Sandra Melissa Torres gives a brilliant performance as the title character. How did you find her and what was the thing that made you say: "That's my Amparo"?
We had a long casting process looking for potential Amparos around the city. It was an extremely hard decision for me, both because this was my first long feature film and because all the weight of the story was going to lay on the main character’s shoulders. Even the aesthetics of the film were going to be heavily based on her figure and on her face. Sandra reminded me of my mother: there is a physical resemblance between the two of them. When we cast her, we found out that Sandra was Amparo from the first moment. I was really surprised how she would face some situations and approach them as the character. Sandra was not a professional actress, but she sure could act. She was a fast learner as we were rehearsing. We got close to each other and became friendly.
Amparo barely lets her emotions go. Can you talk about creating the emotional path of the story? Did you shoot this in sequence?
This is a low budget film, there was no money for shooting it in sequence. I tried to have everything ready before shooting with Sandra, figuring out both the emotional process and all the camera movements. Unlike Amparo, Sandra is joyful. She smiles a lot and makes jokes. But she understood right away that I was looking for a contained, almost inexpressive way of processing emotions. It’s clear that a lot of things are happening inside her, but she does not express them. There is a certain melancholy in this subtility and the refusal to act out. It was an early decision to have a main character capable of containing her emotions.
The film is set in the 90s, but how much of that toxic masculinity that Amparo suffers has left a mark in the modern Latin American society?
It was more evident back in the 90s, but these issues are still quite present, even if today there is more awareness about them. I could not avoid underlining that element as part of the universe around Amparo. I was interested in exploring how sexism, corruption, and war are deeply rooted in my culture. They can affect our everyday life, like silent violence coming to the surface. I wanted to see how Amparo lives her life as a mother trying to make a living and raising her children, but also how the environment she lives in affects her.
How did you approach and show the injustice and the violence that these characters undergo as they live in an environment ruled by men?
Violence is there constantly, even if it stays hidden. Of course, this is a political film. But I wanted to explore this angle by looking for intimate moments in the character’s life. Her lifestyle is already a symptom of that injustice. It was about trying to create a balance between the human element and the political issue. I was more concerned about how Amparo is human as a character and how she interacts in those situations, even if she is not a perfect person. I was looking for humanity rather than perfection.
Can you talk about shooting the intimate scenes between Amparo and her kids? How complex is to hit the emotional mark when you work with children and young actors? Did they require extra direction?
It’s always about the right casting. Finding the right person will save you from a lot of nightmares. Luciana Gallego who plays Karen, Amparo’s daughter, is a very smart girl. She always did the right thing and never forgot a line. That was impressive, to the point that Sandra was a bit stressed as she felt some pressure while working with Luciana who was just spot on. That pressure brought Sandra to tears one day! This is understandable as Sandra is in every scene of the film, hence she was always running her lines and went through a lot of rehearsals. With the character of Elias, Amparo’s son, I also addressed the question of what it means to be a man. Amparo always addresses a constant weakness in this society, but the truth is this also happens to a man. Elias is eighteen and is going to be drafted. In Colombia a young kid has to grow up strong in order to become a “real man”. No matter if he’s fragile or not. Diego Alejandro Tobón, who plays Elias, is depicting a character who just became a man, but he cries because he’s going to be sent to war. Will he behave the way society tells him to? Will he accept it? This is not just a gender issue. In Colombia, these questions are all-pervasive.
Together with your previous works – Leidi and Madre – Amparo too is a story told through a woman’s perspective. Is this something that encourages your creativity?
I guess it just developed naturally. When I made my short film Leidi, I was concerned about the issue of pregnancy and how it is affected by society. I made Madre to focus on the issue of sexual exploitation of children, always told from a feminine perspective. Of course, in choosing those perspectives I guess I was being affected by my mother. I come from a lower/middle-class background in Colombia, and as a kid I faced a few adversities. My mother was a single mom, and she is a central part of my life. Growing up with her eventually affected my view on life. In a way, I am a witness of her struggle, and I think that is the reason I generated this way of seeing things. It’s funny, I just realized this only after completing my second short film. That said, I don’t want to be focused just on one type of storytelling. With Amparo I realized I wanted to do something that in a way talks to my mother, but also to the people who have been around situations like that. Situations through which my mother struggled.
Getting back to AMPARO as your debut in the long feature films, how long was the shoot and what was the main technical & logistical challenge?
Writing it was a long process. And it took us a long time to finance the film. We shot for 30 days. The camera follows our actress everywhere and I was very obsessed in building a particular choreography for each scene, trying to make it work. It was an intense preparation. The shooting itself went well thanks to a crew that was highly committed to the project. I learned a lot during this process: making a long feature film was like re- learning everything. I felt like stepping into a different world compared to the short films I made. This was a different craft, and it has affected me both at a professional and personal level. It was a life-changing experience.