Simon Mesa Soto won the Palme d’or last year with his slow-paced and sensitive film Leidi. We asked him about the shooting, his Cannes experience and short film in his native Colombia.

interview by Zsuzsanna Deák

Tell us about the shooting!

It took place in a neighbourhood called Picacho located up in the mountains in the west of Medellín, Colombia. We spent four days filming and we actually had a great time there, even if on the last day I was scared, we didn’t have much trouble shooting the film because sometimes you think there must be some suffering to achieve something good. In this case we really enjoyed those four days. The cast and crew (and the people from the neighbourhood) were very committed and engaged with the project. The most difficult part was during the preproduction: getting familiar with the people from the place, since it is not easy to shoot in these areas of the city due to the social issues.

How can a young guy like you empathise so much with a teenage mum? Why did you choose this subject?

It is actually a close subject to me; when I was around fifteen I went to my girlfriend’s family reunion and all her female cousins or relatives of her age had children or were pregnant. My girlfriend was the only young girl without a child and I thought “Am I going to be a young father?” I became very interested in this subject and realised that many things in society are reflected in these girl’s situations. For instance, in Europe if a young girl gets pregnant the most likely thing to happen is an abortion, but in Colombia girls don’t think about this option, maybe because it is a sin or maybe because it is a way of keeping their boyfriend no matter if he plays around with another girl (like young guys usually do here). We are sexist and Catholic by tradition. Through the story of Leidi I can observe this universe.

How did you find your main character?

We didn’t make conventional castings, we went there digging in houses, parks and so on. We also started contacting organizations and people from the neighbourhood to support us getting close to the people. Alejandra (Leidi) was found because we got the support of a programme from the local government called Buen Comienzo (Good Start) that helps young mothers educating their children. We attended those reunions, talked to those girls and made a camera test. Alejandra was there; she was introverted but not afraid of the camera, and I was amazed by her gaze.

Why did you choose your native country as a location for your graduation film?

The London Film School is a place with students from all around the world, so it is normal to have support from the school to shoot in your own country. But more than that I like Colombia as a cinematic choice; it is for me a place to be discovered in films and, since I grew up there, I am very attached to its landscapes and characters.

How has Cannes changed you as a filmmaker?

Being at Cannes and winning the short film Palme d’or showed us a part of cinema that was quite unknown for us. I was a filmmaking student making a short film somewhere in Colombia and suddenly, I was in the middle of cinema. Now I have a different view of how the industry works: it opens to you new paths and puts you in contact with many different people that will support your next projects. However, I constantly feel the need of leaving aside the dreamlike universe that represents getting a prize at Cannes and keep the original ideal. As filmmaker I still have the same concerns as before the festival; making films that deeply interest me and continue exploring characters and places.

How is the situation of short film in your country?

There are many young people interested in filmmaking right now in Colombia resulting in a huge amount of short films made every year. I think this has to do with more government support for film production and growth in film education. Colombian cinema, however, is still young and I think we are finding our way in creating more interesting narratives and understanding the industry.

What do you think of short film as a format? What does it mean to you: a stepping-stone toward features, or a format you will always return to?

For me it’s both. Over the past years I’ve made several short films to explore narratives and find my way in cinema. But I still love this format, there are stories you can best tell with a short film and that makes me think I will keep making shorts.

What are you working on now?

I am working on the screenplay of my first feature, which I hope to be filming next year, and making a short film as part of a project called Break the Silence; a reunion of five directors from all over the world to address the problem of sexual abuse of children from different perspectives.

 

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