Argentinean film-maker Celina Murga is busy in Buenos Aires, having finally received the green light to start shooting The Third Side of the River (La Tercera Orilla), which she was working on four years ago while being mentored by Martin Scorsese, who is the film’s executive producer.
Murga wanted everything to be in place, down to the last piece of funding, before starting to film. “This is because the human aspect of the process of filming is very important to me. It should be a happy experience for everyone. The conditions have to be right and I don’t want to be concerned about finance during the shoot.”
This desire not to be distracted reflects a piece of advice she recalls receiving from her mentor. “I remember Marty once advising me that one of the keys to being a good director is to concentrate purely on the filming and not to get involved in all the different production issues going on around you. He said ‘you have to try to focus on what you really want out of the actors and the film. Be sure of what you need to tell with that particular scene or situation, to be able to create the mood that the story needs at that point and also be sure that the characters are in the correct dramatic situation’.”
From past experience she believes she has learned to do this to a certain extent; she puts her faith in the production crew and they in turn leave the creative aspect of directing to her. However, she says she will always be partly attuned to what’s going on elsewhere in the set. “Don’t forget I’m Argentinean. We’re used to multitasking in this country. It’s part of the nature of living here.”
The Third Side of the River, like Murga’s previous feature-length films – Ana and the Others (2003) and A Week Alone (2007) – relates events from the perspective of youth. It explores how an adolescent boy needs to leave home and go beyond his own boundaries in order to grow as a person, as Murga puts it, “to have the courage to form his own opinions and fight for his own desires; to reject both what his father tells him to do and the traditions he has grown up with”.
However, there is one major difference between Murga’s previous films and the one she is about to embark on now – the scale of the budget. Ana and the Others was made on a very low budget, the cast worked for free and the equipment came on loan from her university. For A Week Alone, Murga had a little more money to play with. But this latest film is a Dutch and German co-production, and is on a much larger scale. Murga is clear that her mentor’s involvement has played a huge part in allowing her to reach this new level.
Asked whether Scorsese’s influence will be seen in the filming process, Murga is more reflective. “When you’re in the actual year of the mentoring process, you’re so immersed in the whole situation it’s not easy to say, “I’ll take this bit of advice here, and this advice from there and use it’. Having said that, when I’m talking to the film crew, many times I think of my conversations with Marty during the Shutter Island shoot.”
For Murga this means that she can go beyond the film itself because she can understand Scorcese’s point of view in the construction of scenes. “During the preproduction process we are on now, this drives me to question what is really needed in a particular scene, what is the key, the most important element to see. This is really helpful, and this I know, has resulted from my mentoring year,” she adds.
Murga is still in regular contact with Scorsese who has offered to be involved in the editing of The Third Side of the River. She will travel to New York with the rough cut and they will work together in what she anticipates being “a privilege and an amazing experience”.
Murga looks set to build on her already growing reputation, following the success of A Week Alone. This film, which focused on a group of rich Argentine children left ‘home alone’ in their exclusive gated community, was well received at numerous international film festivals.
Her most recent work, a documentary, called Escuela Normal has received glowing reviews. This film came about as part of the celebration of Argentina’s 200 years of independence in 2010. Film-makers across the country were asked to submit an idea for a documentary to be shot in their own province.
Murga chose to film the very school where she was a pupil for 13 years. Built in 1870, it was the first school of its kind to train teachers based on a concept developed by Domingo Sarmiento (President of Argentina from 1868 to 1864). She was keen to paint a portrait, not simply of the school, but particularly of its current students.
“I believe it’s important that we give teenagers a voice, that we pay attention to them. We often hear that adolescents are lazy, that they have no ambition, and so on. But I found when I made Escuela Normal that nothing could be further from the truth. Young people care about many things, they’re active, they’re involved and I’m interested in what they have to say.”