A First-time Filmmaker’s Journey - 1 on 1 with Juanxo Villaverde
By: Darida Rose
Juanxo Villaverde is a Panamanian actor and producer. His resumé consists of performances in more than 35 plays, and feature films including Indigenous and By Chance, as well as several reputable short films.
Pa Eso Estamos is Villaverde’s first film project. The film follows the formation of a friendship between two neighbours who seem distant emotionally no matter how close they are to one another physically. The film’s narrative acts as a bridge to bring the two closer together, depicting the notion of human interaction and human bonds as a beautiful resolution to facing problems we face from within and the outside world.
Villaverde took some time to chat with Phoenix Journal, opening up about the film’s process and being a first time filmmaker.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): The message of the film seems to focus on sharing trauma and it can help lead a healing journey. Would you say that is correct? Yes So could you explain what led you to portray that theme in this movie?
Juanxo Villaverde (JV): We always tend to label everything that comes from our hearts. “I Got Your Back” came from the heart, from a conversation with friends, from the planting of the everyday in our lives and that although the problems of others are not more important than those that one has (at least for oneself) we can find a bit of relief with the fact of having someone to talk to, that in this society we need someone who, at least, listens to us without criticizing us, without giving us advice, just let us talk. Sometimes the solution of problems and trauma does not come from others, it comes from ourselves, but we have not learned to listen to ourselves.
(PJ): How did you come up with two contrasting characters who end up finding commonalities? Could you please elaborate on each character and how they evolve throughout the film?
(JV): It is my screenwriter (Manuel Paz) creation, he told me that he has been both at some point of his life. From losing his job like Pepe to living in an "apparent" tranquility and being successful like Toño and have experienced an "apparent" happiness. But not everything is white, nor is everything black. There is an abyss of emotions in gray and that is where the interesting thing is: what is not said, what you do not see at the first pass. I think Toño always thought that Pepe's life was perfect, and Pepe always thought the same of Toño's life. Marijuana was the perfect triggering excuse for this evolutionary journey, but they were already ready to take that journey without needing it. I believe that the evolution of both is the same, within their realities; I think that makes it interesting, that both, from their perspective, learn to be tolerant, to be more human and to look around, that knowledge makes each of them mature, within their reality.
(PJ): When did you make this film? How long did the project take, from start to finish? Can you please tell us about the process?
(JV): We made the movie in July 2019. The shooting took place in a single day. We worked around 14 hours to have all the scenes. Later we recorded the transition scenes. Due to work reasons for myself and the editor, we had to start postproduction in January. The Film was complete and closed in April 2020.
(PJ): Obviously, financial challenges are always at the forefront of independant filmmaking. As I’m sure you’ve faced these challenges, how Were you able to overcome such hardships and still find a way to complete the project?
(JV): Uffff, yes. It was a great challenge, but we got through it because I was able to organize myself well. Apart from that we have two sponsors who supported us with the location, the crew's food and financial support that allowed us to continue. Personally, this film was a challenge in every way, as it was my first direction and because I produced it alone. My main advantage was that I had a GREAT team. Hugo Víctor is an extremely talented actor who was available at all times to carry out the rehearsals. Manuel wrote a great script and supported us in the acting coach of my scenes, he was key in the Film. Ian, who made the original music, was there from the beginning of the process and this was decisive in the result. Beto Urriola is for me the best sound engineer in all of Panama, he is the best and a good friend. And finally, Martín, who was completely committed to photography and editing from the moment he read the script. But above all he was by my side being a great advisor and providing his experience.
(PJ): What advice would you have for first time filmmakers?
(JV): That they dare. Don't think about it too much. That they get together with people who trust their talent and that they trust their team, this is teamwork. But mainly that they trust their projects and listen to advice. Those would be my advice.
(PJ): Can you tell us more about the title of the film. Are there any nuances that audiences outside the Spanish speaking demographic might miss such as cultural signifiers (songs, poems)? Was it inspired by anything other than the message it implies?
(JV): "Pa Eso Estamos" is a very Panamanian saying, but one that is implicit in the human condition and is to help a friend in trouble and that he can always count on you, at some point, and not out of commitment, that help is rewarded. very similar to the now famous "pay it forward", only in this case it is more applied to someone close, a friend, a neighbor, a relative. That is not a theme of a demographic group, it is an inherent theme to humanity. Sincere friendship inspires you. Having coffee with friends, just to talk, is the most powerful detoxifier there is, the most relaxing drug and the most effective medicine. If that does not inspire you, consider yourself dead, emotionally speaking.
(PJ): We think "I Got Your Back" is the most accurate interpretive translation we could do, for what the phrase means, beyond the literal translation. Take us through acting and directing. It must have been a challenge to balance these two weights within this project. Could you please elaborate on how you were able to accomplish both AND produce the film?
(JV): It was a great challenge. It's the first time I do it. I really wanted to do it. For several years now I had the intention of directing. The point was that when I read the script, I felt like I had to act too, I really liked it. I talked to Manuel (the screenwriter) and he told me that he was sure that I could do both, and I dared. It was not easy, especially in the last scene. During the filming, there was a moment (as in any set) that problems of production, direction and acting were overcome at the same time, I had to go aside. I took 15 minutes, breathed, and put everything back in order. The team I worked with was very important here, and I think it was my main success as a producer and director. I think that in the end things turned out very well because we were able to be organized and prepared for what happened.
(PJ): Can you tell us about some of the unexpected challenges you faced in the making of this film?
(JV): Of course. There was more than one. The first was technical and meant a delay on the day of filming. The steady did not work when recording and we had to solve and record a lot of camera-in-hand shots, something that finally, I think, gave the film a good touch. “There is no evil that for good does not come”, says a Spanish saying. Another, perhaps funnier, was that we couldn't find pornographic magazines anywhere. Finally, someone from the production got, on the day of the shooting, a box of magazines in the warehouse of a sex shop and we were able to do the scenes. Those magazines, we were told, were donated by an elderly customer… Maybe he will be a character in the next film.
(PJ): What does the future hold for you, and this project?
(JV): “Pa Eso Somos” (I Got Your Back) is and will be an important part of my career, it has had results that I did not expect but that I came to dream of, like winning an award at the Cyrus International. The future of this film is to visit festivals for another year and, I hope,
continue to fill myself with joys. We have already won awards in 4 festivals and in November we will be present at the Hayah Panama International Short Film Festival, the most important in my country. At the same time, we are already working on the pre-production of 1 feature film and we hope to start filming in 2022. This film has been the awakening of very good things, and that makes me very happy.