Juan Pablo Fenix Debut ‘Karnawal’ Screens at Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte

For his debut feature “Karnawal,” Juan Pablo Félix and his Bikini Films partner and executive producer Edson Sidonie recruited around the world for help in bringing to the big screen an original story about a young dancer, screening this week in Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte.

Joining Argentina’s Bikini Films, Brazil’s 3 Moinhos Produçoes, Chile’s Picardía Films, Mexico’s Phototaxia, Norway’s Norsk Filmproduksjon and Bolivia’s Londra Films fill out the film’s roster of six co-producers from six countries which contributed to the feature’s realization.

In Quebrada de Humahuaca, a village near the border between Argentina and Bolivia, the community prepares to celebrate the long-awaited Andean Carnival. Cabra, played by newcomer Martin López Lacci, devotes all his energy to prepare for the most important dance competition of his life. But the Carnival awakens old demons, and Cabra’s long lost ex-con father (Alfredo Castro) reappears after being released from prison and jeopardizes young Cabra’s goals.

Born in Buenos Aires, Felix is a graduate from Argentina’s prestigious Enerc National Film School. Having worked under several elite directors as a special effects producer, primarily in Argentina and Spain, he began making his own short films and documentaries before putting pen to paper on “Karnawal.”

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Now the film’s team is closing the final assembly cut with the renowned Brazilian editor Eduardo Serrano. The film will be finished in early 2020 and released later in the year.

Felix talked with Variety about making his fiction debut, how to cast a world-champion dancer and integrating his own dance history into the film.

You start the film with a complete 13-minute story before the title screen appears. What was your goal in doing that?

I wanted to start the film by dropping the young protagonist in an adverse context where he’s alone and must make important decisions quickly. What interests me about adolescence is portraying it as a difficult period where there is no choice but to learn how to be alone. In this case, it’s 13 enigmatic minutes where the viewer experiences a chaotic succession of events, until finally the audiences learns why this young man did what he did. With this sequence I tried to create an empathy between viewer and character so that later when the adults enter the plot, the viewers will continue watching from a teenager’s point of view.

How was the casting process, finding a world-class dancer who could also Act?

When I started writing I was certain that the protagonist had to be a genius dancer who we’d then train as an actor. I felt that putting a real dancer in front of the camera would enhance the degree of emotion and truth in the film. Finding him was more difficult. We went to malambo competitions all over the country for two years. After seeing more than 300 professional dancers, we found Martin López Lacci – a national malambo champion – and he was a revelation. We knew immediately he was our lead. After we found him, he spent a year with renowned coach actor Maria Laura Berch.

What has it been like to film your first feature and travel to markets and festivals around the world with project?

It has been an unforgettable experience. Shooting a road movie at over 13,000 feet altitude in the desert of the Andean Puna was an odyssey, but it was worth it. Despite it being my first feature, I felt very calm along the way because I was lucky to be accompanied by wonderful professionals. Filming with cinematographer Ramito Civita, a San Sebastian Silver Shell winner for “The Winter,” was fantastic.

This is the product of a five-year journey shared with my Bikini Films partner Edson Sidonie. From the first version of the script we have been together through every stage. I think that double enthusiasm was contagious and opened doors for us. In a short time, it went from the two of us to a team backing this film, and that is what made the project grow.

Five countries make this a pretty large co-production. Can you talk about the production setup, and how did it come about?

Especially for a first feature! But it happened very naturally. I always considered that this film had a Latin American heart and wanted the co-producers to reflection that. Also, the people I dreamed of working with came from different countries in the area: Alfredo Castro from Chile, editor Eduardo Serrano from Brazil, sound designer Lena Esquenazi of Mexico, and so on. I think co-producing has this wonderful thing of being able to widen the playing field when it comes to making the movie.

Do you have a history with dance?

During my youth, I studied folk and other types of dances for years. I split my time between academies and dance competitions. I remember the incredible enthusiasm, the passion and the tension among all of us who danced. Most of all I remember that dance was my refuge going through a difficult adolescence. I think these memories are what prompted me to write this story. Then, more recently, I directed a documentary series about young dancers from North Argentina. This experience gave me a deep knowledge of this region and it was what inspired me to set my personal story against the dance of northern Argentina.

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