75; I was eight.
(Q): Oh he died that long ago? Shit.
(Iciar Bollain): Yeah, so I’ve never run in front of the police, I never was a part of that transition and all that. But what I find very interesting though is I approached Paul’s script, which I found fascinating and really complex, very interesting. And again, he looked up on our history, the Spanish Conquest and all that, with an approach that is not in our text books.We have a very idolized – same as here, I assume – image of Colon and they forget he did three more trips and he signed an incredible ambitious contract with the Queen and the King, that he wanted to be governor, that he wanted to rule the place. He actually was a very bad ruler, by the way. He was punished for that by the kings. So all that part of history somehow, I mean if you look for it you can find it, but it’s not in our daily knowledge. So to me it was amazing. And again, Bartolome de las Casas is pretty forgotten in Spain. We have a museum in Madrid called the Museum of America, which hardly mentions him.
(Iciar Bollain): Yeah. Because he’s responsible for the black deportation in Spain in those years. So he’s crushed. Though he was an incredible man who wrote, it was probably called "Protector of the Indians.". He actually edited Colon’s diaries. He’s an anonymous figure, apart from the fight they took. So to me it was amazing. When I read it I was like “Paul, are you sure about all this?” So I read all the books, beginning with Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and then all the others. What’s very interesting is I have found some right wing press, not many because generally talking the film is liking very much to everybody, but people who here about it have concern. Because in Spain now politics are very polarized, so the left are trying to go through the transition and through what happened in the Francodays and the Civil War and they are opening all the common graves.
They are trying to give it a name; people are trying to bury their own dead. There’s a movement in the left called Memoria Histórica, so I have received a couple of people saying History Memory has to go five fucking hundred years ago again! So it is very polarized, and then there is a right wing thought of let’s leave Spain as the great nation it was. The same way as let’s not touch the Civil War and the transition because that’s like going on the wounds of the people. Amazingly, even the church, we’ve been showing the film to people that represent culture and cinema in the church, I think it gives a kind of a…it’s not that polarized as our politics.
(Q): It’s kind of funny that you keep this filmmaker shooting the Christopher Columbus story, and then after 400-something years we’re still kind of exploiting the illegal immigrants working in bad conditions. It’s like slavery to that and slavery here. So it’s like really you have a very great conscious here. You like consciously put this one in that it also gives a message to it?
(Paul Laverty): I mean what’s really fascinating of course, when I saw the water wars unfold in the year 2000, it really was incredible to see the indigenous population again 500 years later. This time they were fighting a modern army again with sticks and stones, and they weren’t fighting over gold or slavery or spices, but the fact that they’re fighting over the most basic ingredient for life, water, access to clean water. And of course the reason why they’re fighting for water is because the IMF and the World Bank put pressure on Bolivia to privatize it. So Multinational had come in, and of course they’re not particularly interested in getting water to the entire population.
They want to make money because they’re got share holders. So there what we saw was massive exploitation again through commercial transaction, through commercial contracts, through international treaties, and in a way that was actually exploited as it was 500 years ago. And then what you saw was again this massive resistance. And most resistance and most rebellions are actually crushed. People are killed because they just wait them out. And so this was like two stories that was they’re conning nature of water. And secondly, it was actually a victory, and we wanted to tell a story that actually celebrates this kind of resistance.
And of course, if you have it through a twentieth century consciousness it gives you much more angles and more points of view and you can actually tell a more complex story. And you’re back and forward and one reflects on the other and nuances are given from one to the other. We just thought we would be able to approach the film from many more different points of view, which would raise lots of questions in the spectator’s mind. And even about how we’re telling the story. Because history usually is told by the victors, and it’s the truth because we’ve seen a Columbus statue here, we’ve seen Columbus University.
It’s a national holiday here; it’s a national holiday in Spain. So why do we celebrate this man who started off such massive exploitation instead of the people who resisted it? Or even why don’t we have Plaza de Colon as Plaza de Bartolome de las Casas? So I think we’re just reflecting on the version of history that each country tells of itself, and that’s often the very clean, sanitized version based on a lie because both in Latin America and here of course, the dominant culture now is based on genocide. They white go in the indigenous community and destroy them. So I think if we do successfully in Spain it will raise questions about what happened in whichever country the spectator its. It certainly makes people in Britain, I hope, reflect on British colonial history, and hopefully here in this country reflect on the very violent past that has led to the birth of this country.
(Q): So two questions. I want you to take that thought and connect it to your Irish background. If you look at history through Irish eyes it’s a very different history than through British eyes. Believe me, I worked on Irish publications; I am pretty well versed on some of that. And then I want you to talk about the vehicle of a film within a film, making a film about a film being made. Within this framework you could have not used that device and it might have been a different film, but I thought it was a very effective device because it dealt with a lot of things about media and myth and all that.
