Interview: Jaime & Yamandu Roos, “3 Million”

Posted by Anna Husted on 10.15.2012

The popular Closing Night film from this year's Latinbeat film festival returns for a one-night encore on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00pm.

"Wisdom is not always for the fathers." —Yamandu Roos reading his father's words in 3 Million

"When Uruguay plays, 3 million play, the clock runs, the heart runs..." —Jaime Roos

With deep roots in Uruguayan football, award-winning singer, composer and record producer Jaime Roos, along with his photographer son, Yamanu, followed the Uruguayan national team's 2010 World Cup run to the semi-finals in South Africa. From Kimberley to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Pretoria, Jaime and Yamandu uncovered truths about the players as well as their own relationship. What began as a father-son road trip became a suspenseful documentary, 3 Million, about relationships, culture and football that will forever be a part of Uruguayan history. Across time zones, Skype and a few technical difficulties, Jaime and Yamandu shared their differing perspectives on the South Africa trip, what it's like for Yamandu to have a celebrity father and the bravery needed to be honest on camera.

How long before the 2010 World Cup were you planning this documentary?

Jaime Roos: Yamandu and I wanted to take a father-son road trip without anyone else. He was 32, I was 57. He lives in Amsterdam, I live in Montevideo, and we hadn’t seen each other for a year and a half. We would get together to travel to Machu Pichu, Miami, and another time we went to Paris, but this time I told him, "Let’s take a month and go to Russia." Later he told me, "Hey, did you know that there is a World Cup in June 2010?" I said, “Yeah, but it’s the same month we’re going to Russia." We decided to make this trip because he loved the idea of going with our national team (Uruguay) and to make a South Africa trip together.

Yamandu Roos: (laughing) That’s interesting. We have slightly different perspectives on how this project got started. It’s interesting how we both talk about the project now. He has his way of talking about how the project started and I have my own very specific way. Basically, we were planning a certain trip in the month of August or July in 2010. I actually invited him to do that because I have been working on a long journey project that is called "Europeans." The fundamental approach I have in the movie is based on that project. The timing for the movie was not right. I was planning on working on my project when we were in South Africa. In those days, I was thinking about having my father join me in one of my journeys.

It was in the end of 2009 when a friend of mine who inspires me—Johan Kramer, a famous Dutch director—triggered the idea of doing something with the World Cup because Uruguay qualified. I remember telling him no, because I was too busy focusing on "Europeans." He said to me, "You should go and do something and see what happens." That same day I wrote my father telling him we had to go to the World Cup. That’s how it started, which was seven months before the World Cup. From there on in, my father took care of the plans in Uruguay because it was all produced from there. He started talking to the people he knows in Uruguayan football and started to push to make it happen. That’s my take on the story.

How did you gain so much access to Uruguay’s national team?

JR: I had a strong connection with the national team. I wrote the song that is like the hymn for the team. I was living with the soccer team in the Japan and South Korea World Cup in 2002. I loved the World Cup and I always said to my son, "You know you can live out the World Cup by going to the matches or you can live it from an inside view with the players. That can’t be compared." You cannot beat seeing the World Cup from an insider view. So we went to Kimberley, South Africa.

Kimberley is maybe the most boring place to go in South Africa. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere and the coach for Uruguay decided to locate the team there because he wanted peace and quiet. He didn’t want a lot of people around. No one was going to Kimberley, not even the fans. In Kimberley there was only a small amount of press. The big press was going to the matches. My son and I were really the only ones with access to the players. The players know me because they were born listening to my music. Because the players were alone in Kimberley, I think it was nice for them to have someone around to cheer them on so it was me and my son.

They didn’t really take our documentary seriously. They thought, "Here comes Jaime, the musician, a 50-something-year-old guy and his son with a little camera. OK, let him use his camera." They didn’t know that my son was passionate about this. It was better this way. When you see the attitude the players had with the press and the attitude they had with me and my son, you’ll see the difference because they trust me. I wasn’t going to use images that were bad.

We arrived one week before the matches. Everyone was thinking Uruguay was dead. It was the worst theory, but according to international press, Uruguay was going to finish last. I always believed in our national team because we are a school of football—120 years of football! We are 15-time South American football champions, first in 1916 and recently in 2011. We have a tradition and no one can say that we were not good. So my son said, "Let’s make a road movie. I’ll use my camera and you write." I kept a diary, which became fundamental for the movie.

