Producer Daniel Dreifuss, who was born in Scotland and raised in Brazil but graduated as an exchange student from Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, helped secure international backing for the project. The 2007 American Film Institute graduate returned to Columbia last month to present No at the True/False Film Festival. After the fest, The Pitch spoke with him by phone; he was in Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past decade. Our interview after the jump.
The Pitch: How did you come to be involved with No?
Dreifuss: I became involved with No when I met Juan de Dios Larraín, who is director Pablo Larraín's brother. He is his producer, and he came to Los Angeles to organize the trade mission, which has mostly producers but some directors from Latin America and Spain. I deal with Latin American filmmakers. I take them around various studios and agencies to promote co-productions.
So he came on that program in 2010, and he mentioned that he had that project, which was No. I immediately said, "You don't need to take this to any additional companies in the American market. I want to take this on. Together, we'd like to turn this into an international co-production and make it bigger and more universal, so it can cross over." So that's how the partnership got started.
Why did you think No had to be an international production to be done properly?
That comes from my vision of the project. When I heard of the project, I said, "Yes. Here's my history. Here's the history of Chilean director, the producers and the actors and the people of the original campaign." In the bigger picture, this movie, even though it's intrinsically Chilean, this is a universal story.
There are a lot of people in this world today who are striving for a voice, including in the United States. There is inequality before the law. There are places where some do not have the same rights as other people. There are women in Saudi Arabia who can't drive. In other places in the world, they can't go to a doctor. There are women in Los Angeles who cannot marry another woman. There are women who have no access to education. There's a lot of people, not just women, who are striving for a voice.
In addition to that, the theme of how media can impact social change is very interesting to me. I thought that if we can do this right, if it can cross borders and go all over the world, I wonder if we can inspire people who have never heard of Chile, and who have never heard of Pinochet to say, "If they can do all of that with such limited resources, what can I do today to strive for my happiness and the happiness of those around me with all the tools that I have, Facebook, the Internet, Twitter, Instragram and all the speed that the technology today allows, which they didn't have in '88?"
The power of the tools we have for social change are huge. When you look at everything they had in the Arab Spring and the images they had, videos and cell phones, and how the revolution was televised. It was organized on the Internet, and how they organized themselves around the square, using mass media in addition to many other things. I said, "We have an opportunity to impact people and to hopefully inspire, in addition to entertain, which is the basic goal of the film."
For the movie to cross over, there's two things I need. I would like it to have Hollywood support, so it would have a theatrical release in the United States, playing beyond its native audience, so it crosses into cities which may not be obvious for a film like this, such as Columbia or even Kansas City.
When you make a Chilean movie in Spanish, you don't think, The first place I want to play is Kansas City. But I'm so happy that we're playing there and in many other cities in the United States and in many other places in the world.
For that, we need a U.S. distributor [Sony Classics]. I felt that if Hollywood had some skin in the game, there would be more proactiveness in getting it out. That's one thing. And creatively, I think that there was a very delicate change that needed to be made: Never losing the fact that this is Chilean, but making it more accessible, highlighting the universality of the themes so that it didn't become by Chileans for Chileans - it was going to be great, no matter what - so that it could speak to people, so they could identify with the people on the screen.
Was the situation in 1988 Chile similar to the one you grew up with in Brazil?
In a way, yes. I was raised in Brazil. I moved to Brazil in 1980, when I was 2, from Scotland [Dreifuss holds a joint British-Brazilian passport]. My father was a political scientist. His theme of research at the time was dictatorship in Brazil because there was a dictatorship still at that time, but not like Chile. There was already a democratic transition, although no one had the right to vote.
I was brought up with a dictatorship, until I was about 6 or so. A lot of other Latin American countries had similar stories of dictatorships, like Argentina. My father being a political scientist, I grew up in a very political household, so there was a very personal connection to the story.
It doesn't sound like you experienced the same thing that Chile did in the 1980s with all of the executions and the disappearances.
Not in the '80s. The dictatorship in Brazil was never as vicious as Pinochet's dictatorship. First off, Brazil's dictatorship started about 10 years before Chile's. Brazil's started in '64, and Chile's started in '73. And when it [the Brazilian dictatorship] started, it didn't start as viciously as Pinochet's started, because Pinochet's dictatorship was vicious from day one. The lifted all civil rights on the first day.
Brazil progressed to more a bad thing until 1968, when they revoked a lot of civil liberties. Yes, a lot of people were imprisoned. Some people were killed. A lot of people were tortured. A lot of people were exiled. A lot.
It was a bad time, but it was not like the Chilean dictatorship or the Argentinian dictatorship.
How much of the Chilean situation did you know about before you became involved in No?
I knew about the dictatorship in Chile. I knew about Pinochet. I knew about how terrible it was. I was in Brazil. I was in South America. I remember when the dictatorship ended.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I lived with friends of my parents. And the lady was the widow of a Chilean refugee. So I had access to a lot of people in my life who had gone through all of that.
What I did not know was how the dictatorship ended: the unique campaign, the referendum and all those things, which I came to know once I heard of the project.
One of the things that's so surprising when we're watching the film is that we're seeing real ads that Gael García Bernal's fictional character might have made.
Yes. I want to say at least 25 percent or a third of the movie is original footage. It's the real campaign from 1988. I would say all of the "Yes" campaign is original. A chunk of the "No" campaign is original. A lot of it we re-created. And the most special thing is that whatever we re-created, we re-created with the same people who worked on the original campaign. So we intercut between them then and the same people 25 years later, playing themselves now.
The only time we see Pinochet himself is in the "Yes" ads. You didn't hire an actor to play him. Why did you choose not to portray him directly?
[Laughs.] I don't think any of us wanted Pinochet in the film. None of us wanted to dignify it with an actor playing Pinochet. We had him portrayed as his own campaign portrayed him then, and let history and the time that has lapsed since then, dictate that. Hopefully, history is a good judge, and when we look at him speaking, saying, "If I did something wrong, please forgive me. But I think looking on the balance, I did more good than bad."
With that footage of himself, which we didn't create, it goes back to the theme of truth. Let them speak for themselves and let them hang themselves with their own rope, in a way, so that we can now look at it from some distance and see how it is today.
I think the theme of realism and truth that the film has and that [director] Pablo [Larraín] wanted to bring would not be served by an actor playing him. And speaking for me, I was not interested in having him in my film, really, other than as the man himself.
That was a contributing factor to his loss, wasn't it? The fact that, as we would say in the States, he was "not ready for prime time"?
With a lot of these dictators and people who seize power, they are always shot from low angles and on top of high podiums, speaking to the masses. When he sat on a chair and spoke, like, looking into the camera, he had such a whiny voice, and so nasally. He lost the spectacle that was created around him, almost, and he became "The Evil Man." Without the paraphernalia around him, he was just a guy who had destroyed a lot of people. I don't think it translated well at all.
We just showed the original thing, which I think is even more powerful than if we tried to create it with re-enactments.