“Days of The Whale” is a foreign language film that is having its global premier at SXSW in Austin, Texas. The film is a display of symbolism surrounding coming-of-age themes while being among a gang street backdrop.
After prior experience in film, director Catalina Arroyave Restrepo completed this project as her first feature-length film. It has already received two awards for screenwriting and has only been available to receive acclaim for around four months. The film will be released online later this year for the general public.
The Daily Texan met up with Arroyave and lead actress Laura Tobón to discuss the filmmaking process and the symbolism of the film.
The Daily Texan: What is the message you are trying to leave audiences with from this film?
Catalina Arroyave Restrepo: The whale has two meanings to me. The first one is that when I was growing up, I was very powerful in being able to stand up for anything that I didn’t think was right. When you start to grow up you start losing that, and you start to feel that there is a lot of things you can’t do. So, for me, the whale has this idea of something that starts to die when you ‘crash with the world’ but then it resurrects in the art that you do. The second one is that I live in Medellín, and it is like there is an ‘elephant in the room’ except in the film it is a whale in the city. There is something that people don’t want to look at, and it is this reality that is going on with the gangs in the city. This is something that is actually happening, and people just don’t want to look at it. These are the things that I wanted to say with the whale but I also like all the various poetic interpretations I have heard from other people who have seen the film. Everyone can connect to it in their own way.
DT: What was the biggest challenge during the filming process?
CAR: We were very sick. We were sick for half of the filming or more. It has to do with the fact that we were on the street all the time filming in very dirty and complex places. For example, the party scene in the house, when we shot that, I was shaking from fever. Also, it was raining practically every day, and we had to work around it. It was very lucky that the rain would stop right as we were forced to begin filming. Another challenge was getting all the actors to act in the same style because we had first time actors, television actors and other actors who had come from different places.
DT: You guys are premiering this film at SXSW, why? Why not Medellín where it was filmed?
CAR: SXSW is a festival that is famous for its spirit and open rebellious culture. We thought it would be a great place to show this film with all this music and art. Plus, we will premier in our country as well but it is important for us to show the film to other people in the world and to represent Latin America, Colombia and Medellín and to show it in our own voices. Many people think all of Latin America is like Mexico and that is not true. It is important for us to share our point of view on our places where we are from in places like the United States.
DT: What was the experience of starting your acting career spontaneously with a feature film?
Laura Tobón: It was the best experience of all time. It was fun, and I learned a lot but many times I felt like the process was a game. And now all I want to do is films.
DT: Is writing your specialty? What was the hardest part about writing a film script?
CAR: I became a director because I wanted to see my writing come to life. The hardest part about it is structure. The feelings you can create in a poem or short story are harder to portray in a script because you need the excitement to last for the entire film.
DT: Why did the film end so abruptly? Why was there no background on the characters before the conflict in the film began?
CAR: The end of the film was always the whale, but after reading a review or two I realize now that I could’ve explored more subplots. I also didn’t want a conventional film style of ‘they meet, they become friends, something happens.’ I wanted to show a specific moment in the characters’ lives. I didn’t want this overdeveloped thing where it had everything done for the viewer from the start. I wanted to give the information throughout the film, and I saw this as a narrative strategy.