By Mark Peranson and Dennis Lim
“Everybody wants to be in Cannes Première!”
—Thierry Frémaux, quoted in Deadline
“Everybody wants to be in Cannes Première!”
Dear Thierry Frémaux,
I hope this letter finds you amidst a rare moment of clarity, for it is high time that someone shed light on the festering hypocrisy that engulfs the Cannes Film Festival. I write to you today with a heavy heart, consumed by the unyielding anger and frustration that stems from the blatant favoritism and insidious tactics employed by your organization.
I write this open letter with profound frustration and disappointment over the programming decisions made for this year’s Cannes. As a filmmaker who has poured my heart and soul into creating thought-provoking and artistically daring works, I cannot help but express my vehement opposition to the relegation of my film, Eureka to the Cannes Première section.
It is no secret that Cannes Première was previously reserved for films aimed at a popular audience, a platform for commercially viable movies. Last year’s inclusion of more popular films was understandable, given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the pandemic. However, this year’s lineup appears to serve a different purpose altogether: to block films from other festivals, regardless of their artistic merit.
Eureka is a film that pushes the boundaries of storytelling, challenging conventional narratives and delving into complex philosophical themes. Its exclusion from the Competition not only undermines the artistic integrity of the film but also sends a disheartening message to filmmakers who strive to create cinema that transcends the mundane. By relegating Eureka to Cannes Première, you effectively devalue its artistic significance and limit its exposure to a discerning and appreciative audience. This decision is a blatant insult to the countless hours of dedication and artistry poured into its creation. It is a betrayal of the very essence of cinema.
Similarly, Víctor Erice’s Close Your Eyes is a work of profound beauty and emotional resonance. Erice is a masterful filmmaker whose artistry has captivated audiences around the world. It is an insult to his immense talent and the legacy of his previous works to confine Close Your Eyes to a section that seems more concerned with appeasing commercial interests than celebrating true cinematic achievements.
By using Cannes Première as a means to block films from other festivals, you are hindering the progress of cinema as an art form. Cannes has long been regarded as a platform for artistic innovation and discovery, a place where groundbreaking films and visionary directors find their audience. To betray this legacy in favor of protecting territorial interests is a disservice to filmmakers and the audience alike.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the enchanted realm of the Cannes Film Festival, where the celluloid gods descend upon us mere mortals to grace us with their immaculate creations. Here, within the hallowed halls of cinematic prestige, we find ourselves standing at the precipice of absolute perfection. As I embark upon the arduous task of unraveling the sublime wonders that have been bestowed upon us this year, I find myself at an impasse. For what words could possibly do justice to these transcendent masterpieces? Indeed, it would be a disservice to this esteemed gathering of auteurs if I were to delve into the particulars of any one film, for they are all such towering monuments of unparalleled brilliance that mere description would be an exercise in futility. So, let us bask in the unequivocal glory of this unparalleled feast of cinematic opulence, where every film stands as an unimpeachable testament to the unrivalled genius of our time.
Like Godard, I would rather be watching tennis from heaven.
Truly, the very last thing I want to do at this point of my life is to write this article yet again, as it has been written more than 20 times now to the point of becoming so excessively formulaic that I might as well just let ChatGPT rip. (However, the preceding paragraph makes me think that the AI isn’t quite there yet, or doesn’t care about my particular voice.) If I really wanted to, I could ironically write 2,000 words about how great this year’s Cannes festival was, and especially its glorious masterpiece-filled Competition (R.I.P. Black Flies), but, alas, the collective foreign robotic press already beat me to the punch. Cannes is probably the only place in the world where people pay attention to the star ratings of random film critics, whose aggregate numeric response is proposed as a representative consensus—but consensus is for brainless suckers and elections in authoritarian democracies. Live the contradictions of Cannes to the fullest if you want to survive and flourish, and praised be Cannes Première!
