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INDIE WIRE: SXSW ‘12 I Omar Rodriguez Lopez - Chauvinism and Capitalism Inspired His Exploitation Movie ‘Los Chidos’
The eccentric musician-filmmaker (formerly of At the Drive In, which recently announced plans for a reunion at Coachella) has worked on movies with a close-knit group of friends in Mexico, but has only allowed the last two to screen at festivals: “The Sentimental Engine Slayer” played at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010, while the outrageous exploitation movie “Los Chidos” premiered in competition at SXSW this week.
A gross-out spectacle done in the style of Spanish telenovelas but positioned as a satire of male chauvinism, “Los Chidos” technically revolves around a Mexican family dealing with crime and other misdeeds while sorting out their interpersonal dramas. Intentionally dubbed and filled with countless provocative images, “Los Chidos” is one of those movies that begs for further explanation.
So I tracked Rodríguez-López down at Austin’s Driskill Hotel this week to figure out what he was going for. And boy, did I get some answers — not to mention a lengthy diatribe against the music industry and capitalism as a whole (he also trashed fellow Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu). Frequently out of breath as he spoke, Rodriguez-Lopez sounded like one of The Mars Volta’s lively compositions.
It seems like you’re only making movies to satisfy yourself and your friends. But these last two have played film festivals. What made you more comfortable about getting them out there?
I wasn’t comfortable getting them out there, but I had to be responsible in terms of having a concept of other people. My editor and sound person sat me down and said, “Hey, listen, we respect your philosophy but we work really hard on these films and want to be able to put them out there.” I have to honor that, because they do work very hard. I can’t take the credit for it. Adam Thompson, my editor, he’s the reason we’re here and had the last one at Tribeca. He’s the one who fills out all the paperwork and is very passionate about that.
SXSW ‘12 Interview: Omar Rodriquez Lopez Talks Spirituality, Storytelling & The Symbolism Of ‘Los Chidos’
One of the more talked about films of this year’s SXSW has been Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s “Los Chidos.” Shocking, violent, funny and made in a style unlike anything else at the festival this year (unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen), the film is divisive, but its differences are what make it interesting and worth talking about (read our review here). Using, but also breaking convention, stereotype and tropes, “Los Chidos” is a crazy fable that explores socially ingrained cultural problems like misogyny, abuse and consumption. Not everyone is going to get it, but Rodriguez Lopez doesn’t seem worried about scaring off those viewers who don’t in order to maintain the clarity of his vision.
The great thing about festivals, is that after you see a movie like “Los Chidos,” you can sit down and ask the director what was going on while the film was made. We got a chance to do just that with Rodriguez Lopez in Austin last week. It’s a wide ranging conversation that spans religion and spirituality to Rodriguez Lopez’s filmmaking inspirations and his creative process, to deconstructing the meaning of some of the symbolism in the movie. There are a few spoilers ahead about some of the more shocking moments in the movie, but we’ll warn you before you get there.
How did you transition from doing music into making films? What inspired you to want to start creatively working in film instead of other channels of expression?
I never understood music as something that could be done as a career. Music is just something that happened. I come from a very musical culture and a musical family. I have no musicians in my family but everyone plays music, everyone plays piano. My mother sings, my father sings. In our culture, dinners usually revolve around writing songs about what’s happening in the room. Actually, I always wanted to make movies. In 1987, my father got his first VCR and camcorder and I started playing with that; that was really where my energy was focused all of the time. That’s what I wanted to be doing. Music is something that just happened that I was fortunate enough to have happen to me as a career. All along the way, I made short films, and then I made my first feature in 2000 and I just thought I’d put myself directly inside of the process, which is the most important thing. I can’t articulate enough how much that is the thing. The end result is just like icing on the cake.
Is 2000 when your filmmaking collective started to come together?
That’s when I started forming it. Very much in the way that a theater group functions or a musical group of like minded people that were interested purely in the process and expression as a form of therapy. The expression as having some sort of medicinal property to it and not just entertainment… Musicians are some of the most awful bunch that you’ll find on this planet, and the drive usually is girls first and foremost, and second to that money, and I just didn’t relate to that at all. Right away it’s like going through a crowd and then you find someone who’s not talking about either of those things, and is talking about the things that are important to you, and you grab onto them. You grab onto them and twenty years later I still know those people.
What was the shoot like? What it was like working for with these people and doing this crazy, wacky film?
It was amazing. It served exactly what it was supposed to serve, which was the addiction to the process and to therapy. Everybody, the crew that didn’t live in Guadalajara, mainly the editor and the cameraman and one of the lighting guys came and stayed at my house. This is where I lived until recently, and the rest of the actors and the rest of the people who were involved were all people that I met while living in Guadalajara and going to see theater and going to see plays and seeing children’s plays. There’s this theater group called Opa, they do anything from kids stories, to issues about the murdered women of Juarez. Immediately I said, “I have to know these people.” I snuck backstage one day and I said “It was beautiful, I want to make a film, would you like to be a part of it?” And once we sat and talked about it and understood where I was coming from and saw the script and realized that, more than anything, it was this social commentary, they were on board, and said anything we can do to help. So they gave me access to all of their facilities where they rehearsed, their own actors, their people, their locations, I really couldn’t have done it without them. The shoot itself is like any independent movie, which is 18 hour days, absolutely insane, but also done in a third world country, which means that the rules are made up as you go along. The hotel that we shot at was in a very dark part of town. Very nice people who run it, but it was a place where people come to do drugs and to have sex and things like this. They gave us full run of the place but we definitely had to respect the ecosystem there and not get in anybody’s business—just stay focused on what we were doing. And humor anyone if they wanted to, if they had questions or wanted to be a part of it somehow.
How did you come to cast Kim [Stodel, who plays the American interloper]?
Kim worked before on the previous film called the “Sentimental Engine Slayer,” and I thought he was interesting, and I needed a character that would represent consumerism and globalism and corporate America. I knew that he would get it and he had enough of a sense of humor about himself and his culture to participate.
Indie Wire Exclusive: Poster For Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s ‘Los Chidos’ Premiering at SXSW
Music and film worlds will be overlapping in more ways than one at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, and we’ve got the exclusive poster debut of The Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s feature film “Los Chidos,” which will be making its debut in the narrative feature competion. Surprise surprise, this is the fifth film he’s directed, but only the second one to be seen on the fest circuit. His previous effort, “The Sentimental Engine Slayer” played numerous festivals around the world, and was financed by former Red Hot Chili Peppers axeman John Frusciante.
The official synopsis reads: Set amid the noisy outskirts of some unnamed Mexican metropolis, “Los Chidos” tells the story of the Gonzales Family. Proprietors of a tire repair junkyard sandwiched between two busy freeways, the Gonzales clan’s days are spent wallowing in lazy, mindless routine. When a confused American industrialist happens into the shop with a flat tire, the family’s place in the shame-free food chain is called into question. Family secrets begin emerging as love blossoms in Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s satirical dark comedy.
The satirical dark comedy was shot with a micro-budget and micro-crew in a Guadalajaran whorehouse and we’ve heard it bears a bit of an early John Waters-esque edge. It’s got a serious bent to it though, as in his director’s statement, Rodriguez Lopez says the film “served as a meditation that exposes the unfortunate size of our otherwise beautiful and unique culture. Namely, the inherent machismo, misogyny, classism and homophobic values passed down by our grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.” He adds, “God is a black lesbian” at the end. Rad. We can’t wait to check this one out. SXSW Film runs from March 9-17.