Helmut Dosantos

…Screenwriter, Director and Filmmaker
is committed to his stories.

   Well versed in the uses of literary filming language, Dosantos has been able to bring to life his cinematic visions.

With recent successes such as the likes of the California Accolade Competition winning the “2012 Award of Excellence,” and winning “Best Editing – Short Film” in the 2012 Los Angeles Downtown Film Festival, plus 2012 AOF Int’l Film Festival – Writing Award Nominee for Best Action Sequence Short for the screenplay “Palingenesia,” and  the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival – Short Script Competition – Official Finalist for the screenplay “Palingenesia,”

…you can see why I was intrigued about his background and asked Mr. Dosantos  how this all came about.

How did you come up with the premise and storyline for Dissent? And why do you think this is getting so much attention? Awards?

  What I am mostly grateful about is that – through screenings and awards – everyone who collaborated with me is now receiving recognition for their dedication to their work and craft, especially considering that this was voluntary work for the majority of them.

  Dissent is a noir, surreal drama and a hybrid genre film. It is an unusual film to make today. But we liked it. I guess this is what people liked also, even though it’s a film that sometimes is hard to follow because of its multiple layers and symbols. But this may be the very reason it has received several awards and has been selected in fifteen festivals so far, throughout the world.

   Dissent was meant to be a small project. We ended up with a much bigger film, instead… with a project whose costs kept on  levitating along with the growing ambition to create a movie whose many layers could surprise ourselves as well as the audience. Its storyline kept on evolving all the way through the filming, from the US (where we started), through Mexico, and finally coming to a close in France. The final film is a multifaceted story, where boundaries of reality are blurred, and symbols sensed in each scene.

   We wanted to convey that to control our life through conventionalism(s) – like a wedding can be – and all those things socially considered necessary in a lifetime because they generate stability and respectability, might produce the exact opposite effect. That control we all long for would then slip out of our hands, get us trapped in the search of a satisfaction that hardly ever comes, anchored to conventions, which no longer evolve and submit us to an endemic (spiritual) crisis.

How do you come up with your screenwriting ideas? Like Palingenesia? Can you give us some background into the storyline? And for those of us who do not know – what does Palingenesia mean?

   I tend to be very receptive to fleeting ideas; my variable moods, emotions, what I know, and the world around me. My screenplays and stories are a combination of how I associate these elements together. I also learned to trust my instinct at all costs. Every time I didn’t do that, I always regretted it.

“What feels right usually is – that works for me, at least.”

   Palingenesia had its genesis during a time when things were moving very slowly for me. The story begins as a ʻDe Profundisʼ for our cultured society projected in a perhaps not-so-distant future when Humanity ends. The dim recollections of a Young Man are meant to guide the readers/audience into what may have been a few moments of his past life. A life where nothing happened, a life plunged into boredom and futility, a life that, despite everything, is given a second chance to do things right.

   Palingenesia is an Ancient Greek word that assumed different connotations throughout time. I remained faithful to the Pythagorean meaning, the transmigration of souls. Souls do not die with the body, but reincarnate. I combined this re-birth with the myth of Persephone eating the pomegranate as a symbol of the human Renaissance for a new, hopefully more prosperous beginning.

   The story then changes into an ʻOdeʼ to rebirth, through reconciliation with a natural existence. The blurred tragic ending of the first sequence is superseded by the restoration of faith in human aspirations in its quest to unearth a new consciousness. A consciousness that is shown as blossoming through the symbolic planting of a pomegranate and its growing into a tree. The fruit – the pomegranate – stands for our regeneration, and the tree for our fate, our budding appetite for learning and understanding. A desire to reacquired dignity and to bring a new balance to life. A dignity that does not consist of possessing honors – as Aristotle said – but in the consciousness that we deserve them.

What is your filming process like? How long does one film usually take to complete?

    Once I am satisfied with the script, first, I secure my collaborators then I go location scouting.

   Usually, I return to the chosen locations alone, several times. I’ve found it extremely useful to know well where I was going to film. I consider that to be as important as knowing my screenplay by heart. Usually, I change the script according to the locations – after I have been there a number of times. Once I think I have understood all the settings, I concentrate on the cast.

   I believe that the right place deeply shapes the character, as the right character can modify his environment if he fits well in it.

“In my experience, actors perfectly sense the location
when they “absorb” the character.”

  When that happens, things become magical. That is one of the author/director’s main tasks, to find or build the right place(s) for the characters of your story.

