Naíma Sentíes as Sol in Tótem. Lila Avilés: 'Working with actors is powerful. They are the tribe and it’s only for me to guide them' Photo: Limerencia
The film had its premiere earlier this week in the main competition at Berlin Film Festival.
Lila Avilés: 'I need freedom to work and I’m a super-freedom girl but I’m also a control freak' Photo: Limerencia
She adds: “I think it’s not only important for a director to find the story [they want to tell] but also the path [they use to tell it].”
In her director’s note on the film, Avilés also says: “I like microcosms, the essence of things, matryoshkas, pyramids, things that contain other things. As the central theme was the concept of home, staying in one place was my immediate, common-sense response to the film’s simple premise. It's not that I want to be a ‘single-location-director’, it just happened.”
The film is much warmer than her debut and she notes that the ingredients make it like “soup”.
The director says in preparations she “has a lot of notebooks” but “it’s for me only”. She adds: “Obviously there's a lot of profound stuff, it's my inner world and how I wanted to play with the characters and with this house, but it's mainly stuff that won't work for anyone else, it’s only for me.”
She says that it's when the actors come together that the magic really happens. The other element that was crucial to her was the house where the action is set.
“I wanted a house that was not used [before on film].”
As Avilés felt particular about the setting it was handy that she is also one of the film’s producers
“It’s a lot of work to be involved in all the structure. I have co-producers and we work as a team - but it’s mainly me.”
She says she was lucky because the house where the film is set is the first one she looked at. “There was something I cannot explain,” she adds, “the energy.”
When asked about whether the idea in the outside world that Mexico has a different approach to death than other cultures or if it’s a myth, Avilés says: “It's funny, because myths are also realities. It’'s like a paradox there.Traditions are nice, because they give time and space and a playfulness. It’s for joy and for death. If you’re at a party - dance! But it’s also something sacred - it's goodbye.”
Another hidden connnection to Avilés’ first film is Gabriela Cartol, who played the lead role. Although she doesn’t appear onscreen in Tótem she was instrumental in helping to find Sentíes for the role of Sol and the casting in general.
Lila Avilés on the complexities of Tótem: I’m putting things in order and then you can bring chaos but you don’t bring chaos to chaos' Photo: Limerencia
“She’s a magician,” says the director, who adds that the pair of them have become good friends. She says they were lucky with the casting of the key role because they saw a lot of young girls who had “something you could taste”. “When Naíma appeared I loved it. I love her mother as well. Working with actors is powerful. They are the tribe and it’s only for me to guide them.”
Surprisingly they had very little rehearsal - “we made magic”, she says.
Avilés may have had a lot of work to do writing, directing and producing but its a multiple role she says she’ll continue to embrace.
“My mother always told me: ‘Work doesn’t leave you alone’.” She adds: “I’m putting things in order and then you can bring chaos but you don’t bring chaos to chaos.
“I need freedom to work and I’m a super-freedom girl but I’m also a control freak - I mean, with all the stuff, even the poster. It’s a long journey.”
She says getting it into a cinema is “a release” but says that she would “love later to produce someone else” not just her own films.
The film will be distributed in the UK by New Wave Films although no release date has been set yet.