Midway through meeting Carlos S Alvarez, the Peruvian resident who in March won the Human Rights Award at 60Seconds, the city’s annual short film festival, a quote from Horace Greeley comes to mind: “I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot.”
We have just watched his winning entry, ‘Rights’, a short film shot at the city’s Metro stations in which the only stars are abandoned shoes – on the trains, platforms and escalators, which are at first ignored by passengers, but then increasingly trodden upon and kicked – that play out a narrative that ‘walked the talk’ straight into the jury’s hearts.
Using no sound or music accompaniment, Alvarez’s triumph was proof that some of the best ideas in life cost close to nothing and come when you need to think on your feet.
The Copenhagen Post: How did you come up with the idea for ‘Rights’?
CS Alvarez: Since I had little time and no money, I decided to keep it simple, by using just one location, which was the Metro station and one of the trains. The film narrative and the artistic aspects were my first premise. The basic idea was to show how our rights can be easily ignored, threatened or violated, no matter who we are or where we are. I used shoes to symbolise social differences, ethnic diversity, age groups and sexual genders. I needed to illustrate one or more of the 30 articles of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I basically wanted to represent all of them.
TCP: How did you make it?
CSA: I called up some friends of mine and asked them to give me a hand and lend me their shoes. Shooting in public places is always a challenge. The crew for this one-minute film was a group of four to five people who for two days filmed at various Metro stations. The editing and colour grading took a working day, and we finished it just before the deadline. It was great to have the collaboration of Anders Dencker Christensen and Boaz Heller for this, who I’ve know for some years now.
TCP: Making a one-minute film is difficult.
CSA: Yes, it’s a challenge trying to embody an idea in a one-minute film – particularly when we are talking about human rights. But having said that, it has also made the process far more interesting and exciting.
TCP: What does it mean to you, winning this particular prize?
CSA: It’s nice to get the recognition, and it makes it even more significant that it is also a prize from the Danish Institute for Human Rights [which collaborated with 60Seconds this year to mark its 25th anniversary]. We are proud of this film. Winning this prize is very encouraging for future work. It’s also very significant and relevant, especially in times like these where human rights and the freedom of speech are being ignored and violated in many places around the world. We already know the consequences – both social and political – when ignoring and violating them. We must stand up for them.
TCP: So what’s next?
CSA: Well at the end of 2010, I was selected for a pitch session at the Danish Film Institute, and since then, I have been working on and developing a couple of stories for a short film and a feature film: what you may call ‘magical realism’. They are stories about lost childhood and finding yourself: ‘the coming of age’ genre. The work will allow me to continue my collaboration with Greg Brosofske, a North American composer, whom I have been following for a while after I saw a TED presentation in which a group of dancers were performing one of his compositions. I totally loved it! So we got in touch. After he saw the film ‘Rights’, he agreed to make a music score for it. He wrote to me, saying: “Really great stuff!” So yes, I´m looking forward to hear what he comes up with.
TCP: You’ve lived here since 2000. What advice would you give to anyone moving here today?
CSA: Oh boy! Know yourself and what you want, but don’t think it will be easy. And don´t mistake assimilation for integration. I have my doubts, but I do like Copenhagen. This is my home … there’s always going to be challenges. But what would life be without them?
TCP: What are dreams made of?
CSA: Ideas, experiences, and passion for what you love the most.
Factfile | Carlos S Alvarez
Filmmaker, born in Arequipa in Perú, ‘Rights’ is the 42-year-old photographer, director and cameraman’s first personal project in nine years as a director, since a 22-minute short, ‘Obituary’, which he made when graduating from the European Film College in Ebeltoft in 2003.
He had arrived in Copenhagen three years earlier (to live with his Danish girlfriend) with a background in acting (which he gave up to move behind the camera) and as a lighting and camera assistant. He had earlier studied video production and communications in Arequipa and then acting at the Cuatrotablas Theatre School.
Since graduating (and learning Danish), he has had several jobs in the industry, including: as the cinematographer on the 2005 Danish documentary ‘Danmark, her skal jeg dø? (directed by Per Liebeck); as the second-unit cameraman and still photographer on the 2006 Danish feature film ‘AFR’ (directed by Morten Kaplers); and as director and cinematographer of the Italian Cultural Institute’s promotional film for La Biennale in Venice in 2011.
“I have always sought for the deeper meaning in the things I do,” he says. “It would be such a waste of time otherwise. Even when I’ve needed money, I would get myself into situations, just for the sake of getting the experience.”