(Paul Laverty): It’s very interesting what each nation has of its own official version of history, and often times it’s myth, often times it’s lies. If you go and look at the Museum of Columbus in Spain it’s a sanitized version. If you look at most of the history books in the United Kingdom in relation to the British Empire it’s a sanitized version. Gordon Brown, who is our ex prime mister said we must stop apologizing for the British Empire. I say why? You didn’t suffer the consequences of it. So in this particular film what we do is we do celebrate resistance and we see that there is another point of view.
(Q): About the device of a film within a film. I have my own ideas about that. A lot of times it doesn’t work, but I think it really works well in this film. What I liked was without having to tie up every little loose end it does sort of complete itself in a way that I felt very satisfied when I came out of the screening. More so than I expected.
(Iciar Bollain): I think the device first comes from the script and how the hell you put together the water wars and Colon. You have to find a way to put those distant things to close. And I think that approach from the script, from the very beginning Paul is not particular on filmmaking or he doesn’t mystify anything. He comes from a totally different background, a lawyer and all that, so he doesn’t look up on it. And I just followed that line and I just thought people are very used to seeing cameras and making-ofs and there’s nothing interesting in that. This film is not about the actress having a breakdown, nerves, or the director is hugging whoever. It’s not about any of that; it’s not about the personal life of the filmmakers.
So let’s make less of that and let’s not see as much of that, and let’s try and when we are in the bigger film let’s go into it. There were lots of discussions about are these scenes going to be finished, graded, musicalized, or are they going to be raw or rough. So we just decided to vote for it and then make of the suit the less. And every time we’re time in the suit we tried to, it’s in the script, I mean everything’s in the script, to get out as many letters as possible. I found fascinating the scenes with the rehearsals, or seeing the river when it actually doesn’t work, because it’s even more powerful than the real thing. So I just find Paul has managed all these devices in a very clever way to add levels, but not to do a filmmaking study.
(Q): Except that you did address some of those issues as the story impinges upon those actors and their neuroses and all that. That’s what sort of added to the depth of it.
(Paul Laverty): Well there is a kind of a fascination. One of the main characters, Gael, he’s obviously a writer and a director, and he’s obsessed by that famous speech in March of 1511, because it was one of the first poisons against an empire. So you can see why someone discovers that that voice was meant to be censored, was meant to be crushed, and then he wants to give voice to it and to examine it. And you can see why he’s absolutely obsessed by telling the story. He thinks telling a film which captures an alternative view of history as very, very important.
People have been very hard on the character of Sebastián, but someone who’s obsessed with a story which goes against the current, no other films are doing that, and it’s a way of addressing something that has never been available before. You can see why he says the water war is just one battle of many, and you won’t be able to do anything about it anyway; you’re just gong to get yourself killed because you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s actually quite a reasonable point of view I would say, although people have said he’s an ideologue and he’s very cold. But maybe if you were in those shoes and you’d with them for so long, I can imagine a character feeling that. It’s not so far from my imagination.
(Q): I think you guys are not giving yourself enough credit. I think what really makes the film are those little touches, like the one guy gets neurotic about something or the other guy gets sort of into the character and they’re arguing. Or just the idea when they’re doing that whole casting scene in the open about the casting process. There’s that other layer that’s in the film.
(Iciar Bollain): I think it was first a device.
(Q): But it became something else.
(Iciar Bollain): Yeah.
(Paul Laverty): But more than just a device, because it is a device in once sense.
(Iciar Bollain): And not only that but also the way they arrive there is the arrogance of the producer who’s repeating the same model of arriving in a place and taking it. I think it adds a lot, but it’s funny because it’s not a film about the film in a film. The filming of a film gives very more meanings.
(Q): Could you talk about the process of casting? The one guy who plays Daniel, he has a very characteristic face.
(Paul Laverty): Great face, doesn’t he? Good; I’m glad you mentioned that.
(Q): He really is an actor though?
(Iciar Bollain): No, he’s not. He came out of a casting. There is a small industry in Bolivia so we finished with the actors very soon. Also, it was hard to fit the profile of the character, so we just had to look in the street. So he’s a very interesting guy, actually. He’s a carpenter along with many brothers; he has like seven brothers. He lives in El Alto. Very poor area, indigenous; really tough. It’s a lawless city; it’s a very tough area. So he was passionate about filmmaking so he started filming in there, struggling and working as a carpenter. And then when he finished his studies, he studied like two years, he realized that young kids in El Alto were never going to be able to study film, so he created a little school, very, very modest, to teach those kids filmmaking.
(Paul Laverty): He’s a great guy.
(Iciar Bollain): He’s a great guy. We just did a few improvisations with him and all that dignity…I mean he’s a tiny guy. He’s really small but he’s like a man like you never will step on him. In 2000 there were the water wars and in 2003 was the gas war, which was more violent and there were more dead people. He participated in that as well as a citizen. It’s similar to the character except he’s passionate about filmmaking, absolutely passionate, and I really admire him because he belongs to a place where to study film or do film is a miracle.
