Giulia Ghigi Who was Sebastián Sepúlveda before becoming a director?
Sebastián Sepúlveda I studied film at the EICTV (Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión) in Cuba and at the Femis in France. I have been working for more than ten years as a screenwriter, script consultant, and editor. During this period of time, I have learned a lot about what it means to plan and structure a story, and then to narrate it in the film. While I was helping others with their films, I was working on my scripts as well, and I shot a documentary too.
GG Why did you choose this story for your debut film?
SS I am interested in stories that deal with the essential problems of human beings. To narrate from the viewpoint of the last representatives of a specific culture on the verge of disappearing, seemed to be a beautiful challenge to me. In addition to this, the story takes place in a primeval world, an initial state, and the idea to telling this moved me.
GG Why did you choose film as the medium of your artistic expression?
SS I belong to a family of academics and intellectuals, therefore my vocation is different. When I was a teenager, my older brother made me watch Italian post-Neorealist cinema – Pasolini, the Taviani brothers, Scola – and their films were dragging me in a dreamlike state for days. Once, I saw a film by Herzog, Slave Coast: the impact on me was so strong that I realized that I had no other option than film.
GG How was the experience on the set of a feature-length film? (Most satisfying and more difficult moment?)
SS As shooting had to take place where the real Quispe sisters had lived, at an altitude of 4000 meters in the mountains, we had to set up a camp there. The conditions of shooting were a challenge themselves, even breathing was difficult. In this context, looking at Digna Quispe embodying his aunt Justa in the kitchen of the sisters, or Catalina Saavedra and Francisca Gavilán climbing up a giant hill and spurring on goats, were moments of great excitement for the whole team and for me.
GG Although you studied abroad, you started your career in your home country, debuting with a cast of superb actors and one of the most prestigious Chilean film production companies. Was returning to Chile a deliberate choice?
SS It is very strange because, although I have been an exile since my childhood and I have lived in seven countries, all the fictional stories I wrote are set in Chile. Belonging, I think, is more an imaginary place than the real one where you live. And so I decided to get back to Chile to make my first feature film.
GG The New Chilean Cinema is mostly shot in indoor sets. To the contrary, your film is shot in the mountains of northern Chile and the natural environment is a strong presence. What is the role of nature in your film?
SS I have always been interested in the rural world, as different cultures and idioms persist there. With its televisions and the internet, the city “smashes” the differences, and this is why I have never been interested in filming the city. The context in which the film is developed, the desert in the altiplano, is almost an abstract environment, a maze of large spaces in which characters are left alone with themselves.
GG A Chilean critic states that one of “key moments in the films of the New Chilean Cinema is when the main character discovers that s/he is alone” and that “the disappointment from the outside world is often a constant in these films”. Do you think these statements apply to your film as well?
SS The characters experience a real loneliness. But beyond this, what interests me is how the way of life of these shepherds – who have an ancestral culture which entertains an equal dialogue between animals, mountains, and stones – is endangered. The film wants the audience to experience this risk as well.