Days before we meet on the screen, Marcos sends me two files. A photo of his family: his parents and his siblings pose with the joy of immortalizing him in black and white. The next thing he sends me is the cover of a weekly magazine in which he worked as a journalist, Amauta, held in Peru during the eighties. On this cover black and white is shared but the vital is not recorded, this is a click of a conflict reporter. Hooked to this stamp will go the moment when he would decide to dedicate himself to the image starting the journey towards cinematography. This moment would also become part of the beginning of the political and terrorist conflict that would leave in the memory of Peru a vacuum of almost 65,000 lives after The Shining Path and the need to emigrate.
Marcos Arriaga is the first on the map to form the autobiographical constellation created by the authors of the MOCA’s Canadian Film Show. The autobiographical is explored a little more through these conversations that, with Marcos, becomes a story. A story that begins with this amalgamation of his personal archive in the form of roots and family, of memoirs of a Latin American reality that combined create the subject of what he shares as a filmmaker.
Could you describe the images you share with us?
Amauta was a weekly I worked at for half a year. I studied journalism, communications science, from 1980 to 1985. When I left the press were tough times, it was the moment when Peru was returning to democracy after being in military governments for about twelve years. I always worked for newspapers that were progressive because it was my personal affinity and the opportunity to work quickly as no one wanted to work in left-wing newspapers in front of more mainstream newspapers. I thought it was important to have that constant practice. So… I arrived in Amauta, the photo I sent you was my first page: the first time I made the cover. I had started working no more than ten days ago and was a junior photographer. This situation was the case where only three photographers were going, I was just going back-up, when this fight was put together in the center of the Plaza de Armas de Lima. I see that everyone is coming to take pictures of this leader of the SUTEP (Unitary Union of Workers in Education in Peru) attacked by the Peruvian Civl guard and that I cannot get there. I made a quick decision, got in the municipal car and from there I took that picture. Then a cop came in and pushed me and made me fall out of the car but the shot was done. We went back to the paper and all the attention was for the older photographers, I was just an assistant. But they started to reveal the negatives, the first roll… the second roll… The weekly cover came out the next day and two of the three photos they chose were mine. It was important to me. I was encouraged to continue by photography, by the image, which always seemed to me that it was a more direct element in front of writing. Providing the experiences as they happened through writing felt that it was delayed, but in photography, if you were a little risky, it could be translated into an image. I was young, much younger, and that’s where my relationship with photography began. That cover was very important.
What about the family photo?
It’s a picture of my family, I’m the last of the four. I am from Lima, but I lived all my childhood in Callao, I am from the port. My father had a pharmacy in a “young town,” which we tell him. It’s one of those walks we did on Sundays, you know, we’d all go out and go to the river to the reed beds. Canaverals that no longer exist, now that area is Jorge Chavez Airport. I shared it because it contains the memoirs one has, such as Promised Land (2002). For me it was very important to do it, as with the cover in Amauta. I’ve seen my whole family come out of Peru. It took us twenty years to get back together and that left a very strong mark on my heart. There was always a desire in me to negotiate the issue of bringing us all together. I think that’s why this photograph appeared from the beginning.
What has been the path that has brought you here?
I mean… what interested me was the image but I’m honest with you, I never thought about being a filmmaker. It seemed to me that I had an important experience in Peru and in the end I was lucky enough to go out, but I have always kept that baggage and those memories. What I liked most was history, and until now, analyze. I always read from a young age, I watched the battles, the conversations, the processes, the frustrations… It was a romantic matter, idealizing them. And the possibility of journalism presented itself. The first year was vagrancy but then I realized that no, that there was a chance to learn. When I later arrived in Canada I had all that political and historical baggage of my place of origin and I wanted to go to university, to forge something in this country. Talking to friends once told me that “We Latinos are always on political issues,” to do something else. At that moment I decided on the image and went to Sheridan College where I discovered the technical part, German Expressionism, the Soviet part and people like Buñuel. The aesthetic analysis that started from the photographic part and its technique was important in those early years. It is also necessary to remember the emotion in my early work Watching (1994) where I talk about the image, which I want you to see well, to analyze it… Where I’m trying to pass a message. This is how the cinematic question begins to go, almost always with small cameras.
How do you play personal in Promised Land: How do I set the pace to connect?
I go to what the movie gives me. In that sense I rely on the time of the film. You also have to respect the audience. It sounds like a lie, but sometimes we tend to give it the picture with a teaspoon. ! No! Give it the image and let everyone make their own coding, you don’t have to be so dogmatic. It seems to me that it is the function of the communicator or filmmaker, to give the tools to the viewer but that you do your own reading. I found it interesting with Promised Land (2002), because I was using my family. I had already made three shorts and wanted to play as I perceived Latin America. I was looking for elements to talk about from honesty and what I could play was what I know well: the story of my dad, my mom and relate it to the historical moment. And so I did. I’m in Canada, but I realize that this process started the day my mom decided to leave her little town in northern Cajamarca, Peru to find a better life, just like my dad. I was a little afraid to use so much autobiographical, but I talked to a friend and I showed it to her and her words reassured me. He said “your movie is normal, it has resonance for me”! Bingo! People understood.
Where is this film born from?