It was refreshing, in a world where everything seems to be going to hell, to be at a film festival where all the problems were generated by the festival itself, its artistic director, his programming decisions, and his e-bike. (This is what is called “controlling the narrative.”) The one takeaway of this year’s Cannes that I can agree with is, irregardless of section, the films were too damned long. (The 146-minute Eureka posits that time is a fiction invented by man, but such a sentiment is not seconded by the bladder.) It was apropos that the new digital restoration of Jacques Rivette’s 254-minute L’amour fou launched the festival before the however-long Maïwenn film, as post-Rivettian bloat characterized far too much of what was on display in the Official Selection (that is, if you were lucky enough to score tickets, which was pretty hard unless your last name was Campari). To wit, there soon followed Steve McQueen’s Occupied City (246 minutes, soon available in a 2,160-minute version), our friend Wang Bing’s Youth (Spring) (212 minutes…and that’s part one of three!), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses (197 minutes), and, the pièce de résistance, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (a trifling 206 minutes). The sheer number of goddamned minutes of cinema on display made any rational assessment of length impossible halfway through; is the Palme d’Or–winning Anatomy d’une chute (as good of a choice as any, I guess, and surprising for this jury) excessively long at 151 minutes? I think so, but what the hell do I know, as I was probably asleep for some of it—that being said, I could have taken a few more reps of “P.I.M.P.” (ft. Snoop the dog) in exchange for a few less unbelievable trial antics.
Like all film fans, and Cannes-goers in particular, I still yearn for eureka moments, and they are few and far between. But by now we all know that Cannes is not the best place to look for them. The good films that fell into the category of “those a working human in Cannes has time to see” mostly delivered what was expected. Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves (which, like two parts of Eureka, is immaculately photographed by Timo Salminen) can in no way be argued to advance the cinematic art even a centimetre, but just like an old pair of shoes you don’t want to stop wearing even if they’ve started to smell, everyone’s happy enough to let Aki be Aki, and even happier that the film is 81 minutes long. Same goes for the 84-minute, 23-shot film that closed the Quinzaine des Cinéastes, Hong Sangsoo’s In Our Day, a typically unassuming valorization of life’s simple pleasures—with a poignant undercurrent of regret (this is the first Hong film where divorce is mentioned)—that takes the Hong metaverse one step forward when one gleans that the title consists entirely of words that appear in other Hong Sangsoo titles. (By now, you should know that little explanation of Hong is required from these parts; I will only note that Ki Joobong again spends the entirety of this film sitting down, befitting a man who is seen plunked on his ass across Hong’s oeuvre even more times than was Ice-T over 23 seasons of Law & Order: SVU.) Even the clunkers had that familiar quality: the Rube Goldberg machine that is Asteroid City, for example, is, painfully, very much a Wes Anderson film, even if almost every single laugh line—and the film is almost a ceaseless torrent of them, whether ChatGPT- or Roman Coppola–generated—fell totally flat with the Lumière crowd at nine in the morning. As for Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, it is what it is.
Yes, the long films did include Eureka (and its Cannes Première compadre, Close Your Eyes), but Lisandro Alonso’s film—his first without a lone wolf at its centre, or even a centre at all—needs that time to explore issues that are more complex than ever (the elaborate script is written with Jauja  co-writer Fabian Casas and newcomer Martin Camaño). Simultaneously down to earth and mythic, Eureka requires the contrasts of space and time to make its points, which have to do both with the existential state of humanity in general and the particular state(s) of Indigenous populations in the Global North and South. If you want proof as to why the cinema world is dysfunctional, let me point out that this is Alonso’s first film in nine years. (Some facts revealed in the interview that follows might help explain some of the delay, as well as the seven co-producers.) To get nostalgic for a second, Eureka’s welcome presence takes me back to almost the start of my own Cannes annual residency in 2001, with one of the top ten films of all time, La Libertad—the first of Alonso’s six films to date, all of which have screened in Cannes—and many of us of a certain generation associate the time we have spent in this so-called business with that filmmaker’s mutual presence. (This also makes me realize that I have spent almost half of an entire year of my life in this crummy fishing village, which is a sign to take a long hard look at how one wants to spend one’s life.)
