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Mateo Salas Interview

Mateo Salas was one of the winners of the Student competition in last year’s Sony Future Filmmaker Awards for his film The Sun of the River. The film depicts a farmer traveling with his children to visit their mother. As the bus is unexpectedly stopped mid-journey at a paramilitary checkpoint and the unofficial soldiers choose three boys to stay behind, including the farmer’s son. Here we catch up with the Colombian filmmakers to find out what he's been up to since his win. 

Mateo Salas The Sun of the River
Still from The Sun of the River by Mateo Salas

How did you get into filmmaking? 

When Gonzalo Mejía made his film El gran Sadini in Medellín in 2010, I thought that cinema was possible for the people of this city. Since I first watched the film, I’ve joined his film school and have worked with him. I discovered a language that truly connected me with the world.

What was the first filmmaking project you were proud of? 

De Muertos y Flores was the first short film I premiered as part of a team, and I believe it's the most important because it showed me a path to follow in life and the discipline I needed.

The Sun of the River Mateo Salas
Poster of The Sun of the River by Mateo Salas

What's the best piece of career advice you've ever received? 

It wasn't exactly advice, but rather a question. In a moment of confusion, because they didn't want to approve my project, a teacher asked me, "And who do you have to ask for permission to make your film?" I think that question has stayed with me until today and gives me the strength to do what I have to do.

Who or what are your creative influences? 

Many artists have influenced me, and at this moment, I'm deeply connected with the work of Apichatpong W, Carlos Reygadas, Dominga Sotomayor, Lucrecia Martel, Andrés Ramírez Pulido, Laura Mora, Eladio Carrión, Carolina Sanín, Pedro Adrián Zuluaga, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Young Miko, Gabriel García Márquez, Deleuze, Max Neef, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Paz Encina, Bad Bunny, among many others, to be honest.

The Sun of the River Mateo Salas
Still from The Sun of the River by Mateo Salas

In your opinion, what makes a good short film? 

The film should convey a strong perspective on life.

Is there anything you've learned about your filmmaking process since winning your award? 

I’ve learned a lot about distribution. I’ve come to understand how a circuit develops, and where you can find premiere options. I’ve also learned how costly mistakes in distribution can be. Above all, I’ve started to find a mixed production model for future projects. I understand that financing films are not only limited to traditional funding methods. 

Mateo Salas with fellow filmmakers in Colombia
Mateo Salas with The Sun of the River crew

Has anything particularly exciting happened for you or for your career since winning your award? 

Yes. Having a camera has significantly reduced the budget for forthcoming projects as we do not need to allocate funds for renting. This year my crew and I have two shoots for which the award has been beneficial.

Have you given your prize a try?

Yes, we’ve already done a few test shoots.

What was the biggest takeaway from your experience with the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards? 

I believe the awards have quickly become fundamental for independent cinema and filmmaking. It not only recognizes artistic work but also supports filmmakers financially and technically. This level of support is unusual; there are very few award programs in the world that provide such extensive assistance to filmmakers because, in this case, they help us achieve independence and freedom, which are becoming increasingly scarce.