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Pereda making it up as he goes along

Mexican filmmaker building his cinematic universe from scratch

- Perpetual Motion: The Films of Nicolás Pereda, Pacific Cinémathèque, until Sept. 26. For schedule go to

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A retrospective of the work of someone still in their 20s is a bit unusual to say the least but Pacific Cinémathèque is making a special case for the films of young Mexican director Nicolás Pereda.

The prolific filmmaker has built up a considerable oeuvre over the last couple of years moving back and forth between Toronto and Mexico. Born in Mexico City in 1982 Pereda moved to Canada when he was 19 to study film at York University. He managed to turn his grad thesis Where Are Their Stories? (¿Dónde están sus historias?, Mexico/Canada, 2007) into his first feature film and has been turning out top quality cinema ever since. The Cinémathèque is showing all five of his feature films over the next week.

New York City's Anthology Film Archives, which screened the retrospective in July, says "Pereda combines aspects of some of the most notable trends in contemporary world cinema, including elements of deadpan minimalism, slacker cinema, the documentary/fiction hybrid, and long-take formalism. And like Tsai Ming-Liang, Pedro Costa and Jia Zhang-ke, his work has focused on a handful of actors who reappear from film to film, playing fascinating variations on their previous roles. Drawing a great deal of their power from these actors' remarkable presence, and from his own evocative sense of place, Pereda's films are among the chief testaments to the incredible vitality and creativity of Mexican cinema today."

Like Portugal's Costa, Pereda focuses on the trials and tribulations of working class life but he has developed his approach from quite a different perspective. The young filmmaker grew up in an affluent neighbourhood in Mexico City with little to suggest early on what his future might be.

"We had a TV at home but we never had a culture of watching it," says Pereda. "The only TV was in my parents' bedroom and we would watch a family movie sometimes but it wasn't a very common thing for us."

Although as a child he was interested in the arts there was nothing specific that drew him in. "Film is an area that when you're young you don't know if you're good at it or not," he says. "Any other art form you've had a taste of it in elementary school or high school. If you paint or dance or act or whatever you already know if you can do that or not. When I was 17 or 18 a lot of video cameras came out and it was fairly easy to put together a film on your own with computers. I used to bring a camera to school almost every day."

Most of his early films were like "music videos, abstract stuff with no narrative," he says. Elements from those early experiments pop up in Pereda's later work. He screened some shorts at local galleries in Mexico City before he moved north to study in 1999.

"The most difficult part was the majority of students had a different outlook on film then I did," says Pereda. "I felt it was strange the lack of interest towards other stuff. People were very sure of what they wanted to do when we started film school and I was a lot more doubtful of what was around. There was a lot of films and types of filmmaking that I was trying to become aware of. Not everybody, but a majority of the students already had a clear idea of what kind of films they wanted to do and what kind of films they wanted to be watching."

Pereda did meet Alejandro Coronado, the cameraman on all his films in Toronto. "We were in the same program at York. We shot a couple of short films. We didn't have too much time to think about what we were doing as we were shooting so often. It was a good time to meet and find out how we both worked together."

None of the cast or crew on Pereda's first project had much experience but one actor in particular stood out and has been featured in almost all of his films to date. He did a lot of video production work in theatre and opera in Mexico City while he was studying at York and met Gabino Rodriguez on one job. "He was the assistant director of one of the plays I was working on," Pereda says. "We had to spend a lot of time together and became really good friends. I hadn't seen him act but I knew he was an actor. I didn't know how he would act but most of the actors that I had in my first film were nonprofessional actors so it didn't really matter. I quickly realized he could a lot more because he's a very versatile actor."

Rodriguez is one of the founders of Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol (Lizards Basking in the Sun) a theatrical troupe in Mexico City. "I started working with the company," says Pereda. "They were a group of people I wanted to continue to work with. It just sort of happened. There was stuff I wanted to do in Canada but the projects kept bringing me back there.

"When we make films I just don't feel I am alone -- everybody is incredibly involved in the films. They have a work environment where they have very little means but they try to do as much as they can with what they have. It's very nice working with people who are in tune with what you are doing. I just felt that to built that community in Canada would take me a long time. I am planning something in Canada hopefully shooting next year but if I want to do something in Mexico it's easy to put together a production."

Other members of Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol appeared in Juntos and the group has been an essential element of all Pereda's films to date. "They are a lot more radical than myself," he says. "I am incredibly inspired by what they do. They come up with really crazy things."

Teresa Sánchez, another important presence in Pereda's films, mainly worked as a puppeteer before she met the filmmaker. "I was doing some activist videos in Mexico to promote social change," he says. "Teresa was hired by someone else to act in one of those and I met her there. She was incredibly talented. She had never been in film but had done a lot of puppeteering work. Puppeteers are generally actors and she was very good at comedy. She had a perfect physical presence for the films I wanted to make."

Pereda shoots all of his films on video with a small crew. Some of his features have been blown up to 35mm but that's only for distribution purposes. "It's a bit absurd for some of the films most of the budget goes to transferring to 35mm," he says. "I've only done it for distribution as it's very complicated to distribute it on video. I think it's going to change very soon and maybe it's changed already but when I started four years ago in Mexico the main theatres where I could show my films didn't have decent video projection. Juntos and All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence, which is a documentary, didn't get commercial releases but the other films had potential -- I'm not saying a big commercial release but you know five copies in small arthouse theatres -- and so it was important to have the 35mm copy for those."

Each film varies as to how much is scripted and how much is improvised. The actors in Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol collaborated closely with Pereda on Juntos and that's reflected in the film's credits. Other productions have been more conventional. "My approach to directing is like my approach to friendship or life generally," says Pereda. "I don't have a particular method. I talk to different actors in very different ways and I try different things depending on my relationship with that particular person."

Pereda has plans to make a film in Canada next year but before that he has one more project lined up with his Mexican ensemble. The working title for the final film, in what has become an epic series, is Greatest Hits. "In a way Gabino being Teresa's son and having a girlfriend, that's Luisa (Pardo), and having a friend, that's Francisco (Barreiro), and all of them together have appeared here and there in the different films and I think the new film will be about looking back at all the films and talking about representation in cinema and different levels of reality."