Making your first feature film not only takes a lot of work, but endless energy and determination. The results may not be what you expected, but what you learn from the experience is priceless and part of your journey in a career that will invariably be full of ups and downs. It was the end of 2008 when I left for La Paz, Bolivia, to shoot my first feature film, Campo De Batalla (Battlefield). I had very little money for production, but I had a naïve self-belief and I was on a mission: I was going to make this film, no matter what.
Campo De Batalla tells the story of five women trapped in a beauty salon during a social revolt on the streets of La Paz. As the hours go by, it is the beauty salon itself that turns into a battlefield of petty fights and family issues between the hairdresser and her family.
Bolivia is a country where people take to the streets when things go wrong, so I knew it wouldn't be difficult to capture some footage of street protests for Campo De Batalla. In October 2008, I was one of thousands on the streets of La Paz, welcoming people from all over Bolivia who had walked to the capital to support a referendum for the new constitution. They were mainly Aymaras, Quechuas and Guaranís. It was obvious that Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of the country, had the support of his people and overwhelming backing from the indigenous population. I filmed some of these historic scenes, and they made a brief appearance in the film.
Campo de Batalla features five very different women battling against one another. Dolores, the hairdresser, finds it hard to establish a maternal bond with her teenage daughter, who feels closer to her grandmother than to her mother. There is also a bride-to-be, who dreams of living in Miami, and a Spanish tourist on a journey of self-discovery. Many Bolivian women worked as domestic staff in Spain during the early years of the 21st century, at the cost of them leaving their children behind. Many of these children were unable to bond with their mothers once they returned. Immigration has benefits, but also drawbacks, and this was a major one for many of these women.
The film is now available to watch for free on YouTube, and a link to Campo De Batalla is below. It was a very long journey, with zero financial profit, but extraordinary personal and professional gain. This year, I have been very fortunate to have directed two new films, which are out in 2014. I have definitely developed and grown as a filmmaker because of Campo De Batalla. Despite its flaws and naivety, I wouldn't be the filmmaker I am today had I not made this film. Moreover, it gave me the confidence to call myself a filmmaker. When there is a story lurking inside me, something takes over and sets me on a mission to turn it into a film. I don't need the film industry to give me validation; I just keep making. I keep learning and I keep developing. Yes, I have made mistakes, but I'm trying, and I'm doing what I love. On my return from Bolivia, there were many times when I thought I should quit my filmmaking dreams. I was alone and penniless, but, little by little, I found people here and there who helped me to complete this labour of love. Campo De Batalla premiered in January 2010 to a packed audience at the Cinemateca Boliviana in La Paz. It also opened in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and at La Cinemateca de Bogotá in Colombia. I couldn't afford the submission fee for many festivals, so the film only appeared at the few that were free and that would select it for their competition section.
One of my highlights on the festival circuit was at the Triestre Latin-American film festival in 2010 where I met León Gieco -- an Argentinian musician and composer who created a song that has become an anthem in the Spanish-speaking world, "Sólo Le Pido a Dios". We sing this song in a scene from the film and León, who was on the festival jury, was delighted. He is a legend, a wonderful musician, an even better person, and I feel fortunate to have met him.
I come across many filmmakers who constantly talk about wanting to make their first feature film. All I can say to them is just do it. There is never a right time. In life, if you wait for the right time, you could be waiting forever. Whether you want to make a film, write a novel or become the next Mother Teresa, start today. Start now. You may not succeed on your first attempt, but you will be one step closer to where you want to be.