A Spiderweb of Sorts: Interview With Juanita Apraez Murillo of SEEYOUSOUND
The program at SEEYOUSOUND International Music Film Festival includes competitive sections of music videos, shorts, and feature film.
Once known as the car capital of Italy, Torino has recently moved into other areas of production, including technology, design, and environmental engineering. It's also home to three well established international film festivals, as well as a thriving cinema museum and art house movie theater, Cinema Massimo. From 25-28 February, a small group of film lovers hosted the second edition of the SEEYOUSOUND International Music Film Festival, the only festival of its kind in Italy. The program includes competitive sections of music videos, shorts, and feature films, along with a couple of retrospective sections. Juanita Apraez Murillo, the artistic director and curator of the section Music is the Weapon, spoke with PopMatters about this exciting project.
I understand that you and Maurizio Pisani are the brains behind SEEYOUSOUND. How did the festival get started?
For five years, I ran a cinema club out of my home in Milan called "Living Room 8 1/2" ("Salottoemezzo") and I screened about 80 films. During that time about 15-20 people would come to each session. When I moved to Torino, I wanted to start these screenings again, [partly] as a way to meet people. I found a space [that was] rented by a cultural association run by Maurizio and some friends. We showed films there every Monday for a year and a half. The last program I was supposed to present was about film and music. I wanted to give it a name and the title "SEEYOUSOUND" came into my head. Unfortunately, the association closed before I was able to show my selections.
Some time later, Maurizio asked me what I was going to do about my screenings. In the meantime, I had done a lot of research on cinema and music and I saw that there wasn’t really a venue of this kind and I thought it would be worth it to create a festival instead of just a film club. We looked each other in the eye, shook hands and said, “Okay, let’s do it.” The next day he was already making phone calls. This was our synergy, me with the idea, and he, with his contacts, his energy, and enthusiasm, able to involve everyone in this project.
Who works for this festival?
Some people have other jobs, but not many. Maurizio is fundamental because he believes one-hundred percent in this project, and he spends all day on it. I spend a lot of time working for the festival, but my role allows me not to have to be constantly contacting people. I do most of my research from home on the computer, writing emails. It takes ambition [laughs], a lot of enthusiasm and people who are good at this job. We have involved professional people over time.
For example, the programmer of the feature section is a film director, the guy in charge of the shorts section is a journalist, while the video clip section person is a teacher who works with the cultural group AIACE [Italian Association of Arthouse Cinema Friends, started in 1962.) We’re really not a big group, but we’re growing. The fact that we have awards at the festival has allowed us to involve more people. It truly takes teamwork to make the festival happen.
On its maiden voyage, the festival took place in the San Salvario neighborhood of Torino and was held in a few different spaces. This year it has moved to the prestigious multiplex Cinema Massimo with help from the Cinema Museum. How did that step forward happen?
Last year, with our lack of experience, we made some errors. For example, the festival took place at the same time as the Salone del Libro (Book Fair). Another mistake we made was having screenings in separate movie theaters. Surely in Torino, Cinema Massimo is the place that has the most prestige for a film festival, so we moved the festival there. We have also wasted less energy this year by having fewer parallel events. We realized that format didn’t work. Instead, we planned to always have two screenings at the theater and so we've had various sold out screenings.
I believe it’s a wide-reaching topic, one that everyone likes. For me it’s very important that we don’t limit it to any one genre of films, not just fiction or not just documentaries. Everyone can find a type of film that he or she likes. There wasn’t a festival like this one. This is to say that, here in Italy, before our festival, one that deals with this kind of subject matter didn’t exist. An annual festival called Musica 90 [an association started in Torino in 1990, to promote contemporary avant-garde music] screens some films, but the screenings are just part of an event that mostly hosted live music and was much different in scope [than our event].
Festivals like ours exist in Copenhagen. For example, there's CPH:dox, which has an excellent section dedicated to films about music. We didn’t go looking for a hole to fill, but our festival, what interested us, didn’t exist.
Describe your job as artistic director for SEEYOUSOUND What does it involve?
