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Starving for Art: A profile of the filmmaker, Narciso Hidalgo

Page history last edited by Megan Bailey 10 years, 6 months ago

Starving for Art: A profile of the filmmaker, Narciso Hidalgo


A tall man sits at a table stirring a styrofoam cup of hot tea. He begins to talk about his life, his education, and the culture he grew up in. However, when he speaks of his work, his words escape quickly. His travels are expansive, and, as he describes them, he seems to live through his memories, seeing Rome or Madrid or Hong Kong as an internal film. In short phrases, he cultivates his image: a writer, a filmmaker who has learned his trade across nations and continents, one who has starved himself for a work of art, an artist who lives to create.


Born in Cuba in 1955, Narciso Hidalgo immigrated to Spain as a young man in order to study journalism. After collaborating with a few magazines as a freelance writer, he found a position at the newspaper, Noticiero de Las Americas ("News from the Americas") that focused on Latin American activities in Europe. After two years as a columnist, he became the director of the Arts and Culture section of the newspaper. As a film critic, he traveled to festivals in Berlin, Hong Kong, Madrid, Tokyo, and New York and established connections with famous directors such as Akira Kurosawa.


In 1985, he traveled to Cini Chita Studios in Rome, a school of film where many Latin American filmmakers have studied. Because he could not afford tuition, he became a sort of "freelance worker," an occupation that allowed him to work alongside major figures in the Italian film industry. He developed a friendship with Massimo Troisi who would star in the 1994 Oscar-winning film, Il Postino ("The Postman"). The film was based on a novel by Antonio Skármeta called Ardiente Paciencia ("Burning Patience") about a Chilean postman who falls in love with the art of poetry after delivering mail to a local poet. According to Hidalgo, Troisi was the "younger genius of the Italian film industry...a kind of guy able to write, act, direct, make his own films."


Hidalgo began to speak of the day they met, slipping into Italian, and, after mumbling an apology, described a conversation he once had with Troisi. "One day he asked me, 'what are you doing here?' And I said, 'well I'm trying to learn films,' and he said, 'are you a student?' I said, 'no, I don't have money,' and he said, 'you are crazy.' I said, 'yes I know that I am crazy, but I'm going to learn to make films.'" Troisi laughed then asked him what he would like to do. Hidalgo responded, "Have lunch, I didn't have meal in two days."


In Rome, he learned that the quality of the film was determined by the editing, although it was the most difficult process to learn. The studio labs were not available to him, because students were constantly working there. However, he examined their work, noting the tedious angles at which the film must be cut and pasted. "[It was] very, you know, picky in some ways, but later on I realized that the edition is probably more than fifty percent of the final result...no matter what you shoot...the edition is the moment in which, really, you decide what gonna be the final product...the final cut is what we call it."


When he returned to Spain in 1987, he began a documentary called Culos, meaning "butts" in Spanish. "We, in Spain, we use a lot of bad words in the common language...and I was obsessive with, in general, how people looked from rear." The fifteen-minute documentary included close shots of people from behind juxtaposed with parallel constructions of animals in the zoo. "You see, for example, somebody who was walking in the street and was scratching, and suddenly I got a monkey doing the same thing." Hidalgo submitted it to the Festival de Cine de Comedia in La Coruña, a city in northwestern Spain, where it received recognition.


In 1988, Hidalgo wrote a screenplay called Ilusiones Compartidas ("Shared Illusions"). Filmed with the European PAL System, the fifteen-minute documentary followed a group of painters that used chalk to reproduce paintings on the ground at Parque del Retiro, Madrid. "The fantasy was everybody who goes through...it was a lifetime opportunity to freeze this work that gonna be gone the day after if it rained or gonna be gone in two weeks. It was amazing pictures." "A touch of music" accompanied the recreations and the faces of passerby in order to create impressionistic images.


In 1991, Hidalgo moved to Slovenia, a district in the northern part of Yugoslavia. He then traveled to Norway to make a documentary about Laponic tradition. Hidalgo worked on the film with a Cuban friend who immigrated to Bangkok, traveled through Paris, and settled in Norway for seventeen years. The Sami people, or the Lapones in Spanish, were the original habitants of the Norwegian nation. Although Hidalgo did not speak Norwegian, his friend wanted him to supervise the project as the Assistant Director in order to secure his artistic vision, particularly because he was working with a new photographer.


They filmed the television documentary in Hamar, four hours north of Norway, almost in the Polar Regions. His voice began to swell with excitement as he described the experience in short phrases. "Over there...in winter, in December. It was amazing...one month shot. The film was amazing because actors were playing with costume, with mask, with muppets...and the colors with the snow." For two hours each day, they recorded images in the harsh weather under the aurora borealis then sought refuge inside drinking chocolat and wine. Unfortunately, his friends traveled to Paris and to Slovenia, and Hidalgo was never able to see the finished film.


