Interview with Filmmaker Amulio José Espinosa (RAILWAY MAP)

RAILWAY MAP was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the January 2021 Experimental Film Festival.

What motivated you to make this film?

I belong to a collective called Los Enviados de Sotuta for my dance film related projects. When we heard that a controversial railroad project was going to be built in the Yucatan Peninsula where we used to go as kids every summer, we decided to look into that topic.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took around a year. First we wrote an application for a grant to make the project. We fortunately won the grant so then I flew to Mexico to produce it and shoot it. Then I returned to Finland (where I’m based) to do the post production process. The film was finished in November 2019, just in time for a screening round with a Q&A in local cinemas in Mexico that was part of the grant agreement.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Poetic activism

(Coined from the very interesting feedback that we got from your festival)

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Getting funded is usually the slowest and trickiest step. Most art-related funds in Mexico are handled by government institutions and we were pitching a film that would probably stir things around a flagship federal infraestructural investment, so it didn’t seem very likely that we would get support.

We decided to go for it anyway and luckily (and I must say unexpectedly) we were granted the funds. We also suspected that the film would probably have little programming opportunities in Mexican festivals since many of them are being systematically defunded under the current administration, and obviously our topic wouldn’t be the “safest” to screen under such political climate. So far it hasn’t been screened in any festivals in Mexico.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We knew that it was a bold choice to create an abstract piece that would be capable to deliver a political commentary, told though dance, focusing on the visual interaction between characters and spaces with no dialogue. We didn’t know what would be the real outcome, and if expanding the ideas of the film to wider human topics would be effective, but we still wanted to go for it. It was incredibly rewarding to hear from the audience that the most important and specific elements that we were trying to communicate with the film really came across as a clear message.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

We felt that we had an obligation to try to make the discussion around the Mayan train bigger, with our weapon of choice: art. At the time of shooting, the new train construction was about to start and albeit in our personal opinion most of the implications of building it were negative, we still wanted to give it “the benefit of the doubt”. When we went to the actual places to research and scout, we started to realise how much of a bigger problem it actually was so we finally decided to choose a clearer stance.

Just to give an example, it was shocking to realise that one of the abandoned stations we shot on, that was in ruins, had actually been “restored” on paper using public funds, not only once but twice. According to the official paperwork, the old train station “was up and running as a museum and cultural centre”.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

My parents were very strict in what we could watch as kids (mostly nothing haha), but on the other hand they encouraged us to read books and provided everything so me and my sisters could shoot 35mm stills and our own little films. From the small selection of tapes that we were aloud to watch, our favourite was The Never Ending Story (1984) which we watched neverendingly, so I know every line of the movie by heart.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think it’s great to have a centralised place where you “set and forget” the common requirements for every festival, a platform that makes it easier to keep track with dates and deadlines. The other side of the coin is that there are so many festivals listed on it that it takes a lot of time to research which ones are worth investing in.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Listening to music for me is a ritual, so I mostly only do it when “I sit down or lie down” in the studio exclusively to do that. I think the piece that I never get enough of must be The Nocturne No. 20 in C♯ minor from Chopin. I also make music for film and tv so of course I’ve heard my own pieces to exhaustion during the creation process.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Railway Map was very important for me because I was able to explore the multidisciplinary approach of shooting that I had been developing as director over the years. That gave me the base ground and confidence to later apply that experience to a narrative fiction feature film that was shot shortly after and that will be my debut feature as director. The working title is Essay About the Beginning and it is currently in the last phase of postproduction.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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