A Vanishing Fog is an unapologetic force of nature that explores some of Colombia’s most pressing issues and history. Directed by Augusto Sandino, the film is a layered dreamlike character study and portrait of an environment at risk.
The story follows F (Sebastián Pii) as an isolated mountain farmer who longs for something more. Filmed in the Páramo of Sumapaz, the largest páramo ecosystem in the world, A Vanishing Fog, “allows the emotional experience of environmental extraction to resonate on a human level.”
The film, photographed by Gio Park, is the recipient of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival; ZEISS Cinematography award.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Where did the idea for the film come from? Were there any inspirations that you kind of took from? Why was now the right time to tell a story?
The idea to make this film is because my father had passed away and I had this need to express my grief and sorrow and the things that happened. And also the many social and political situations that have been going on in Colombia for the past few years, past decade even. Even so, the film is born out of these concerns and to find the cinematic way to express myself. And to put in practice, the many ideas and concepts that I have about cinema and how it should be, should play, and be. It was a very free film. It’s a personal film, but I made it very freely, not trying to please anybody but by myself and to be able to express honestly about t my feelings and the political, environmental, social situation that not only Colombia goes through, but it also happens in in many countries like Mexico, Brazil, or Australia, South Africa, Turkey. It’s all over the place. It’s a universal film in that manner. Everywhere there are isolated people living their loneliness and solitude and I wanted to express it’s like a character study where I expose this young man, in a very bold and honest way, exploring his physicality and emotional emotions and sexuality and spirituality, all the all the different layers that as human beings have. That’s the intention, I would say. All these things were a big driving force, but also staying very close to my initial idea of being honest and not contaminating the point of view with foreign ideas, but just stay very, very, very honest and straightforward about what I feel.
There are many abstract and kind of experimental elements to this film, why did you choose to tell your story in this format, or some of the challenges that kind of came with it?
I don’t really like the word experimental. I think when we dare ourselves to do something that is new, or that is different, that is the way to go (instead). To me, cinema – it’s still young. I mean, it’s open to experimentation or to many ideas. And it’s a big challenge to convey these ideas into a film. It’s abstract, because I think art is more interesting when we’re not told how it is or how it should be. I think we’re mistaking the taking into these ideas that things need to be a certain way and have a definite structure. I wanted to play with all these elements as a film director, to challenge narrative, to challenge structure, to also make an immersive film. I think the idea was to make it experience-cial. That’s why the sound is important. I think that’s why watching it in a movie hall is the right experience, because the sound design and the sound mix and the imagery and everything just comes together. The ideas together give the viewer an experience, that journey to hop on to them to just get sucked in by the screen and travel and take you to this place, this wonderful place that had never been photographed before. It’s conceived as a way of affecting the audience. I wanted to do certain images and certain ideas to stay with people after the screening was over. That’s the challenge, there are plenty of films that you forget about, within a couple of hours watching them. I wanted this film to live in people, but not in a premeditated way, or manipulating feelings. Just to sort of give you this sensation,that there is another world, that there are isolated people on this planet that we don’t care about, because we don’t know about them, and suddenly bring them to you and to present to you their humanity and their tenderness and their beauty. I think it’s the way to do this. Also, the film needed to make a commentary on different issues that I’m concerned about as a person, as a Colombian, as a Latin American, as a human being on this planet, you know, things that are happening that that we need to look at, potentially.
How did you find your actors and once you found them, was filming a little bit more collaborative or did it kind of really stick to the script?
I didn’t want to have a rigid script. And I didn’t want the actor, the main protagonist, the lead actor, to read the script and create ideas of his own. What we did instead was once I met him, I was haunted by his whole persona, his physicality, his looks, and so I shaped the film around him. We started building a very close and personal relationship based on trust, and I think that would give us the confidence to be together and to go through this experience together. So the process wasn’t a casting process per se, but it’s just that I found this beautiful person (who) came to me and he was very different . I thought I found him very interesting aesthetically and artistically interesting. We became very close and he was anxious to shoot the film. People get anxious with films and sometimes they take time. So, it was about finding the right moment, it was about two years. From there on, just having him be part of this ecosystem, the setting, the mountains and the páramo. This area plays another character in the film, I think, and he needed to get connected with that and correlate and coexist to be real, you know. We did a great job at finding F. We found F together and then he became that without ever taking acting classes or being an actor because he’s not. He was able to really identify with many things and lend his body to this idea of over character that he eventually played.
I want to ask you about the onscreen texts that kind of showed up throughout the film. What kind of insight did you hope the audience would gain through the text? And when you were writing it? Did the text come as part of the screenwriting process? Or did it kind of come after?
