An Interview with Heddy Honigmann (Director)
Survivors and Surviving
Q: In this film one can feel the happiness in the daily lives of the people of Lima, yet I found it painful to watch the story of the shoeshine boy. There’s a sense that having dreams is the key to that happiness, but what does happiness mean to you?
HH: I think all of my films depict that definition of happiness. My films are basically about survivors and surviving, and most of the people who appear in them never forget about the importance of having dreams. If people who can discover their desires are illuminated with some kind of light, then the opposite is a state of forgotten oblivion. This film switches between both of those circumstances. Unfortunately the shoeshine boy didn’t have a dream and has remained in the shadows for a long time, but most of the people that appear are trying to emerge from those shadows into the light. The film ends with the two sisters performing acrobatics on the road at night, but that doesn’t mean things end in darkness. Rather, I wanted to end the film with the sisters doing their best to find happiness. It also expresses the fact that there’s no such thing as pure happiness. By facing reality and finding a balance between what you have and what you don’t have, what you can receive and what you can’t, the dreams you have and the ones you can’t, maybe people can then find happiness for the first time in their lives.
Q: At the end of the film there’s a title card that reads “This film is dedicated to my good friend JOSÉ WATANABE (1946–2007).” Was your friendship with him the impetus behind making the film?
HH: Jose Watanabe wasn’t the reason I made the film but his poetry contributed greatly to it, particularly the verses that appear in the film. The insect larvae that irritate the backs of oxen are eaten by birds. You could say there’s an interdependence among their species, but it could also be looked at as a kind of gentle interaction that benefits all of them. That happiness can be found in this mutual dependence and interaction is fascinating. The actual motivation behind the film came from the character of the waiter. When I returned to my hometown of Lima to visit my mother, I would go to this high class restaurant. I’d occasionally be served by the same waiter, whose face I remembered. I asked him, “Have you been working in this place a long time?” He replied, “I’ve been working here around 30 or 40 years.” That one question was where it all started. “If you’ve been working here 30 or 40 years, I guess you’ve seen everything from coup d’etats to government corruption, right?” I asked. “I’ve got a lot of stories,” he said. That was when the idea of the film formed in my mind. In short, I thought I could discover something through people like this waiter, bartenders, shop clerks and kids. One thing that also came to mind was the title of a famous Peruvian novel named La Palabra del Mudo. It’s usually difficult to think of poor people as suitable subjects, but on the other hand they see so many things in their lives that I thought interviewing them could be really interesting. I wanted to capture their recollections of history.
(Compiled by Murayama Miho)
Interviewers: Murayama Miho, Ishikawa Munetaka / Interpreter: Goto Taro / Translator: Jason Gray
Photography: Laura Turley / Video: Hsiao Shu-Yii / 2009-10-09