As it happens, I saw Eureka on what turned out to be a three-Western day. The first was the mid-length, Saint Laurent–produced Strange Way of Life by Pedro Almódovar, a screening that was added to account for the fuck-up at the premiere that left hundreds of rain-soaked ticketholders shut out, because after 76 editions Cannes still doesn’t know how to operate a rush line. (The Almódovar is about 31 minutes too long.) I was then initially impressed by Felipe Gálvez’s handsomely made first feature The Settlers, a dramatization of a “civilizing” raid in turn-of-the-century Chile, which indeed looks like a photocopy of Jauja. But seeing Eureka enforced that Galvez’s accomplished debut feature is stuck in some familiar modernist anti-colonialist mode, aesthetically not too far removed from the Viggo Mortensen–starring B-Western that plays on the TV in the Pine Ridge reserve sheriff’s house in the first part of Eureka, or, to evoke another film referenced in Eureka that itself could never be made and disseminated today, the 1980 stalwart The Gods Must Be Crazy (in the sense that both are acceptable art-house entertainment for their times).
Say what you want about Eureka, it is a film that delivers on Alonso’s intent of making a film “that nobody had made before,” as witnessed by the bona fide eureka moment that is the transition between the TV Western and the life on the reservation, as well as the appearance of a certain majestic jabiru mycteria stork—presumably named Eureka, and on this I need not say more, as what cinema needs now is more radical propositions. It is not that colonialism is not a blight—of course it was—but rather that it’s still going on before our eyes. And with that realization or stance comes a number of associated questions that Eureka proposes: are the life of Indigenous peoples better or worse in Western society? Today or in the past? How long is too long to hold a shot, or is time just a construct?
Eureka completely deconstructs the Western not only by placing Indigenous peoples at the centre of its narrative—in the persons of Pine Ridge sheriff Alaina (Alaina Clifford) and her niece Sadie (Sadie Lapointe)—but also by destroying the narrative itself via longeurs, character transformations, and time-and-space jumps, with little hand-holding and three different aspect ratios. Throughout the film we are presented with Western tropes dislocated from Western space—such as observing Natives being exploited in an Amazonian gold mine (besides the bird, Eureka is of course a Humboldt County, California town made famous in the Gold Rush, and whose settlement displaced Native Americans)—or deconstructed from a Western narrative, such as the Indigenous sheriff investigating a “shootout” in a casino hotel, where only the remnants remain, until she vanishes from the film without a trace.
The kind of groupthink that sets in at Cannes soon deemed Eureka a mild disappointment—partly because the “second part” on the reservation was so much more original than the “third part” in the Brazilian jungle, partly because it was just Alonso doing Alonso (though Aki doing Aki = collective orgasm). Sure, our minds are trained to compare and contrast, but to quote Alonso to the Lincoln Center viewer who asked him how to pronounce Jauja at its NYFF screening, “It’s pronounced, ‘fuck you.’” Eureka is an oneiric film in the Lynchian sense, and as quite explicitly elucidated in its “third part,” life in the jungle gives the characters the space and time to dream—which, not coincidentally, is a necessary viewpoint also brought up by Pedro Costa in conversation with Wang Bing elsewhere in this issue.
Whether or not Alonso is the right person to express this viewpoint, because he is the privileged son of a blueberry magnate and wasn’t born in Pine Ridge, or whether Costa is the right person to portray the travails of the Cape Verdean community in Lisbon, is an issue I’m not going to get into here, though such points are touched on in the interview that follows. All I will say is that, unlike Erice, Alonso and his many co-producers showed up in the Debussy, where Cannes Première protocol does not even allow the filmmaker on stage. Nevertheless, it was a cinema genuinely filled with love. Maybe, as our hero asked Frémaux before the screening, his next film will be programmed in Cinéma de la Plage—and we can all get wasted on the beach.—Mark Peranson
Lisandro Alonso: I was so fucking nervous during the screening. I couldn’t even enjoy the thing.
Cinema Scope: Are you always nervous at your premieres?
Alonso: No, but in this one I was.
Alonso: That’s a good question. It’s maybe been a long time, and this is something that I never tried before. Maybe the people around…maybe I was very drunk. Even if I went in with a bottle of water.
Scope: I saw. But we don’t know what was in the bottle. You needed the water to counteract the alcohol that was in your system
Alonso: If you compare Eureka with the last film that I made, I feel more secure in what was going on in the previous film. For this one, there were three different shootings, and I was editing in between, and then a lot of inconvenience happened during the shooting. Except for the Western part, which I really, really enjoyed—it was totally fun, everything was in control: Viggo, Chiara [Mastroianni], Timo, only one location.
