Friday, January 13, 2017

Iñaki Oñate: A Modern Auteur Filmmaker

Photo © Natalia Sabatino
Iñaki Oñate is an auteur filmmaker and visual artist.  I first heard his name thru his father Iván Oñate whom is a well known, respected poet and narrator in Latin America.  In a chance meeting at a book festival in Houston, Texas, the poet, Iñaki’s father, proudly talked to me about his son and gave me a DVD of one of his films.  The film is titled El Fin De La Película (The End Of The Film).  At the time, I was working on other projects so I left the film on my desk for at least a month before I sat down to watch it.

Good things that come my way deserve attention and what I found in Oñate’s film is precisely the kind of art that intrigues and fascinates.  It was a film that I would consider auteur cinema.  The kind that brought to mind the films that were being made in Paris in the late 1950s and 1960s termed New Wave Cinema by François Truffaut.  There was a sense of subjective and objective realism, and the narrative carried itself in a verité manner.  Subjects were photographed in artful black and white in natural settings, with natural dialogue.

Films are only one part of Oñate’s repertoire, he’s also a well established visual artist, illustrator, musician and sound designer.  His art is provocative and in a way his pieces convey messages of ecstatic truth.  They move the audience to think about the reality or absurdity of the world and social issues in which we live in.  

El Fin De La Película (The End Of The Film)
by Film Director Iñaki Oñate
Iñaki Oñate was born in Quito, Ecuador on November 7th, 1988.  He grew up in a home that in his words was, “Synonymous with freedom, but a freedom that carries a high degree of responsibility.”   His art education and discipline may have began at home, but his final formative years in cinematic studies were spent at the Universidad Del Cine (FUC), in Buenos Aires, Argentina and aptly among the avant garde society which surrounded him.   

LA - What was it like growing up in Ecuador with a famous author as your father, it must have been fascinating.  Did you have a happy childhood?

Oñate -  My home has always been my refuge, my source of wisdom.  It’s here where I cultivated my aesthetic and ethical identity.  I think a good childhood is not only a happy childhood, but a childhood that teaches you to be strong.  My upbringing basically consisted of the process of brutally colliding with reality and resisting with the help of the force cultivated in my home.  

LA -  Did you have the support you needed to become an artist?

Oñate - I have been very blessed to have family, people, friends, and colleagues who have demonstrated their appreciation, their respect for the things I do and at the same time they have helped me grow with constructive criticism and utmost sincerity with their opinions on my work.

LA - In growing as artists it’s extremely valuable to be surrounded by people who are willing to express sincere opinions.

LA - Since when did you have an inclination towards art?

Oñate - I think I must have been drawing tirelessly since the age of two.  As a child, I would put sounds and dialogue to the images that I drew on paper.  I was unconsciously drawing frames of imaginary movies.  I do remember one of my very early pieces.  It consisted of a series of pen drawings based on impressions I had on the film Samson And Delilah by Cecil B. De Mille.  I must have been around five years old, but at a very young age, cinema caused in me a hypnotic effect.  In those days, it was very common to see biblical films on TV like the one mentioned or The Ten Commandments.  They were part of the regular programming.  There was something in the sacrifice of the main characters, their renunciation of themselves in pursuit of something beyond superior that clicked with my metaphysical being.  Of course, as a child I did not rationalize this, I just let the film carry me away by intuition and the emotions that those movies and stories generated.  

LA - What do you remember most from your childhood and youth years that play an important role in your art today?

El Paso de la Vida by Iñaki Oñate © 2015
Oñate - Art was always my sanctuary.  It was the place where I was free.  There was no better ecstasy than returning home after school and throwing myself to the ground surrounded by drawing paper and then proceed to draw for hours.  Eventually, the same would happen with the piano, the guitar and finally cinema.  The cynicism of the world around me was always a source of frustration and at the same time inspiration.  But there was also an element of the strange and ghostly that was ingrained as a result of having had an encounter with an angel when I was a child.  I saw it in my house and I felt its energy was good.  It had feathers but it was grotesque and deformed.  Nevertheless I sensed that it was an angel or something close to an angel.  

LA - That type of imagery stays with us for a long time.  It reminds me of the movie Birdman with its satirical black comedy and drama.  

LA - In what way did your parents influence you?

