Cannes Cinefondation Winner Michael Labarca, Patricia Ramirez Arevalo Talk ‘Kids Swimming in the Lake’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Cannes Cinéfondation winner Michael Labarca will hit Locarno’s Open Doors next week with his feature debut project, “Kids Swimming in the Lake,” produced by Venezuela’s Todos Los Ríos, France’s Ticket Shoot Films and Chile’s Oro Films.

For Venezuelan movie projects, such international co-productions are not only a virtue but a necessity, “due to the crisis of our public funding for production, our limitation of access to the Ibermedia fund and the complex situation of our country,” said “Kids” producer Patricia Ramírez Arévalo at Todos los Rios.

Set in contemporary Venezuela, “Kids Swimming in the Lake” deals with emigration, but from the point of view of those left behind.

During constant blackouts, 11-year-old Dayana and her little siblings dream of leaving Venezuela and reuniting with their father, who migrated fleeing the crisis. As they anxiously wait for this day, the kids watch as other families and their friends leave first.

Venezuelan, Labarca himself now lives in Argentina. Tat gives a deeply personal passion to the story.

“My need to make this film and not another comes from the deep mourning of having lost my country. It is consistent with the image that today orbits my mind as a migrant myself: the people I left behind,” Labarca told Variety.

“Also with this film, cinema allows me to return to my country, to continue delving into the constant stylistics that have accompanied me since film school and that can be seen in my previous works, such as austerity in staging, the absence of light, and working with children,” he added.

Those constants shaped Cinéfondation entry “The Guilt, Probably” (“La Culpa, Probablemente”), set during a blackout, with light from passing cars outside sweeping a bedroom’s curtains. There a mother and little daughter are sleeping, until awoken by the mother’s latest ex-partner, who brings candles. He feels guilty about having left her, probably, or just yearns to see her again.

The 13-minute short is shot in shadows, using long fixed shots.

The film’s climax underscores that the daughter, despite her tender years, understands totally her mother’s desire to find a father-figure for her.

It’s a film which could be understood almost from just listening to it, Labarca has commented.

Labarca’s graduate film at Venezuela’s Universidad de los Andes, “The Guilt, Probably” was awarded third prize from a Naomi Kawase-headed jury at the Cannes Festival’s 2016 Cinéfondation Selection. It also caught the attention of Ticket Shoot Films’ René Osi, a producer on another Selection title, who went on to co-produce Labarca’s next short, 2017’s “El hombre de cartón,” then signed on to co-produce “Kids” in its early development.

Osi and Ramírez Arévalo recently applied to the Cinémas du Monde fund, set up at France’s CNC. Results are expected in September. International partners can also bring expertise, Ramírez Arévalo argued.

Oro Films is currently preparing “Beautiful Yet Mortal,” Nicolás Postiglione’s follow-up to his acclaimed “Immersion.” Its credits include Agustina San Martín’s “Matar a la Bestia.”

“Florencia Rodríguez and Dominga Ortúzar from Oro Films have the sensitivity and professional experience that our film and team require. From the very first moment, they have been willing to think together with us about different alternatives to make it possible, understanding and enriching our strategies,” said Ramírez Arévalo.

Todos los Ríos and Oro Films will apply to Chile’s minority co-production fund in August, she added.

Set to shoot in Maracaibo, Labarca’s birthplace, “Kids” will use non-pro actors. At Locarno, Ramírez Arévalo will be looking for a second European co-producer.

Kids Swimming in the Lake Courtesy of Michael Labarca and Patricia Ramirez

Variety chatted with Labarca and Ramírez Arévalo in the run-up to Locarno’s Open Doors:

What inspired “Kids Swimming in the Lake”? 

Labarca: The child’s gaze fascinate me. Innocence and freedom together. Since I emigrated from Venezuela, the bond I have with my family – especially my niece and nephew – has been maintained through voice messages via WhatsApp. They describe their surroundings and then inquire about mine. At more than 5,000 kilometers distance, we end up imagining each other’s universes. Thus my writing has been influenced in my exchanges with them. What’s happening with those that have stayed behind? How do they handle seeing others leave? How does a child view an abandoned country that they still inhabit?

The film’s characters in some ways are not ordinary children, however…

Labarca: My intention with this film is to focus on the dynamics of some children who have assimilated the shortcomings of their context. When we are children we have a power that we eventually lose when we become adults: the ability to play, that which distanced us but did not save us from the mistakes of older people. And there are realities that require us to lose that power early in order to survive. My characters not only have to face social or economic adversities, they also have to deal with the absence of their father, the emotions and worry of their mother, and the many constant farewells of people who with their absence make them believe that outside there is a better world. The grief of Dayana and the mother, Chiqui, for not having a choice, their mourning for not being able to decide whether to stay or leave is what interests me to capture with the camera.

As a Venezuela-based producer, Patricia, do you have a particular connection with this film?

Ramírez Arévalo: “Kids Swimming in the Lake” is a challenge for me not only in terms of a producer but also on a personal and emotional level, because, from the ingenuity and innocence of some children, I found myself confronted with what I am experiencing in my own country because it is the story of those of us who have not emigrated, those of us that have stayed. It is the story of our farewells. The intimacy of a family weaves a tapestry that helps to expose our country, one with many nuances, but always ours. A story told from a place that to call it “ours” made it appear so broad that I was obliged to think of it as “everybody’s.”

How easy is it to produce in Venezuela?

Our cinema demands an active reflection in which we must be at the forefront in proposing solutions. Our film productions have not stopped, I continue to live and produce in the country, generating alternatives and creative and financial alliances to promote our projects. And we have done it before, when we filmed Michael’s previous works and decided to face the situation, in locations even more complex than those of this project and where he acquired experience in working with children and non-actors.