Interview with the team behind Ruins Your Realm, Part 1
This text is a version expanded especially for Kinoscope of the interview that first appeared in Spanish on the film criticism site, Con los ojos abiertos.
Mexican cinema is of late drowning in political advocacy. In this context, fund applications often overshadow cinematic exploration. Pablo Escoto’s immersive documentary, Ruins Your Realm (2016), on the other hand, demonstrates such radical freshness that it’s hard to immediately know how to take it in, hence its importance. Conceived by a very young creative team, made up of Escoto (as director), Salvador Amores (editor) and Jesús Núñez (cinematographer), Ruins Your Realm is not just a spring of fresh ideas amidst the arid landscape of national cinema, but rather a proverbial bucket of ice water that helps awaken our senses.
Pedro Segura: The term “poetic cinema” seems reductionist, a literary rather than a cinematographic concept that doesn’t take into account the autonomy of cinematic language. Yet in the case of Ruins Your Realm, it allows us to talk about poetic interventions in the film, through the use of intertitles.
Pablo Escoto: Absolutely. It is as if cinema’s perennial condition is to be a medium of translation. Cinema has been around for over a century, yet films are still described as visual poetry. However, the term is useful when making a (non-definitive) distinction between “poetic cinema” and the so-called “cinema of prose.” The distinction may be arbitrary, but Pier Paolo Pasolini explains it this way: poetic cinema emanates from chaos and dream, metaphoric language and not philosophical one, a language of concreteness. Following this thread, Pasolini denounces the cinema that ignores the nature of its own language by focusing on cinema of prose, namely narrative film. As Pasolini put it, “All [of cinema’s] irrational, oneiric, elementary and barbaric elements were forced below the level of consciousness”.
The dubious equation, between signifier and signified, between film and literature, gave root to some of the central questions in the film. How can we treat words as images? In what way—through practices like the direct intervention of text and the juxtaposition of different signs—can we create illogical prose, an other history? Words turn concrete images abstract. Before the intertiles the images’ semantic content is only nascent, potential.
PS: How did you structure the film’s language to arrive at the final form?
PE: When watching the footage shot on the ship we found two types of images: voluntary framing, i.e. shots with explicit aesthetic intention, and accidental framing, meaning everything in between. We merged both of these types of images equally, treating our representation as capturing the lived experience, seeking the totality of what we saw.
Salvador Amores: The structure that the film has today seems to me the only possible one. We reject linearity as progressionist, rational and western. The history of our country is not linear but full of ruptures. How can we speak about a cinema that is no longer “Latin American” but simply “marginal” or “independent,” if it follows and employs the same oppressive dynamics?
Contemporary filmmakers—we speak particularly in Mexico—are often unaware of how they portray their subjects. More importantly, of where they stand economically, geographically and culturally. Ignorant of the historically oppressed space their cinema comes from, they don’t see that their modes of production are incongruent with the land and people they depict.
I think this is in part because of the illusion of “globalism” created by cinema festivals: the contemporary auteur no longer has to fight against anything because today’s art cinema has an identical mode of production to that of commercial film, on a small scale.
The issue nowadays is not only that of an aesthetic colonization, but also a colonization in terms of how and where our films are shown and what credentials they need to be shown, which are in most cases, a thumbs up from an older, white, European male. There is a “correct” way of doing cinema today and most of these rules come from European film theorists, programmers or critics who, consciously or not, have dictated for years what Latin American cinema should be.
PE: Perhaps what is needed is a cinema that is no longer Latin but something else. Such as Fernando Birri’s idea of abandoning national films for a cosmic, raving, lumpen cinema. Glauber Rocha’s last film, The Age of the Earth (1980) and Birri’s ORG (1979) get closer to the delirious cinema of vibrancy and rapture that transcends historical narratives, in which any revolution movement is shown as one leading to decay and rubble.
One of the reasons these films exceed such narratives is precisely through their dialogue with decay, with rubble and ruin—elements so integral to our country. These films stem from ruin and yet they transform it: from dead sites to luminous spaces, infrastructure to revolution, rock to weapon, statue to radicalism. Images and sounds of pure potency, thus permanently in the present time. All this was central to the making of Ruins Your Realm.
SA: Audre Lorde once said that the master’s tools could never dismantle the master’s house. We’re not only speaking of pursuing non-linear, experimental films, but rather of a change of mind as to how “independent” films should be produced and thought of in a country like ours.