Scope: That was the first part you shot?
Alonso: No, actually that was the second one. We started in Mexico, and we had to shoot it with three different crews…I really didn’t know when they were saying yes or no. Even to get a beer was complicated for me. In Mexico we had to walk 45 minutes to the location, crossing several rivers. I was watching Timo and he was going to fall down, as everything was super-wet, and it was dark before the sunrise. It was complicated for me because I didn’t know how they work, you know. Even if we aren’t like a huge amount of people in the crew, 15, 20, I don’t know Mexico. I like to share ideas with everyone. Before, I was doing films where everyone is friends and family; this was just anonymous people. Different managers, different rules, different protocols, plus COVID was a pain in the ass.
Scope: Even in the jungle, COVID was a problem?
Alonso: For example, Chiara was supposed to be there, and play the colonel part, but she said, “No Lisandro, I appreciate it, but I’m not going to be locked down for a week when I have to shoot for three days.” And then I called a friend from Brazil and I replaced her. Then we stopped in between the shoots, which was a pain in the ass, and you have other distractions—family, young kids. I managed. I don’t know how, because the three worst things that can happen when you are shooting a film is change the producer, change actors, and change DOPs, and I had all of them on the same film—fortunately, not all at the same time.
When we started shooting in South Dakota, after four hours on the first day, Timo collapsed. He didn’t tell us that he was recovering from pneumonia, because he is a fucking tough guy. He really wanted to end this film together, and he pretended, “I’m good.” He had just ended Aki’s film and went straight in. But he was fucking breathing freezing air. He collapsed. Ambulance. White eyes. I couldn’t even get close to him, and I thought, “Did I kill this guy?”
But that was just at the start, and we managed to finish that day’s shooting with him inside of a mobile home so he could watch the scene. Roberto Minervini arrived at the same moment: “Hi! Roberto, take the camera!” Because I didn’t have any camera operators. “It’s just a small part, but you do it.” And then we stopped the shoot and I started calling other DOPs. I talked to Corneliu Porumboiu, I talked to people inside the US, Kelly Reichardt, I called Lynch’s DOP, Peter Deming, and he was, “Ok, I’m so sorry about Timo, let me see if I can send you someone.” And I talked to many other people: the DOP from The Master (2012); some Argentinian guys, but nobody had a visa. Every fucking day, it cost $25,000. And then suddenly, because I’m working with a Spanish crew, Mauro Herce shows up. It was supposed to be 11 days, but we spent a month there.
Scope: But you didn’t shoot all that time, also because you were stuck in the casino, right?
Alonso: For four days. They closed the roads because of snow. We were locked inside. Do you remember the last time the police officer appears, looking out the window? That was the third or fourth day, we didn’t know what would come next…Two and a half weeks before we started shooting she had her fifth baby, and it was premature. So the baby was in another community two hours away with a friend of hers, as they thought it was safer because the roads were icy. We finally brought the baby six days into the shooting, and the baby was really sick.
We just called a helicopter and flew them to Rapid City, and the baby was five days in intensive care, dying, you know. And I started thinking, maybe Alaina’s not coming back, and I have to think about how to replace her. And then I said, OK, Sadie arrives now, that’s how we start organizing things. It was not easy, then, to shoot inside the communities, as they just go at their own speed. You are never sure who is going to show up.
Scope: Was it hard to convince them to let you shoot there?
Alonso: Actually, it’s never easy. But we were working with Eleonore Hendricks, who cast Chloé Zhao’s films and War Pony (2022) and other films; she opened a lot of doors.
Scope: You had visited Pine Ridge?
Alonso: Yeah, when I was in Boston, I travelled there several times. But I didn’t have the time to manage to talk to people, because it was not easy to say, “Hello, do you want to chat? Do you want to talk about something?” I just went and observed and tried to find locations and places. For casting, Eleonore organized an open call and Sadie just sent us a video, pretending she was the cop. She doesn’t look like…
Alonso: But then I said, “I love this girl, I want to just put her in the film somehow.” But then we had to wait. We finished the Western part in November 2020, and then we were to supposed to start the shoot in the US in January or February 2021, but there was no snow at all. I wasn’t in a hurry, since I was talking to Benicio Del Toro, don’t know why. People talk with people. I said, “Well, maybe Benicio can help us, financially, or with some ideas or what not?” And he says, “OK, I’m going to be in your movie.” So I put the film on standby to have him on board, which unfortunately didn’t happen. And he was supposed to play Sadie’s character.