There are two issues there. First I decided to make the film and with my family because it is the one that I can talk to honestly and then came the process of collecting material. In these kinds of movies the important thing, you know, is that you have the funds to do it. Even with the formats that we used you are the one who does everything, because you have to edit it, sign it, direct it… I applied to the Ontario Arts Council, went to Peru without receiving the answer. I had rented the apartment I had so there was no turn of leaf. He had less than a thousand Canadian dollars, almost seven hundred U.S. dollars. I got to my family’s house. My father was a beautiful person, but he also measured how much money you have, whether you’ve succeeded or you haven’t succeeded. I commented that I wanted to make this film, that I had to ask him for money and he took it as a great offense. In Toronto, there was tremendous snowfall and I asked my sister to check the mail. He told me I got a little card, “sir, here’s money.” I said, “Look sister, put that billetic on the bench.” With that money, I took my mom and dad and went to their villages. I told them, tell me! Where were you walking? And I was filming. My father comes from the northern sugar area, my great-grandfather was a pipe… All these stories I was collecting. I was telling my dad that all these stories, someone had to tell them. In the end he realized that a son came out of him who likes to tell stories. The collection of photographic material on the other hand, comes from a child. I am aware that I was always impressed to know what was behind the image behind that story.
How was it to approach these stories in Looking for Carmen (2012) related to the Shining Path episode in your country’s recent history?
I think he was more mature at the time. He had previously made Maricones (2005), a documentary about homosexuals in Peru. It was interesting to do so, to approach a problem also sensitive, delicate, how homosexuality is conceived there. The same is with Looking for Carmen (2012). I knew it was a painful, tough business. When I was working in Amauta, we already knew the extent of the massacres as we were one of the few weeklys who denounced them, one of the reasons he closed. I knew there were stories I had to be very careful about how to touch them, out of respect. My entry into the film with Carmen was to allow myself, as a license, to say “I knew this person” and from there explore a larger field. When we were young and I remembered that I had had an argument with her about a Shining Path massacre against the peasants, which for me was not revolutionary as they were killing the same people they were supposed to defend. She had reacted and said “when the revolution triumphed…” and at that moment I realized I was with them. In the documentary I mentioned that I found Carmen. We talked at the beginning, I admit I was a little aggressive, I confronted her in everything. There came a time when she told me that she had been out of this situation for fifteen years, that she had teenage children, she remembered that her uncle, her brother, had been killed. That was very painful and even if I wasn’t in favor of your positions, I was aware that in the way it was important to be careful. When I got the money for the film, I reserved some money to do the research. Before filming it took me two years, when I went a month or two, I would talk to people, read, and then re-film. These are long conversations I had with all these people, I let them talk. On the aesthetic side I didn’t want camera movements, I wanted a fixed camera, that would be aware of what people tell you, to hear those stories that are heartbreaking. And so far this trauma has not been treated in Peru. Positive things have been done, but we must strive to see these issues so that they are not repeated. I also see sectors that do not understand the beauty that we have as a country, in which we have to include the native sector, the Quechua sector, which is the beautiful part of Peru.
What is memory to you?
I left Peru when I was twenty-seven, and I’ve been here thirty-two in Toronto. I just finished two small films, one of which has to do with the big issue of gentrification, My gentrification (2020). It’s material I’ve collected over twenty years in the areas I’ve lived in, still photography. They are small shots of the streets, of the gardens, of friends, of the processions. In that sense the collection of material and archivation is something I do not think, I just go out into the street I see that there is an element that needs to be archived because at some point I can use it and it is basically how I build my films. I don’t have a subject, here the image pulls me. I grab my camera, think about it and see that something is changing, and I take a roll and try to get included in the evolutionary process. It’s a way of relating to the elements that are being transformed. It’s the way I look at it. I’m not very fond of digital… I continue with the chemical photograph if I want there to be a personal relationship with me in the process of taking the negative, revealing it, printing it. And I see the image, the color, the texture. Again here keep the material as long as you can. And there I do my analysis, my positions and start building my stories. In terms of the oral form of the stories and how we convey more or less work in that regard. I go, convert, if something that interests me, there comes the journalistic part: I investigate it, I read it and reread it. I have projects… but I have six years left as a film technician in college. After that I don’t think I’ll make any more movies, I think I’d like to work something with my hands and leave the “intellectual world” behind a little bit. Although I have to say that I would like to make one last documentary, again Peru. I’d like to see democracy done. I first asked the question of homosexuals, of the Shining Path… How we become a 20th century society still have ties related to this subject interests me.
How do you get the movies you’ve made to this day?
I think I’m very emotional in that part. I’m a proletarian of the arts. I don’t know how I can watch my movies. I think I see them in the distance in the term where maybe in twenty or thirty years I can see them and understand what happened. I have no regrets in my films. They were emotional, moments when I said I wanted to make the movie and I did the best I could. I’m very rigorous with myself. This helps in the rigor to present a material that people can connect with. In Toronto I was also educated and accompanied by that heavy movement. With many excellent directors, such as Phill Hoffman, even though I was born in Canada, I identified myself with their process, their stories, and how one related to it. Now in my case it seems to me that it is important that the films move, walk, especially in Latin America. There is also an important community of Peruvians in Spain, I hope you can join us. Canada has a small population, our stories are smaller, but these stories influence. My goal as an artist is to share them.
Art historian and film curator. I like to connect things that are apparently born dissatisfied, better if it’s cinema. I firmly believe that the personal is political and in the ability of the cinematic to multiply existence. Obsessed with old photographs of people I don’t know, I like to think of alternative exhibition spaces.
Translated from original Spanish version published on MOCA.