Oñate - My parents gave me their love and ethics.  They taught me valuable lessons and that one must be consistent with oneself.  One must be loyal to one’s principles, and above all one’s art.  I learned that I had to be loyal to one’s aesthetic discourse that goes beyond the work.  My art must be incarnated in life itself.  There is no middle ground in the true artist.  You must give everything to create your work and create something that truly speaks to another human being.

LA - What is your concept of art and what style do you mainly prefer?

Oñate - Art is an excuse to express emotions or ideals.  Its the only truth that exposes our essence: that of animals stricken by fear and desire looking fiercely for someone who will love us or at least give us a warm illusion.  As for styles and mediums, I must say that drawing, music and film are all of equal importance to me.  I think cinema encapsulates all the disciplines I explore.  Its the hybrid par excellence.  

LA - What art movement or artist in history has had an influence in your work?

Oñate - If I must choose an art movement or artists that have strongly influenced me, I must say that the 16th century School of Art in Quito has had a great impression on me.  Also, the renaissance philosopher Francis Bacon, film directors Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch, and the music of Pink Floyd. 

LA - Do you draw inspiration from politics and current social events?

Oñate - I'm inspired by everything.  I do draw inspiration from certain events recounted by the mass media but also and above all I look for stories and events that happen near me, in the faces and the backs of everyday life.  That’s where I believe the real human epics are. 

LA - I couldn’t agree with you more.  And I also believe every artist paints their own reality and in their own language and they portray life according to their imagination.  What are some themes you paint?

Oñate - I think I’m essentially an existentialist, since I was a boy until today.  The theme that defines me most is the being and its dialogue with nothingness. 

LA - Are you spiritual?  What do you believe in?  

Oñate - I’m a spiritual person by nature.  No one ever made me believe in anything.  Yet I feel God in the rain, in the wind, in the leaves, in the bliss of love, and in the truth of art.  

LA - What period in history do you think you would have liked to live in?

Oñate - I think I share the morality of Woody Allen’s movie: Midnight in Paris.  While we may find fascinating previous periods of time, there is nothing better than finding beauty in the here and now.  I think it’s the duty of every artist to find the identity of his time.  

LA - We all have an important role in society.  Do you think your work has an influence of those around you?

Oñate - I want to believe that yes, and sometimes people that I don't know at all have expressed their admiration and appreciation for the messages or the things I say thru my art.  Art must be a threat, a threat to reality, for what is established as absolute.  Art must teach us that there is no such thing, that everything can be modified.

LA -  Have you had any challenges in exhibiting your art and what has the criticism been like whether positive or negative?

Oñate - From a very young age I had a deep respect for my things.  For me, to make art meant that art itself had to deal with healing my own problems.  With my paintings I try to overcome the demons of my past or my present and I also try to pay homage to the angels who have passed thru me.  Some already in another dimension, while others are deformed from the brutality of life.  When I was 15 I made my first short film.  It was a school project and it was only me with my Handy camera and the collaboration of two friends.  Seeing the good reception I had at my school, I dared to submit the film to an international film festival in Montreal, Canada.  It was my very first exhibit.  The festival was called Festival Du Films Du Monde and my short film was titled Faces of Time.  They showed my film just before a feature film by the son of Juan Rulfo.  After the exhibition many people expressed their pleasure towards my short and a TV channel asked me for an interview.  It was a small baptism of fire and blood.  My film was selected and since then I started to produce more films and have been lucky at international festivals.  From then I began to show my work at universities in the film circuits where I felt to some extent that my films were conveying an important message to completely unknowns.  That gave me the incentive at a young age that I could seriously take the idea of filmmaking as a profession and dedicate my life to the art.  I was determined to set a universal message for others through my cinema, my music and my drawings.  

LA - What role does Argentine culture play in your art?  Are there political or social messages intertwined in your art?

Oñate - Argentina has been fundamental not only for my art but for my life.  It has been the place that has seen me grow form a teenager and become an adult.  Argentina has given me the friendships, the muses, and the vital learning curve that every artist needs for his art to be true, to have emotions, to have drive.  It’s where I learned to make art that was more human.     

LA - Life itself makes us evolve and the place we live in shapes us… What has your evolution as an artist been like?

Oñate - I have always felt and perceived my art as my own language, a personal and intimate way of shouting in an aesthetic and harmonious way everything that happens in my heart and mind.  My evolution as an artist has been based on perfecting techniques and finding new resources, inquiring other artists and learning, but also in not letting the voice of the inner child to be lost and maintaining the violence and the game I’ve had since I was very young.  

