I know we have talked about it before at length [click
here], but could you bring us up
to speed once more: Your film Maleficarum,
what is it about?
It’s the story
of two young women. Mariana de Castro, a dispossed widow, and Francisca de la
Cruz, the young heir to great fortune and lands. They are lovers and their
relationship is not a secret in the town. A group of young women confront
Mariana in the streets and it ends in a shoving match that involves Francisca.
This lame street event is used by the Inquisitor to take over the
fortune and lands of the orphan. The women fall in the hands of
the Santo Oficio de Lima, also known as the inquisition. The film
centers in their torture and the damming testimonies of the townsfolk.
has recently become the centerpiece of a censorship controversy. How did this
with a letter. We released the film in October 2011, on the 31st to
coincide with Halloween. It was our intention to have a premiere at the
Cinemateca, a place that was open to our movies in the recent past, but
we couldn’t get that date. Between October and February
of this year we held discussions, conversations, negotiations to finally
have a theatrical release date there. We finally agreed to have it
sometime in March or April and gave them the film for evaluation; I was
assuming that they wanted to see if the film held technically, and to
at the Cinemateca held a preview screening of Martyr before its formal
release, but they didn’t do that with our other films: Sirwiñakuy and
Nocturnia. All three films were shown, Nocturnia and Martyr
were not very successful while Sirwiñakuy
ran for 5 months.
waiting for a letter with a date for the screening. Instead
I got a letter saying that the“commission of evaluation” decided not
to show the film because of its “explicit language” which I read
as censorship. Martyr
and Sirwiñakuy were just as explicit
and were shown. LA Zombie, banned in Australia because of
its extreme explicit content, was shown at the Cinemateca. So,
why was Maleficarum
censored? I wrote an open letter to the
director of the Cinemateca, a newspaper picked it up and all hell broke
after the letter one of our people had a chance encounter with the
programmer at one of the multiplexes here. She told him
and he said simply “we’ll show it, bring it.”
When she told me the great news I asked Beto to contact the other
multiplex to offer them the film as well and they also agreed to show
it. Suddenly, the “forbidden film” was opening
nationally and in big commercial houses.
the film to the people who do the rating of films here and they came up
with R (18 years and older). So, the
arguments that the Cinemateca had were deflated with this new
development. The papers picked it up too. The
issue was no longer the film, but censorship.
What can you tell us about the actual
public debate "Jac Avila vs Cinemateca", and how were the
reactions to that one?
We began the press campaign to promote the film and a couple of the
papers mentioned the prior censorship, I was also asked, in a TV
interview, about this issue. Facebook was buzzing with the talk of the
Cinemateca refusing to show it because of content. Finally, one
journalist wrote in his blog about this in very strong terms. He
said that I wasn’t his favorite director but that it was an outrage
that the Cinemateca refused to show the film because of its content and
that he didn’t need a “commission” to tell him what to see and what
not to see.
debate at the Cinemateca
That night I
received a call from the Cinemateca inviting me to a debate on
censorship. I accepted.
the debate a review appeared in a paper, trashing the film - there’s a
story behind it, but that would take long. The day of the
debate I was interviewed on a radio station. The
interviewer said he didn’t agree with censorship but then he proceeded
to attack the film. I said to myself, they’re setting me
up for tonight. However the debate was very civil.
While making Maleficarum,
you must have sensed that you touch some, shall we say, sensible topics.
Did you ever expect any real controversy of that kind though?
I was expecting to be trashed by the critics, yes, we were trashed with
Sirwiñakuy, and Maleficarum
is a much more explicit, harsh movie, but I
did not expect it to become the eye of a big storm.
When I was making Maleficarum
I could actually pinpoint all the areas
of the film that would be under attack. However, I’m not
afraid of critics, I don’t make films thinking of what they are going
to say. As much as I love to be praised, I don’t take the
possibility of negative criticism into consideration before embarking on
a project. If I was concerned with the critics I would make
different movies, crowd pleasers, comedies and I’m just not interested
in doing that.
you figure that the fact that Maleficarum
touched upon one of the darkest chapters of the history of the Catholic
Church might actually have been at the root of this controversy?
No, I don’t believe the Church had anything to do with it, either
directly or indirectly. In fact, the best interview we had was in a
church-run TV station, they even screened our long trailer and
apologized that they had to edit out two shots because of their morning
audience. They edited out a shot of Amy and Mila kissing and
one long shot of Amy on the Spanish Horse, but they showed the rest of
It’s always possible that a person in the committee had some church-based sensibility, but I don’t believe that the Cinemateca’s
decision had anything to do with the Church. Bolivia is a Catholic country, but as
in all Catholic countries, there’s
a lot of flexibility in those who believe in it. Catholics,
in general, are not ardent fanatics, they are just believers with a wide
range of attitudes to everything including birth control and divorce.
The country itself is going through a transition from a country with
strong religious influence to one where church and state are separate.
I believe the problem the “commission” had is the explicit
tortures and nudity that are in most of the movie, and a couple of them
might’ve been offended by it.
where do you see the controversy go from here, and are you planning to
take any steps, legal or otherwise?
There were some conclusions at the debate. There was one
person who got up and said something illuminating. He said
that censorship is against the constitution and even against many
interamerican laws. He mentioned the case of The Passion of the
Christ, Mel Gibson’s movie, which was banned in Chile, but the
distributors took the issue to court and won. This man, who
was a journalist, said: “I’m not suggesting that Jac calls a lawyer
and sues the Cinemateca, but he could if he wanted too”.
