‘Bad Influence’: Interview with Mapuche filmmaker Claudia Huaiquimilla

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From the heart and with her community’s support, filmmaker Claudia Huaiquimilla makes Mala Junta [Bad Influence] about personal experiences of being young and discriminated in her Mapuche municipality of Mariquina.

Bad Influence because I may have been considered as such by my family for not following expected patterns, as well as for suffering discrimination as an indigenous person,” said the young Chilean filmmaker about the title of her first feature film.

c3br36axaauzxyz-jpg_largeThe film exhibits beautiful photography accompanied by solid performances supported by naturalistic dialogues. The script presents several story lines organized in a dramatic curve revealing vivid characters while balancing the personal plot with the social context of Mapuche reality.

“This is what I think about the treatment of society towards young people without opportunities and the country’s treatment of my indigenous community,” said Huaiquimilla. “It needs to be said loud and clear.”

Honest, eloquent and enthusiastic, we chatted with Huaiquimilla last year at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in México — about her childhood, her film training, the discrimination towards the Mapuche, the public subsidies for cinema in Chile and about the successful participation of her opera prima in Guadalajara Construye, the festival’s section dedicated to unfinished films. Bad Influence was awarded $60,000 to wrap a project that Huaiquimilla doubted would be able to finish.

Finished and recently awarded at the Valdivia Film Festival in Chile, Bad Influence will return a year after to the Mexican festival as part of the official lineup competing for best film.

Claudia Huaiquimilla, directora del largometraje 'Mala Junta', durante Guadalajara Construye. Guadalajara, México. Marzo 6, 2016. Foto © Michel Amado.

Claudia Huaiquimilla, directora del largometraje ‘Mala Junta’, durante Guadalajara Construye. Guadalajara, México. Marzo 6, 2016. Foto © Michel Amado.

How was your film passion born?
It is closely linked to my indigenous descent. Oral storytelling, which generates many images, is very important in indigenous cultures. Storytelling was very important for me since I was a child. I started to like audiovisual language a lot, especially cinema, because it has something very similar to the storytelling that we indigenous have — things do not have a literal meaning, there is a subtext behind them. And cinema has that. It has a slower rhythm, a subtext, emotion… It is not immediately understood. That’s how I felt film making being my platform, my 2.0 version of the story I knew.

In addition to your Mapuche origins, you’ve said that childhood traumas served as inspiration for Bad Influence.
The title of this film is Bad Influence because I may have been considered as such by my family for not following expected patterns, as well as for suffering discrimination as an indigenous person. I suffered a lot of discrimination. As a child, you are the Indian and they bother you. You grow older and you’re a terrorist. Then you can be dangerous in a job. You raise your voice and it is not seen as good, worse if it’s done by a woman.

I was very interested in studying children or adolescents who are considered a problem. Persons are not born evil, it has to do with consequences of the upbringing, the environment you happened to grow up in. It is during the very first five years of your childhood, that life experiences, both good and bad, determine many of the decisions that we make later in life. Sometimes we do not understand why something affects us, and the explanation is there, at that moment in life.

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Where did you study film?
I studied audiovisual direction at the Film Fund at the Catholic University of Chile. After graduating, I spent a lot of time working as an assistant in the narrative workshop. I specialized in narrative film making, focusing on direction and script writing.

In 2012 you filmed an 18-minute documentary, San Juan, the longest night.
A narrative short. It was my university graduation project. It tells the story of a pyromaniac child, and at some point a virgin figure is burned. Since I was studying in a Catholic university this could have created a problem, but they thought the story merited my proposal and I had no problem. It felt like a vote of confidence. In researching pyromania, I realized it being a mode of expression and liberation from violence within a family most of the times. The idea with this film was to put the audience on the shoes of a pyromaniac child and to understand him. I worked with amateur actors, my family essentially, because I had no budget.

And it takes place during the night of San Juan, June 23.
Exactly, in a moment when a very special ceremony involving fire takes place in the south of Chile. It served as a counterpoint the climax of the story, when the character has to make a decision.

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I understand that this short was the genesis of Bad Influence.
The protagonist of the short co-stars in Bad Influence, a young indigenous boy who suffers from discrimination and makes friends with another boy. Both are young, prejudiced by their parents and contemporaries — by their surroundings. With this film I wanted to talk about these marginalized youth and to draw a parallel between these prejudiced young people and how society treats them, how the country of Chile treats my people, the Mapuche.

The script is very well constructed, balancing personal story with social context. Did you write it with your partner, Pablo Greene?
Yes, Pablo was screenwriter. It was inevitable that I shared this idea with him. The original idea is an urge that comes from inside me. I work from what I know, and from there I write. So far I have not been able to write things I do not know about. We started writing together with Pablo and participated in an independent film laboratory. Then we sent the script to various contests and won an award for best script in development at the Valdivia Film Festival in Chile. After that, we began the shooting. The script was ellaborated, and to be honest we didn’t share it much with others, we did not take into consideration that many opinions. It is pretty raw and faithful to what we originally wrote. Things were added on the set while shooting, of course, but there was not much opinion behind it. We did have a Cuban adviser who guided us with the script, and that was very important for me, because she is also very concerned about social issues.

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The script presents several story lines: bullying at school, an absent dad, the fight between the other child and his father, the increasingly important political context…
Being my first film, I had too many things to say…

Not at all! They never felt like too many…
It is a first cut, after all. We are going to make a new edit now that we go back to Chile. We are going to clean it a little bit. Keeping the story lines but giving priority to some of them. Because the audience may get dizzy at some point with so much information.

