Interview: Sebastian Jaimes Ramos
Interview by Moumita DebComing from Mexico City. Sebastian Jaimes Ramos participated in many short films – spamming from films made in university to independent takes where he experimented with new ways to shoot a film. So far, he directed “Zero in Geometry”, was the director, scriptwriter and producer of the pilot chapter of “After the Yellow Line”, and was first assistant director and screenwriter in “The Return to the World”, an independent short film. In addition, he has worked as editor of “Tras La Línea Amarilla” and “La Vuelta Al Mundo”.
For him, the cinema is the art where all other arts meet. In a way, it’s a melting pot where different art forms contribute their beauty to create something completely new and different. Cinema creates emotions, questions and is capable of impacting people. To find out more about him and his latest film, we asked Sebastian a few questions.
1. What was the spark that set The Crimson Flower into motion?
Sebastian: Well, I can’t take all the credit for that. We owe that to our wonderful screenwriter, Joaquín Casillas. He came up with the idea, and he told me he wanted me to direct it. My spark came as I read what he had written; it was a truly powerful story, and it had lots of themes that I had always wanted to put on screen. I guess that it all came together when we decided to make the film an epic one, because the setting, the Mexican Revolution, allowed us to create a complex story where everything made sense. It’s easier to relate to modern themes when they are being told in the past, I think, because that way the audience thinks “oh look, many years ago people used to think the way I do right now”.
2. You seemed to have touched upon a very sublime issue of gender sensitization. How far do you think your film might be instrumental in creating an impact on the society on this theme?
Sebastian: I think that these gender role issues have always been around. There have been lots of powerful female characters throughout the history of cinema. That doesn’t mean that they are all the same, they don’t act the same. The main issue with these subjects is not about woman or men acting differently than their gender is expected to act, but to act as the character and it’s circumstances demand. In the case of Fátima, our main character, she is a child, so she acts like children act; she’s naive, but that naiveness leads her to want to help, and to search for enough courage to do what we expect a grown-up would do. I think that the impact our film can make on current society is: it doesn’t matter the gender, but what the character does. I was talking about the setting before; during the Mexican Revolution, there was still the predominant idea that men should work and woman should stay at home, whatever that meant. Despite this, Fátima acts like the child she is; she doesn’t care about gender roles, she cares about doing everything in her power to save her mother.
3. What was harder: getting started with the theme or being able to keep going?
Sebastian: Definitely keep going, because there were so many challenges on the way. The script was finished, the themes were clear, now it was time to land it. The decision to make it an epic film was the hardest, but we took it because it was necessary. The script demanded it. But we kept going because, we knew that no matter how hard, we could do it. And we did.
4. When inspiration was waning, and you felt creatively sapped, what was it that kept you going?
Sebastian: My team, definitely. Everyone was excited about the project, and everyone was doing an amazing job. Especially the producers, Lupita and Rodrigo. When we decided to change the setting of the film from making it a present-day film to an epoch one, everyone told us that we would face many problems. Some people went as far as telling us that they doubted we could make it work. So Lupita and Rodrigo were the first who saw this as a challenge that we could beat. Rodrigo, in particular, was a great support for me. We were searching for the perfect cast, and as soon as I told him how I pictured one of the main characters, he got me three different options, and he got Arap, the one we chose. Also, our cinematographer, Priscilla. She became like my confidant. She was the first I told how I wanted to shoot the ending, and she got so excited that I said: “we have to do this, no matter what, we have to do it”. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, I thought about all their hard work and thought that I couldn’t fail them.
5. Moments of intense emotions and high tragic overtones cloud the film at every crossroad. How difficult was it for you to exude perfectly these nuances from your child actor and make her meet your expectations?
Sebastian: Fátima was a miracle. Not only was the coincidence that she is named as the character (of course we took this as a sign), but she completely nailed it. I gave her some films as references, Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth particularly, but it was like we were synched. She understood the character instantly, and directing her was wonderful. I simply went over each scene with her and explained to her what I wanted and she would nail it. She’s a natural actress and proved it from the very first scene we shot with her.
6. In what ways you feel this movie leaves more questions unanswered than answered?
Sebastian: The ending was intentional, of course. We left it open-ended because I think that the main themes in the film are faith and human will. I wanted audiences to question themselves, to imagine what had happened. The story had been told, Fátima’s journey came to an end, but the how depends on the audience. Yes, that’s the biggest question we left open because it created a bigger impact: she achieved her goal, but at what cost?
7. What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?
Sebastian: The montage, I think. We planned carefully the shooting days so that wasn’t a problem. But when we were in the editing room, that’s when I became most afraid. As both the director and the editor, I already knew how I wanted the film to be. But still, when you are watching each scene independently, and then as a montage, you start to question if this or that was the best way to go. In the end, we achieved it, the montage worked; it gave the film a narrative that, although it was mixed, was pretty clear, and the audiences have been very receptive to this.
8. In the current socio-political climate do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to face the challenge of making socially conscious work like this?
Sebastian: This is a hard one. We are living in times of change, no doubt. The world is a mess, and I hope that it gets straightened out, soon. Everyone has to do their part from their respective field of expertise.
Having said that, I don’t agree with this idea that filmmakers HAVE to make socially conscious films; filmmakers have to make films. And, as in every other form of art, a film can say something or not.
Of course, if a film touches a theme that is part of the current sociological or political climate, it will get more attention. But I don’t think that a film is obliged to touch social themes. The only thing that should demand anything out of a film is the screenplay. I think it’s more of a choice that every filmmaker has, what to say with their movie.
And you can do this with any movie! it’s all about how deep the filmmaker wants to go in the themes he is exploring. So, I wouldn’t say that there is an obligation or a responsibility to do this type of films, but know that you definitely CAN say something, and the deeper you go, the better.
9. Who do you eventually hope to reach out with this film?
Sebastian: Well, everyone, of course. What I mean is, every filmmaker wants his or her movie to be seen by as many people as possible. Personally, I’m reaching out to anyone who loves these epic films. Another goal we wanted to achieve with the film, and one that I think we managed quite well, was to prove that it doesn’t matter if it’s a student short film, you CAN do it. Don’t give up, especially if someone says “you can’t do this”. Prove that you can, all it takes is passion and hard work and love for filmmaking.
Thanks a lot for the interview, it’s been my pleasure to speak with you. I just want to say to every aspiring filmmaker out there: don’t give up. It may seem hard at first, but once you see an audience reacts to your movie, you’ll see it was all worth it.
Moumita is a Kolkata based independent filmmaker and film critic. She holds a post- graduation degree in English literature from Jadavpur University. Reading novels of a wide range of authors of all genres from classic to contemporary has always been Moumita’s passion and calling. She also takes a strong liking in playing the Spanish guitar & has participated in quite a few concerts. Moumita has done her certification course in Cinematography, Video Editing and Filmmaking.