Jan. 10, 2013 - Issue #899: The games we play
Weathering the impossible
Director J A Bayona talks water tanks, stomach problems and child actors
The images of swirling water and devastation that were projected on the news following the Boxing Day disaster are as close as many of us were lucky enough to come to the tsunami, but director Juan Antonio Bayona literally throws his audiences into the chaos in terrifyingly vivid and realistic fashion. The family has no time to run and nowhere to hide, only brace themselves for what's to come before being swept away in the intense surge of debris, water and mud, all which become deadly obstacles.
From its youngest member to its most seasoned performer, the bond forged by the cast permeates onscreen, portraying a tragedy beyond anything they have ever experienced with verisimilitude and heart-wrenching emotion. The powerful drama culminates in a conclusion that would seem highly unrealistic if it wasn't for the fact it was based on a true story, a testament to the incredible power of the human spirit and the bonds of family.
Prior to the film's release in Edmonton, Vue caught up with Bayona to discuss how the story of the Alvarez Belons—the Spanish family behind the film—touched him and how he managed to recreate a behemoth of a natural disaster without the aid of CGI.
VUE WEEKLY: Why did you want to tell this family's story in particular?
J A BAYONA: Well, I thought it was the first time I heard a story—a first-hand retelling of the story—and it definitely created a big impact on me. I only knew the story through the news, so it was great to know the names and see the faces because nowadays it seems like you're used to hearing about the event, but never about the people, and I tried to get in contact with the people and tell the story from their point of view, but always remembering it was not just about these people, but all the people who were there.
VW: How did you find out about the Alvarez Belon family?
JAB: They went to a radio show to tell the story for the first time three years after the tragedy for the third anniversary, and it was our producer who heard the story and came to me. He was very emotional already, listening to the story and their words and I found myself again very emotional telling the story to my friends, so I realized there was an emotion there, going even beyond the tragedy to talk about ourselves in a more universal way.
VW: Was the family involved in the production of the film?
JAB: Yes, and I wanted it to be like that from the very beginning. They were part of it and Maria [Belon] was working very hard at getting the script and telling the story from an in-the-moment point of view, creating a lot of detail, but at the same time kind of being like a soldier of truth of what was the right thing to do.
VW: You didn't use CGI to recreate the tsunami. How did you go about recreating it?
JAB: It was completely out of our possibilities in terms of the budget, but also I think it was great, the fact that we did it without CGI ... We went to this huge water tank in Spain and we recreated the water, the arrival of the wave with miniatures and models and then all the floods, all those images with the sea coming in. We created this channel of water with a strong current and we took the actors in there for six weeks. It was very demanding shooting for them.
VW: What were some of the biggest challenges during that six weeks for the cast and crew?
JAB: The biggest challenge was to be able to do everything. We had to do a big amount of shots, around 150, and it was very slow shooting because everything had to be very well prepared. It was a lot of members of the crew involved: the producers, special and visual effects and of course the security for the actors and the actors themselves, who did an incredible job in the water for six weeks. It was extremely demanding physically, especially for Naomi.
VW: Why was the experience so demanding for her in particular?
JAB: She already had problems with her stomach the third day of shootng because she was swallowing water every day, and she was in there for six weeks, so you can imagine she ended up having lots of problems. She had bronchitis so it was very tough for her.
VW: What was the experience of filming in Thailand like?
JAB: It was great. The fact of being in the same place and being in contact with people who were there, it was a great help. It was a great reminder of what happened there, and the fact that [...] we were trying to explain not just the story for a movie, but it was based upon real emotions and we were trying to pay respect for those times, those days and those people.
VW: The children are very strong in the film. What was it like working with them?
JAB: I enjoy a lot of work with kids and I had a great time working with them even though it was tough work because they had to portray emotions they never went through. I think it was a question of being patient and making them understand what we were doing. I remember doing lots of drawings and exercises to make them understand what we were doing, and at the same time, try to create a hospitality in what we were doing and make them enjoy it, because if they don't enjoy, you'll never get a performance from them.
VW: Finally, when the tsunami happened in 2004, how did it affect you?
JAB: I remember watching the news; the images on the news were always surreal because you can see images of the water going inland, the boats on the rooftops of hotels and all the people involved in there. I mean, it was kind of like something surrealistic and I was very impressed. I never had a contact with the tsunami more than that, so from the moment I knew I was going to do this movie, the main thing for me was to meet as many people as possible involved in the tragedy.
Directed by J A Bayona
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