Festival Daily

A Round With... Daniel Burman

Eleni Deacon

Who: Daniel Burman, director, Empty Nest
What: 7UP with lime
When: September 9, 7pm
Where: Mistura, 265 Davenport Road
Though Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman is the out-of-towner at our table at Mistura, he provides me with some unusual Ontario travel tips. He speaks energetically – if incredulously – about a 3-D movie theatre in Niagara Falls where you can sport the classic blue-and-red lenses to watch a video of the nearby falls. “You see the same thing that you see in life 100-metres away. This sort of thing can only happen in North America. I love this,” Berman says. Such appreciation for the absurd is evident in his films, where the line between fantasy and reality is often fuzzy at best. And while comparisons to Woody Allen spring up all over Google, the filmmaker has a cerebral Argentine wit all his own. Though his first language is Spanish, Burman kindly agrees to conduct our interview in English, sharing some of the experiences and flashes of inspiration that went into his latest work.

ED: What inspired you to write the script for Empty Nest?
DB: One Sunday I was in my house and I had a vision. I was reading the newspaper and eating breakfast, and my two kids were playing. The sun was coming through the window, and it was like an advertisement for an insurance company. And suddenly I felt all this enormous happiness, this feeling that my kids were with me. But I realized that one day they will say, “Goodbye, we’re going to study in Australia or to save the whales in New Zealand.” And that will happen very soon. And I felt woe. From that Sunday morning, I started writing about what happens to a couple when their children leave the house.
ED: In the film, the main character’s memories become confused with his fantasies. Where did the fantasy elements in the movie come from?
DB: Every day, we need to build some fantasy world to survive the world that is so aggressive, and sometimes so rude or so boring. My character lives outside the limits of the real and the fantasy. But it’s not the fantasy of Star Wars. It’s the fantasy that we live. When I’m talking to you, maybe you are thinking about what I’m saying, but maybe you’re thinking of other things. It is because we need to survive each day – not in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense – so we need to build this parallel world.
ED: Who are some of the filmmakers who have influenced you?
DB: François Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen are filmmakers that I deeply respect, and I love their work. But I really believe in the influence of daily life, in the people you meet – a waiter or a taxi driver. Real life is much more important than the movies for finding influence. For that reason, I don’t like to spend too much time watching movies, because in that time you are living the dream of others.
ED: The movie ends in Israel. What were the reasons behind this choice? What attracts you to particularly Jewish stories or themes?
DB: It’s not a Jewish story at all. When I started to write, I said, “Okay, no Jewish matter at all, I promise.” But on page 50 when I had to decide where the main character’s daughter would go to live, I said, “Of course, to Israel.” I really wanted to shoot there. Also, the question of what is real or not is so strange in Israel. You need a lot of time, if you are a visitor, to understand their reality. Life is so strange. It’s very complicated to explain what I am talking about in English – even in Spanish! But someone who has been in Israel for a few days understands how complicated it is to catch the reality there.

ED: How does it feel to be back at the Festival?
DB: It feels like it’s my first time because I was here with Waiting for the Messiah, my second movie, many years ago, and I was very lost. And now I feel very relaxed here. I am very proud to be at this Festival and in this wonderful window that is Toronto. In fact, I am writing a movie that begins in Toronto and in Niagara Falls. I was here seven months ago for the Leonard Cohen concert. I really love Leonard Cohen, and that trip inspired me to write this story that begins in Toronto.