(Q): Your cast is really beyond just the local. You really brought in certain…the producer, they’re all unique personalities. And Gael, you didn’t think of him at first as necessarily the director, but he really worked.
(Iciar Bollain): I always think the cast is a very, very…I mean you can do a casting taking the first names that come to mind, but I think you really look and really try and really do auditions with people. Even if they are known or not, I don’t care, but to just try and find the person that is going to give more nuances you always win. The casting in Bolivia took months. We had a couple of people, fantastic Bolivians, because they have to cast on the street to really cast it.
(Paul Laverty): And also many of the people who actually participated in the water wars were actually in the film. But also just to mention the gas wars where Daniel, the actor, lives, the army came and they shot 65 people in the streets. Shot them dead. So if someone lives that, sees it, they’re going to have just a different attitude. That’s why I love him at the end of the scene, Luis says “Well what are you going to do?” he says “We survive. That’s what we do best. It really resonates in a much stronger way I think.
(Q): Was Gael selected because he has also this weird perspective of actor becoming director? That I think added to him playing the character of director.
(Iciar Bollain): Yeah, I think he was comfortable. He just directed his own film when he did this. We really wanted to make the film, to open up the casting to make it international because that’s actually truth. There are Latin American directors working Spanish productions and vice versa, so to be modern and updated that as good. And Gael I think he transferred a kind of ambiguity. He can be very fragile but he can be also tough as nails. I don’t know if it helped him, his own experience directing, but I think he’s very believable as a young and spirited director.
And also I think what is very important in the film is to find interesting people to watch, because you have to go along with them for two hours. And I think Luis Tosar has that charisma, and Gael does, the Bolivian definitely, and Karra, and are people who want to watch and very different from each other. With such a male film we had to find different male characteristics among them, and Luis and Gael cannot be more different in the way they look and the way they move. I think it’s trying to find really interesting and charismatic people.
(Q): But you had a whole five other movies you could be making while you’re making this film. The documentary about the people you cast. Did you shoot other stuff?
(Paul Laverty): There was making-of done. It was a great one to do actually, especially since so many of the people are actually involved in the water wars. But I don’t think it was given the attention it should have been; it could have been a great making-of.
(Q): Well I threw it in because you have that referenced in the film.
(Q): Could you talk about your relation with the historian?
(Paul Laverty): It was actually Noam Chomsky who put me in contact with… I knew Noam Chomsky from my time in Nicaragua and he put me in contact with Howard. So we really became great friends really over a 10 year period, because this has been a long obsession for about 10 years. Of course he was just a wonderful writer really, and massively encouraging. He gave me tons of books to read and really what he did is he just handed over his books, and then we talked and we fought and we reflected, and he was just a massive encouragement. A very, very bright, independent man. He as very, very funny; I’m desperately sad he’s not here to see the film.
(Q): And I really regret that I didn’t interview him when I talked about interviewing him. I met him and I’ve seen him speak.
(Paul Laverty): He’s one of a kind and vibrant. I hope the film is some kind of an homage to that book in the sense that I hope it’s in the same spirit by looking at what happened underneath, what happened to ordinary people. And his book celebrates resistance in a very positive fashion. Not to romanticize resistance, because oftentimes, it’s like in El Alto people are wiped out and killed. But there are a few of these moments where people come together and there’s tremendous creativity. It also takes tremendous courage to fight back, and he looks at what happened to people when workers were trying to organize treaties and were martyred and lynched, and people who fought against slavery are wounded and fought for the vote of factory workers. So this is one little sliver or a story that was inspired by his book.
(Q): Do you think it matters anything about this idea of woman director? Does it matter? Are we through thinking about it? Because you’ve done so well as a woman director. Do we need to put it in front or not?
(Iciar Bollain): It matters because we are so few. I feel quite lonely. It does matter.
(Q): Even more in Europe I think than in the United States. Maybe more in Spain.
(Iciar Bollain): There are a few but the thing is as years pass pay you expect there’s going to be a balance, but it never comes. 7% of directors are women. I think it’s important because if not there is a male view of the world for film, and I think it’s very important to have different views. But I cannot claim I’ve been discriminated or anything like that. I’ve been doing my career little by little and with luck and with success. But the truth is I’m always the first in something. This time I’m the first in being selected by Spain for the Oscar. The first woman. I don’t want to be the first anymore. I want to be one of many.
(Q): You shot in the Americas; how about in America? How about the US?
(Paul Laverty): I made a film with Ken Loach here in Los Angeles. There are wonderful, fantastic stories to be told here as well, I just wish we had a few more lifetimes to do more.
(Iciar Bollain): It would be great.
(Paul Laverty): Maybe one day.