Filmmaker in Focus: Alex Santiago Perez


Cows Wearing Glasses is a story about a master painter and university professor, Marcelino Sariego, who, in the last days of his life, is going blind. A man with a curmudgeonly reputation, Marso he reaches out to his only daughter, Isabel, a writer of self-help books. With his thoughts turning to his final end, Marso seeks forgiveness for abandoning his family decades ago. The wounds of the past prove difficult to heal, however, in this engaging and touchingly bittersweet comedy-drama.

The director of the film, Alex Santiago Pérez, was born in Puerto Rico in 1970 and studied History at the University of Puerto Rico. Since 1995 he has been making educational and industrial documentaries as well as educational fiction dramas. Cows Wearing Glasses is his first narrative feature, and the film is in competition for best narrative feature at ttff/14

Pérez, who will attend the Festival, chatted with Festival blogger Aurora Herrera about his film.

The incredible plot twist at the end of Cows Wearing Glasses definitely leads the viewer to feel differently towards Marcelino. What type of emotion or reflection were you hoping to engender in the audience?

I wanted to comment on the lack of communication and the problems this causes between human relationships, in this specific case, family relations. If Marso and his daughter had been in communication before, this would not have to be complicated the way it is now. But of course, the fear of being hurt is always there and keeps us from reconciliation opportunities.

With a title like Cows Wearing Glasses, is it that everyone else in the story is colourblind and Marcelino is the only one who truly sees the truth of life?

Our values, our culture, our upbringing and our environment determine how we see things. Everyone has well placed glasses each person “sees the truth.” Marso is no different to others.

The irony of his daughter’s profession as a self-help author reveals a placebo effect of the human psyche; we believe in the perception of the life we create in our minds even if it is based on a lie.

What I like most is the moment of creating a character with contradictions, which as you say, is an irony in this film. Isabel’s profession is a shield for her to protect her frustrations and hide her desires.

What is your personal interest in art and how did it shape the film?

I do not have a personal interest in art. I arrived at this topic circumstantially. I wanted to write about my grandfather, who was my father figure and who had a very particular sense of humour. Then, while making a documentary about Puerto Rican painters of the nineteenth century, I met Domingo Garcia, a very talented and eccentric artist who had been temporarily blinded in one eye and had begun to paint like a crazy for fear of losing his sight. From the union of my grandfather and of Domingo, Marso’s character emerged.

Can you tell me what was your favourite moment in shooting the film?

Definitely the favorite moments of shooting are when the team is connected artistically. There were many moments, when the team completed my ideas and maximised them by taking them to places I never imagined. Those moments where the team is “in the zone” and is creating something with total artistic energy—it gives me goosebumps!

How did you cast Daniel Lugo, the actor who played Marcelino?

I did not do a casting for the film. I knew exactly who I wanted to work with and we met. I started with the actor who would play Marso. I met Axel Anderson, a German actor who immigrated to Buenos Aires during the Second World War and came to Puerto Rico after fleeing the military dictatorship in Argentina. When I met with him to present the project, after spending twenty minutes explaining what the script was, he said, “This same thing is happening to me. I’m going blind.” I was speechless, not knowing what to say and then spent another twenty minutes convincing him that I had no idea that he was going blind. I did not want him to think I invited him to make the character for that reason. Axel “read the script” (I read it to him) and agreed to cooperate.

The other actors, when they heard the name of Axel—he was the actor most respected in Puerto Rico—they would say “Where and when?” without asking anything else. I sent them the script and within two weeks they called me saying, “Hey, good script. I like it.” Daniel Lugo was one of those actors and after the death of Axel, five months before the first day of shooting, Daniel went on to play the character of Marso.

When Axel was sick in the hospital we spoke about the future of the film and I asked him if he could not play the role of Marso, who could. He stared at me for a second and said, “Only Daniel Lugo can play this character.” The rest is history.

What is the significance of the pigeons in the film?

I wanted to make life difficult for Marso. Their function in the story is to be an obstacle in the protagonist’s life. They are chosen because personally I hate them and would kill them all. They are definitely one of the seven mistakes of God.

The character of Néstor brings hope to the film. Was this to show that you can have a productive life even after losing your sight?

Néstor’s function is to show that human beings have the capacity to reinvent ourselves and move forward. Marso also represents the fear of what is coming. Marso is about to experience it but does not want it.

The scene where he wanted to buy bathroom tissue was very sad. Is the film any kind of social commentary about the way blind persons are treated?

I love that you read the scene and perceived it as something sad. I always saw it as the shamelessness of Marso to be breaking wrappers to identify which paper to buy, but of course it is a painful circumstance. I think that the blind are strong, they are very formidable. Life comes with much irony and Marso is going down that road.

How has the film been received so far?

I am seeing that people feel that they just witnessed something real, something true. I think that it must be my documentary influence and Daniel’s interpretation of the script. Many say that it is an emotional rollercoaster: “I laugh, I get mad, I laugh, I get mad.” I am very pleased. I love it when everyone makes their own movie, like when you say the scene with the toilet paper is sad. When the people form their own stories in relation to the film, it is an indication that they were involved in the plot and that they participated in the film. When that happens I am happy.

Cows Wearing Glasses will be showing at ttff/14 on the dates below. Alex Santiago Pérez will be present at the third screening of the film.

Mon 22 Sept, 8.30pm, MovieTowne POS

Wed 24 Sept, 12.00pm, UWI
Fri 26 Sept, 3.30pm, MovieTowne POS, Q+A

Sat 27 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Mon 29 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

[vimeo 103199965 620]

Date: Wed 10 Sep, 2014
Category: ttff news and features

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