I think that
comment made some people very nervous. I wasn’t looking
at them, but my crew was recording the event and we have the footage,
I’ll have to see it.
at the premiere
debate the Cinemateca reps, especially the director, tried to find a way
out, they said that it was a mistake on their part to write“explicit
language” on the letter and give the impression they were censoring
it. They apologized for that to me. I accepted their
apologies but I insisted that there shouldn’t be any commission
censoring movies for whatever reason and it’s still cloudy to me the
reason for their decision.
is open now and as far as Maleficarum
is concerned, I think it
accomplished a lot here. It did well, within the
limitations of the country, people went to see it and either hated it or
loved it, so I don’t think there’s anything else I want to do.
I want to move on.
In hindsight, would
you have made Maleficarum
any differently had you known about the controversy it has caused?
No. Maleficarum is what it is. I was very
aware that it was not going to be well received by some people and I
made it anyway. I made a film about torture, period. And
torture is not pretty.
Some people feel that the torture scenes are too long, and that’s an
issue I can deal with. I can accept that for some people
the torture scenes might be too long while for others they are not long
enough. One person said that he sees more violence in
television, another said that the video games he plays are far more
bloody. So, there will be opinions one way or another.
The film is what it is.
all the controversy, Maleficarum
is having a pretty successful run in Bolivia, right? What can you
tell us about public appreciation of your movie, and did the success at
all come as a surprise to you?
I’m not sure if the success is despite or because of the controversy.
I cannot be sure of that. The people at the
premiere, with some exceptions, loved the movie and we received some
good feedback and comments. But we also got a lot of awful
comments and one reviewer attacked the film. Like the radio
interview I mentioned before, the interviewer after proclaiming his
belief in free speech, proceded to attack the movie and me personally,
calling me the Ed Wood of Bolivia [Ed
Wood bio - click here]. I found that funny.
Later I found that he has a big connection with the Cinemateca.
I felt that they were somehow preparing the stage to pulverize me
at the debate.
didn’t expect was that at the debate, the one person who I thought
would drive the nail into the issue actually compared me to DH Lawrence,
making it clear that she didn’t like the movie, not because it was a
bad movie but because she did not understand the reasons behind the
lengthy scenes of torture. That was cool. Another
person in the debate, a filmmaker, said that he didn’t see any
pornography in the film, eroticism, perhaps, but not pornography. I’m
surprised, however, that the film sold as many tickets as it did. I
was expecting to be in the theaters for a week, but we were number four
in the ticket sales and that is huge for us because we were up there
with Avengers, Battleship and Titanic 3D, all blockbusters.
is rated "PG-13" (downgraded from "R"), right? What
can you tell us about the Bolivian ratings system as such, and was it at
all difficult to get a proper rating for the film?
Movie theatres here go by the MPAA rating that comes with the movies.
PG, PG 13 etc. There aren’t too many Bolivian
movies so this isn’t something that has some kind of fixed criteria.
The people who rate movies here are from the culture department
of City Hall. They don’t rate all movies, only those sent
to them when the theaters request it.
They rated Maleficarum
the equivalent of R, but it’s only a
recommendation, not a rule. The movie theaters can abide by
that recommendation or not. One of the multiplexes lowered
that rating to the equivalent of PG 13, and the other, after the first
week, lowered it too. I guess people here feel that young
people are exposed to a lot nudity and violence on television, comics
and video games so an “explicit” film like Maleficarum
kind of lame.
for the moment - what can you tell us about current and future projects of
yours, and will that controversy at all influence the tone of your films
in one way or another?
think this experience will influence my future work. The
tone of my future movies will be exactly as I want them to be. In Dead But Dreaming, for instance, I have some very explicit scenes and I
won’t change that at all. But I won’t make it more
explicit either. I won’t tone down or up. I’ll do what
I believe the film needs for the story to be told. I like
realism in fiction and I stick to that.
labeled a “polemic” film director and I’m sure that this label
will stick for a while, maybe one day I’ll make a feel-good movie,
maybe not. I’m
fortunate that I make a living making movies and it’s not only me, Amy
Hesketh [Amy Hesketh interview
- click here] and 4 other people make a living with our films, not just mine, of
interviewer at the radio station actually sneered when I said that my
films put the food on the table. His comment was
“Bolivian films don’t make that kind of money here.” I
had to make clear to him that I make the money outside of Bolivia because
it’s true, in Bolivia you can’t recover the investment even in if
your film is very, very popular.
Your website, Facebook, whatever
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
believe in censorship of any kind. The movies I make will have a hard
time getting into theaters in a lot of places, even in some
liberal countries like France. I find that Bolivia is a far
more liberal country than most and showing Maleficarum
wasn’t a big deal, after all. I wonder if that would
happen in the US. I wonder if Maleficarum
could find its
way into a multiplex.
Antichrist get to be shown in Art Cinemas. So, the
censorship by the Cinemateca was very, very strange to me. I see it more
as a personal reaction by one or two people there which shouldn’t
happen. The Cinemateca should be open to all movies.
Thanks for the interview!
By the way, if this interview at all got you
interested, you may want to get the movie from here: http://movies.vermeerworks.com