Meet the (New) Director: Benjamín Naishtat, ‘History of Fear’

Posted by Brian Brooks on 3.19.2014

Wednesday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA kick off the 43rd New Directors/New Films series. FilmLinc Daily will spotlight a cross section of this year's features over the coming days, kicking off today with Benjamín Naishtat's History of Fear and Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, by including short interviews with the filmmakers.

Argentine director Benjamín Naishtat shares his thoughts with FilmLinc Daily about how his introduction to international filmmakers at an early age spawned his interest in movies, his country's economic divide that inspired him to make his first "big project," and what he has in store next. 

History of Fear
Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina/Uruguay/Qatar, 2014, 79m
Spanish with English subtitles

Description: How strong does a fence need to be, or how loud must an alarm blare, or how brightly should an open field be lit for us to feel safe? The impossibility of a definitive answer to these kinds of questions lies at the heart of Benjamín Naishtat’s unsettling feature debut. Set in an economically destabilized Argentina, the film weaves stories of characters from multiple social strata into an interlocking narrative of paranoia and fear. The isolation of wealth and detachment from neighbors causes insecurities to fester, feeding a “security consumption” culture and all its incumbent paraphernalia. As we begin to recognize and sympathize with the situations depicted, the most troubling realization of all arrives: we are doing it to ourselves.

Responses from Benjamín Naishtat:

On being an early film devotee:
Ever since I was a child, I've been into film. My parents used to take me to the movies a lot to see "adult" films from directors like Krzysztof Kieslowski or Wim Wenders when I was 4 or 5. It was the beginning of my curiosity and fascination for film. Then I was given an 8mm camera at age 11, and I would make shorts with friends from school, crazy horror or action films or very bad animations. So it happened quite naturally…

On his motivation to make History of Fear:
The essential motivation was a desire to work within the context of a socially fractured and disrupted place. I have lived in Buenos Aires all my life, and I have witnessed the degradation and breakdown of social bonds. I have seen social paranoia grow over the years. It's an unbearable situation in which "insecurity" seems to be the only word used by politicians. This film is my way to deal with what is happening, and hopefully to create some awareness. 

On working with the film's actors:
Most of the cast is made up of experienced actors and I worked with them in a rather classical way, with some rehearsing along with a little improvisation. But the lead character is played by a complete non-actor: Jonathan Da Rosa, who is 21 years old and a true discovery. He comes from a very harsh background and he brought into the film a certain truth that would have been otherwise impossible to achieve. We worked in a very intuitive place. I would try to figure out how to explain what he had to do in a very physical and concrete way, and he would eventually understand the psychological facets of his character. 

On challenges:
There were many, but I guess the main one was to maintain peace and order among the sometimes 40-person team [including crew and actors]. I'm not really a natural leader and in past projects I had worked with small crews of mostly friends. This was a big step and luckily everything went well, but it was a great challenge indeed to keep everybody motivated and focused. 

On what's in the works:
I'm currently working on developing what will be my second feature film, for now entitled Fundamental Movement, which is set in Argentina in the ’70s. So the current challenge is to read and research a lot on how that time of great political violence was lived by "ordinary" people, who are at the center of the project. 

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