Sad Clown Makes for Happy Filmmaker

Mario Troncoso on his debut at Cannes

Sad Clown Makes for Happy Filmmaker

When Austin filmmaker Mario Troncoso received word on March 25 that his 2010 short film "Clowns Never Lie" had been accepted to the Cannes Film Festival this May, it was something of a surprise to all involved. Not because the film about a morosely self-medicating street performer who plies his art amidst the lonely crowds of South Congress Avenue is anything other than perfect, but because it was submitted as a lark, on a whim, when his original short farcically fell to pieces.

"For a long time, my goal was to get into Cannes this year with a short film," explains the Madrid-born Troncoso. "I had been working on that short, 'Ebrima,' which is part of a trilogy of films, the first two of which are 'Naive' and 'Clowns Never Lie.' So getting 'Ebrima' into Cannes was the plan, but a bunch of things happened: The actor cut his hair, then he went to Africa, the DP vanished, the producer had a life crisis, and basically everybody disappeared. It was crazy."

Troncoso decided to submit "Clowns Never Lie" instead, but in a recut, "more European" version, which was something he'd been planning on doing eventually anyway. Just not right now. For Cannes.

"I just did what I thought was necessary because, you know, it's Cannes. The quality has to be high. And then last Sunday morning we received word that the film had been accepted."

"Clowns Never Lie," with its neon-drenched nighttime depiction of a clown (Hugo Vargas-Zesati) on the edge and the tender mercies offered up by a beautiful blond busker (Teresa May Nichta), is emotionally charged despite having virtually no dialogue. It's one of the more hauntingly poetic shorts to come out of the Austin film scene in some time, perfectly capturing the tenuous and tentative essence of the street performer foregrounded against a very European-seeming depiction of bustling South Congress. Director of Photography Juan A. Izaguirre's visuals are particularly evocative, and the film was scored by and co-stars Vincent Van Horn, a Chronicle employee.

Troncoso, who spent the better part of the past decade shuttling between his native Madrid, where he ran a bar, and Houston, where he decided to become a filmmaker, finally alighted in Austin in 2008. If the name sounds familiar, that's due in no small part to his documentary work for KLRU's Arts in Context, where the filmmaker/producer/editor has chronicled everything from children's opera to the Trouble Puppet Theater Company.

Does he have any difficulty making the back-and-forth leap from documentarian to narrative filmmaker? It is, after all, the rare artist who can move with sure-footedness between the two forms while keeping his own voice intact.

"I approach narrative and documentary filmmaking the same way," Troncoso explains, "because to me they are both fiction. And even my trilogy is based on real stories about real people, but with a layer of fiction. I see no difference between me as a documentarian and as a narrative filmmaker because to me the stories are the same."

Ultimately, he says, "I just want to be a filmmaker, and if people like my films, great, and if they hate my films, I love that, too. Just so long as they feel something. I like to take risks and I like to make movies that are risky. It's not important if the audience understands it as long as I understand it. You know that film Enter the Void?" French filmmaker/professional provocateur Gaspar Noé's riotously surreal take on one drug addict's death-after-life-after-death? But of course; it's one of our most adored films of the past several years. Challenging, certainly, but exhilaratingly so.

"Exactly. So many people hated that film. They didn't get it at all. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, but at least they felt something. I feel the same way, you know? For me, it's never been about the festivals or worrying about winning awards, it's always been entirely about making the art."

The filmmakers are currently raising funds to travel to Cannes. See for more info.

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Mario Troncoso, Clowns Never Lie, Cannes Short Film Corner, Ebrima, Hugo Vargas-Zesati, Teresa May Nichta, Juan A. Izaguirre, Vincent Van Horn, Arts in Context

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