Yamandu, if you live in Amsterdam, but have roots in Uruguay, who do you cheer for in the World Cup?

YR: It becomes clearer in the movie, right?

Yes, but you must have been proud of the Netherlands for going to the finals?

YR: Yes and no. Because when you start cheering for one team, you stick to them. I was following the team, of course, during the World Cup with keen eyes, but my heart was with the Uruguayan team.

What was the trip like from a day-to-day perspective?

JR: We began taping and found reality was so quick. The matches would go by quickly, and suddenly my son and I realized we were in the eye of the hurricane—but we kept going. The way it began was slow because we didn’t know what we were going to even use. From the very first day, Yamandu was disciplined in filming. He was working like hell everyday. I was not working like him; I was writing, but in post-production it was my turn to work for months in the studio while he was having fun. But in the World Cup he had the heavy-lifting.

Two months after the World Cup I read in my diary that Yamandu was pessimistic about filming. He didn’t realize what images he had. I am an editor, and as an editor I could see there was a lot of incredible, original takes because Yamandu was taping in his own style. In editing, I had 200 hours of FIFA film and then 200 hours of Yamandu’s filming. I could compare the same moments taped by a FIFA TV camera as the ones taped by Yamandu and the FIFA camera shot would be boring, but Yamandu’s would be full of life. The FIFA recording was "correct," but Yamandu’s was full of life because his style was more unique.

We decided to make what Yamandu filmed into a movie two or three months after the World Cup. It helped that we had the wonderful story of Uruguay's success, but at the same time I didn’t want to make a movie about the World Cup, I wanted to make a movie about the family, life, love, and our identity. I wanted to make a movie about the Uruguayan way of seeing life. I didn’t want to make a movie saying, "Uruguayans are great," but to show what I saw as a witness to the World Cup.

What was filming like from your perspective, Yamandu? And what do you see as the photographic strengths and weaknesses in the film?

YR: During the production of the movie, the stress was more in being on the road for such a long time and being together with my father for a long time. Imagine yourself being five weeks with your parents. (laughs) That is challenging, not just in my case, but in everyone’s case. So it wasn’t stress in production, because I’m just doing what I’m used to doing, being there, following my intuition, taking as many takes on who I met and what I saw, but there was stress in being so close to your parent for so long.

We were trying to make sure certain things were covered like interviews with important players, an interview with an old legend, visiting some places in South Africa to give that element as well, and then I had my personal diary that you see throughout the movie, which works as an anchor point. You have my father’s written diary and my visual diary. To answer your other question about the strength of the movie, it's that it has a nice balance between intuitive work, which is more my way of working, and conceptual work, which is my father’s strength. He did a great job of making it whole. In that sense we are great together. My father is an amazing person because of his persistence and thoroughness, and I’m more about getting the shot when it’s there. I’m a very documentary-orientated artist. In my photography I call it artistic documentary, and my approach comes from being an artistic documentary photographer.

JR: The shots of the matches are taken from a human point of view. There is a lot of football and fans because they can now see things that they never saw. Everyone told me that. At the same time, for people who don’t like football, it is the story of a bunch of guys that are fighting adversity, much like Homer’s Odyssey. Those men were on a ship and went to an island, where the Cyclopes captured them, then they’d escape and go to another island with another obstacle, and then another island and the Sirens are singing, and this goes on until they are humanized. On TV, football players look like robots, but in the movie I wanted people to see players as human. The players, and my son and I are the characters. Therefore, it is not a documentary, but real-life fiction—like cinéma vérité.

When you make a documentary you’re looking for a character that is interesting. Of course there is a chronological story that helps a lot, but even in a straight-forward chronological story you have characters. You have to learn who your characters are while the story is happening. So it’s real-life fiction because the story never stopped and even though there were important things we could’ve said we didn’t say them because they would have interrupted the story. This documentary is also a dramatic comedy because it is funny, but at the same time serious things happen. So it’s a documentary that is a road movie, a World Cup history, and by a coincidence Uruguay was winning and winning and winning so that was lucky. Someone once said, "Luck exists, but you have to be ready for the moment luck arrives." We were lucky, but we were also ready because we were the only ones who were there with Uruguay. Luck arrived and we were ready with our camera.

