EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF
by Mo Scarpelli
Venezuela / Regno Unito / Italia /USA, 2020, 105’
Venerdì 9 ottobre Cinema Zenith ore 21.30
Sabato 10 ottobre Postmodernissimo ore 15.00 Sala Visconti (replica)
Director, Screenplay, DoP: Mo Scarpelli
Editing: Juan Soto Taborda
Sound: Roberta Ainstein
Productors: Manon Ardisson, Ardimages UK, La Faena Films, Rake Films,
in association with: Channel 6 Media, Feverfilm, Tres CinematografÍa
A young film director returns to Venezuela, inspired to make a film based on his father’s life in the Amazon jungle. He casts Father to play himself, fiction and reality clash. What starts as an act of love and ambition spirals into a process which confronts Father’s struggles with addiction and his life devoid of his son. EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF holds a steady lens to the ways the act of cinema unearths, binds, heals and destroys.
Special mention, International Feature Film Competition, Visions du Reel 51.
I started out to make a film which could observe what happens when a son rewrites his own father’s story, thus flipping the power dynamic of father above son, upside down. What are the limits of cinema in representation of those we love? What does this process unearth, and where does that leave us when it ends? As what I observed – a fictional film production – became more and more raw, the tensions around the son growing up outside of Venezuela, far from his father, and what emigration ripped from their relationship and their lives, were brought to the fore. The film thus became a grappling with the unanswerable question of how to mend what migration has torn apart.
There is no life for Jorge with his father in Venezuela. There is no way for Father to be present in his son’s life outside; the only life he knows is in Venezuela. Neither of them have ever found a way to approach the pain of this separation, until they create a place to safely express raw emotion: a “fictional” film set. But even this cannot last. Films end, filmmakers leave. Sons grow up, they leave, too, sometimes. The cleaving of father and son is universal, but here was rapidly expedited by time. The film production, their opportunity for wrestling these lifelong regrets, was 42 days long; then, Jorge would leave again. What this cleaving in this time of Jorge and Father unearths is unsurmountable — the hollow pain of separation, the isolation of becoming a man. We are left with two men vastly opposite in personality and demeanor, but sharing one essential thing: a clinging to a past, the desperation to distill memories in stories, in a work of art, in a film, in order to try to keep them alive.
The intention of my films is to linger, to study faces and reactions, and ultimately, to allow people to betray their own or others’ versions of themselves. Every man is a contradiction; some of us are ready to see, and ask why. Father is this way. EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF is the process of watching a father be seen, finally, by his son, and in a totally different way be seen by me; his daughter-inlaw, a woman, his friend. I leave much to be interpreted in what is “right” or “wrong” about this particular process of representation. What I do hope to impart is my solidarity with the human being, a camera’s validity of their fear of the world and their place within it. The root of all shades of machismo is fear. The root of family is love. EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF is this fear and love colliding.
Mo Scarpelli is an Italian-American director and cinematographer of non-fiction and hybrid cinema. Her feature-length films have screened at the Berlinale, IDFA, SXSW, Hot Docs, Durban IFF, BFI London Film Festival, Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, FIPADOC, FICCI and others, garnering more than a dozen international jury and audience awards. Her last film ANBESSA was nominated for both the Crystal Bear and Glashütte Documentary Prize at the 69th Berlinale, and broadcast on ARTE/ZDF in France and Germany. Mo is a selection of Berlinale Talents and has received fellowships from the New America Foundation and the International Women in Media Foundation. She is based in Rome.