Scope: He was probably more a basketball coach than she looks like a basketball coach, along with other racial differences.
Alonso: Of course he doesn’t look like her, but once you get there, that kind of cliché doesn’t exist anymore: it’s just people. It’s just people who live in that neighbourhood. We need to define Native. Now, it’s “official” that I’m working with Natives, because I shot on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I have been talking with these guys from my first film, with Misael [Saavedra, star of La Libertad], but now it’s official. I don’t know about any other reservations, because I just focused on Pine Ridge, but they are living like in a concentration camp—nobody gets out, nobody gets in. So, I don’t know what is happening there. Obviously, they aren’t rich, and some of them feel proud about their heritage. But they have problems, from my point of view. I’m just an outsider, and they are just there. And they spend like six months fucking freezing, drinking Pepsi and eating French fries, you know.
Since I had the chance to be in Boston, and develop this idea of how Natives were represented in films, I started thinking about Westerns. When I finished Jauja, I said to myself, “I should keep shooting with those two Natives who appear. I should focus and develop a little more.” And then that’s how I started on this kind of direction. And then I thought, “Who represents them?” And immediately, I went to Westerns. There’s no way to get out of that.
Scope: Were you already thinking about Westerns when you made Jauja?
Alonso: It comes from conversations. When I made Jauja I didn’t specifically think about any kind of genre, but since I started conversations with people who share ideas, like you guys, and they mentioned Westerns…well, I’m not that far from that kind of thing in Liverpool (2008): an isolated man…
Scope: A loner, walking into a small town…I remember that you said at the time of Jauja that you hadn’t seen The Searchers (1956).
Alonso: I finally saw The Searchers, I think in Belgium. And, yeah, it could never get made today. And then there were a couple of other films about Natives that tried something different, that Thom Andersen sent me…
Scope: The Exiles (1961)…
Alonso: They were put in a normal kind of situation. But maybe because I didn’t have the chance to see them all—but I don’t see that there are a lot of films from the US about Natives, especially from outside.
Scope: What was the script like? Because I know that you don’t write super-long scripts.
Alonso: I said, “Guys, we are not going to write a 60-page script.” Because if we write 60, it’s going to be a three-hour-long film. But Fabian Casas said, “Lisandro, you are the one who told us we need 60 to finance the thing.” But it ended up no more than 30. When we start shooting, I just let go and we do things. People told me, “We know you improvise, but in this it was too much.” But I didn’t improvise a fucking line!
Scope: The film is very close to the script?
Alonso: Everything. Except that I had to change the French producer, the DOP, and main actress, because her baby was dying. That’s it, same lines—the intentions, the atmosphere, the concept, is there. I can send you the script and you can have a look.
Scope: What was the idea behind the bird? How did that come about?
Alonso: You know how I work, so I just focus myself. “Give me a map.” I want to shoot in this place, and I want to shoot in this place, and this other place, so…I just need a bridge from South Dakota to the Amazon. If you talk to Natives, you see they have this kind of connection with spiritual ways of travelling. And I thought it was kind of fair to put in the film, like poetic or a metaphor or whatever, but still have the viewpoint of Sadie, somehow. I don’t know if everybody gets that. It’s not just the bird that’s arriving in the trailer.
Scope: I think it’s pretty clear.
Alonso: I know you guys: this is when I stop asking questions about who the people you talk with and say, “What the fuck is the bird?” That’s what I need to understand, because sometimes it feels capricious.
Scope: What kind of bird is it?
Alonso: It’s a jabiru mycteria. It’s a real bird, I mean, not the one in the film.
Scope: It’s very well-trained, that’s why the film took seven years to make.
