As 2012 comes to an end, bloggers, writers, everybody and their cousins are preparing their “best of” lists. This year, I thought it might be more novel to present you rad readers with my top filmmaker find of 2012: Jorge Torres-Torres and his colleague Jason Banker.
Filmmakers Jason Banker and Jorge Torres-Torres presented their film Toad Road at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival where it received my vote for best of the fest as well as the jury prizes for Best Director for Banker and Best Actor for lead James Davidson. Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on the two filmmakers to see what they will create next.
Turns out, I’m not the only one noticing these two. Since the Fest, Toad Road has received numerous festival prizes and was picked up by Elijah Wood(Frodo)’s company The Woodshed. Another film of theirs, a documentary entitled My Name is Faith (produced by Adrien Grenier) is premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2013.
Having interviewed Banker at the fest, I decided to look into the other half of this filmic duo, Torres-Torres, and was lucky enough to have him take time out of his busy schedule to do a quick interview on his short film entitled No Gano (2011), his filmic inspirations and upcoming projects.
No Gano (2011) which depicts a snapshot of a typical night at the cockfights in Puerto Rico, where the sport is legal, was shown at Slamdance, Atlanta Underground and Rincon, a film festival in Puerto Rico. The film is short and yet in the few minutes presented the level of complexity and ambiguity is quite strong. The imagery is powerful and at times hard to take in the way it is presented as is, especially in the context of roosters dying. Torres-Torres named the film after a segment of the popular saying often used in the sport ‘no gano pero como me divierto’: “which means I just can’t win but I have a hell of a time,” something he qualifies as a “very bittersweet thing.”
The inspiration for making this short came from Torres-Torres growing up in Puerto Rico where the imagery of cockfighting is very present: “The sport, it’s still legal there and ever since I was a kid even my grandma had a photograph of cockfighting […] I always wanted to do something related to that, documentary-wise, but it’s very hard to gain access to all of that because the sport is so criticized and it’s pretty horrible for these birds. I just knew that if I could get in one day, into this place, I could come out with something really compelling.”
When asked about the quotes he uses in the film, Torres-Torres explains: “I put the cards because they go back hundreds of years for the same sport. It’s just interesting that this is something that men need to do, to get this rush by betting and betting something of theirs over something that could be life or death. I really find it interesting because these are truths about men and about our ancestors and what’s in our blood in terms of what we find exciting.”
In between projects with colleague Jason Banker, Torres-Torres went to visit family in Puerto Rico and shot the film in around four hours. Torres-Torres’ passion for filmmaking came from an early age when his father, a film collector, would play movies night and so, by the time he was eighteen, Torres-Torres started making home video movies. Harmony Korine and Werner Herzog became great influences and the documentary genre a creative space.
“I think I’m a purist when it comes to documentary filmmaking,” the director says,”as pure as possible when it deals with how to shoot it because it’s very easy to manipulate and direct something you are capturing just by the way you edit it, what voiceover you put on and who you interview. I really like the approach that filmmakers like Fredrick Wiseman, Les Blanc and Herzog have because they are very aware that there is no real truth but many truths. They are just bringing you sort of life in an interesting photographed way.”
Although this is not the case for No Gano, Torres-Torres is very much interested in what he calls the “factional” in filmmaking: “More like facts and fiction, together, where real people are playing themselves in fictional settings.” This filmic approach is what made Toad Road so fascinating and both Torres-Torres and Banker developed this approach while working together.
“I like things that seem so real that they are unreal, Torres-Torres explains, “for example, to shoot a documentary of something that is just so out there in terms of what we see everyday makes documentaries seem so much more fantastic. Anything that is bigger than life captured purely, that’s what attracts me.”
Torres-Torres often has a multitude of projects going on at once, now he has two films in the works. The first is The Life, Love & Hate of a Free Jazz Man and His Woman, which was shot in Lafayette, Louisiana and the other, Shadow Zombie which was shot in part in New Orleans.
I’ll leave this article, returning to my eggnog, urging readers who are fascinated by the quirky and dark corners of the imagination and of real life explored through filmmaking, to keep your eyes and ears perked for the names of Torres-Torres and Banker and join me in regarding their creative spelunkings.