Let’s own up to it: when this whole COVID-19 thing started, we all took it pretty lightly. It wasn’t long before we were flooded with jokes about the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse, and how we’re all going to die. At that time, we thought conspiracy theories were hilarious. Now, after a whole week of mandatory quarantine, things don’t seem quite as funny. Things got out of hand. And here I am, in my balcony, exchanging audio messages with Ayar Blasco, trying to conduct an interview.
I must admit that not doing the interview face-to-face sort of suits me. Those who know me well know that when I meet someone whom I strongly admire, I turn into a babbling idiot, incapable of formulating statements. Yes, I can go up on stage at Comic Con and lead a massive crowd into a karaoke sing-along; yes, I can act as MC at all kinds of events. But when I’m standing in front of someone whose work I really admire? I go mute. Catatonic.
Why do I admire Ayar’s work so much? Let’s see. He’s one of the creators of Mercano el Marciano, one of only two fictional aliens I’m not terrified by (the other being Marvin the Martian). He worked on the animated shorts that used to air on Much Music as well as the Mercano film. He’s the brilliant mind behind Chimiboga and its beautiful roster of characters, which includes Ratón Disney (“Disney Mouse”), not to mention his contributions to the Plaga Zombie film trilogy by Producciones Farsa. I also really love his film El Sol, which luckily we got to talk about at length during the interview. Interesting factoid: Jorge (my editor and best friend) absolutely hated that film when we saw it at BAFICI. I think Jorge has only hated my cinematic picks twice: El Sol, and the Todd Solondz film Palindromes.
And finally, I love Lava, his most recent movie, which I would dare say has the “La La Lista Seal of Approval” as several staff members went to see it at the Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre film festivals. I’m happy to report that Jorge liked it.
Could you tell us a little bit about your film Lava? Where does it come from and where is it going?
We’ll release the film in June. If things stay the way they are, it’ll be released only through [streaming service] CINE.AR and other online platforms. It took me a year to make the movie. It all worked out well, nothing fell through in our schedule. We didn’t work more than we had to. We finished everything on time. It was a real pleasure to make this movie. I worked on pre-production with some friends from the comics industry and back in my old fanzine days.
The actual production was done with help from the Da Vinci art school and some outside animators as well. It was seventeen animators all in all, everybody was great. They poured their heart and soul into it, and they were really committed to the film. As far as post-production, I did sound at Tauro, which was amazing. Dolby and everything, you’ll see. And I also worked with a group of friends who are incredibly talented. Everything turned out real nice. It’s my second or third film, I dunno [laughs]. Depending on whether I count Mercano as a film. But this is the second film where I’m credited as a director. The first one, El Sol, was much more apocalyptic. You can watch it on Youtube.
Lava was made from a screenplay by Salvador Sanz, a very talented friend of mine who is a writer and illustrator. It’s very apocalyptic, too. Less so than El Sol, but more so than Mercano.
What makes El Sol “more apocalyptic”?
Well, I think it’s my favorite one I’ve made so far. It’s how I think things will happen [in the apocalypse]. It was based on a lot of loose ideas I had, silly stuff I’d dreamed up. It’s extremely personal. And I feel like — [laughs] I’m not saying it’s absolutely going to be like that, and if things do turn out like they do in the film it’ll be a long time from now. But I definitely envision it being closer to El Sol. In El Sol, the future… yes, there’s no one around, everything’s barren and dead, whatever. But the sky is bright blue. It’s almost positive. As much of a bummer as it all is. That’s how I imagine survival in the future. Not like a Mad Max sort of thing, where everything is negative. But a more realistic view of things. Because I find myself thinking… what else could happen? Everyone fights each other, there are tribes, they beat each other up, and then what? Surely the people left would want to live well and organize. So I found that an interesting way to examine this whole post-apocalyptic thing, give it a different perspective, one that’s different from the one you always see where there’s violence and war. There’s a lot more to reality than that. So that film is my #1 as far as depictions of the apocalypse.
How do you feel non-Argentine audiences respond to your work?
When I made El Sol, I took it to a bunch of festivals. European festivals; Italy, Rotterdam, Warsaw. I also took it to South Korea. I saw a bunch of places and thought it had a pretty good reception. But keep in mind this is a festival audience. It’s more of a niche. I don’t know if my work would have much of a commercial appeal. It doesn’t necessarily meet all the requirements as far as entertainment goes. It’s more geared towards that festival crowd, people who love film, not just anybody. Another thing that might play into it is that curiosity about how Latin Americans, or Argentines, behave. But I think the movie’s most effective — or at least, resonates most strongly — with Spanish speakers. They’re going to “get” things more.
I don’t take this whole filmmaking thing too seriously. I just throw whatever in there. I don’t want to get too deeply into the “this film is for this type of people” kind of thinking. I’d rather do something more personal. And when you make something personal, there are people who will like it and people who will not. When one tries to make something with universal appeal, you never know if it’s going to work out. I’m not interested in “making it” internationally. The film can be translated, and it’s done. I don’t really think of the audience when I’m making it, so I have no control over that.
Ever since the mandatory quarantine was put in place, you’ve been posting daily content to your Instagram. How’d that idea come about?
It came about when Scuzzo, a friend of mien who sells t-shirts, signs, all sorts of things, said “why should I keep selling stuff if we’re all going to die anyway?”. I remembered that since 2006 I’ve been making online animated videos on my website chimiboga.com and uploading them to Youtube. And there’s one where this emo kid is asked by his dad to help fix a broken pipe, and the kid says “why should I help you if we’re all going to die?”. I realized that this is a very ubiquitous line of thinking, especially now. And so I decided to upload all my animations on my Instagram account. I’ve been uploading daily and will continue to do so for about two months, since I have about sixty of these. I think it’s my small contribution during the quarantine, so people won’t get bored. I relaunched everything related to Chimiboga, and I like doing this because I had been feeling like all the stuff I’d been putting up had been getting lost in all the noise of the Internet, on Youtube. This gives it new life.
There are some people who already knew my work and have enjoyed seeing it on Instagram TV in decent quality, and there are also some new folks who didn’t know my stuff at all. People find it and show it to each other by tagging each other in the comments. You can see it growing. It’s a limited audience but they’re very loyal. I have a group of people who follow me and they’re very cool, it’s like a family. I love it. My work isn’t massively successful, but I like that. It’s respected. We’ll see how this all goes. I know that uploading daily content is helping my profile grow. So I guess I’m happy with this quarantine. I’m having a blast.
Finally, what film or music recommendations do you have for us during this quarantine?
Well, I recommend El Sol! When I was making that movie, I was obsessed with everything post-apocalyptic, so I’d been almost collecting films that explore those themes. There’s one called Panic in Year Zero, an American film (trailer). I don’t know where you can find it, probably somewhere on the internet. It’s about a family that flees after an atomic bomb, they go out to the country, they buy food, they buy guns, since they’re American. It’s just very relatable.
As far as music, I’ve been listening to devastating stuff like Aphex Twin and Brian Eno. That’s about it. I’m not really watching a lot of movies or TV shows or anything. Animation is one of the things people consume most during quarantine, so I’ve been working on a lot of stuff for channels and platforms, which I can’t really talk about. I’ve been keeping busy. So I’m not really watching stuff. At some point it’ll die down a bit and I’ll be able to get bored and watch shows and all that.
For now, I’m just here with my cat, abiding by the mandatory quarantine. I’m not sending WhatsApp videos. That’s definitely something I recommend people don’t do. I lost my internet connection yesterday for a moment and I kept thinking “that’s because of those sons of bitches who send huge videos over WhatsApp that nobody ever watches.” Don’t do that.