PSIFF: Interview with Director Alberto Arvelo for Free Color Documentary [Exclusive]

Colors are everywhere. Colors are seen. Carlos Cruz-Diez brought out colors to us in ways we’ve never seen before.

Carlos Cruz-Diez is one of the most renown artists of the last 100 years.

The Venezuelan-born kinetic and optical artist has drawn out colors in unique and observable ways.

In the documentary Free Color, 95-year-old Carlos Cruz-Diez breaks open the limits of technology to achieve his most magnificent artistic obsession: an autonomous phenomenon of chromosaturation—a could space of color without form. Cruz-Diez recruits a team of innovators from across disciplines to help make his dream come to life within the instability of reality, but can technology evolve fast enough for his desire to become the ephemeral art he seeks it to be?

The documentary also explores his family life and previous art exhibitions around the world. The film includes interviews from Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gabriel Cruz (grandson), actor Edgar Ramirez, Seamus Blackley (Xbox creator), and Jonathan Cohen.

Alberto Arvelo directed Free Color. He was the director and producer of The Liberator, shortlisted for the Oscars in 2015. His other directing works included A House with a View of the Sea, Cyrano Fernandez, One Life and Two Trails, and To Play and to Fight.

Free Color will make its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this weekend on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. There will be a couple follow-up showings, visit the festival web site by clicking here.

LRM Online: Congratulations on having your documentary Free Color at the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival?

Alberto Arvelo: Thank you. Thank you very much.

LRM Online: How does it feel to have that documentary showcased there?

Alberto Arvelo: We are excited. It’s a great place, especially with the film’s connection with Palm Springs. A few years ago, we went to Palm Springs to do part of the shooting of the documentary. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, there was a fascinating exhibit called chromo-saturation, which is a chamber of color. We were looking at one of the chambers of colors by Carlos Cruz-Diez. We took one of our time at this fantastic expedition of Cruz-Diez. It was at the same place, the same museum we were going to do the premiere. It’s extraordinary for us.

LRM Online: Wow. You came a full circle with this project. Congratulations on that.

Alberto Arvelo: Absolutely. [Laughs] Very exciting.

LRM Online: Where was the initial thought came from to do a documentary on Carlos Cruz-Diez?

Alberto Arvelo: It comes from admiration. As a filmmaker, it’s about an artist who committed his whole life to understand colors. It’s more than fascinating. It’s more like a unique crusade. For me, as a filmmaker, the possibility of over exploring this philosophical position of having color as an abstract and independent entity. It’s something new and vital. In some ways, I felt it was a must to do a documentary like this. From the beginning, we understood it was very complicated because it’s a very abstract theme. It was hard to know exactly where to go without becoming too abstract. The other challenge was fascinating.

LRM Online: You could approach this documentary in multiple ways. You covered his art, his family, and so on. Could you talk more about why you took this approach?

Alberto Arvelo: That’s true. It was evident that we wanted to make a documentary about his creative journey. We had the first meeting in Paris with Cruz-Diez. I knew from the beginning we didn’t want a traditional documentary about a man and his legacy. That’s great. But, there are some other documentaries about him, which is very good, by the way.

I was looking for something different. At this first conversation, I found this obsession immediately. He talked about something that obsessed him since his 70s. He was obsessed with creating this incredible piece of art. It’s a colorful cloud levitating over a public place without form. He said, “This would be my ultimate dream in some way.”

We started the journey off trying to do this is a piece with him. In some way, it was he who decided where to go and how to shoot the documentary. It was about him. It was most deeply on what he wanted to say in the last years of his life, which I think was a privilege. To have an artist, as talented, as brilliant, as profound, and with this vast experience in front of us in front of a camera was absolute privilege. We decided to let the team decide where to go and how to do this. Right away, he told us that this is the message he wanted to leave. It is the piece on how he wanted to end. That’s why we took this path.

LRM Online: When did you first start following his journey through the ultimate art piece that he was trying to accomplish?

Alberto Arvelo: We started with first interview he mentioned of this. He started drawing his idea. Then we started articulating the whole thing and got in contact with some fantastic scientists in Caltech with a particular fascination for him or the color exploration. We provoked this tremendous dialogue between art and science. It was creative combustion between them all.

That was the pinnacle interest for the documentary. It was from the beginning on what Cruz-Diez wanted to do. In the first interview we had with his grandson, Gabriel Cruz-Mendoza, he also mentioned about, about Cruz-Diez’s obsession with this piece. Gabriel told us that he’s been trying to do this his ideas. He had been seeking ways to get this accomplished on something almost impossible to do. We loved to explore more. We found this to be the richest story for a possible documentary.

