Venezuela’s problems get big-screen attention in this revealing feature about an alcoholic (played masterfully by Jorge Thielen Hedderich) who flees his big-city problems to find his old shack in the jungle. But his old friends there are caught up in the dangerous hunt for gold, as portrayed in rugged mining scenes that take on an almost documentary feel. Things don’t go well, but the movie grips till the finish.
Filmmaker Jorge Thielen Armand recently answered some questions via email.
What inspired this story? Was it related to any real-world events or a personal connection?
La fortaleza is inspired by my father’s true stories of living in the Venezuelan Amazon jungle and his struggles with addiction. I casted my actual father to play himself, or a version of himself; the other actors are all non-professionals too, and they know my father from when he lived there in the ‘90s. I made this film to go back to Venezuela, to go back to a place of our memories, to spend time with my father, to confront our pains, to immortalize his image, his story, and the landscapes of a country in a process of self-destruction.
The jungle scenes, especially the mining sequences, seem to be very accurate or at least documentary in their approach. Did you research these mines? If so, how?
The film was shot around the region of Canaima, near Angel Falls. We filmed in real mines with the indigenous people who live and work in the area.
It’s a difficult world to access because of its remoteness and illegal nature, so there’s a lot of tension and fear, but we were guided by old friends of my father who know the process of mining for gold. We took a semi-documentary approach in the sense that we coordinated with the miners when they would be working and processing the gold, and then we inserted our film characters and let them show us how it’s done.
The story seems very much open-ended by the final scenes. What do you hope viewers take away from that type of ending, and from the film altogether?
By the end of the film, I hope viewers feel depleted, depleted like the protagonist and Venezuela.