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Blackthorn: Mateo Gil

Meet the director who braved the Bolivian High Plateau to unearth a Western legend. See Butch Cassidy ride back onto the big screen as James Blackthorn, starting Friday, October 7, in NYC.

Note: This interview originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Blackthorn opens Friday, October 7, at the Landmark Sunshine in NYC.




Tribeca: Whatever happened to westerns?


Mateo Gil:
Westerns had their time. They have been replaced by some other genres that fit better in today’s people’s interests, fashion and technology –even though these genres still keep many of their subjects. But westerns helped create the actual film narrative as we know it, so they’ll never disappear completely.


Tribeca: Tell us a little about Blackthorn.


Mateo Gil:
Bolivia, 1927. Butch Cassidy re-appears twenty years after he was apparently killed. He goes under a false name –James Blackthorn- and wants to come back home. But in the way he finds a different new world where the rules have changed. As far as I am concerned Blackthorn is a nostalgic western. Nostalgic of the western heroes and their old values. And nostalgic also of a certain way of making movies that I miss a lot today.


Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story? Have you always been a fan of westerns, particularly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?


Mateo Gil:
Both my writer and me are big fans of westerns. And of course we are fans of George Roy Hill’s superb movie and other movies inspired by the famous outlaw –as Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece The Wild Bunch. Anyway, we tried a rather intimate approach to the real Cassidy, dealing with his feelings towards friendship, memories, land or principles. The story was also inspired by the amazing Bolivian landscape and by the fact that it was there that you could find some of the biggest mining companies in the world at the time.


Tribeca: While developing True Grit, the Coen brothers claimed they were not remaking the 1969 film version, just adapting the novel. Did you allow yourself to be influenced by George Roy Hill’s film? Were you influenced by any other western filmmakers? There certainly seem to be some elements of the Spaghetti western in Blackthorn.


Mateo Gil:
Roy Hill is an enormous director. But Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was not a direct reference for us, since its tone was not appropriate for our project. I would say that Blackthorn is more influenced by many other films and directors. And of course by some Spaghetti westerns too – I love Sergio Leone!



Tribeca: What was it like working with Sam Shepard?


Mateo Gil:
Sam Shepard is not only very fond of horses, loneliness and countryside, but also an enormous writer. Plus he is a man of theatre. And that enables him to transform complex conflict and reasoning into simple feelings and actions. The way he approached his lines was straight and clear, and also contributed highly by feeding the dialogues with his own ideas. Besides, he is a big fan of westerns too. The perfect match for the role.

Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?


Mateo Gil:
The whole production was shot at the Bolivian High Plateau, so the locations were over 11000 feet high and as high as 15000 feet. At the beginning we were all destroyed –while Bolivian drivers still played football after lunch! But at the end we all were able to run up and down without any problem. Some people even smoked at the same time.


Tribeca: What do you want audiences to take away from Blackthorn?


Mateo Gil:
I would like them to feel that they want to watch more westerns. And to keep the idea of “the difference” that is mentioned in the movie: the difference between robbing a bank and robbing the worker who goes there to deposit his savings. Robert Leroy Parker -alias Butch Cassidy- never forgot this difference.


Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Blackthorn?


Mateo Gil:
I realized that Butch Cassidy was a real character. Now that capitalism seems to me rather unscrupulous, more than ever I think of him as an icon. In his time he already was considered a kind of Robin Hood. He only robbed big companies –banks, railroad or mining companies. And always paid back generously when helped. He used to plan his holdups perfectly well in order to avoid violence. Before the day he’s thought to have been killed by the Bolivian army, there are no murders in his records. Moreover, he was temperate, always kept his word and never failed to be loyal to his friends. We need people like him.


Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers?


Mateo Gil:
Don’t do it. Quit. Stop thinking of full-length films. From the moment people can watch films at home -playing and stopping whenever they want and deciding for how long they want to be sitting in front of the screen-, full-length films are dead. This is already happening now. Start thinking of ten minutes or twelve hours, but not two.


Tribeca: What are your hopes for Blackthorn at Tribeca?


Mateo Gil:
Westerns being a genuinely American genre and Cassidy an American legend, one of our main concerns was that the movie wouldn’t turn to be odd or alien to American audiences. The American people that have already seen it say that it could very well be an American movie. Tribeca will be the definite test.


Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?


Mateo Gil:
I could say Kurosawa, Welles, Kubrick, Visconti, Ford, Lumet… and a hundred more. But I’d say it just to express my admiration. I would never attend such a dinner, because I’d stand so quiet and downcast that they would feel they had shared the evening with the most boring and stupid man in the world.


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?


Mateo Gil:
Westerns. Ford, Hawks, Peckinpah, Leone, Ritt, Penn, Huston, Ray, Mann, Sturges, Pollack, Altman, Eastwood… Bigger than life.

Tribeca: What would your biopic(s) be called?


Mateo Gil:
“What do you say the problem was?”


Tribeca: What makes Blackthorn a must-see?


Mateo Gil:
Sam Shepard, Stephen Rea, Eduardo Noriega / Bolivian High Plateau / The return of Butch Cassidy (Shepard) / The robbing by a young engineer (Noriega) of the biggest mine businessman in the world / The dilemma of a retired Pinkerton’s agent (Rea) / The difference / A western tale.


Blackthorn opens Friday, October 7, at the Landmark Sunshine in NYC.


Check out Blackthorn's Official Site.


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