Were there any shots that you didn’t get that you wish you had?

YR: I think it would have been more spectacular if we had recorded our fights. We had some serious fights. On the other hand, maybe it would have taken away the subtlety. You don’t see the fights, but you can feel that it could have been there. You can say, I wish I would have had this or that, but the way it is now is really subtle. My father has done a great job managing what was there because there were gaps when he was editing. Where I was not working or getting the shots.

For a second movie I think I would add more structure to my own approach. But during the trip my father would make notes in his diary and would cheer, and he did take some shots with his small camera, but it was mainly me recording the sound and the video all at once. It was nonstop—recording, getting to the hotel, and putting the footage on hard drives, so there are gaps. It could be easier with a two- or three-man team. But this is more about how I would prefer to work in the future. I’m not really missing anything when you watch the movie.

JR: Our road movie was traveling throughout South Africa, following the national team, and the everyday life in South Africa, and taping the World Cup from the way we were living it. At the end of the day it was very important to just show our perspective because the father-son relationship is important—this talks a lot about family. At the same time it’s a way for the audience to get inside our bodies to see our view of the World Cup.

A football movie made like this does not exist. Usually the football films have a journalist aesthetic, which is much colder. It’s showing you the sport and development of a championship. This is a suspense movie because even if you know the end, you do not know the details of what is going on before the end. Many people told me they felt a lot of suspense, and I wanted that. In Titanic, everyone knows the ship is going to sink, just as everybody knows who is going to win the World Cup, but I discovered suspense in my diary and I wanted it in the film. I wrote in my diary everyday, and so my diary didn’t know what was going to happen, therefore, there was suspense from day-to-day.

Let's talk about the music in the film. Where did it come from?

JR: I have worked with music in film many times and have thousands of hours in the studio and in concert. In this movie there is a lot of music as well as a lot of silence. The music has to be absolutely connected with the images. The images go first, the music comes second. The music opens up emotion and announces what is to come. If you hear drums, something heavy is going to happen, and different kinds of tricks like that.

I think it would have been a mistake to put songs with me singing in this film. I only sing in the credits. But during the movie all the music you hear is written by me and connected to me, even if I don’t sing. That was another rule we had. But the music that is used is very powerful. There are a lot of drums because we were in South Africa so we used drums that came from Africa. When we played Ghana the only drums playing come from Africa. But I made a joke in my voiceover saying, "The only drums beating tonight in Africa are our drums, which come from Africa."

I use a lot of percussion and eclectic instruments including topologic sounds. I like jazz sounds, but always connected with the roots of the place. I am happy that so many people said to me, "Hey, we didn’t hear you singing, but we think it’s great." In my experience, other directors held me to know when to make silence work and when to inject music into the film. Music is a weapon in movies. 

YR: One of the impressive things he has done in the film that's artistic and powerful is in the match against Korea, where there is no football commentary, but it's just a jazzy track, where it's just guitars, a keyboard and a beat. Just music and football; it's really cool. That song is also one of my favorite tracks. Again, it's interesting to see how my father has that capability of being an artist and getting away with making a movie. A lot of people thought this was going to be a big failure, which it is not. He got away with making a movie with his son. If I look at my father from an outsider's perspective, I'm really impressed. When we decided to go there I thought, "I'm just going to go and film shit. Whether it was going to become something, well, we'll see." But it was my father who afterwards said, "I'm going to make something of this." It was all him.

Jaime, what were some things you found difficult in post-production?

JR: It was difficult to make the voiceover fit with the images. I might have 20 seconds of voiceover and 10 seconds of images or vice versa. Sometimes I didn’t know how to say things also, especially during the football matches because I’m not a professional journalist, and I didn’t want to copy a journalistic style. One, because I didn’t know how to say things properly, and two, because I didn’t want to fall into that aesthetic. I respect the job of journalists, but for this film I didn’t want that. I wanted to portray the human element of matches—weaknesses and courage. At some point I realized the best way to talk about the football matches was to talk in the same manner as I did for the other images. That was found in staying faithful to my diary. At many points what I wrote in the diary was directly quoted in the movie.

Was there a moment of catharsis for you when you were making the film because of the distance between you and Yamandu as well as some of the personal things that come up in the film?