Do you have new material to include?
More than adding, I think we are going to simplify by a few shots. The feedback that I got here at the festival has been precisely to clean up a little, to simplify in order to further enhance the story and make it clearer — take out small details to make it crystal clear.

The film feels very natural, largely because of the dialogues. How was your experience of directing actors?
I really enjoy writing dialogues. With Pablo, we write them, rehearse them and act them out beforehand. We also wanted the dialogues to make us laugh. Although it is a dramatic story, we needed the audience to engage with the characters, to love them and be entertained with them. So that when they do evil things you as the audience become an accomplice. We wanted the audience to feel complicit so that it would also hurt them later on the story.

We rehearsed most of the scenes with the dialogue we wrote, but we would adapt it to the actors’ own words. But in general we kept what was written on the script. If the actors could not understand the counterpoint I would explain to them the subtext behind the dialogue — why the character’s response was such and such. It worked out very well. If we came up with something new during the shooting we would incorporate it, because sometimes things would come up that made us laugh. We’d laugh with certain lines of dialogue saying ‘now that we already laughed we can do it one more time without laughing all the crew.’’

How long was the shooting?
We were shooting for three weeks, almost a month, in southern Chile.

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After yesterday’s screening you mentioned the magical scene of the burial, with the horses, the flags… Was that filmed in your hometown?
Yes. We shot at my house, basically shot the film all over my family’s land. The people attending the funeral are my neighbors and relatives, everyone who thought it was important to tell this story from the point of view of someone local. That’s why I usually say that we may have not had much money, but we did have the most important thing, political conviction and people’s will. It is much more important I believe, being this standpoint of mine more of a mystical approach to what cinema is about.

San José la Mariquina is where you shot the film.
That is the province, but the municipality is just called Mariquina, in the Region of the Rivers.

In Guadalajara you have just received three post-production awards to finish the film.
The gains in Guadalajara have been huge. First we got international feedback to find out whether audiences understand the film — I was waiting for these opinions to make a new cut and they pretty much agree with the vision we had with the editor. So we will get to make that new edit. Guadalajara has made it possible for this project to see the light. At some point I doubted it would, asking myself ‘is it possible that we will be able to do it and of good quality?’

How many years since you started working on Bad Influence?
Pre-production since 2013 or 2014, and we filmed in the summer of 2015. But we were having difficulties to close the film in post-production. We came here to Guadalajara trying to get one award, to work on either the image or sound. But we never expected them to give us three — two for image, Chemistry’s and HBA Argentina’s, and one for sound from AO Sonido. And on top of that, Guadalajara exposed us to sales agents.

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With the support of government agencies, Chile has had a very strong presence in film festivals during the last years. Did you receive any public money for Bad Influence? Is funding for film sufficient in Chile?
Yes, I got public funding, but regional money. I think the resources end up being very little. Better said, I think it’s the way projects are chosen, more than the money, which is not appropriate in Chile. The way the selection process takes place makes [contenders] fight against one another, making the strongest be the winner, which ultimately has a lot to do with what the market has to offer.

It is very unlikely that a first film, and especially one with social commentary like mine, will get funded by a national fund. My film is in competition and neither my photograph nor my name appear on any of the literature from Cinema Chile. I told them, ‘ahhh, it is because I’m Mapuche, right? Because I come from the south…’

Cinema Chile is the official film agency…
Yes. And they answered me, ‘we did not put it because it only included films in competition.’ Lie. They included others not in competition and not mine that was. They are often repeated gestures. After winning, they uploaded the information to their website with pictures. I hope that this opens the door to other filmmakers with their first films in the future. There is no channel for first films in Chile — very powerful and honest works.

I told myself, ‘I have a big urge inside, I need to tell this story, and if I do it via this channel I may spend ten years trying, and I’m gonna do it either way.’ So that’s why I applied to a regional audiovisual grant for a medium-length film. Very little money. But I made it a feature film. City Hall helped us with accommodation, food, transportation, and services. People acted for free and we used costumes from my family. The flags are the same ones we use in ceremonies. The horses are my horses, and we invited the riders.

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Directora Claudia Huaiquimilla (centro), Rebeca Gutiérrez Campos, productora, y Pablo Greene, guionista y productor, Festival de Cine en Guadalajara, México, 2016.

For being such a familiar enterprise, the film is very well crafted, congratulations. What’s the meaning of that handkerchief with a star that you’re wearing?
It is the Mapuche star, the first star that comes out at dawn and guides us. I needed my protection. For example on the chest this prevents bad feelings. I get rid of bad things that I may listen to. So if you told me bad things about my film… Here I feel the strength of my grandfather, my family — all are present. It is a symbol that I wanted to show to people, but for me to feel protected too.

Producer Rebeca Gutiérrez Campos said after the screening yesterday that Bad Influence was made to generate dialogue and discussion around the Mapuche. Is that your film’s message?
More than the message is why I make films. Not everyone is gonna like this film, which is also my goal as a filmmaker. I would like to generate some noise. Someone from Chile told me today ‘your film is harsh!,’ meaning difficult. I like that. I hope it screens in Chile and that I can attend the screenings for a debate to open when someone may complain asking me ‘but why he is saying…?’ I would like that. By winning these awards and because of the fact that it was not funded in Chile but it is here, we will get there. I am not using euphemisms, I am saying it clearly. This is what I think about the treatment of society towards young people without opportunities and the country’s treatment of my indigenous community. It needs to be said loud and clear.

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