Alonso: I had to follow the fucking bird all around! We put it in a plane and took it to Mexico. Actually, when I was in Boston I was researching how to train a real bird, but then I understood it was forbidden to take a bird across borders, it would have been illegal.
Scope: The structure was there from the beginning, from the conception of the film? As three parts?
Alonso: After I did the residency in New York, it was 2014 I guess, I had the film. This is the film. I had the time in order to be sure about every fucking frame that’s in the film. So if the film doesn’t work, it’s my fault. But I had a lot of time. We submitted the film late to Cannes just because of the effects.
Scope: Yeah, Albert Serra told me.
Alonso: I talked to him because I heard that Pacifiction (2022) was presented late. And I wanted to know, and he told me, “I think it’s not a problem, but don’t take a lot of time because after the first announcement they will start thinking about more political invitations and have other pressures.” But we sent them the DCP late, then they asked for the file, and I said, “What is happening here?” And I tried talking to Christian Jeune and he didn’t send me a sign, and then on Monday I talked to Thierry at 6:30 in the morning…no, first I talked to the French producer. And I was waiting…I was ready to go to war, but I didn’t expect him to say, “This is my proposition: Cannes Prèmiere or Competition next year.” And I said, “But you realize that it will be the same film.”
Scope: Did he give you editing suggestions?
Alonso: And then I said, “Tell me about your childhood.” Finally, he told me, “Lisandro, you gave me the film too late.”
Scope: So, Albert was right.
Alonso: It’s just two different films. Albert’s film is in French, French actor, you know. But I think what he really wanted to tell me is if you give me the film late like this, I may be able to find a place, but I need more time to talk to the board—I don’t know who is on the board, obviously Christian loves the film. But I said, no, I can’t wait for two years. I didn’t even think about it. It sucks a lot because this one took nine years, I got divorced, my kids grow up so fast. And I keep thinking, I want to turn the page.
I don’t know what you think about the different parts. I just prefer to watch a film as a unique piece. Otherwise, it’s confusing to me. First, I put you back in time on the frontier, from my point of view. And then it’s easy for me to jump, little by little, into a reservation that’s real. You want entertainment or whatever you need, it’s at the very beginning—this film, this is something else. I can do that first kind of thing, and I really enjoyed it; I didn’t want to leave. But then I said, OK, it’s enough, it’s still a Western, a white guy looking for a girl. It’s always like that, no? It’s in Jauja, it’s in Liverpool. I want to change that.
Scope: The rest of the film has elements of traditional Westerns, but completely destroys the idea of a Western as a genre which you are supposed to consume without reflecting on it. You know what I mean? Like, gold mining is in Westerns; Indians are in Westerns; shootouts are in Westerns. There’s a shootout in the hotel here: you don’t see the shootout, but there’s a shootout.
Alonso: But it’s a Native authority, with a gun, trying to make order. It’s still an authority figure, but you don’t recognize that because it’s a female. If it’s a male, probably you feel different. The purview of the film talks about frontiers, order, dreams, aspirations. When people ask, “Why the dreaming?” in what I call “the green part,” the jungle. Because they have time to dream. In Pine Ridge, there’s no time to dream anymore. They don’t have time, they don’t have vision, a future. Or maybe because they have a vision of the future, they commit suicides every fucking day. Kids. Or they live the way they live. Not all of them, of course. You have the best example on Earth, Sadie. After the film was invited, I called her and said, “Please don’t come.”
Alonso: This is the first time she left—she doesn’t know the beach, the sea. Who is she going to share this with? Who is really going to hear her, in order to really try to see what she experienced? I didn’t bring Misael Saavedra here, Argentino Vargas [of Los Muertos, 2004]—it’s not the right place. I talked to Rafi Pitts about that. “No, no, no man, this is stupid.” I never bring actors. But Sadie is so fucking tough and smart. “No, no Lisandro, I’m going. Don’t worry about me. There’s so much to explore over there.” I tried to say, “Why don’t you wait until we find a place in the US, wherever it goes, and it’s going to be your land, and we can bring more characters and more people to be with us. And you will say to everyone, ‘I’m Sadie Lapointe, I’m here and I’m here to talk.’”
Scope: To clarify, did you have to change the script because of Alaina’s baby’s situation? You wrote that in? Because I think the cop’s disappearance is really important.
