‘Manco Cápac’: Henry Vallejo: “Cinema is quite vain. It is a luxury to spend a lot of money doing something that is not useful “

Peruvian filmmaker Henry Vallejo, in a file image.
Peruvian filmmaker Henry Vallejo, in a file image.COURTESY

Peruvian filmmaker Henry Vallejo bought an expensive and modern camera stabilizer to shoot his latest film. But the device failed in curves, when you had to turn fast. The director then returned to an artifact that his brother, the physicist, had been developing. They got the scenes they needed, the other three brothers took care of sound, photography and production, and the mother filled in what was missing from the budget when everyone had already put in their share. Lame Cap, a film about the perseverance of a young man who migrates in search of work and collides with the indifference of the city, opens on December 9 after four years of filming and has been shortlisted to represent Peru at the Oscars.

Vallejo (Azángaro, Puno, 41 years old) speaks with EL PAÍS by videoconference from Lima: “I feel as if I had entered to write and I have woken up after 11 years”. The director released his previous feature film in 2004 and began writing the screenplay for Lame Cap more than a decade ago. In the middle, the filming was suspended when they had 10% of the film because the main actor at that time left the project. Later, it was stopped for a year because of a lack of budget. Vallejo had already asked for three loans and was not trustworthy for the banks. His mother then contributed the rest, 5% of the 160,000 dollars that the production cost in total, which was financed, for the most part, with support from the Ministry of Culture.

The protagonist of Lame Cap, Elisbán, arrives in the city of Puno, in southern Peru, curled up in a ball at the bottom of a bus. The city is reflected in the vehicle’s windows in that first scene. A friend has promised him a job there, but the boy does not appear: it is the first of many unfulfilled promises made to the character played by Jesús Luque. With nothing – no home, no job, no shelter, no acquaintances – the 18-year-old walks through Puno in search of a job. He is alone, carrying a skinny backpack. The city, which celebrates carnivals, turns its back on him: because he has no studies or he does not speak English or he is not a girl. He won’t stop walking. “He has no alternative but to be redundant. Elisbán has to be like that because, if not, he will not eat ”, says the filmmaker.

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The actor Jesús Luque in an instant of 'Manco Capac'.
The actor Jesús Luque in an instant of ‘Manco Capac’.COURTESY

Vallejo sought to make “a small tribute to the Incas.” But a historical movie would cost millions. If we couldn’t do something very big, we could do something minimalist, ”he explains. The filmmaker, who in the last decade has worked as a tourist guide, had been researching the emperors who ruled until almost five centuries ago in the current territory of Peru. Manco Cápac was, according to the chroniclers of the time, the founder of the first Inca dynasty. “It is natural that this boy [el protagonista] be influenced by this culture with a force that is present in us ”, says the director, who does not offer more details because it would reveal too much about the film.

“We wanted to tell a story that was socially relevant and we challenged ourselves to be a story that dispenses with all sensationalism,” says the director. Thus he built a sober story without extreme conflicts in which much of what happens does not happen on the screen. “Of course everything is valid, make commercial films or make very auteur films,” he clarifies. In his case, he seeks to do something “useful”: “Let him tell us that life is still beautiful and we have to live it”. “The cinema is quite vain, and a lot of money is spent, a lot of time, a lot of lives. So why make a cinema that is empty? It is a luxury to spend a lot of money doing something that is vain and that is not useful ”.

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The award given by the Peruvian Association of Cinematographic Press –one of the six awards and 17 official selections that the film has received so far– highlights this aspect and rewards it for “showing the difficulties of life” of migrants from the highlands and tell “a story that is emotional, critical of its social environment, peculiar and rigorous in its cinematographic treatment.” The jury that made the decision also argues that the film “consolidates the cinema produced in Puno as one of the most creative in the country.”

“In a region that was unthinkable for making cinema, in the last 20 years around 35 feature films have been made,” says Vallejo. And if they are not more, he points out, it is “just a matter of lack of opportunities.” In Puno, a city of 130,000 inhabitants, there are, for example, no training schools for filmmakers or actors. Vallejo himself trained in Cuba and Colombia after making his first film “by intuition.” “It is not that we are less intelligent. It’s having the opportunity, getting the tools, getting the money and making your film, “he says. “In the interior of Peru is where the real Peru is, no, so the most original ideas will come from there.” Vallejo believes that the development of the last two decades is already “unstoppable.”

The shortlist for the Oscars, which are delivered in March, has been another boost. Since the news was known, he has received offers for different co-productions and Jesús Luque has been offered roles while he is studying at the School of Dramatic Art in Lima. For the nomination, the filmmaker has had to refuse to present Lame Cap at the Guadalajara Book Fair, as planned, because to continue in the race for the Oscars, the film should not be screened for free. “We have not made the film thinking about this,” he clarifies. Instead, he believes that recognition “is a reward for the effort of the entire work team” and “having done the work selflessly.” “It is very good because we are going to continue making films. You can’t be in a movie every day, but it seems like it’s going to be more often ”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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