SEEYOUSOUND International Music Film Festival

A Spiderweb of Sorts: Interview With Juanita Apraez Murillo of SEEYOUSOUND

An avid music film watcher with a knack for creating a web of connections between art and people, SEEYOUSOUND International Music Film Festival artistic director Juanita Apraez Murillo keeps an ear to the outlying perimeters of the world.

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, feature films, and a couple of retrospective sections. Juanita Apraez Murillo, the artistic director and curator of the section Music is the Weapon, speaks 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. About 15-20 people would come to each session during that time. When I moved to Torino, I wanted to start these screenings again, [partly] 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.

Sometime later, Maurizio asked what I would do about my screenings. 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, was 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 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, and 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. We have awards at the festival, which has allowed us to involve more people. It truly takes teamwork to make the festival happen.

On its maiden voyage, SEEYOUSOUND 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 occurred 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 always to have two screenings at the theater, and so we’ve had various sold-out screenings.

Torino already has three other established international film festivals, Torino Film Festival, the Torino GLBT Film Festival, and Cinemambiente. What’s the rationale for yet another festival?

I believe [music films] are a wide-reaching topic everyone likes. It’s very important that we don’t limit it to any one genre of film – not just fiction or documentaries. Everyone can find a type of film that he or she likes.

Also, there wasn’t a festival like SEEYOUSOUND. This is to say that, here in Italy, one that deals with this kind of subject matter didn’t exist before our festival. 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 almost everything. I’m very attentive and hope to know 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 a crisis or the people have a certain stronger energy.

This often happens. Hip-hop was born in the ghetto of New York when there were problems. Being the artistic director of SEEYOUSOUND isn’t easy; I must work in a way so that everyone agrees on the vision. However, I try to have a little variety, and I insist that my section, Music is the Weapon, be made up of music documentaries. It depends on the section’s theme, and in this case, I found a group of films that fit together thematically.

How did the “Music as a Weapon” section of SEEYOUSOUND come into being?

It had already started a little last year without 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 and listened to his music. I also found a film on Cambodia, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten.

I started finding this material so interesting that I decided to make it 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 realized how topical it is. This section is all very much about what’s happening now in the world.

Will you have a different “Music as a Weapon” theme next year?

I’ve already started thinking about next year’s thematic section. 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. 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 music is a weapon capable of gathering the masses. Not everyone has access to books, and not all young people in the world feel like reading.

Yet musicians have this power to involve the masses and transmit very important messages. Some films clearly demonstrate what I’m saying in the section that I programmed. Shake the Dust talks about kids from four different corners of the world – Yemen, Colombia, Cambodia, and Uganda. They don’t have anything except 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 they could be better people by teaching others things they learned from their experiences. “Music Is a Weapon” 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 discover unknown places such as Greenland, about which I knew nothing.

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 about certain feelings in their language [Greenland was a Danish colony].

A sense of nationalism and desire for independence was triggered when people listened to their records. It’s incredible that a band can generate this kind of reaction.

Do you and the other SEEYOUSOUND 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 the ability to connect the dots. I hear about one thing, and then something else comes to mind, then another, then I write someone and do some more research. I create a spiderweb of sorts.

Where do you want SEEYOUSOUND to go from here? Do you see it going in a specific direction, or will it 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 and is now dedicated to hosting cultural events] or on one of the ferryboats that go 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 Milan and Rome, but this could be very interesting in a place like Bari [a southern port city on the Adriatic with a large student population]. I have quite a few ideas to propose for SEEYOUSOUND and see it as a work in progress with many possibilities for the future.