Meet the IDA Documentary Awards Nominees: Tatiana Huezo of 'The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Mas Pequeno)'
Editor's Note: Tatiana Huezo's The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Mas Pequeno) has been nominated in the Best Feature category at this year's IDA Documentary Awards, to be held at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles on Friday, December 2. Below is an interview we conducted with Huezo last August in conjunction with her him having been included in DocuWeeks 2011.
Synopsis: This is a story about mankind's ability to arise, rebuild and reinvent itself after surviving a tragedy. It is also a story of a people that have learned to live with their sorrow; of an annihilated town that re-emerges through the strength and deep love of its inhabitants for the land and the people; of a tiny place nestled in the mountains amidst the humid Salvadorian jungle.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Tatiana Huezo: I started working after I finished school. I collaborated as a cinematographer with an American documentary filmmaker, in the Sierra of Veracruz. I realized that most of the local families there were made up of two women and one man. I was curious about that. I wanted to learn more about a family model so different from mine; I wanted to learn if it was possible to share the love of a man with another woman. Some time later, I went back and started to search for a family to work with. I found two women and a man who had been living together for 40 years; the women were sisters.
It was all about patience. It took a whole week before they started to talk to me; every day I sat waiting in silence while the women were taking corn kernels off the cob. One day they started to talk to me. Then I asked them if I could move into their home for a while. I was accepted and that's how my journey into the lives of others started, a journey that lets me share stories that I care about.
IDA: What inspired you to make The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño)?
TH: I was born in El Salvador and raised in México. The Tiniest Place started the day my grandmother took me for the first time to the village where she was born. That afternoon we reached Cinquera, after driving on a dirt track that gradually became narrower and greener as we approached what I anticipated would be a tiny village behind the mountain. Finally, we arrived at a nearly empty town. While walking, I was approached by an old woman who hugged me, yelling, "Rina, you came back! You don't look a day older than the last time you were here!" But my name is not Rina and I had never seen that gushing lady before.
Then I entered the town church. There were almost no religious images; instead there was a helicopter's tail fitted to one of the walls and a large row of pictures of very young people with their respective candles on the floor. I felt a blow to the stomach. The people in the pictures were all guerrilla fighters killed during the Civil War, and many of those faces mirrored mine. And I thought, "Had I lived this war, where would I be right now?" That moment is still in my head and undoubtedly was the beginning of this project.
IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?
TH: One of the challenges was to capture cinematically the enveloping atmosphere of the tropical rainforest that surrounds Cinquera. Sometimes we had to walk for hours at night, in total darkness, to get the ideal shots of certain landscapes at daybreak. More than once we got lost amid the fodder, and the day would break before we were set up.
We also had to gain acceptance from the local people, to have them get used to us. A long stay was the key for things to flow naturally and for me to have enough access to my characters.
During the editing process, the main challenge was keeping a balance between the two main forces contained in the story: light and shadow, life and death. I think I was able to meet my goal.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?
TH: I had plenty of time to think about the way I wanted to tell this story. I knew that I didn't want on-camera interviews. I also knew that I wanted to build up the rainforest as an important element. And I knew that the main discourse of the film was going to be comprised of two independent elements, image and oral speech, although I wasn´t sure if that was going to work.
During shooting I found new characters who enriched the film, like Rosi, "The Messenger." The idea of filming a big storm that would gather all the characters arose as well. There was an important confluence of chance, luck and planning in the production process.
Post-production was one of the most intense stages. First I had to build the oral discourse that forms the core of the movie, then I had to look for the images that would cover it, and finally I had to organize the powerful third discourse that came out. That search has been a great learning experience for me.
IDA: As you've screened The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño)--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?
TH: The audience is surprised that this is a war story told in a different way from what they are used to. They are surprised by how terror and violence are present throughout the movie, but without images to illustrate them.
The screenings always evoke a great emotional response; I'm surprised at how close the audience feels to the characters. I've been told beautiful things about the force of life and the human spirit.
IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?
TH: I have a lot of influences, not only documentaries but also fiction. The directors I always revisit include the Dardenne brothers, Johan Van der Keuken, David Lynch, Gus Van Sant, Werner Herzog, Raymond Depardon, Michael Haneke, José Luis Guerin, Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Dvortsevoy, among many others.
The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño) will be screening August 19 through 25 at the IFC Center in New York City and September 2 through 8 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles.
For the complete DocuWeeksTM 2011 program, click here.
To purchase tickets for The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño) in New York, click here.
To purchase tickets for The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño)in Los Angeles, click here.