Alejandro Fernández Almendras

Getting in and out of the van.

I always want to go to Valdivia. I always want to have a film in their selection, to be able to go for a whole week to watch movies, eat beef tartar, drink beer, talk with new and old friends, run into students that critique and comment, that recommend pictures I don’t know. I want to go so I can run out to Niebla for a bit, smell the wood from the fireplaces wafting over the perennially wet pavement of the sloping streets that end at the river, walk by the casino during the wee hours and promise myself once again not to search for a bar that’s still open at that time.

Valdivia is like that annual poem by Teillier that I want to read over and over again. Of all of the stories at Valdivia, there is one I cannot forget. It was at the end of the 2011 edition, when they took us on a van to Temuco, to take the plane. It was Daniel Hendler, Cristián Jiménez, Sebastián Lelio and myself. Hendler asked what was Chilean cinema like. We told him the usual: there are a lot of pictures made, many that are very good, but, without counting the more TV-ready comedies, few people go to watch them. He asked us then how many people had gone to watch our films. Lelio said: “three thousand;” Jiménez: “two thousand;” I said: “nine-hundred thirty-two.” Hendler regarded us very seriously and said, “but guys, you’re all wrong. You cannot make films no one will see.”

The rest of the journey was almost silent. We were all struck by the Uruguayan filmmaker’s brutal honesty. It was true. We couldn’t continue making movies for no one to watch. I remembered then, a conversation I had had with Lelio on the banks of the Calle Calle River. Looking over the water, he remembered that, before making La Sagrada Familia, he had always wanted to be in that place, to be what he had accomplished: a filmmaker that travels with his pictures, like a traveling salesman. But, he felt like a cycle was coming to a close.

Later, after Hendler’s shot of honesty, Lelio sat next to me on the plane and we talked for a long time. I remember he told me he needed to move away from where he was, that he wanted to reach more people. “To get out of the van,” I told him. We laughed.

Years later, when I watched Gloria, I knew Lelio had gotten out of the van, and I was very happy. He was out there, looking for his audience, and had found them. Una Mujer Fantástica was, for me, simply one more step along that road. When we finished watching it, in its premiere in Berlin, I told Jiménez, “He’s the first to get out of the van,” and we laughed again.

Now that our careers continue, even in different countries and languages, I know I can speak for all three of us, when I say there is something that, despite the years, does not change: the love for a city, for these friends that love cinema and for a festival that, every year, let’s us see the ways we have to get in and out of the van.
Happy 25, and happy 25 more.