Hidalgo traveled to the United States to finish his career as a filmmaker that same year. His cultural knowledge and European education separated him from America's commercial cinema, so he sought work as an independent filmmaker. "I do not think like Americans...it's not that there are something wrong with this...I'm a different culture...I was completely educated before I came here. It's difficult for me to...to...to see, to assume the American point of view...I'm talking artistically."


He discussed the competition between television and cinema in the early 1990s, which presented another challenge to the accomplishment of Hidalgo's artistic vision. Because television was so accessible to Americans, filmmakers made big productions with special effects, such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Terminator. Independent filmmakers received little notice unless they were able to produce their own projects. For example, David Lynch made cult classics like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet that were entirely contrary to commercial demands, because he was able to produce it without financial assistance.


Without the necessary funds, Hidalgo forewent Hollywood. Instead, he began to work on his Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He met a student who was studying Spanish and decided to help her complete her degree in his native language. After tutoring her without pay, her father offered to fund his documentary, although Hidalgo warned him that he would not make a profit. "A documentary is a product that do not have, in many cases, any income after you produce...it's an [investment] that you make and probably you won't get anything back. He said 'I don't care.'"


Hidalgo accepted the offer. His documentary focused on the phenomenon of emigration from Latin American countries to the United States. "My approach is that every story is amazing, interesting...every people has a song, sadness, a soul, difficulty...obstacles...a story about what happened when they came to the United States." The film examined the story of Mickey Moré, a Cuban immigrant and brother to Benny Moré, the most important Latin American singer in the 1960s.


When Mickey Moré first introduced himself as Benny Moré's brother, Hidalgo responded, "Yes, and I am Ronald Reagan Junior." After he showed Hidalgo his passport, Moré described his experience in the Cuban army prior to the Revolution in 1959. He participated in an assassination attempt against an important political figure in Castro's new regime and received thirty years in prison. For twenty-four years, Moré was imprisoned in a jail cell plantow, meaning "not wearing any uniform...in just underwear." Hidalgo described that Moré "made his own crossover, without English...sixty-four years old, in a place like St. Louis, Missouri that they are not a Spanish community and he was happy."


Hidalgo entered this documentary in the Oberhausen Film Festival in North Germany. "People really appreciated the documentary...for the political climate and for the personality of this guy." At the beginning of the film, Hidalgo described Moré as tough and intimidating. By its end, however, Moré seemed approachable and humane. "How funny is this guy...I never...touched anything in the story...Everything is his story." Although Hidalgo used rudimentary cinematography and editing processes, he was recently featured in a documentary compendium dedicated to Latino Culture in the United States for his work as a filmmaker.


Narciso Hidalgo considers himself a free-thinker, a person who trusts in his senses and judgment. "I try to find what I feel, what I'm thinking at this moment...what I like to express, no matter what is the influence...I'm not thinking, ah, Renoir!...or Fellini!" Although he recognizes the influence of past filmmakers, he attempts to harness pure creativity. "It's something that you have inside...I believe that when you create or make a film it's like you have a son...you feel this happiness that I assume that any father or any mother has when they deliver a son...It's something unique...It's a feeling that could be...perfect, could not be perfect, could be good, could be bad, but you feel something really special."


Comments (5)

M. O'Neill said

at 6:56 pm on Oct 3, 2010

This is an excellent piece about the compositional process! To be a writer, or in this particular case, a filmmaker, requires each of us to listen to an inner voice that cannot be swayed from its mission. Even when we go hungry or see others succeed through dubious commercial means, we as writers must maintain a commitment to that inner voice.

kms said

at 9:17 pm on Oct 3, 2010

Whose piece is this? Meghan's? This is very good! I did wonder what works were citied or where the info was gathered from however.

H.I.M. said

at 4:38 pm on Oct 5, 2010

The piece belongs to a different Megan. In any case, while I am unfamiliar with Narciso Hidalgo, I find the piece to have a wealth of information while written in a manner which I would say is seamless...? Well, I mean it is really polished and flows very well and is highly professional from my viewpoint. Maybe it's just me, but the flow of syntax is interesting. An English teacher, years ago, mentioned something about how being bilingual tends to influence the structure of how one writes in their native language. It's just an idea. I also left some comments on your other works on http://fall2010compositions.pbworks.com/Heidi%27s-Wiki-Commentary
But I can tell you put a lot of work into this or else you just have a grasp on the language where you can fit things together the way you do (as in it being refined and not clunky) without much revision.

Megan Bailey said

at 1:44 pm on Oct 12, 2010

This is an article that I wrote for Examiner.com. I'm currently writing a piece on his documentary for New Roots News. The information is from my interview with him - all of the quotes (tape recorded) and information which I verified. And thank you for your comments!

shawn dudley said

at 8:52 pm on Nov 30, 2010

This is fantastic. You did a great job of capturing his voice.

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