<< Front page Arts April 9, 2004

Buñuel shares stories, advice

Filmmaker Bunuel: Part of a family tradition of filmmaking.

“I don’t go that much to the movies,” filmmaker and sculptor Juan Luis Buñuel, OC ’57, said when asked what current young filmmakers he considered to have potential. “You have to be independent. You have to be free, not stuck in a big studio.”

Fluent in French and Spanish and with a B.A. in English, Buñuel operates independently not only of studio, but of country as well. Buñuel became a second-generation exile at age two, when his father, director Luis Buñuel, was forced to leave Spain for Paris at the outbreak of civil war.

Buñuel returned to Oberlin last night for the first time in 50 years to discuss filmmaking, Oberlin and his famous father.

Buñuel studied at Oberlin in the middle of the 20th century, when America was at the height of McCarthyism and Oberlin was a dry town. As for the College’s impact on his life, Buñuel joked that he “learned to read,” and praised the Geology and Astronomy departments for their classes intended for “literature students” and “poets.”

After Oberlin, Buñuel intended to continue studying at graduate school. Yet, he was dissuaded by a producer , who found him a job as a Spanish to English translator for Orson Welles, who was filming an adaptation of Don Quixote.This film was, sadly, never completed. Buñuel was unaware of the magnitude of Welles’s influence at the time, but claims responsibility for his subsequent injury. Young Buñuel had noticed a small hole in the ground on set, but forgot to notify someone to fill it up before someone tripped in it. Welles’s limp in Touch of Evil, which was shot shortly after, Buñuel explains, resulted from the director stumbling in that very hole.

Following his work with Welles, Buñuel took a trip to France. He was persuaded to work on the set of a film in Cambodia, where he was surprised to be given an elephant instead of a car as means of transportation. Convinced to remain in the field, he spent the next ten years as an assistant director to his father as well as others, learning the techniques and technical aspects of filmmaking.

Buñuel stressed the importance of hands-on experience in cinema, as well as the ability to improvise. Buñuel told of how once, while shooting an ocean film on a museum ship near the coast of Buenos Aires, cardboard pictures of the ocean were tilted left and right behind the windows so the ship appeared to be out at sea.

Among the many obstacles he has had to conquer while filming are a daytime eclipse in Venezuela, sea lions interrupting love scenes in Argentina and government censors of the many different countries he filmed in. As a director not rooted in any single nation or affiliated with a major studio, raising money and adapting to different countries’ moral codes were particularly daunting challenges.

Buñuel doesn’t see any relationship between his career as a filmmaker and his career as a sculptor.

“None whatsoever. Cinema is working with a team of people, and sculpting you do on your own,” he said.
Part of this team includes the many writers that might work on a script before it is completed. “A script is an interesting thing because it’s not literature,” Buñuel explained, “it’s the image that you bring up.” Buñuel continued to say that you could have the best directors, the best actors and the best musical scores in the world for a film, but if there wasn’t a decent script, it wouldn’t matter.

This is interesting, considering that his first film as a director was a documentary. Calandra, shot in the town Calandra in Aragon, Spain, documents the town’s unique custom of drumming in the streets for 24 hours straight in celebration of Good Friday.

Buñuel’s discussion was followed by a screening of Calandra (1966) and La Femme Aux Bottes Rouges (1974). Buñuel will speak tonight in King 108 about his father’s work, followed by a screening.


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