An interview with León Siminiani


photo: Óscar Fernández Orengo

photo: Óscar Fernández Orengo

by Leonardo Moro 

Tell me about your early life.

I studied literature and linguistics. I think this planted  in me from very early on the importance of language and structure. At the same time, since my early adolescence i began making shorts and watching as much cinema as i could. I guess thix mix of text and image was the origin of the “textual cinema” i try to practice today.

 How did your parents take to your desire to becoming a film-maker?

They were always supportive. They recommended me to study something else before trying to get into the movie bussiness. Looking back on it, i see it was a great advice.

Why do you make films?

I was fascinated by cinema. In high school i took “cinema analysis” as an elective subject . The teacher was not only a great cinephile; but he also managed to communicate his pasion for the medium. I remember after a long analysis of Nicholas Ray’s“Johnny Guitar”, going out of the classrooom thinking “i want to do this”.

Where did the idea come from for ‘Conceptos clave del mundo moderno’?

The first chapter called “the office” was an assingment for a “documentary seminar” in my first year at Columbia University film school in 1998.  Back then, i came up with a “formal manifest” that i should respect every chapter of the series no matter what.  Back then i was very anxious to create an space in which i could relate to cinema in my own terms: both in the content and the way to work. I wanted to find a way to relate to cinema in a very private,  intimate way. I thought of the relationsip a writer has with writing and  kept asking myself: how could i find such an intimate  relationship with the work in the medium of cinema?

Why New York?

I was studying there. One of the  7 rules of the aforementioned manifest was: every chapter should be shot in New York and spoken in english  . New York is an inmense set itself.  The city has endless posibilities; spetially when you´re looking for images to ellaborate on issues such as modern man´s way of living. Also, i was very interested in the concept of “variation”: going back to a same place, a same editing style and formal identity but only a few years later. I wanted to see how passage of time could affect  the work, which variations could arise even  when working within the rigid limits that the manifest imposes.

Are there cities you particularly love? 

Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Santander, Chandigargh, Calcuta, Berlin, Lisboa…the list could go on. Then there is the cities that triggers more of a love-hate relationship. For me New York would be the first one on that list.

What was the difference between making ‘Conceptos clave del mundo moderno’ and ‘Mecanos ludicos’?

“Mecanos lúdicos”  were  short pieces made for tv on a very tight schedule. I had to write, shoot and edit a piece every two weeks. I made 20 or so. Obviously some were better than others. But from the very beginning i  set myself the rule of “trying to play”, taking them as game. Here, the main goal was playing with certain tools of cinema. They “key concepts…series” are done way slower. In fact, i have done 4 chapters in 15 years.  This makes the process and the resulting works considerably different.


still ‘Mapa’

What influence has Mcelwee had over you?

Mcelwee in non-fiction and Truffaut in fiction are for me the most intensive exponents of “cinema in the first person”.  By this i mean taking one own´s life as the raw material for a film. From Mcelwee i value very much his “sense of narration”, his ability to turn his life into a narration.

And Perlov?

In this same field of “subjetive cinema” Perlov has achieved amazing moments of poetry. Also for me is very important his “giving up on commercial cinema”, the fact that he first built a career in fiction cinema and then chose to give up everything to start from zero. The way he opens his “diaries”, simply trying to learn the language all over again is something deeply emotional to me.

What do you think of the contemporary Spanish cinema?

I think we are in avery intense moment in spain. There is a sort of creative boom while being in the midst of a deep crisis that threatens very seriously the financing system of cinema. A polarisation is taking place:  on one side we are seeing the creation of a sort of “spanish blockbuster” ( high budgedt+ large publicity campaings); on the other side an array of proposals done with very limited budget (many times with zero budget) and clearly situated on the author´s realm is gaining wide recognition in international festivals.  The question is: how can this cinema find a bigger audience?  I think it´s a time of “changing skin” for spanish cinema.  Personally i think it´s a fascinating challenge.

MAPA_A4_Goya_AF.inddWhat was the best thing about making ‘Mapa’?

I have worked for almost 15 years in a very particular type of “textual cinema”, based in the relationship between “written text” (read by a voice over) and image. Always in the short format. As time passed the question “could this type of narative be hold on a long format?”  Became central for me. I guess “map” is the answer to that question. It took a long time  to finish it and there were many phases of uncertainty and self-doubt in the process. So  i guess the best thing about it  for me is the feeling that somehow i could find a way.

Do you consider ‘Mapa’ part of the cinema vérité genre?

No. Cinema verité is a tradition of documentary that i repesct deeply. I would love to be able to  tackle this type of cinema at some point. But i think in “map” there is  too much rethoric and narration to be considered “vérite”.

What practical problems did you encounter when filming? Have you used different cameras?

I shot with two different handycams. I started with a mini dv camera that was damaged at the accident told in the movie. After the accident, i swicthed to a full hd camera. Matching the quality of such different formats was one of the challenges in postproduction.

In the shooting phase, the biggest problem i could mention was being alone: the lack of production. Coming from the fiction field where there is always a certain degree of control over the space in which you´re shooting, it took me a while to get used to it.  But more than a problem i would say it´s a practice, a method. Instead of shaping the reality, i have to adapt to it. Of course in the editing phase i regain control: i do reshape that reality to turn into a story. So there´s is this ongoing pulse between reality and me: between life and fiction. A pulse over the  control of the film.

How much did the film cost?

400.000 euros including all distribution costs.

How do you see your audience?

This is been a great surprise for me. We had many problems in the financing phase because supposedly this was a film difficult for broader audiences. However, from the very first public screening the film had a great word of mouth and became a small sleeper.

I learned through the process that there is in the distribution business a great prejudice about the intelligence of the audience. Even when the film was doing very good numbers marketwise, we still had to make a great effort to get more theaters.

Do you find collaboration easy, in particular collaboration with directors and producers?

In this case the collaboration with the producers (Avalon and Pantalla Partida) was essential. I knew Maria Zamora, executive producer of avalon,  many years ago and we had worked together in different short projects. She bet on this film when there was no screeplay nor a regular production scheme. She understood this film had to be done in a very particular way and fought to give me the time and space i needed to “find” the movie. I am in debt with her, with them.

What film-makers  among your contemporaries do you most admire?

It would be a really long list…an example: Isaki Lacuesta. I admire the way he  practices cinema as a way of knowing and living in the tradition of Huston, Pasolini or Herzog; his freedom to experiment and follow his curiosity: any new film by him is completely different from the last one.

What are some of your non-film interests?

In the last years i have grown a great interest for architecture. Structure and the shaping of a space. I  am trying to  start thinkng of film in those terms. I like to think of a film as a building. I find useful  the idea of trying to make a movie “from an impossible point of view”.

For example, in “Map” there is a section after the “montage sequence” where the character is completely lost: he doesn´t know what to do, what to film, how to continue the movie…for me, that was the “Hitchcock corner” of the film. I kept thinking of it as if it was part of a hitchcock movie. Of course this line of thinking is absurd/impossible because there is no actors, no plot and no mise en scene… However, i do think that in the end there is something about that moment in the film, that does have a certain suspenseful feeling.

These days  i try to think of a film as a building. Let´s see what it takes me…maybe trying to approach cinema from this “impossible point of view”, from a playful standpoint could be  considered as “the method” you were asking about in the previous question.

What are you working on next?

I have different ideas but they are too underveloped yet to choose one of them. I am very interested, for example, in the growing number of people moving to villages due to the crisis. A generation that was completely urban suddenly thrown into nature.

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