Locarno Films After Tomorrow: Martel's chronicle of a death retold

Locarno Films After Tomorrow: Martel's chronicle of a death retold

Acclaimed auteur Lucrecia Martel talks to Business Doc Europe about Pardo 2020-winning Chocobar, her Covid-interrupted political doc project that takes its cue from the murder in 2009 of Argentinian land rights activist Javier Chocobar.


In 2009 Javier Chocobar, a land rights activist was shot dead, fighting the removal of his community from their ancestral land in Argentina. His killing was recorded on a YouTube video.  


Martel’s resulting documentary is about racism, power and image representation, as well as 500 years of discord, all viewed through the prism of this tragic culminating event, the murder of an indigenous activist by a white landowner. 


The project was presented within Locarno’s The Films After Tomorrow section, for works whose development has been curtailed by the pandemic, where it won one of two Pardo Awards, each valued valued at CHF 70,000 (€65,000). The other Pardo 2020 winner, for the best Swiss project, went to Marí Alessandrini’s Zahorí, about an unlikely friendship between a thirteen-year-old girl of Ticino origin and an old Mapuche man set in Argentina’s Patagonian Steppes.


“This film [Chocobar] challenges what I consider the most exquisite human task: to strip and expose reality as a construction,” comments Martel. “A very ambitious task, I know. But what encourages me is the feeling that there can be a bigger sense of happiness, still unknown to us, that requires this effort of dismantling the set of rules behind what we call ‘reality’. Argentinian ridiculousness and brutal racism is my target.”


Martel is revered as one of international cinema’s most unique visionaries, but her films have hiterto been works of fiction. Why then turn to documentary to tell this story?


“I no longer know if ‘documentary’ is the right word, since it’s the document itself that is being questioned,” she responds. “The difficulty in this film is that very soon the audiovisual language, and language itself, present themselves as obstacles. It never happened to me before. 


“I thought that in these twenty years I’ve found some narrative strategies that allowed me to share certain things with others, lets say, the audience. But I was wrong, these kind of narrative procedures seems no longer useful for what I’m looking for in this case. And the difficult thing is that inventing or discovering is a rather hazardous task in terms of results.”


She further explains her rationale, underlining that she intends to apply the same non-conformist principles to her documentary work as within her previous films.


“I wish to explore the world of editing not by image substitution, but as a persistent movement towards the frame’s depths. To use certain forms of repetition, that deliberately interrupt the illusion of ‘sense’ and consequently challenge our own trust in the idea of cause/consequence, in an unyielding chronology,” Martel continues. 


“This came up on analyzing photographs and found footage. I’ll keep testing with whatever may bring ‘spaciousness’ with sound, of course. Maybe the newest thing for myself is the need of a certain kind of digital animation that allows me to find something else, starting from the very elements composing an image; that is the pixel, or the grain. To look for digital animation techniques that allow [me] to doubt the surfaces, the limits of material things. And hopefully, to achieve a crack in the historical impotence that prevents change to actually happen.”


She adds: “I can say it [her documentary] will have the same effort of non-compliance with an existing and known path.” 


Despite Covid-19, Martel is confident of completing the film before a premiere in 2021. “Yes, I trust that we’ll finish it in time. I’m eager for the 2021 spectator, before this beautiful mistrust in our culture, that the pandemic generated, gets lost.”


“I have no clue on when we could resume travelling between the provinces. When this happens we’ll restart right away the shooting pre-production. We are ready for that. I know that the post-production on this film will be very complex. But I want the film to premiere next year. It’s the first time that I have an urgency to premiere, because of the circumstances that the pandemic brought on, and because a huge economic crisis is looming over our country. That points out that the time is now,” she ends.