Salvador Gieling on his film Lessons for Luca and his experience at IDFAcademy

    Young Dutch filmmaker Salvador Gieling's first feature-length documentary Lessons for Luca, has just world-premiered in IDFA's Luminous section. We spoke to the director about the film, his experience at IDFAcademy where it was developed, and how not always having an explanation can be a beautiful thing.

    Gieling's film is framed as an educational tool for his young son, Luca, and focuses on the boy's Cuban mother Belga and her large family. The trio travel to the island to explore the case of Luca's uncle Ezequiel who was sentenced to six years in prison for selling a cow. In Cuba, a farmer does not own the cows they are keeping; they officially belong to the state. It's a complicated issue that the director tries to illuminate for himself, his child, and the audience.

    "This case is of course very absurd for us in Europe," Gieling tells us about his approach over coffee at the Brakke Grond. "We tend to always rationalize things. We say, that's the communist system and that's the way it is. But when you are explaining something to a child, you have to get to the essence of things, and then you realize how hard it is to explain something, and how absurd and cruel the world can be."

    Throughout the film, Gieling interviews members of Belga's extended family, asking them what freedom means to them.

    "I asked everybody not to talk in the simplified way you would talk to a child, but also not to make things sound better than they are. And people really got honest, because it's a big responsibility to say something to a child," he recalls.

    We asked him if he managed to clarify Ezequiel's complicated case to himself—the film remains ambiguous about it.

    "A key aspect of the film was to show that you cannot explain everything, and so the film in that sense has no conclusion. We have no answer," he elaborates. "But it's important to sometimes admit that we don't have an answer. It's also a big part of Latin American culture, accepting the things that you don't understand. There are many things in Cuba that you just cannot understand and you have to accept them, and for me it's something that can be really beautiful."

    While he was working on the film in 2018, Gieling took part in the NPO & IDFAcademy Workshop, with tutors Marjoleine Boonstra and Tom Fassaert.

    "A big and very difficult part of filmmaking is financing, and IDFAcademy is really a good place to work on your plan because it is only about the film itself," he says. "But it also meant that we got some funding, and with this money I was able to go to Cuba two times, and that was when we shot one of the most important scenes that are still in the film. If I had to go through this whole process of financing, it wouldn't be possible."

    His participation at IDFAcademy also helped put the film on the map.

    "In the Netherlands it's quite difficult to finance a film that has no direct relation with the country. And thanks to IDFAcademy giving our film a big platform, it got some attention, so that makes your chances better and that's why I'm really grateful," the director says.

    Lessons for Luca is eligible for the Best Dutch Film Award and has its last public screening on Nov 21 at 15:00 in the Ketelhuis.

    Lessons for Luca

    • Salvador Gieling
    • 2021
    • 88 min

      In Cuba—modern Cuba—a farmer gets a six-year sentence for selling his own cow. Like all the best family sagas, Lessons for Luca paints a picture that’s both about individuals and society as a whole.

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