Dressed in t-shirt, shorts and sandals (typical Lima urban wear), Méndez ceremoniously produces a viewfinder – a cylindrical lens that is standard for most directors, but a luxury for Peruvian ones on a budget. As it teasingly emerges from its leather case, wolf whistles cut the air.
Such are the spirits of those who are young and have little to lose. The world, it seems, is daring them to makeDioses, a satiric, comedy about Peru's hermetic upper-class.
In Peru, the film community is so small that virtually nobody works in it full-time. One of the magnetic leading ladies ofDioses– a popular soap opera actress named Denisse Dibos – makes part of her living producing local stage revivals ofJesus Christ Superstarto supplement her income. Méndez's producer, the charming, resourceful Enid "Pinky" Campos, has seen the world from India to Bulgaria via invitations from many film festivals. But, for financial reasons, she still lives at home with mother. For a last-minuteDiosesfundraiser, they held a beer "fiesta" netting $1,400.
While location-scouting in an exclusive, gated beach community – where desert at its most desolate hits aqua sea shores – they saw one household with Indian servants in uniforms designed to blend in with the wallpaper. In a world this stratified, one community's interior decoration easily becomes another's social commentary. "But they don't know that!" says Méndez, eyes gleaming.
Just manoeuvring around Peru has restrictions wrought by years of terrorism that turned Lima into a city of gates, guards and speed bumps. In one location-scouting mission Méndez was admitted to an exclusive beach community only with an escort on bicycle who was never more than five metres away.
Into this strange world arrived Frears at the start of the mentoring relationship. With Méndez well into the conceptual stage withDioses, Frears was optimistic that he could make a difference. “It was important that Méndez was making a film,” says Frears. "All you can do is go on making films and slowly you learn. It took me a long, long time. You get good people around you, and listen to them. I wouldn't know how to light a scene, for example. But I can see that I can orchestrate it. And I can do the human bits. On a good day."