“The International Sign for Choking” by Zach Weintraub is one of the many films playing this year’s Maryland Film Festival. The film is about a young North American documentary filmmaker having little luck getting a project started in Buenos Aires. He then meets another traveler in a boarding house where they are both staying, and they spark an “unusual relationship.” Here is my interview with it’s director, Zach Weintraub:
1) According to the Maryland Film Festival’s website this will be the North American premiere for your film, how excited are you?
Really fucking excited. I’ve spoken with past guests and none of them seem to want to shut up about how much fun it is. And then of course I’m totally freaked out too. Because the North American premiere and how people react to the movie is very important to me…you know, as a fellow North American.
2) Your film is about two travelers (both American?) who meet in Buenos Aires. Why did you choose to set your film in Argentina?
The movie is set in Argentina because I spent five months there as a student in 2008, and I wanted to go back. I hate to expose myself as the typical study abroad kid who felt that their experience was important enough to immortalize somehow. I guess that’s exactly what I am, though.
Sophia was pretty obvious. I met her because my first movie was playing in a festival with “Gabi on the Roof in July.” I knew right away that she would be great in the role, but I waited a few months to ask her. It’s kind of weird to say “Hi, nice to meet you. Wanna hang out sometime or maybe fly halfway around the world to act in a movie?” The decision to cast myself was a lot less exciting, but it did feel necessary. Having to bring just one more person along would’ve made the production unaffordable.
4) Were there any difficulties filming in a foreign country? In your film you play a documentary producer who is having a hard time getting his project going– in what way is that a relatable experience for you?
Of course there were difficulties, but somehow I think there were actually less than we might’ve had shooting in the US. Everyone we encountered was, like, unreasonably generous towards us. But the bit about the failing documentary production is unfortunately as factual as it gets. When I went down there to study in 2008 I somehow managed to get myself hired as a “travel correspondent” for a new website. I was supposed to shoot three short documentaries and, like a complete idiot, I didn’t even manage one. I learned the hard way that when experiencing an exciting new place, the last thing I want is to have to pick up a camera. I guess maybe this movie was an attempt to redeem myself. I should send it to my old boss and ask if they’ll still pay me for it.
5) I think traveling can bring out the very best and the very worst in people. What were you trying to capture? Do you think travel is important to the human psyche and for making new connections?
I have mixed feelings about travel. Sure, it might be important, but not to the extent that it’s generally made out to be. It’s very glamorized, and as a result you have all these kids who feel enlightened because they got drunk someplace other than the US. So I’m very hesitant to endorse travel as something that’s essential. But you are right that it can bring out new sides of people. In the case of my movie, I suspect that a lot of the protagonist’s actions come from a sense of not being in the “real world”. If anything, the message is that travel alone is not any kind of solution.
6) Do you have a favorite travel experience?
I don’t know, I don’t think so. I snuck across the Bolivian border once to avoid paying for a visa. That stands out as memorable.
7) Why do you think people should come to see this movie next weekend?
I just read a review that described it as “something of a hipster Ozu film”. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I can say that’s more enticing than that.
Look for “The International Sign for Choking”:
May 4 @ 8:00 PM at Charles Theater 4
May 6 @ 5:00 PM at Windup Space