Quentin Lazzarotto worked with renowned director Werner Herzog on Carlito se va para siempre (Carlito is leaving for good), his short film about a gay man, set in the Amazon rainforest.
Tell us about Palma Real, the location for your film Carlito se va para siempre.
Palma Real is an indigenous village. It's three hours by boat from Puerto Maldonado, which is the last city before the rainforest. We chose the village because it's a bit easier to access than in the north of Peru.
What was it like to work with the indigenous Ese'Eja nation?
Before we began the film, Werner Herzog met with Ese'Eja community leaders in the village. He explained that we were young film makers with stories to tell, and that we were interested in working with them. They decided to welcome us.
There were 40 of us, but we didn't all shoot in that village. Some filmed in the city, and some filmed deeper in the jungle. But I wanted to work with the people in that village.
I had a romanticised idea of what the village would be like, but found it more modern than I expected. The people I met used modern technology, but had also kept traditional beliefs.
We had a language barrier. The people I filmed with speak Ese Ejja, and a variety of Spanish. I had an interpreter, but it was still difficult to communicate. So we found other ways, like using gestures.
But really, it all started with Carlito, the actor from the film who lives in Palma Real. He is a nurse, and is loved in the village. As soon as he agreed to play the lead role, I was welcomed by the community.
Did you have any logistical challenges while filming?
The houses are built on stilts above the ground, to allow wildlife to move underneath, and I once fell through the floor of a house where I was filming.
There is an important scene on the river bank, when Carlito meets his lover. That required a lot of preparation with the two actors.
When they began acting, I was standing on the muddy river bank and I began to sink. I didn't want to interrupt filming, so if you watch the film, you'll see the camera moving slowly downward. That wasn't intentional. The actors had to pull me out of the mud after I said 'cut'.
What advice did Werner Herzog give you about making the film?
Make a story that is short and simple; that comes from what you feel, rather than what you know. He said that if you do this, things will go your way. I found that was true.
Cinema should deal with primary emotions. It's advice that I would pass on to other film makers.
He always asked us 'what is your story, and what are you filming'. He wasn't interested in ideas, concepts and message. He was interested in the story and the first shot. I kept this in mind, and I found Carlito se va para siempre easier to make than other films. That is despite the logistical and technical issues in the location, and the language barrier.
Did you change anything about your film while you were working in Palma Real?
When I told my story the first time, it was more complicated. There was supposed to be a murder. Werner told me not to do that. He said that it was more important to show the viewer that the two men are in love.
I simplified the story the night before shooting, and in the morning, I let a few things happen naturally. For example, Carlito steals a boat, which was not planned. It was a suggestion from the actor's friend.
Werner taught us not to impose our cultural perspective. For example, I wanted to include a quote by Byron at the beginning of the film, but he advised me not to, because it would be incongruous.
How do you ensure that you're accurately representing a community or place?
People are interested in the truth of emotions, which are universal. If you stay true to your emotions, it will be relevant everywhere.
When I was directing the film, I gave minimal instructions to the actors, based on emotion. For example, I told the character who says goodbye to Carlito in the village that she is sad because he is leaving.
When he says goodbye to that character, she says that there is no place for him in the village. In a film with very little dialogue, why did you choose those words?
I added the sentence in editing, because I felt something was missing. It's something I heard once and was struck by. It came back to me while I was making the film, and I felt it was something Carlito should hear before he leaves.
I think people will relate to that, and it makes his motivation for leaving the village clearer.
Did you set out to make a love story?
It is a simple love story, and it's optimistic. It shows that even in the deepest part of the rainforest, there is a way out.
#FiveFilms4Freedom, the world’s widest-reaching LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) digital short-film programme returns from 21 to 31 March 2019.