It’s an early afternoon as packs of people swarm outside the Paramount Theater in hopes of getting in to see the movie Yakona. While typically other movies at SXSW are filled with festival goers, this audience was mainly filled with, not Austinites, but San Martians.
San Martians Invade SXSW in Support of the Movie “Yakona”
This beautiful documentary examines the San Marcos river and it’s headwaters at Spring Lake. Following the river as it flows from the beginning source to the end at the sea, Yakona is a cinematic experience that examines the natural and historical aspects as well as the interactions with humankind. Directors Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda, San Marcos residents as well, were inspired by the river just from witnessing it firsthand. Paul describes how it felt filming underwater:
(Paul): It’s amazing filming underwater, cause it’s like-I mean I don’t know what it feels like to be an astronaut-but I think this is probably the next best thing. It’s amazing when you lose the sense of gravity. When you can literally just float around. The camera becomes completely different than if you were on land, you know with a tripod. You don’t have to worry about your hand shaking. One of the things we really realized from the beginning is in real time, water just moves so quickly. You really don’t get a sense of how it really flows. So what we did is that the whole film is shot in 60 frames a second, and it’s ramped down to 24. You really get to see the intricate motion of the water, and it’s just an amazing feeling, kind of captivates you and slows you down.
Even though the river was a huge character in this film, another behind the scenes supportor was needed to make this documentery possible: the San Marcos community. The collective support from this community was somewhat divided in the idea of making a movie based on the river:
(Paul): Well, I think in the beginning, some people were confused about- “you’re doing a documentary on the river without a narration? And it’s not like a science traditional documentary?” We were like, “Yeah, you know, we really feel like that we can show this river from it’s perspective in this impressionistic”. Really for us was the same feeling you would get if you put on a mask, snorkeled, and went in the river yourself. When you experience the river that way, nobody’s whispering in your ear telling you what you’re seeing, but you’re feeling this intimate connection to nature, and it’s just amazing.
(Anlo): Dianne Wassenich and the San Marcos River Foundation, they saw what we were doing, and they were instantly supportive of us. Andy Sansom at the Meadows Center, we showed him a very early, early ten minute clip, and he said- “whatever you guys need, you can have your dive certification, good access to the springs”- so those were key allies very early on. Then when we launched our Indigogo Campaign, we had a little short screening at the Price Center. I mean, we packed the house there and the community came out, and even at that screening, people were a little bit like, “you don’t really talk about San Marcos”, but there were other people on the other side of that who were, with that support there, it really motivated us, and it became more about just us, it became more about making this film. It was about the community, it was about the river, and we are very grateful for their support.
And this isn’t their first SXSW. Both Paul and Anlo were here for their first film Otis Under Sky in 2011; however, Anlo describes feeling more nervous this year than last time:
(Anlo): Actually, I think I was a lot more nervous about this SXSW for some reason. I think we just really paid a lot of attention to the details in this film. Precise sound design, precise color, just really put a lot into every single image on the screen. With Otis Under Sky, it was more about the acting and the narrative elements and drawing people to these characters, and so, some of the technical stuff wasn’t as critical. But with this film, our shoot ratio was-I don’t know- every thirty shots, we’d use one. We’d go and dive for about four hours and maybe get two shots out of the whole entire dive.
(Paul): Also I wanna say that we matured a lot as filmmakers from the last SXSW because with Otis Under Sky, we didn’t know all the little things we needed to prepare to make the best out of it. This film, we knew exactly what we needed to bring to SXSW, we knew exactly who we needed to bring in, and we’d have almost an army of talented producers kind of helping us promote the film.
And before we closed out the interview, I wanted to ask them what their favorite moment was when filming:
(Anlo): Capturing that snapping turtle with the duck was pretty incredible. It was a complete shock and surprise. We saw the duck kind of flapping there on the surface, and we were like, “what is going on with that duck?” Getting in the water, grabbing a camera, and boom, there’s a snapping turtle attached to the duck! That’s what you dream of whenever you’re doing nature documentaries- capturing something that’s never been captured.
(Paul): Yeah that was one of the amazing times of the film, but another was when Anlo and I went to the mouth of the river which is in San Antonio Bay and Sea Drift. We had to kayak six miles after driving all night to the coast to get the sunrise. When we showed up to the mouth of the San Marcos River, it was surrounded by about twenty alligators, and they were all like ten feet, fifteen feet long. They were all kind of circling Anlo and I, and we were in the middle of nowhere on two kayaks. But what’s so amazing at the mouth of the San Marcos River when it goes into the ocean is it almost brings all the different types of trees, and there’s elephant ears down there, stuff like that. It’s the life of the head waters goes all the way to the very last inch.
There is no doubt that Yakona wowed audiences, it even won the coveted 2014 Audience Award under the Visions category! And now that SXSW is over, Paul and Anlo are going to be bringing back the film to San Marcos to hopefully have a screening on the banks of the river. This has been Emily Reas with directors Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda for the movie Yakona.