I am responsible for providing an overall vision for the project, for the content of this festival. Obviously, everyone brings his or her personal experience and tastes to the table and so do I. I consider myself an eclectic person. I’ve never liked particular genres, but I like most everything. I’m very attentive and I hope to be aware of what’s on the fringes. I believe that the most important things happening in music come from the outlying perimeters of the world, perhaps because there’s crisis or the people have a certain stronger energy.
This often happens. Hip hop was born in the ghetto in New York when there were problems. Being the artistic director isn’t easy to do, we must work in a way so that everyone agrees on the vision. However, I try to have a little variety and I insisted that my section, Music is the Weapon, be made up of documentaries. It really depends on the theme of the section and in this case I found a group of films that fit together thematically.
How did the "Music as a Weapon" section come into being?
It had already gotten started a little last year without having any real identity. We screened a documentary called Finding Fela. I was already a fan of Fela Kuti. After I watched another film about him called Music is the Weapon, I read his biography, I listened to his music. I also found a film on Cambodia, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten.
They Will Have to Kill Us First
I started finding this material so interesting that I decided to make this the central topic. I had a few other ideas for themes, but this one was the strongest. Then I discovered this film about Mali, They Will Have to Kill Us First, and I realized how topical it was. This section is all very much about what’s going on now in the world.
Will you have a different theme next year?
I’ve already started thinking about next year’s thematic section, and it will not be the same as this year’s. I will also try with Cinema Massimo to have one screening per month throughout the year. We’ve already been in contact regarding my proposal. Before the festival, we had two related screenings and I have at least two more that I’d like to show.
Another idea is to involve Amnesty International and some other institutions in future editions of SEEYOUSOUND. I think this theme can continue, but in other ways and not as an entire section next year.
Tell us about the importance of film as a means to advance social or political change.
Cinema and music are more powerful than just words because, you know how they say, "An image is worth a thousand words.” Images deeply touch emotions and especially music is a weapon that is capable of gathering the masses. Not everyone has access to books, not all young people in the world feel like reading.
Shake the Dust
Yet musicians have this power to involve the masses and transmit very important messages. In the section that I programmed, there are some films that clearly demonstrate what I’m saying. Shake the Dust talks about kids from four different corners of the world, Yemen, Colombia, Cambodia, and Uganda. They don’t have anything except for hip hop. This involvement with music has helped them to get away from drugs and very difficult situations in which they felt their lives had no meaning.
Furthermore, many began to feel like they could be better people by teaching others things they learned from their own experiences. The whole section is about this issue. I also tried to choose a film from every continent. In this way one takes a kind of voyage and I could help the audience to discover unknown places such as Greenland, about which I knew nothing.
Sumé the Sound of a Revolution
The film Sumé the Sound of a Revolution is amazing. It shows how musicians from Greenland had to invent words to describe “revolution” because they didn’t exist in their language. They were the first to sing in their language [Greenland was a Danish colony] about certain feelings.
A sense of nationalism and desire for independence was triggered when people listened to their records. It seems incredible, the idea that a band can generate this kind of a reaction.
Do you and the other programmers select films by traveling to other festivals? Have you got correspondents or people who advise you?
Unfortunately, no. We neither go around nor have anybody searching for us. I went, for the first time, to check out In-Edit in Barcelona, a festival that is similar to ours. It specializes in music documentaries. We’ve started talking about the possibility of researching other festivals like the one in Copenhagen.
I’ve signed up for nearly every cinema and festival newsletter I can find. I watch a lot of films online. In this way, I’m kind of a nerd about research. I also believe that I have an ability to connect the dots. I hear about one thing and then something else comes to mind, then another, then I write someone, do some more research. I kind of create a spiderweb of sorts.
Where do you want this festival to go from here? Do you see it going in a specific direction or do you think it will develop on its own?
Certainly I would like to see it expand, including the number of days it lasts. I want there to be more sections. In addition, I’d like to screen some films in unusual places. For example, it would be great to show films at San Peitro in Vincoli [a space that was once a cemetery in Torino, now dedicated to hosting cultural events] or on one of the ferryboats that goes up and down the Po River.
Something else I’d love to do is to take the festival around Italy, especially in the South. There are many festivals in both Milan and Rome, but in a place like Bari [a southern port city on the Adriatic with a large student population], this could be very interesting. In the end, I have quite a few ideas to propose for this festival and see it as a work in progress with lots of possibilities for the future.