Filmmaker Jonas Trueba Returns to Miami: "Cinema Should Never Lose Its Amateur Side"

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Spanish writer/director Jonás Trueba admits he has a bit of baggage with Miami. The 35-year-old was only a teenager when he was last here. His father, writer/director Fernando Trueba, followed up his Oscar-winning movie Belle Epoque with what would be his first and only English-language film, Two Much. The film starred Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, and Daryl Hannah. It didn't exactly set critics or the box office on fire. In fact, Griffith and Hannah were nominated for Razzies for their performances.

“I remember very little of Miami,” the younger Trueba says in Spanish. “I was very young when my father filmed Two Much there... I liked to visit the set, but it was a difficult shoot for my father, and I saw him enjoying it less than other times. I want to revisit the city.”

This weekend, Trueba will do just that. He’s looking forward to sharing his experiences with making movies during a retrospective screening and a workshop Saturday at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, in partnership with the Miami Film Development Project. 

Trueba is direct and honest. His father has since returned to Miami, screening later movies at the Miami International Film Festival to warm receptions, including receiving a career achievement award in 2013.

But the younger Trueba doesn't hesitate to admit the pressure he felt when he decided to shoot his first feature film, 2010’s Every Song Is About Me.

“At first, when I started working as a screenwriter and when I released Every Song Is About Me, I felt that I was judged in advance. Many doubted me for being the ‘son of,' but I suppose this doubt was reasonable. Then I continued working my way, and I think, at least in my country, I have managed to build my own space as a filmmaker.”

By looking that pressure straight in the eyes, the younger Trueba has found his own distinctive voice. His films show a concern about not only storytelling and well-fleshed-out characters but also how cinema stands as a representation of reality.

“I always say that I practice a kind of cinema-Ouija," he says. "I never liked spiritualism, but what I see in other films is to invoke a presence.… For me, filmmaking is a lot like that: Meet my friends, technicians, and actors, talk about things, remember anecdotes, and couple that with some experiences and lessons, songs I'm listening to... Sometimes I'm not sure what they have in common, and that is fascinating to think about how they all mix. The cinema-Ouija brings together certain people and elements in the hope of convening an apparition... the film itself, the re-created life, or, rather, intensified life.”

Beyond his experience as a filmmaker, Trueba has a special insight into film language because he was born into it. Besides his father’s career and his mother working alongside his father as his producer, there is also his uncle David Trueba, who won a Goya (Spain's equivalent of the Oscar) for his 2013 movie Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.

“Since I was very little, I was thinking in all aspects of cinema. As a teenager, when I was with my friends, and we made short films in our free time and weekends with a Hi-8 camera, I think we were already working in a similar way as we did in [my 2013 film] The Wishful Thinkers," he explains, "without a final script, instead writing as we shot, using the nearest locations, relying much on the bonds of friendship and the pleasures of being together.”

Because of his place of privilege, Trueba says he feels obligated to share his experiences as a filmmaker, so he will do so in question-and-answer sessions during the screenings of his three movies (plus, he will be accompanied by his producer, Javier Lafuente). “I feel very privileged to have received a transmission of love for cinema so directly,” he says of his familial connection to cinema. “Now I teach theater in schools and colleges because I am aware that not everyone has my luck, and I feel indebted.”

Danny Rodriguez, a 24-year-old aspiring filmmaker living in Miami who won the 2016 Miami Film Development Project Filmmaker Grant this year, says he always looks forward to new perspectives on filmmaking from directors who come to town for these workshops at Gables Cinema.

“Every filmmaker has a different manner in which they approach their subjects or projects, and hearing them talk about their experiences is invaluable and exciting,” he states. "With the opportunity to learn from someone who has made an award-winning career from a low-budget style, hopefully I can see what is necessary and not necessary for different types of projects, what pitfalls to avoid and how to incorporate their practices into my own.”

Rodriguez says he has a varied interest in film, from a passion for mumblecore and its loose, improvisational style to more practical narrative structures. He sounds like the kind of aspiring filmmaker Trueba would appreciate meeting.

“I always like to meet filmmakers from other countries and other cultures,” Trueba says, “especially if they are young. I'm starting to feel a little old and need contact with young people not to forget that cinema should never lose its amateur side.”

Trueba and Lafuente will introduce the screenings of their films Every Song Is About Me, The Wishful Thinkers, and The Romantic Exiles this Friday and Saturday, August 26 and 27, and participate in a Q&A afterward. Following the screenings of The Romantic Exiles, also Friday and Saturday, Latin Grammy nominee Miren Iza, of the Spanish indiepop band Tulsa, will perform songs inspired by the film, in which she also appears. Visit gablescinema.com for tickets. Saturday at 1 p.m., Trueba will host a workshop on indie filmmaking, also at Gables Cinema. Admission is free. Visit filmprojectmiami.com.

Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter: @HansMorgenstern.

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