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5 questions for a Costa Rican film director

Andrés Zapata, 23, is a Costa Rican film director living in San Francisco. His passion towards cinematography began when he first watched David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” and led him to study film and production at Santa Monica College and San Francisco State University.

In 2015 he produced his short film “Father, Daughters, and Sisters,” which deals with the topics of alcohol, sex and family relationships. The film featured an all-Costa Rican cast, and won the Campus MovieFeset (CMF) Jury Award. This month, the film will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival at the Cannes Court Métrage section and the Marché de Cannes. Today, Zapata is working on a script for a narrative film about the shark-finning situation in Costa Rica, China and Taiwan.

The Tico Times spoke with Zapata about his work. Excerpts follow.

What drew your attention toward cinematography?

Cinematography is an escape for me. It showed me that I had the opportunity to do everything, creating stories and images. There’s a wide range of things you can work with, and that’s what I like about it. You can do whatever you want without anyone telling you what to do… you get to work with people from all over the world, and I don’t have to be in an office every day. Every day is different.

What I like to explore within my work is the creation of characters that contribute something to the audience, something that people watch and say that they know what that person is going through because they’ve dealt with it before. With cinematography you have those opportunities. I love both drama and comedy. I want to experiment with all sorts of things because when I’m 80 or 90 years old I want to be able to say that I did everything. Right now I like drama because everyone has drama in their lives. It’s very easy to speak about those topics that exist within our society, such as alcoholism, drugs, sex, and family relationships.

Why did you choose the topics of sex, drugs, and alcohol for “Father, Daughters, and Sisters”?

There’s alcoholism in Costa Rica, as well as other parts in the world; I know a lot of families that have lost their connection due to the use of drugs and alcohol. Regarding sex, we all get here because of it. Having sex is not bad, but the way in which you carry out the act due to the effect of alcohol is bad. There are persons who take advantage of innocent people. It’s also about not judging people because of alcohol, and not… neglecting the purity symbolized by virginity. It’s important to know that you’ve got to question these things, question how you’re carrying out the act and how your decision may affect others.

There are parents who ignore their children because they prefer to be drinking from a bottle than spending time with them and loving them. It’s a lie that alcohol is always good. We all know someone who is an alcoholic and has affected us somehow. I’ve grown up watching people like this, and if I wasn’t the person that I am now, I’d maybe be dead like the prostitute [in the short film].

Andrés Zapata speaking about Fathers, Daughters, and Sisters at the Campus Movie Fest.

(Courtesy Campus MovieFest)

How did you develop the characters?

[I made the film] for a film festival called the Campus MovieFest, with people from 50 or 100 different universities. The festival consists of providing people with equipment to create a film within a time lapse of one week. I got there on a Wednesday when they were about to close; they had no equipment left [to loan out]. I have my own equipment, so they told me I could do the film and had to turn it in the following Tuesday. I registered, but I didn’t have an established story, actors or anything in mind to create the film. I went home and began writing a script with four or five pages. I didn’t know anyone in San Francisco, so I contacted people through Facebook. The whole cast is from Costa Rica.

Of the three sisters, the first one can’t do anything about her life, the second one is on a bad path and the third one is the innocent one. We have a chance to save her. There’s that process of taking care of her and not teaching her about the bad things… I wanted to portray the relationship between a father and his daughters, because we don’t see that very much onscreen. Women don’t have many roles, and I wanted to create roles for various actresses.

How does the film communicate so much without using a single word? 

Cinematography is a language, whether people see it that way or not. With film, you experience through sentences, but the sentences are made up of images. You don’t necessarily need dialogue to express yourself or for someone to realize what’s going on. You can trust in your audience that they’re going to understand; a picture is worth a thousand words.

What are your inspirations?

My family inspires me. I want to thank them for everything because without their love I wouldn’t be anywhere. I also inspire myself a lot, because when I was younger I didn’t have this confidence of saying, “I can do this. I can go out and do whatever I want and believe in myself that I can finish something.” In high school, I was a really, really bad student that never went to school. In college I realized I can do a lot of things. Winning a prize for a short film inspires me to continue.

I think everyone should find that confidence, because if they can find that, then the sky is the limit. When there’s no one else, you always have yourself. That’s the most inspirational and creative thing that’s ever happened to me; discovering that I am my own tool.

Costa Rica also inspires me a lot because the people have a fighting spirit; they always want to be happy and keep working hard. Being happy is the most important thing. We’ve got to keep in mind that we can do it. I’m a Tico and I can do it. That’s what inspires me every day.

Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at kstanley@ticotimes.net.

Contact Elizabeth Lang at elang@ticotimes.net

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