An epic investigation into countless murders in Mexico. Presented in chapters, the film unfolds methodically through unsettling testimonials, sketching a portrait of an entire country transformed into a gigantic mass grave thanks to a climate of impunity established by both criminal gangs and state authorities.
Hello Julien, many thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?
Happy to be back Montreal for a couple of weeks after having been touring most of the year with the film. It’s good to have a break from luggage conveyors and immigration officers.
Are you looking forward to bringing Dark Suns to FID 2019?
The French premiere is very important to me. Also, FID is a unique festival who emphasize on a movie with strong aesthetical research, far from formatting docs that we see too much. Like anything else, it seems now there is just one type of docs, they all looks the same and I think some festivals give those films too many spaces. FID is looking to screen something else.
Dark Suns is in the GNCR Competition does this add any extra pressure on you?
GNR is a very valuable prize. The winner benefit help for distributing his movie in France. So, yes it is very important but Dark Suns have been selected in many competition yet and won many awards so I am not nervous about it. Otherwise, I am very excited to go back Marseille, a city where I spend a lot of time in my childhood.
What has the experience been like making this film?
A very intense experience from the beginning until now. For the shooting itself, it was demanding a lot. So many days we went shooting with stomach cramps as we were going in the scariest part of Mexico. But during the course of the shooting, we met countless incredible people, It makes things easier and in the end, it’s almost like everything went smooth and easy. Almost…
The investigation process, as well the editing was very long. To cover such a large scope of the violence in Mexico needed a lot of time of reflexions. I often felt like drowning in so much information, so many stories we dig on… Now, presenting this movie it’s intense too. Since last November we presented the movie in a lot of countries and most of the time the public’s reaction is very strong. In particular in Mexico. Some people come to me after screening and without saying a word started to cry in my arms. Most of the time, they are very young persons, almost kids, who probably were traumatized by events that happen in their family.
How different was your approach to this film than with your previous films?
This time I simply put everything I had to make it possible. For any filmmakers, making a film is a big sacrifice. But I suppose there is one film in your life that will ask you literally everything. In my case, I suppose this is the one.
Can you tell me a little bit about Dark Suns what can we expect?
Dark Suns talk about the fear that invaded an entire country. A place where women can’t walk safely in the streets, where journalists are shot in the head in broad daylight and where migrants or peasantries are abducted and disappeared forever. In a way, this is very specific to Mexico but my main goal was to portrait people coping with fear in their everyday life. So on the other hand, I think I’ve could have done this film in many other countries. This fear is very common in the world and it’s not specific to one country.
If Dark Suns is a mapping of violence of Mexico, maybe one day I would do a mapping of fear and violence elsewhere. But more than a film about fear, Dark Suns is about people fighting fear. We don’t see any violence in the movie and there are some lights into it, let’s say some kind of hope. Those lights come from all of those the viewers will discover in the film. Someone just told me yesterday that during the screening he wanted to have a beer with every single character of the film or to hug all of them. A lot of film about Mexican’s situation had given voices to killers. The truth is that I don't see the point about it. Dark suns focus on the victims.
"Being for so long far away from cinema was the most difficult."
What was the inspiration behind this film?
Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez’s Bones in the Desert. This book is the reason why I’ve done this movie. Many people tell me: the movie has some resemblances with Roberto Bolaño’s book 2066. And yes it is possible, 2066 is probably the only book I read twice in my life. But, like Bolaño, my main influenced is Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez. 2066 is almost a redo of Bones in the Desert, Bolaño made a novel out of the investigating work of Rodriguez. Books are my first influence, and fiction movie as well. Film noir is definitely a major influence. From Fritz Lang to Otto Preminger. I watched a lot of horrors movies too, to find ways to not show the fear but to make it present around the characters. I wanted the viewer to feel this fear beyond the frame of the camera. This is the scariest thing in Mexico. At first glance, everything seems normal. But it’s not. The danger is there, around you and if you don't pay attention you don't see it.
What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?
It was a very long process, almost 3 years of investigation. 1 year of preparation and shooting and a last one of editing. And I should say about 20 years of reflexion because I had the idea of it 20 years ago when I first heard about the massive killing of women in northern Mexico. We did it also with a very small budget. Dark suns is an independent doc, with only small public funds from Canada. So everybody who works on it sacrificed a lot. Also, this approach of having a large scope of the violence in Mexico since more than 60 years was of course very challenging. But, the most difficult part of it is that for personal reasons, I did not make movies for more than 15 years. Being for so long far away from cinema was the most difficult. And Dark Suns was probably the worst film to do after such a long time without making a movie; dangerous and complex subject, long duration, more than 30 characters, small budget, etc… but we did it!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
When my mother was pregnant with me she probably watched too much movie, so yes.
How important is the collaborative nature in filmmaking for you?
Filmmakers are 90% of the time alone. But that 10 % of the rest, collaborating with friends and colleagues is the most rewarding aspect of filmmaking. It’s very important for me to work with friends. I will never collaborate with some very talented people but with whom I don't share friendship. Especially for that kind of sensitive movie.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve taken after making Dark Suns?
Making a documentary gives you the opportunity to enter different worlds, so you are learning 24 hours a day. This is the most interesting aspect of doing docs.
Do you have any advice for any emerging filmmaker?
To not listen to other people advice.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
I don’t do film to change the world, as we can never be too sure of our good intentions, right? But at least I surely want people to rise up.