Alonso: In the script, the policewoman was going to become the bird. But, thank God, the weather, the snow situation, and all the rest was destiny, and it works much better with Sadie. It’s more relaxed. You saw Sadie’s face, not this strong authority.
Scope: The scene is amazing, you realize.
Alonso: And that was supposed to be made with the police officer! But we ended shooting in the casino through the window, we left, and Alaina took the helicopter to Rapid City. And then, I had two hours to think how to organize the next day’s shooting. Because it’s the shaman scene, and I didn’t have an actor. So we shot it with Sadie. After three days in the hospital, I called Alaina and said, can you come, we need to shoot this first scene where we just realize we are watching a Western on the TV. Plus, you and Sadie are now relatives, so you live together, and so I thought it created less distance for the audience to Sadie.
It was a great experience anyhow. I learned a lot. I tried with this film to jump one more step. We’ve known each other for a long time: did you expect that I would shoot a film, speaking in English, in the Pine Ridge reservation? That’s what I like about the film—I kind of surprised myself.
Scope: Did you ever consider shooting the whole film on the reservation? Or was the contrast of North and South essential to your concept of the film?
Alonso: I hope that people can feel that contrast after watching the film, in a couple of weeks if they remember it, even if they hate the film, or even just for a moment a year later. To feel this kind of dream/not dream. Living in a kind of place where you have your natural resources to survive without help from institutions. And you can still stay there. Now we are living in a time in Central America, where, I don’t know, 80,000 people walk for months in order to try to get to the US.
Scope: And why? That’s the question.
Alonso: It’s colder. I know it’s extreme. But it’s an idea, no? I mean, in Europe, it’s happening everywhere. They say, “Where is a better place for you to live?”
Scope: But they think if they do that, they will be in a better position financially.
Alonso: Yeah, but there is a dream in the film from one of the guys in the Amazon who says, I work in the north, he really works as a construction guy. And he says, “I make my money, I bring some money back, and I prefer to stay here because I’m closer to my kids.” Because it’s not like you take your bags and your family and just go. It’s a fucking pain in the ass. You have to get contracts, then find a job, and live in a cave. And it’s only one life you have. And maybe you spend five years, and I don’t know what the experience you get in those five years. You get money, you send money to your family. There are a lot of things I think as a person from the South, as an Argentinian, even if I have nothing to do with these guys who live in the jungle. Still, I assume, people from all those regions in South and Central America, if they have the chance to see this film, they will get the idea.
Scope: And the film goes back in time. The Amazon scene starts off in the ’70s. It seems to me there’s an idea of anti-progress: everyone takes progress as a given, that we are going forward in time, that we are getting better. In all of your films it’s like…forget about that.
Alonso: The thing is, what he says about economic problems that they have back in the ’70s are the same problems that have been happening for 50 years. So what’s the situation? You see a train taking all the good things from the jungle, that’s the nightmare! I’m living here in the jungle. Where am I going to live? You’re taking all the gold, all the resources we have. I don’t know who is driving that train. Obviously, not the Natives. And the policeman says, “I’m sad that this is the way it should be. Have a nice trip.” For me, those little things are important. People watching the film, maybe just get lost, or tired, I don’t know. Someone told me maybe the chapter isn’t strong enough because you don’t develop any individual characters, and so you focus through the eyes of the bird. But every fucking shot of the bird was $4,000, and we couldn’t afford any more.
Scope: You should have had the bird fly back to South Dakota.
Alonso: In the script there was a ten-minute flying bird trying to get to the South. But then when I start talking, they said, “Ten minutes? Flying bird? VFX? You don’t have the money. Not even the time.” Money runs out.
Scope: Have you talked to people who question your representation of Natives?
Alonso: Not really. I don’t think people will get offended. Who is going to get offended?
Scope: I think there’s a way. It needs to be framed a certain way, for North Americans.
Alonso: In order that you guys don’t feel guilty, or what? I know the Pope was there a couple of months ago, saying “I’m sorry!”
Scope: It’s not even the film itself, in some sense. The fact that you aren’t Native can be seen as a problem in America.
