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SUNDANCE Film Festival | 2019 

Hari Sama



World Cinema Dramatic Competition

 January 25th 14:30 - Prospector Square Theatre Park City

This is not Berlin delivers an energetic portrait of a clandestine sanctuary propelled by youth fleeing the societal repression of their time. A unique take on adolescent insecurities, awakenings, and maturing, writer/director Hari Sama elevates the classic coming-of-age story in fresh and unexpected ways.


Hi Hari thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?

It’s a privilege to talk to TNC, I am all set for the festival it's very exciting, really a dream come true. I've always loved Sundance and even as an audience member I've always been in love with the idea of this very independent, very young festival that quickly became one of the five or six major festivals in the world. 

Do you ever get any nerves ahead of a festival screening?

Yes, of course, I'm nervous. I feel very happy with the film, we think it's a very strong and solid creative outburst let's say, but of course I’m nervous and I still have many questions in regards of how the public will understand this film over there in the US, but we are also very excited about sharing (the film). There is a lot of people that are very excited about the invitation to Sundance and many of them are coming so it will be very interesting to share the experience with them. It's really great. 

THIS IS NOT BERLIN is nominated in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, what does it mean to be nominated? 


Wow, to be nominated. As I was just saying it is a dream come true. I think we are competing against very very interesting films from around the world and I also understand that the films that are showing this year at Sundance were chosen from around 14,000 films, documentaries and short films, so it's such an honour to be there. I am very grateful, and it's very special for me to be able to share this story which is very autobiographical.
With this being a World Premiere does this add any additional pressure for you?


I don't know, really. It's a very very exciting moment because it is the first time it's gonna be shown so it's the initial energy, the initial moment. It is a being born sort of situation, you know? I feel the moment when a film is actually born is when you show it to the public. It [the film] was shown in Morelia and Ventana Sur but it wasn't finished, and it was shown to people from the industry. This time it's real public, and it feels like we are holding our hearts in our hands, I know it might sound exaggerated but that is what it is, we are standing with our naked hearts in front of all these people, just like that. And I am full of questions of how people are going to understand and react to this. And given that it Is the initial moment I feel that everything else will sort of align with this.
Tell me a little bit about This Is Not Berlin, how did the film come about? What was the inspiration behind your screenplay? 


THIS IS NOT BERLIN is an autobiographical film, it has to do with my pre-adolescence, with the sort of family I grew up with, the sort of region in Mexico City I grew up in and the group of artists that I came to know during those years when I was a lot younger. Actually, I was a recent teenager when I met this group of young people, very extreme artists that were doing this crazy, free, radical work in the complete underground because in those years in Mexico City you couldn’t do it any other way. Young people were not allowed to exhibit their work in museums or galleries or anything. We couldn’t get together in the public space, there were no rock concerts, everything was forbidden so there was a very energetic, enthusiastic movement; very little, very different from what they call the “movida madrileña” which was a big thing and open, in public. This was all clandestine, it was all happening in the darkness, but in a way that made it more interesting. So all the young artists interested in this more radical wave doing art, people interested in rock music and electronic punk, poets writing in a whole different way,  everyone was getting together in these very dark, underground places that you really needed to know about to get to. 


So I was lucky enough to know these people and be there at the right place and the right time when this happened. Actually, there was a very important house where I shot in my film, “La Quiñonera”, where a lot of people like Gabriel Orozco, Damian Ortega and even Francis Alÿs that had just arrived at the beginning of the ’90s, where exhibiting their first art and their first reflections on art. I think that the actual pre-birth of all these artists is something that not a lot of people talk about, maybe because most of the art historians don’t see the 80’s in Mexico as important, given that most of these artists went abroad before becoming famous, Gabriel Orozco went to New York and Rubén Ortíz went to L.A., so all of this, all of this movement, and all of this gatherings, all of this craziness is something that is still very clandestine and I always thought it was important for me, considering that I lived it firsthand, to talk about this in a film. 

"...I like the underground and the countercultural manifestations of all different countries..."

And of course this was opposed to everything else that was happening in the neighbourhood I was growing up, you know,  depressed families, conservative households,  where violent divorces were happening and perhaps the people from that generation didn’t know  what to do with the idea of being a divorcee and not having a lot of money or not really knowing what to do with the energy and time they had, so we grew up in the streets and all that middle-class thing. There was a lot of violence too, and I think it was important for me to talk about the age in which you get your most important scars, maybe even the ones that make you who you are. At least that is the way I see it right now. So that is where the idea for the screenplay came and that is where the idea for the film came, of course, I changed a lot of things and made it a little more extreme but it’s all based in things that happened during those years around 1986.                   


Is Carlos inspired by anyone you know?

Carlos is basically inspired by myself and all those things that I faced during those years. So that is why I named him Carlos because that is my legal name, which I don’t use, of course. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing This Is Not Berlin to life?

Probably two challenges, one that I had a very clear idea in terms of how I wanted the photography to look like and let’s just say that there were production difficulties in achieving the look I wanted for things and the amount of extras I needed, and how the robot should look. Many things that were a little beyond budget so I had to work really hard to obtain what I really needed. So there were lot of logistical things regarding the art that appeared in the film, I invited a lot of people to participate in the film so I had to deal with that and work with the actors, so just being completely concentrated and mindful of everything that needed to be done 4 months before shooting. Because there were many things that I did, like the musical supervision with other friends, we were designing how we were going to work with the music and how “Manifiesto”, the band that appeared on the film, should sound. We wanted to do multitrack on them and not do playback, so the rehearsals and the composing of the music and all that. I just wanted to be part of all that but my ultimate goal was to not lose compass in terms of the most important thing and probably what ultimately gives depth to the film which is probably the pain, disconnection and authenticity of these characters. All my previous films, which production-wise were a lot simpler, yet very deep and with a lot of preparation with the actors allowed me to really be mindful of the construction of these characters trying to be authentic, real and deep.