  I usually end up writing very ambitious stories. I don’t know whether people in the industry like that or not. Certainly, I am not looking for the next great idea. If I can surprise myself with a few good twists or laugh at what I just wrote, then I know my story is on the right path.

You have recently won and received many Awards in the industry like the, 2012 The Indie Fest, CA – USA “Award of Excellence.”  Another win was The Mexico International Film Festival, Mexico “Bronze Palm Award.” And  the Downtown Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA where you won for Best Editing in a Short Film…

How did you make these dreams come true? How hard did you work? In addition, how did you feel when you heard the good news – celebrate?

  All the Awards the film received – Indie Fest (Award of Excellence), Los Angeles Movie Awards (Honorable Mention), The Mexico International Film Festival (Bronze Palm Award), the Accolade Competition (Award of Excellence), and the Downtown Film Festival – Los Angeles (Best Editing – Short Film) – are truly the merit of everyone who worked on Dissent. I wish I could have celebrated with the actors and crew. But most of us live in different countries, which make it impossible. I did celebrate though – with my wife and friends…

  More than the Awards, my greatest satisfaction is coming through the number of screenings that the film has collected so far. Being a 35 min. film, it makes the film not very easy to program in the short film section for many festivals. I am glad that so far it is doing well. I hope it will continue to make a generous tour of festivals this year and in the future. 

   It is always wonderful to be the one selected into a contest, receive a nomination or win an award. Now, I do not think that this alone gives you enough visibility to be noticed by an agent, manager, or a producer, and to have your script produced. Of course, it also depends on what you won or was selected in a category – but anything you achieve becomes part of your body of work, which will become useful when you present and pitch your project.

How do you write – your process? Do you write on pad and paper or use a laptop?

   If I have to write ideas fast not to forget them, I usually use a pen and a paper or anything I can find— often my cell phone. I still type slowly compare to most of my fellow writers. I only got my first computer – a laptop – at the age of 27. Not that long ago, after all.

You wear many hats in the film industry i.e.: Screenwriter, Director, Producer, and Production Designer. Do you have a favorite?

“Well, my major efforts are focused on
becoming a good Film Director.”

   I enjoy to venture on orchestrating a story I like, and to turn it into a film – from the very first line I write of the script up to its completion in the editing room and public screening. But long before I’d even imagined seriously moving into filmmaking, I had always been writing. I still do. I keep writing stories.

   Some may become movies, many others probably never will. Yet writing remains the best gymnastic for my brain. Through writing, I can raise sand castles underwater then look at them, and be proud that they can still stand.

Can you tell us why you take on so many rolls? Is it to have creative control? Save production costs? To make sure of the quality of film you are trying to produce.

  It is impossible to control everything by yourself. The more you try the more time and money you lose. But it is imperative to have a clear guideline to follow that is your own. It has been hard to cover so many roles in a single film, though certainly it has been great training. I felt I had to make my own mistakes and learn. I believe it was the right thing to do for me at the time.

You went to film school in Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television (San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba). How do you think this school might differ from those taught in the US? Are they focused on the Art of Filming, or Structure, Plot and Character?

How was your experience there, and where you able to produce a film while at school?

   I consider the EICTV to be an oasis of creativity and the cradle for many future successful filmmakers. It is a film school like no other – at least not like any I know or have heard of. It was founded on the principle of educating young Latin American, African and Asian generations on the Seventh Art. It is not a coincidence that it has been given the name of School of All Worlds.

   Many filmmakers and governments have welcomed and supported this initiative throughout the years, from its inception in 1986 until today. And it has been a very ambitious project since the first year of its existence. At the school, most of the people live on campus (students, professors, and guests all together), surrounded by a luxuriant countryside. You have the perfect isolation necessary to develop and focus entirely on your film projects.

   In addition to the regular programs, many talented and award-winning filmmakers from all over the world are invited to share their knowledge and experience, giving very formative workshops. I attended one of those and ended up with a 4-minute short. I spent three very intense months in Cuba. And I had the unforgettable pleasure to watch a recording session of the great Omara Portuondo, whom I could meet thanks to Roberto Fonseca, one of the most talented pianists on the island.

What stirred your interest in getting into film? Was it something that happened to you? A particular film you saw.

