ADVENTURES IN FILM : IAN PONS JEWELL IN BOLIVIA
Whilst planning a trip to Argentina with Bruno (focus puller and part of Studio Murmur), imagining I would just go there for a couple months holiday whilst also seeing what opportunities there were for work, I got an email out of the blue from Luisa Gerstein (the lead singer of Landshapes, and vocalist for TEED) asking if I was interested in doing her next video. There was a problem though, as it involved shooting the Cholita wrestlers in Bolivia and the budget wasn’t big. What luck! I can speak Spanish and we were already going to Argentina, so the flight costs would be just the single from Buenos Aires to La Paz, which suddenly made the whole project very viable, with us just budgeting to fly out our DOP Doug Walshe. There’s nothing better than being contacted directly by the artist and working with them directly. I had just started to work independently myself with Studio Murmur, so it was a wonderfully perfect coincidence, and I was in love with the music. So it was set, Studio Murmur’s first foray in Latin America.
Luisa with our lovely driver Willy.
Bolivian’s aren’t unlike the English. Overly polite, bowler hat wearers, and when they drink, they drink far too much. I have been told they are 4th in the world in terms of alcohol consumption, with their own beer brands hailed as national treasures. A lot of the weird tales you hear are often alcohol related, such as the place where alcoholics at the end of their tether go to drink themselves to death, the "elephant cemetery". But all of these stories were to come later. We first went to El Alto, the ghetto satellite city that surrounds La Paz, creeping up into the mountains, growing every year on a massive scale.
Ran up and asked them to stop for a photo. Funny seeing Larry David in El Alto.
In El Alto, I saw one of the weirdest things I have seen since being in Bolivia, (apart from an apparition of a fictional character I created for another video which I will explain in the next post). This was weird in terms of unexplainable. I still have no idea what this man was doing; stood at the edge a chaotic road in La Ceja, with dark red rosy cheeks, he had in front of him a small table, upon which was a pop up book. The book had a diagram of an ovary, pushed out and up above the page, with long illustrated sperm entering from the side, one of them just about entered, less than half a circle protruded into the egg. The man pointed a handcrafted stick with 3 metal ringlets on the end of it, at the diagram in the pop up book. I stopped to listen but couldn’t understand a word he said. I’m still unsure if it was Spanish but with a strong Aymara accent, or Aymara perhaps. He would very smoothly point to the sperm, and give some talk, some explanation, then over to the ovary and talk some more. He never once looked up, his eyes set on his pop up book. No one stopped to listen apart from myself and Luisa, shyly at the side. I never saw him again, and still wonder what his intentions were. Free roadside sex education?
A "lustrabotas" (shoe shiner) who was the main character in the short film I made here.
The video was mainly written whilst out here with Luisa. We went to the fight, the training sessions, talked to the fighters a little, checked out locations, and then scripted the whole thing to the structure of the music. I loved the first fight we saw, in particular the evil referee character, who managed to create an improvised sub-narrative in each fight he was in. In one he played on being homosexual, touching the other fighter inappropriately, causing utter outrage from one woman in the crowd who screamed abuse at him. Total troll! In another he would stack the bottles people were throwing at him from the crowd into neat lines, and the fight would then knock them over, and he would do this sighing expression, which had me cracking up every time. It went on for a while though, 4 hours of fighting!
The production was one of the most challenging I have dealt with. First we had to find a camera to rent and get a crew together, which in the end was quite straight forward, but it was getting access to the fighters which was hard. We had to find the lady who manages the event, Denyse, who then got us in touch with Don Juan, the creator of the Cholita wrestling phenomenon, who we then had to give some sort of gift to which would benefit the association, to allow us into the fold, and then just wait 'til he decided which fighter we would work with. We didn’t know up until a couple of days before the shoot, but had so much luck in being told it would be Mirian, who was absolutely incredible on camera.
Pre fight, Mirian giving the werewolf a massage.
As the shoot was half documentary, we had to shoot on the actual days they would train and fight, but allow ourselves room to direct Mirian for the camera to enable us to mix documentary footage with directed acting. Mirian was amazing as I said, listening to direction incredibly well for a non-actor, with Doug saying he hadn’t worked with actors who could hit their marks so well. We met a great crew in the end too, including Gabriela Gemio who was our wonderful producer who took on the project halfway through to allow us to concentrate on the creative side of things. We also worked with Artistas Latinos who rented us the camera and found us a great camera team. Then Denyse and Don Juan were incredibly supportive throughout the production. Then on the Studio Murmur crew, what a team! My man Doug Walshe smashed it as usual, it was amazing having him out here, totally adapting to the conditions and managing to use the steadicam at 4070 metres above sea level with bugger all oxygen! Then Bruno Travers, focus puller, managing to keep his sharps throughout the entire fight without any marks, don. Gaia Borretti, beautifully translated our script with the footage we got and delivered a wonderful edit, managing to do so from other side of the world over emails. And Luke Morrison´s beautiful grade was the cherry on top.
Doug with one of his many rigs. Not sure if this one made his "Rigs" album.
It was towards the end of the shoot I started to hear all of these stories. Of the offerings given to the devil statues which are in every single mine in Bolivia, be it money, alcohol, llama foetus and even children, to allow them further access to the 'devil’s lair' to mine it for minerals. Of the homeless who are said to be buried in the foundations of new buildings to give them strength. There were also many personal stories of hauntings, use of Yatiris to heal things which doctors had no chance of, curses put on enemies by slowly killing a crucified toad by throwing salt on it. I decided to stay on a little longer and explore and it’s now been over 3 months and I am paying a 2 pounds per day fine for my Visa overstay. Still, I've so far ended up working with Matamba, Bolivia’s biggest contemporary artist, and making a video for him. I've also made a short film, which will be out in a few months and just wrapped the edit for Naughty Boy’s next video. It’s a weird, mad, exciting place here, so much so I'm not sure I will ever come back!
WORDS + PHOTOS: IAN PONS JEWELL
LANDSHAPES | IN LIMBO | DIR: IAN PONS JEWELL
THE SHOOTING GALLERY:
SCROLL RIGHT →
Mirian with her boyfriend Micky, he is the clown she fights with in the video.
Bruno getting his haircut
The coolest ice cream guy I´ve ever seen. Ended up using this character in the Nautghy Boy video.
Karma, the dog we adopted. He ended up running away again. A streetdog at heart.
Before the fight...
Luisa guarding the steadicam
Bruno post shopping with the embassy guards.
Some cute kids who adopted Luisa during the rail shoot.
Me and my barber.
Luisa at the Mirador where we got that big wide shot of the city
The foggy day of the fight.