“THE WALL OF MEXICO tells the story of a wealthy Mexican-American family who builds a wall around their property to keep poor white locals from stealing their artesian water. It’s an allegory that extends beyond current Mexican-American relations, mapping onto various human social hierarchies: political, socioeconomic, sexual, and so on.”
I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about what you have had here in the past, and your favourite aspects of the city.
In 2017 we came to SXSW with Maya Dardel, a feature film about a famous, fictional, aging female writer who, having announced her intended suicide on NPR, challenges young male writers to compete for her estate. Austin’s distinct microclimate supports tough conversations. Our Q&As were mostly about sex and suicide. After each, we did some social and some anti-social drinking.
So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.
Magdalena: I went to film school at USC. I met Zachary at the premiere of Redland, a feature film I wrote and produced. At the time, Zachary was a novelist, poet and literature professor. My first novel was coming out. We discussed cinema’s underused potential for literary complexity. At the same time, we felt the publishing industry lacked the vibrancy and international outreach of film. Over the next few months, our discontent turned theory into action. So far, we’ve directed three films together: MAYA DARDEL, the coming-soon WHEN I’M A MOTH and THE WALL OF MEXICO.
How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!
First, Trump was elected. The country exploded into cultural chaos too complex to be satisfactorily analyzed, so we decided to create a political allegory as a sort of loose net to throw over the situation. Walls, visible and invisible, have been springing up all over the planet. The Mexican-American tension is a perfect touchstone for this global phenomenon. To complicate preconceived notions about ethnicity and culture, we decided to shoot the film on the other side of the looking glass and teamed up with producers from Tijuana. The majority of production took place between two neighboring ranches in Tecate. Our post-production was international. We colored the film in Los Angeles, mixed it in London, and did visual effects in Belgrade and Tijuana. Our music came from Russia and Colombia, France and Puerto Rico.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
Making films is an adrenaline sport. So much depends on vigorous performance over brief periods. You’re always fighting against time, light, human weakness. Directors are given responsibility over large groups of people. In ancient Rome, when a battle was lost, generals were often so dismayed they drank poison.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
We had a very elaborate protest scene in the film. In real life, even the most fervent protestors get tired of protesting and go home. Our protestors were forced to protest all day long with no idea what they were protesting. Professional protestors protesting is a rewarding lesson in 21st century politics.
I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
We’re meticulous when preparing the film’s look and spend months with Lyn Moncrief, our DP, discussing the film, gathering images, finding a visual mood to support the story. We like to think of a scene as a series of precisely designed stills. The connecting tissue between them is loose, malleable, found on the day or spontaneously altered. It’s never advisable to interpret one’s own work, but it’s probably safe to say we used intense, gem-like colors to emphasize the paradisiac, eccentric nature of the Arista sisters’ domain.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
The moment when, after a year of intense work and effort, the lights go out and you finally see the film on the big screen. “Seeing your film through other people’s eyes” is not merely a clichéd expression. You viscerally feel the reaction of the audience in the room. The collective experience is fascinating. In some symbolic and psychological way, the film is only truly delivered at that moment.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
The film’s agents are right now planning the future screenings of the film. We’re not yet sure where it’s going to play.
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
Like most filmmakers, we’d like to show our movie in the maximum number of theatres in the maximum number of places to the maximum number of viewers.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie, like talking and texting?
Given that the cinematic experience, being taken over by VOD, is in its final death throes: “Don’t you know how to behave at a funeral?”
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
Given how competitive, mean, and irrational this industry is, only true passion and/or madness justifies participation in it.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman at Dwa Brzegi Film Festival in Poland.
This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to http://www.sxsw.com/film!