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Filmmaker Q&A: Matthew Salleh, Pablo's Villa

Friday, 07 June, 2013

Five questions for Matthew Salleh, director of the short Pablo's Villa (which screens with A River Changes Course)

What filmmaker most influenced your own development?

It was the European masters of the '60s that got me excited about film for the first time. All the usual suspects: Fellini, Antonioni, Truffaut, Bergman. My biggest influence in documentary is Errol Morris, particularly early works like Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, where his style was very minimalist and pure.

What inspired the development of Pablo's Villa?

My partner Rosie and I have an online film project called Portrait Mode, where we interview people from all walks of life. Sometimes we will interview a person for hours, but we always edit each 'portrait' down to a single uninterrupted take.

On a world trip last year, we planned to film portraits in every country we visited. We read about Villa Epecuén (the setting of the film) whilst on our travels, and decided to venture down there, in search of more portraits. When we discovered Pablo, we ended up making a whole film.

Discuss your production methods on Pablo's Villa. What in your view was most successful?

Portrait Mode has allowed us a lot of creative freedom. Quite often the documentary filmmaker is forced to stretch a story or idea to its limits, after they promise investors a full-length film. Rather, we always go in search of small, intimate portraits, and only extend the story into a film when we feel the narrative can sustain it. This is exactly what happened with Pablo's Villa.

With myself directing and on camera and Rosie producing and on sound, we have a great deal of versatility. We filmed Pablo's Villa with a pocket-sized camera - all our sound and camera gear fit into a backpack. The digital revolution in filmmaking over the past five years has been profound - and although the highest-end equipment produces amazing content, it's the cheap, small, almost disposable cameras that allow us to find stories in the strangest of places, and capture honest moments without a larger crew following you around.

What was your biggest challenge?

By far the greatest challenge of this film was the language barrier. We were fortunate that the first person we made contact with in the neighbouring town of Carhué was a professional translator, who had returned to her home town to spend time with family. Without her, we would not have been able to truly capture Pablo's story.

What direction are you planning to take with your film career?

We still plan to produce more portraits for our online series, and use it as a way to travel and find unique stories. If the stories grow into short films, then we'll shoot short films. If they grow into features, then we'll shoot a feature.

What is your favourite recent film?

Just before we went to Argentina we were in New York, where we saw a few documentaries that were only in limited release. The Central Park Five, a film by Ken Burns, was great. It was interesting seeing Ken Burns tell a story that wasn't from a hundred years ago. I think the academic rigour he had developed in his longer works could definitely be seen. By contrast, with West of Memphis, a film similar in its content and purpose, you could see the point of view of the filmmakers drown out any sense of objectivity; it made the film difficult to trust.