LRM Online: Talk about the ending of the documentary. Was that the closest vision on what Carlos wanted to do?

Alberto Arvelo: Yes. [Laughs] To be honest, I don’t want to spoil the film for possible viewers.

He was a perfectionist with that image. We spent months working with a CGI artist here in Los Angeles. He was like, “No. This is not what I want. Too much color. It’s too big. It’s too small. I want this. I don’t like this form.” He was obsessive about doing it until he got to that specific point. There were 15 versions of that piece from before he said, “Okay, now I’m happy. This is exactly what I want.”

Also, it was very complicated. It was his dream to create this in daylight. A nighttime piece which would be way more comfortable. His premise is to free color in the daytime. It’s had to in some way co-habit with the sun with the sunlight. It was very complex

LRM Online: Well, absolutely. I enjoyed the ending.

Alberto Arvelo: Thank you.

LRM Online: As a filmmaker yourself, you have to capture the colors that he portrayed throughout the entire movie through his artwork. How did you accomplish that with your cinematography?

Alberto Arvelo: It was challenging to make a film about an artist like him. In some ways, indirectly, he decided the colors for the film. He suggested the location for his interviews. He suggested the discussions to take place that is dominated by colors, intense colors. We understood we needed in some way to document it as part of his vision and has to come from his brain. The whole image should be an exploration of the visual quality of his mind.

It was tricky timing, and the color correction of almost very delicate too. Cruz-Diez was very involved with that. For example, in one interview, it took place in this wide empty soundstage. He mentioned when he started working in his workshop, he got there, and everything disappeared around him. For hours, it’s just me, my coffee and the screen this computer. When he gets there, everything around seems to vanish. We wanted [to show] that in some way. That’s why we have this wide void sound soundstage for his essential interview in the film. It was to recreate his process and to bring the audience to his vision in a poetic visual way.

LRM Online: He sounds like he was such an open person. Was there anything that you had to cut out for your documentary?

Alberto Arvelo: Not really. He decided it was time to tell everything about his life. At 17 or 18 years old, he had a clear image of what his life should be. For example, it was his decision to involving his whole family in his workshop. We take you this workshop, a beautiful tradition for his family and others. When you get there, you find aa bunch of people smiling, who are happy to be there in creating and incredibly committed. He’s energetic. He was smiling, laughing, that makes him very unique.

He was a transparent soul. He opened himself to everything, even his art archives. We did this fantastic research and found plenty of footage. He said, “Let’s explore everything.” That’s why we have so many rich and beautiful art and stock footage. It was all done by him. He had his obsession with films. He had his own super eight cameras covering everything. It was easy to explore deep inside his soul through that material.

LRM Online: I’m curious. With his passing, is his family continuing his legacy?

Alberto Arvelo: Yes, absolutely. That’s happening. The family is very well organized, who is immensely respectful of his legacy, and the importance of his work. We all understand that his legacy will continue to grow more and more. It’s his life. It’s like the life of this piece. They are committed to his legacy and all that he left in some way.

LRM Online: One last thought, Alberto, when people watch your documentary, Free Color, what is the one lesson you hope they learn?

Alberto Arvelo: That’s the first special question. At one point, I asked Cruz-Diez about what he wanted to do or to say about his documentary. He said, “It’s what I’ve been trying to say all of my life. I want people to understand color.”

When we started the documentary, we understood that there were two protagonists here–Carlos Cruz-Diez and color. It was a documentary about the artistic marriage. We realized that doing the documentary about color is something complex and abstract. I tried to provoke this unique sensibility about color and taking people to this youthful journey that is really around us all the time.

We did this private premiere of the film at LACMA. A filmmaker, on the next morning, called me to say, “I’m seeing colors today in a different way. In my role, I don’t see why I’m seeing it now. I see a bunch of whites, greys, and different colors I haven’t seen before. I think that was an extraordinary moment for me.” That’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to take people to this journey and toward the soul of this man. It was to look upon the souls of colors. It was his legacy that is important in art history.

LRM Online: Excellent. Hey, thank you, Alberto. I’m out of time. Thank you very much for this conversation. It’s very enlightening.

Alberto Arvelo: No, please. Thank you very much for your time and, and exceptional in this, this moment and happy new year, man.

Free Color will make its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this weekend on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. There will be a couple follow-up showings, visit the festival web site by clicking here.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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Gig Patta

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and IESB.net. He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @officialgigpatta.

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