Have you always been interested in filmmaking?

I’ve always been interested in film and music, ever since I was young my parents realized that i was interested in rock music, I even tried to get piano lessons, but I was never good at school so I was prohibited from taking those lessons at a particular point. On the other hand I owned a super 8mm camera and in junior high school I was shooting a lot of crazy experimental films with my school friends. I remember a particular one in which a guy we called… There are so many nicknames in Mexico, everyone has a nickname, especially in the outskirts of Mexico City, and we called this guy death, “El muerto”,  and I remember him wearing a hat and us asking him to throw up milk so he had this white thing coming out of him and covering him while this other guy wearing a set of chains around him so... We were working around this dark imagery and crazy stuff, I also wrote a lot of small drama pieces for Christmas at home so I was always interested in telling stories and shooting films. Then I lived in Paris when I was 17 years old and I tried studying film (filmmaking) but I didn’t have the money and I wasn’t old enough, also at that time if you wanted to study at La Femis you needed to have a previous career so it just wasn’t possible. I started playing the clarinet over there, I was taking lessons in Denmark, then I came back to Mexico and tried to study film, and everyone told me it was impossible to make films in Mexico unless you have a crazy rich uncle or something, so I went into music and had a very dark band called Eurydice's death in the 80’s… it’s a long story but the excess of those years had us break up before making a record, luckily I was able to get into film school just after that. But those have always been my two pleasures and deep desires, my two loves.  

"...keep working with the mind of a beginner, the beginner's mind is the most important thing..."

As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you? 


I love to collaborate, and it is a pain/love situation, and I say this because you never know if it’s going to work, it’s like marrying people all the time without knowing if I’m going to be too neurotic, which I sometimes am, or how my craziness is going to be received, how others’ craziness is going to be received but for me collaboration is magical, and I love doing film and music because you need to collaborate with people, especially the things I do. It’s just wonderful. All those creative energies colliding together for one particular goal achieve the most impressive work.


How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut short film?

I think my approach to filmmaking has changed a lot since the beginning, obviously. I think I pretty much discovered a new way of communicating with myself and others and the universe, I guess. With “The Dream of Lu “ I found it is important for me to become vulnerable and fragile, even if that made the process painful. At some point, it also sublimated things that were important for me and from there I could pretty much communicate with more honesty with everyone else, so I started working from that new sense of depth if you will. I kept exploring that in the films that followed, “Awakening Dust” and “Sunka Raku” and “Berlin” is sort of the juxtaposition of that search of deepness with music and with an interest for pop culture as a means of relating to others. I’ve always been interested in pop culture, I like the underground and the countercultural manifestations of all different countries, and that is possibly something that I will continue searching. Also larger productions that allow me to build powerful images whilst continuing my search of the characters’ processes of introspection motivated by pain but normally I have a very personal interest in the possibilities of space within ourselves, even in the most painful processes and I believe that I will continue to search around pain and light and space and all of those questions within films, even in bigger productions. So these things continue to be obsessions and will continue to be recurring in my films, I think.

Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?


My advice to filmmakers would be to keep working with the mind of a beginner, the beginner's mind is the most important thing, keep learning and keep open to surprise and keep on trying. Don’t let anything or anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Or that “If such and such you will never be such and such”. Always trust that the universe has your learning experience designed for you and that if you continue to search you will surely find a way to sublimate whatever makes you who you are and if you have painful scars you will be able to use those scars to communicate others. So beginner’s mind and trust in the universe that conveys trust unto yourself. Never stop. 


What are you currently working on?


I am currently writing my new film, which is my sixth film. It’s called “Ballast”. It’s a film that searches or rather makes questions around the idea of this painful, sometimes tremendous heritage that is delivered from one generation to the next. It’s basically the story of three men within a family in which a painful and obscure way of relating to sex and relating to themselves has been continuously passed from one generation to the next. It is a very powerful and painful film, and I a very excited, I am still working on the screenplay but hopefully, you will very soon hear more about this film.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from This Is Not Berlin?


I think pretty much THIS IS NOT BERLIN is a film about disconnection, disconnection with ourselves, our family, our friends. People are always desperately searching for a connection, through both positive and very negative offers. So they try not connecting and the drugs and then they try sex maybe so there is this continuous search to connect, because to be disconnected makes us feel incomplete and sometimes incompleteness is very painful, especially when the scars, the ones that make us who we are, the ones from our childhood and adolescence, like the ones we see in THIS IS NOT BERLIN make the disconnection feel like incompleteness and it’s very painful. So I think that at some point we understand that art is one of the most important ways to connect to a greater mind and to ourselves and that opens up a dialogue with other people, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. The abstract that is sometimes more powerful than directly, so it is my hope that people will get the idea of this possibility within pain in art and also the necessity that we always have of finding a voice and finding a space within. We are going through an important political change in Mexico, also there is a possibility for change in the US so I think that this more radical view of art and life will open up again a space for introspection and the possibility of looking differently at politics. This film reminds us of a very specific time in politics in Mexico and how the lack of space during the ’80s demanded a more direct and violent way of expressing. So maybe there will be a time when we no longer have to be violent and we can finally be able to form a community of respectful and inclusive individuals. 

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