   In Italy – when I was growing up – a few national TV channels and many other local TV stations used to have great film programs at night. Mostly old movies. Many times – past 3:00 am – they did not even bother to show foreign films with Italian subtitles. I remember watching movies in Russian with French or Swedish subtitles or films not subtitled at all and not being able to understand a word as I could only speak Italian then. But I was still watching. Often, I even had no clue who the directors or cast were.

   Only years later, I realized I had watched several masterpieces of many great directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Bergman, Murnau, Jiří Menzel, Cassavetes, Frankenheimer, John Huston, Michael Powell, and many many more. Watching so many good films had a profound influence on my imagination, and was the trigger that made me think about making films too. But at the time, this was nothing but a very blurred thought. Soon, I forgot thinking it. It all came back many years later though, in Paris, where I was working as a photographer assistant. Movies were and still are used as a source of inspiration for fashion and advertising shoots. But the result was often dry, and devoid of the creative essence of film. I felt that Cinema had a lot more to say than that, and that it might be a much better place to develop original ideas, possibly my own. Soon after, I shot my first short film and then moved to Prague where I was accepted at the Czech Film Academy, FAMU.

Please share your experience during your time when you moved to Prague in 2005, to go to the National Academy of Cinema (FAMU) and TV of Czech Republic. What were some of the memorable things you learned and now use in your current films?

   In Prague, I was restless. There was always a lot to do at school and for school. Like many students, I began to appreciate the lessons I received only years later, especially when filming Dissent. When I arrived at FAMU, I was coming from the working environment of advertising and fashion photography, with big sets and tons of equipment.

  At school, instead, everything was much more contained. I guess that bothered me. Also, the program was expensive and I thought we were given too little for the money we paid. But I was wrong. That was probably the best lessons I learned: to adapt to different circumstances or unexpected events no matter what sort of means you have or are offered – and do your best to turn any deficiency you may encounter in your favor. Something I did not quite accept back then, but something that did turn out to be very useful later.

“In a few words, I learned never to give up.”

What are you currently working on now? A film or screenplay?

    Both. I am actually working on three different projects: two screenplays (one feature and one short) and another short screenplay that I have recently finished, which I hope to develop into a film soon.

   The story takes place today, in rural Mexico. In many aspects, though, it still seems to be a story anchored to the past. Ruta Sagrada (“Sacred Path” in English) is the title. The film praises the fortitude and courage sustained against the great perils that one encounters along the way. It conveys a few of the never-changing qualities that are common to us all. Liken to cruelty, humiliation, pride, compassion, affection – and conceals the archetype of the hero who suffers a tragic end for embracing a path he considered just – a path that in this case is taken by a solitary shepherd, together with his accidental companions: a small group of migrants.

   Despite its realism, Ruta Sagrada embodies the fight over the circumstances of time and chance. It captures the amaranthine values of men as well as their timeless depravity. It appeals to the drive to gather each grain of strength when the fight against adversities and foes becomes indispensable for survival. I believe this is the best story I have written until now.

What is your process when you have Writer’s Block, or a Creative Block?

   Luckily, I have never really suffered from Writer’s Block… yet. I always try not to write about anything that feels too big for me, in order not to become irremediably stuck, and induce myself into some sort of paralysis. On the contrary, so far writing has been my best cure against all sorts of troubles and aches.

Do you find screenwriting collaborative efforts productive? Or do you prefer to write alone?

  It all depends on the writing partner. I am very demanding of myself and obsessive about small details… like everyone who is seriously committed to his story. I feel I work well with others when they are also very committed.

Any advice you have for up and coming screenwriters?

   This is the question I, myself, would like to ask Alexander SokurovWerner Herzog  and many others.

Are there any books you would recommend for writer’s and screenwriter’s that might help them understand the creative process better?

   I am not sure whether screenwriting essays and manuals are crucial in understanding the creative process or teaching you how to be creative. I did learn the dramatic rules. I usually verify if they apply only after the first few drafts of writing. I read many screenplays, novels, and newspapers instead.

   Creativity is not only about how original your story is, but also how it is written. You can have very simple elements to play with, yet create a great story. It’s not necessary to write an escalation of sensational events to achieve “the” original, unique idea. Respect all your characters, the hero as well as the villain. And drop something of yourself into each one of them. You will most likely, have a good story, honest and worth telling. This is what I tried to accomplish in my new short screenplay, Ruta Sagrada.

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Photo of Helmut Dosantos by  Romeo Mori

Robin S. Garland Is a writer, screenwriter, editor, and photographer. Her latest novel: Because of Me was adapted into a screenplay.

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