JR: There is only one scene when I’m talking to my son that I am in a bad place in my life and I need to change. I knew I needed to reformulate my life, and I did when I went back to Uruguay. The movie is an example of this because I wouldn’t have been able to make the movie if I hadn’t reformulated my life. I was living in a bad place, and the movie helped me organize my life and push me to live a healthy life. But I don't know if I'd call it a catharsis. I am an artist, but I am a musician and had never made a movie. I didn’t want to make something ridiculous. At a certain moment I found the strength to make this movie. I said to myself, "I can do it." I didn’t know if it was going to be good or very good or excellent or horrible, but one thing I knew was that I could do it and it was going to be serious.

YR: I was happy that he put footage in there where he doesn't look good and really shows what is going on in his life, and telling everyone that he is not feeling well and that he needs to change. He shows himself drunk, fat and not taking good care of himself, and you have to be brave to do that. That made the movie even stronger. And people really love my dad. After showing the movie in Amsterdam I got a lot of texts saying, "We love your father, your father is a hero." People love him, which is great. Honesty is the way to go forward.

Yamandu, what is your perception of your father versus how the world perceives your father? And did you like his music growing up?

YR: It’s kind of interesting because it’s very personal. It wasn’t just about a dad being famous, but it was about a dad being far away. I was only seeing my father once a year, whether he was traveling to me or I to him. It’s like two worlds: I can tell people in Amsterdam that I have a famous dad, but he’s somewhere else so they can’t relate, which is kind of good because it’s not really a pleasant thing to be referred to as "the son of…" It’s better to be you. So it was ok that he was far away. At a certain moment in my life I stopped telling people, even in my own country, that my father was a celebrity. If people knew, they knew, but I wasn’t telling people. Now that I’ve made a movie with him and it’s out there I accepted it fully and I have no problem telling people my father is a celebrity. It’s already out there. It's unique anyway. He and I are part of the story, and we became part of it together.

I’m a grown man myself now so I don’t really consider being "the son of..." I’m doing my own thing now, but if I had been a musician it would have been more difficult because it’s not easy being in the shadow of someone, especially considering who my father is and what he has made. To answer your other question, although it’s a weird thing to have a father being famous, I really respect what he has done as an artist and I really love his music. His music is very valuable, not only his songwriting, but musically it’s among the highest level of music in South America. What he has created is going to be there forever. He’s not going to be forgotten. That is something I’m also very proud of. He’s not just a pop star, but he’s a living legend.

Have you shown the film in Amsterdam?

YR: Yes, it was very successful. I did one screening and I have to say, it was kind of a hassle to do, so I decided I would just do one screening as well as possible. And it was great. It was sold out and everyone loved it. People were very impressed, and that was it. Now I just want to let the movie sell itself. I don't want to organize another screening because that's a whole job in itself. So I'm really happy with what is happening in New York. That is a blessing.

Can you tell me a little about your "Europeans" photography project?

YR: I'm basically creating a time document in Europe and the personal experience of visiting every country in Europe. It's about the beauty of uncertainty, about traveling, and my final goal is to make a book that shows Europe in a personal way. It will also tell stories and give the viewer that personal experience in an artistic way. I'm still very much struggling with how I'm going to put the book together, but the photographing and traveling is almost done. I have two short trips left to Iceland and Belarus. I'll be done at the end of September with those. I've been doing this traveling for the last three years pretty intensively and that has shaped the way I work, which you can see in the movie. My trip to South Africa was a distraction from what I was working on because it came right in between everything. The way I'm filming myself, that's a technique that I started during my "Europeans" project.

Where did you get the idea for the project?

YR: In 2005, I decided to travel to Marseilles and just start taking photographs and with time I started to get really into the idea of Europe as a project. It's the continent where I was born and grew up, and it's big, yet accessible. All you have to do is get in a car and start driving and you can get to Istanbul or Odessa. The simplicity of not having to get on a plane to do something exotic, but just getting in a car. I just started to do these tours in this small car and creating this project around it. The car got a name, "The Eagle," and stickers. It's been everywhere. And there is also a romantic element to it. It's about chance and how things are connected. From meeting one person you can meet someone else and from there you can get a great photo, which tells a whole story in one image. I will have the next year to figure out how to shape the project so that it becomes solid to become a good book. Maybe I should ask my father to work on Europeans with me to give it some structure. He is very good at giving things a place. It's interesting and cool that we have different talents.

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