LA - What is your studio like?

Oñate - I don’t have a studio.  I work in the small mono environment where I live in Buenos Aires,  I have the necessary basics, but I tried to decorate the place a little with posters of movies or movie stars as well as with clay sculptures that I make for my animations.  More than a studio, I would say it looks like a lunatic’s lab.  I don’t have preferential schedules to work.  I simply act based on the strength of an idea or a sketch of the moment.  Sometimes, something can take me minutes and other times it can take days.  I drink apple cider when I work, I think it’s good fuel for my ideas.

LA - Do you cook?  Is cooking part of your repertoire?

Oñate - I love to cook for myself and for my friends.  I like to make macaroni and cheese with tuna.

LA - Cooking is one of my major life forces too.  How do you feed your mind?  What books do you read, who are your favorite authors, and what films do you watch?

Oñate - I like to read novels and poetry: Boris Vian, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Charles Bukowski, and Joe Sacco comics.  The work of my own father Iván Oñate has been fundamental for the construction of my aesthetics.  In the film arena I like Blue Velvet, Pink Floyd The Wall, Amadeus, The Godfather Trilogy, El Silencio, and La Hora Del Lobo just to name a few.  Everything I’ve seen has been influential on my work directly or indirectly, but the films mentioned have been crucial and are films I have seen at least two or three times.  

LA - How do you recharge energy?

Oñate - Usually what awakens my libido to create something is either a song that I like, a good movie or even the smile of an inspirational muse.

LA - Music sounds like a great way to relax and create.  What music do you listen to?

Oñate - It may vary, I’m essentially a rocker: Pink Floyd and Stone Temple Pilots.  But on the other hand the classical music of Schoenberg (The Night Transfigured Concretely) to the music of Chopin have been my companions when I create.  These days I listen to a lot of sound tracks from movies.  

LA - What are your dreams and plans for the future?

Oñate - I want my parents, my bothers, my nephews, and my friends to be proud of me.  I want to fall completely in love again.  I want my work to be seen all over the world and for my work to express sincerity to any inhabitant of this universal human village.  I think over the years I can discern what may have been wrong in my life or what errors I have made.  What I can say is that thanks to positive things that happened, they have impacted me enough to build the strength to process the negative and transform it into life lessons and new material for my work.

LA - What do you feel most proud of?

Oñate - My family.  Of my family values.  Of the honesty and the struggle of my parents for a better world. 

LA - Are you a romantic?

Oñate - I think every artist should be a romantic.  We’re driven by ideals and feelings and we must have the courage to be like this in a cynical and cruel world.  

LA - What moves you more whether to inspire or to provoke negatively?
Souvenir by Iñaki Oñate 

Oñate - Negatively, I’m bothered by the hypocrisy and corruption of politics and by people who blindly follow false leaders with such fanaticism that causes brothers and sisters to be murdered among them.  It causes me despair to see that people don’t realize how they can have the power but instead they allow the manipulation and deceit of just a small circle of bastards.  We have the last word and our own ideas, not those that govern us based on lies and cheap fables.

LA - I agree bad governments are the ills of our societies.  

LA - What philosopher or philosophy inspires you?

Oñate - As a teenager I used to follow Nietzsche and Camus.  Now I like the desperate and poetic rhetoric of Émil Cioran.

LA - Those are amazing philosophies to read.  I’ll keep in mind to read essays by Émil Cioran.  I know they’re deep and raise important questions of humanity and pessimism.  Have you applied any of your favorite thoughts on philosophy to your works?  Which art pieces or films do you feel most proud of?

Oñate - I feel a special affection for a trilogy of short films that I produced when I was a teenager that consist of: The Machine, Lord God of the Insect and God is in the Mirror.  They narrate the passage of the child to the adolescent and the adolescent to the adult who must fight for his soul and for his ideas. 

LA - Your’e a master at what you do but also a master thinker.  This has been a very good moment and in cinema we would call this a sequence.  I’m very glad and honored that you shared a sequence of your life here.  Thank you for your generous time and for your honesty. 

Iñaki Oñate produces his films thru Undergofilms Productions.  His artwork and photography are displayed in select galleries and published in Europe, USA and Latin America.  

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