Father Thirst in the Venezuelan Jungle
#VISIONSDUREEL2020: El Father Plays Himself (2020, ‘105), Mo Scarpelli
Director and camerawoman first-class Mo Scarpelli spreads a mythic veil over her new documentary by starting it out with the admonitions of Juan Solito, a tiger hunter and sorcerer of the Orinoco jungle in Venezuelan writer Rómulo Gallegos’ 1935 adventure novel, Canaima. Evoking the fictitious realm this way may even alarm the most naive of viewers to watch something that sets out as a making-of film with caution. According to Scarpelli, her film, El Father Plays Himself did, in fact, start out as a making-of project, i.e. an opportunity to accompany her fiancé, Venezuelan emigrant director, Jorge Thielen Armand on a venture to his home country to shoot an autobiographic film with his father whom he has not seen for years.
Jorge Thielen Armand left Venezuela when he was 15 years old. The film he makes with his father is his second feature. Armand casts non-actors to play versions of themselves in order to access raw emotions from his characters. Making his new film La Fortaleza with his father provides the most time they will spend together in a long time; it also, through the material he wrote, provokes the father to confront his alcoholism, his loneliness, and moments of pain his father has inflicted on the family.
Jorge Roque Thielen, “el Father”, has lived in Venezuela his entire life. Jorge is his only son. In the 90’s, he went to the Amazon jungle to build a tourist camp, which thrived for some years before falling into disrepair. He turned to illegal gold mining which ended up spitting him back out into Caracas as the country was falling apart due to economic crisis. El Father does not know the script that Jorge has written; he discovers his character, based on himself, as the film production unfolds.
While Scarpelli’s mostly distant yet always beautifully framed image does take us behind the scenes of an indie film shoot in the jungle, and boy is it an adventure itself!, she is no Les Blank to let her characters get self-referential and…