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Alexis Delgado Búrdalo • Director of This Film Is About Me

"I never imagined I would be filming inside a prison"


- We spoke to Alexis Delgado Búrdalo, who is taking part in MiradasDoc with This Film Is About Me, a doc that made a splash during its screenings at Visions du Réel and Seville, among other festivals

Alexis Delgado Búrdalo • Director of This Film Is About Me

We talked to Alexis Delgado Búrdalo as he was about to board a plane to Tenerife, the Canary Island where the 13th International Documentary Festival and Market in Guía de Isora – MiradasDoc is unspooling this week. Its International Feature Debut Competition will play host to a screening of This Film Is About Me [+see also:
film review
interview: Alexis Delgado Búrdalo
film profile
, which audiences previously got to enjoy at gatherings such as Visions du Réel, Seville and Sheffield.

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Cineuropa: How has your feature debut, This Film Is About Me, been travelling so far?
Alexis Delgado Búrdalo: The world premiere took place at Visions du Réel, and then it travelled to more festivals before its Spanish premiere at Seville. We’re now looking for a theatrical release date, but it’s turning out to be difficult because of its running time, which is 61 minutes, and that constitutes something of a handicap. We’re looking at alternative forms of release, such as packaging it together with Lonely Rivers, a short film by Mauro Herce, which is also being shown at MiradasDoc, because we screened them as a joint programme in Portugal.

Sometimes, as a documentary gets going, there’s kind of a comedown: is it hard to keep up the level of interest and the pace for an extended period?
Indeed. I could have stretched my film out, but if you maintain the pace and the coherence, you gradually fine-tune, polish and purify it, you only leave the key parts in, you always keep the viewer interested and you don’t mess around, it ends up being the right duration of its own accord. It’s not something that one decides beforehand: it’s flexible and is eventually generated by the situation, the footage you film, the story and the character.

How did you come across Renata, who is such a unique protagonist?
She was a lucky find; it was down to chance. I never imagined I would be filming inside a prison. I was fully aware that I was in a position to be able to look for stories, and I discussed this with some friends. Then a colleague of mine told me that she was going to lead a reintegration workshop in a penitentiary and asked me if I wanted to come along with my camera and film it, and in addition, do a kind of reportage on her work. She said she would help me with the journey and make it easier for me to get into the prison with a camera. I said yes, and without making any particular effort to do so, I came across Renata and various other people. But she exerted a strange attraction on me as well as making me rather afraid at the same time. I thought she was enigmatic, and that’s what fascinated me; she didn’t speak to anyone, she looked around with these really intense eyes, and gradually we became closer. I was filled with more confidence when I noticed that she never tried to avoid my camera. And so I suggested to her that I make a portrait of her, later discovering that she actually wanted me to film her. I found myself face to face with a kind of actress-cum-diva who wanted to tell her story.

You’ve mentioned her stare, which is quite stark in the film, but does she do it only when there’s a camera in front of her, or does it vary? There can be numerous different types of stare, after all.
What you’re talking about is a philosophical, or almost ontological, quandary, because how can we know what’s on the other side? How can we determine objective reality? All we know is that we interpret reality, both collectively and individually. The stark stare is a poetic way of saying that she is honest and real, and we are seeing what’s behind her face: are we seeing that person? Into their soul? That’s an unanswerable question because we’re watching a film, which is a representation of a certain presence. There are specific codes in a film that we just accept from the get-go and that we don’t even question: the documentary code is based on the idea, belief and faith that what we are watching is real. Many people are irritated by the fact that the boundary between reality and fiction is not clear-cut, because they feel like their expectations have been thwarted and, in some cases, that they’ve been conned. The ambiguity between what is and what is not, what is represented and what it is representing, and what we believe to be true and what may perhaps be fantasy, is a fundamental element of my film, which is implicit in the portrait of Renata. The audience will get to know this person, who’s banged up in jail, through the character, which is a representation in the movie and which I myself constructed while editing it. This character embodies the complexity inherent in defining what’s real and what’s not: is she acting, is she feeling, is she being herself, is she an actress only when she’s in front of the camera, and what truth is there in what she says...? That’s the fascinating thing about the character and what the film can convey: I hope that the act of watching her prompts all of these reflections about her performance.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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