I’ve just returned from teaching at the Altos de Chavón School of Design in the Dominican Republic. The Romana campus not only offers a degree in film and all aspects of the audiovisual but has a very particular connection to film history: Charles Bludhorn, who owned Paramount pictures during the years it produced hits such as Love Story, The Godfather films and Chinatown, bought and developed the Casa del Campo, the extensive landholdings in the Dominican Republic which houses the school; the buildings, squares and even the church in Altos de Chavón’s Village of Artists, where the school operates from, were designed by the great Roberto Coppa, set designer for Visconti, Fellini and many other celebrated directors.
Aside from my own teaching, one of my goals for my one-week residency was to come home with three or four interviews with film professionals operating in and around the school. The idea behind it was two-fold: a) to learn about various aspects of cinema usually credited below the line but absolutely essential to filmmaking; b) to learn about the praxis of filmmaking in Latin America today. My only ambition was to make a record of it so that at least if no one was interested in these interviews today, there would be a record for future reference that researchers on, and students and fans of, Latin American Cinema could consult. Due to various problems, from scheduling to excessive ambient noise, this one with José Homer Acosta was the only one I could complete. The sound is not the greatest, and all my fault: you will hear cats meowl, glasses clink, and my voice much louder than Homer’s. In spite of that, I hope people will find it of value.
Jose Homer Mora Acosta is at 29 years old, only the third accredited sound person in his Honduran homeland. One of the things I was curious about was how some one from a small Latin American country ends up being a sound person, and he tells me how the interest in film really started as an interest in music, which he’s been playing since he was 13. After graduating from University, Homer began working in advertising and subsequently landed at a newspaper. After, the coup d’étât in Honduras in 2008, the newspaper was shut down so the team that ran the newspaper spread out to work in documentaries as a way of re-starting the paper and keeping themselves in work. Homer recounts how there was work to be found in documentary filmmaking in Honduras, largely because NGO’s wanted to record and disseminate what they were doing there, thus documentaries on the coffee crises, rural electrification, poverty. These were all small-scale projects where Homer got professional experience in production management, camera and editing. He also learned how to present and manage a project so as to make it eligible for funding and then how to go about to actually getting that money. During this time Homer earned a Master’s degree in Production Management.
Homer and I then go on to talk about what led him to study sound at EICTV in San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba. Aside from the formal training he says that EICTV has afforded him a family, “I don’t feel alone with that crazy stuff that recording emotions and feelings brings out. The school offers support. It’s a place where others understand. You arrive knowing nothing but it’s OK because cinema is more than technique or tools. It’s another thing.’
Homer and I discuss the various projects he’s worked on and also his goal of recording emotions and feelings. Some of this involves doing research into recording methods, sometimes even restoring old microphones and seeing what different sound qualities result. He talks about how in 3/4 inch tape or celluloid the work on sound can be tactile ‘You can touch the sound’.
We discuss several films as well: Blow Out, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Man Who Lies and Lucrecia Martel’s work. Lucrecia Martel had run a workshop whilst Homer was teaching at Alto de Chavón and we talk of her practice of beginning with the dialogue, moving onto structure and then images, something I’d rarely heard of before. Homer points out that you can create a whole world in the film by the use of sound, particularly in the way offscreen sound becomes the world inhabited by characters within the frame.
Homer also tells me of a particular experiences of working in film. He’s lived in Honduras, Costa Rica, Cuba, now the Dominican Republic; and his work has led him to shoots in Mexico and Peru. A transnational experience of cinema quite common for countries with a relatively small audio-visual production industry.
It’s a late night conversation fuelled by rum and cigarettes, meandering, interspersed with cat’s meowl’s, recorded imperfectly, yet interesting for the history Homer so generously shares, and for the insights into the work on sound in film.