Alonso: But I did it already. You know what? You know why I get to make the film? Because I asked permission, and they gave it to me. And they don’t see me as an American. “Who is this guy with long hair? Who gives a fuck. Why not?” We sold the idea of this project to the police force, saying, “We’re going to make a documentary about you guys trying to deal with this situation that you are living since, I don’t know, years and years.” There are only 20 police officers for in between 50,000 to 70,000 thousand people.
Scope: So you told them you were making a documentary? Like Cops?
Alonso: I think it’s not bad to tell them, “This is what it’s like being a cop in Pine Ridge.” Nobody is going to be offended. We had to ask three different times for permission in the community with the local bosses: police, councils, different people. When I showed the script to a real police officer, he said, “That’s it? Don’t you want to show more stuff?” No, I think we’re good. We don’t need to. Everybody knows. Through the film, I guess if people feel curious about that, they will go and check out what’s happening. I don’t need to show them. And actually, I’m not good shooting those kinds of scenes; I don’t know how to do that.
So, going back to your concern, I think the best way to discuss that, if we get an invitation to screen the film in North America, is to bring the actors to say, “No, the film is fine.” Who is going to talk better than them?
Scope: I think the film is super-thoughtful and responsible. But I’m just thinking in terms of how people, who won’t even see the film, will automatically think about it. There’s a sensitivity. I did speak to an American yesterday who felt the film was potentially offensive.
Alonso: But did he explain to you why?
Scope: Stereotypes. Because you see Natives that are poor and substance abusers.
Alonso: You can’t avoid that fucking reality, man. Come on, what do you want me to show? The next president of the fucking US? Do you want me to lie? What about Westerns? They were not offensive? They never include them: not the way they talk, not the way they dress, not the way they think, not the way they smell, not the way they drink water. That was not offensive?
Scope: I do think that the film, by starting with that amazing transition, sets it up in a way that actually will help.
Alonso: Don’t you think if we bring the protagonists of this reality to any platform, New York, whatever, and they can explain, “No, no, it’s not offensive.” They can’t believe what real people who live there say?
Scope: We all agree, but it’s the way people react. The point is not whether they might feel the film is insensitive or racist, but these issues are being brought up because people want change. But one reason you made the film is because you also feel there needs to be some action done.
Alonso: I think everybody does.
Scope: Well, apparently the government doesn’t.
Alonso: But that’s the main question. They are only 70,000 people. They don’t want to get rich, they just need to go to school. At least half have a US passport, easily, after 15 days of being born. But the thing is, if the US government really wants to change that situation, how long should it take? Ten years, maximum? I feel, from being an outsider, that they just prefer it to disappear, as fast as they can. So that’s the main problem. The main problem is not calling them “Indian,” it’s taking care of the real necessity. Because “Indian” is not an issue anymore. They’re just people. This is just a neighbourhood. I think we all agree. I know it’s another galaxy in the US, probably. So, just tell them this is a documentary film about a cop—they can’t say anything against that. It’s offensive to be a cop and try and protect your own people?
Scope: Well, cops are also problematic, but that’s another conversation. Still, no one had a problem with Chloé Zhao’s films…
Alonso: But those are more like springtime, a kind of colourful framing. They all love Chloé. But do you know why they love her inside the reservation? Because she spends time with them. That’s all. I can spend time with Misael, but the US is far away from my place. But she really respects that, because she created a name doing films on them. And they know who she is, in person; they saw her. If you go there, they don’t care whatever colour your skin is, they just need some people to just hear them. That’s how I see it. But I think it’s not easy for, I don’t know, any other people.
So, OK, going back to the film. Tell me the bad things about being offensive. Did you talk with people who said, it doesn’t work because of this or that? Don’t lie to me.
Scope: The only concern I heard was about depicting negative stereotypes.
Alonso: About the US part? They don’t see the rest of the film? If you deconstruct the film in three parts, you give them more space to react that way. But what do they say about the other Natives, who are talking about dreams? That’s not offensive. Or showing how one kills his brother because they are in love with the same woman, that’s not a problem? You see my point?
Scope: Yeah, murderers are worse than drug users.
Alonso: That’s what I’m saying. But they don’t see it.
Cannes 2023, Eureka, Lisandro Alonso