We see this character and we feel this character, F. We do so little by little, at some point, we want to know more, because he’s so interesting. He’s really fascinating. I found that it made sense that he was writing his thoughts, his ideas, his feelings. Everybody does express themselves in many different ways. I didn’t want to see him as a poor little kid in the isolated Andean mountains in Colombia. No, I thought of this guy as a genius, somebody who’s very inventive and creative, and powerful. He’s a mountain ranger. He has a lot of time to think and write and think all these thoughts that are very special. I think the writing – some of these ideas were on the script. But it’s almost like it’s a lyrical work, where he’s painting his thoughts on the screen, scribbling on the screen and unloading. He has nobody else to talk to. I wanted to explore the idea of talking directly to the audience, or communicating directly with the audience without dialogue. But a different way was through writing, sharing his thoughts. So it made it more intimate. And I found that interesting.
How do you kind of choose the song and was it easy finding the ending?
The ending was very clear from the beginning. At some point it was going to be a co production with another country, so I needed to shoot there and I had this other ending, but it (the final version) made sense because the film is a liberation. It’s a way of breaking free and taking off and letting go. It’s all these thoughts. I think the main theme in the film is solitude, loneliness. At some point, there’s gonna be a catharsis where there’s a breaking point. I found this song very romantic. It’s a Peruvian band from the 70s and it’s like pop rock. It’s weird, but it was in tune with the film, it’s about a painter. The two vultures that are there, in the end, resemble these characters and the rain so it’s very symbolic I think. I’m interested in the symbolic and dreamlike possibilities that cinema can give you. I’m always exploring these thoughts and emotions that this imagery can trigger in the viewer.
How did you want to challenge yourself as a filmmaker while creating it and did you want to challenge anything in your audience while they were watching it?
I think it’s a challenging film from the go. Because one of my ideas about film is that it’s, sadly, based on telling stories and just just stories. I mean, there are great writers who tell amazing stories, in the most complex and beautiful ways already. So maybe cinema has been used for entertainment purposes and to tell stories and tales to people, wide audiences, and all that and that’s totally fine. But I think Cinema should also or it does give you the possibility to be more like music or more spiritual. So I wanted to make a film that would definitely challenge me. This is my second feature. So I wanted to challenge myself as a filmmaker, I want to challenge my crew, my teammates, the viewer. The connection with the viewer is very intense. But the spectator has to decide to enter this journey. So yeah, it is challenging. Because it’s unusual, it’s a very unique film, I would say. I watch a lot of films, and it’s my passion watching films, but I had never seen a film like this. So that’s it, but also talking about important matters, important things that are happening, that have been going on, and that are very concerning Colombia. About 1600 social and environmental leaders have been assassinated in the last three years. I mean, these are people who defend their territories, and who just are against illegal mining or different things that go on. Sometimes governments are part of this with dark interests. We are going through the implementation of a peace process that was signed with the FARC guerrillas and many of us thought that there was going to be the end of the problem and it’s not the end. The antagonist of this whole conflict is not only the FARC guerrillas. Now there’s other players in the conflict. I think I am very concerned about the future of these ecological disasters that are going on, the political situations. Colombia has one of the highest numbers of forcibly displaced people in the world, like 7 million, over the past 30 or 40 years. These are numbers that are very dramatic, and I wanted to make a commentary on this without doing it straightforward, or being too propagandistic about it. Just a matter of talking about a small little character in the mountain, I can talk about many of the things that really do happen. People are scared, people are afraid. This happens all over all over the world. Brazil is such a huge country now. And it’s happened in the US and the US before. It’s a film that intends to cause reflection, even though it might be challenging, but I think we have to challenge ourselves at some point. And cinema is a great way to do it.
I wanted to ask you about the title, both in English and in Spanish. How did how did you find that title? Was there anything that you wanted to immediately kind of get a visual in the viewers mind when they hear this title of the film?
That’s an interesting question. Entre La Niebla in Spanish? Well, sometimes when the clouds fall down, you know, and there’s this dense fog. You’re not able to see you know, you can even have somebody three feet away from you and you cannot see anything. And I love this idea. This idea of not being able to see. I was interested in what is entre la niebla you know, and so that’s in between it’s like amidst the fog, but that doesn’t make sense in English but in Spanish it does. It’s like sometimes we don’t see things because we don’t want to see things and this is what happens when we don’t want to see – everything’s foggy. The whole foggy idea I think it’s very interesting. You can fog the film and it’s a little bit blurry, or you have foggy ideas, or foggy eyes, I mean, the fog is really interesting. I I wanted to sort of resemble this idea of not being able to really see clearly, you know, when something is there but its not so. Also the mountains, the Andes Mountains are very foggy. I love fog and it’s beautiful, but the English translation is different. A vanishing fog is like when something’s going to clear up after you see the fog is rising. So it’s two different concepts, two different titles. But I like the idea of unveiling something
Right now I’m working on a comedy. And it’s been hard for like the sales agents and the buyers and everybody to, to label this down. You know, it’s like, what is it? Is it a drama, social drama, Is it sci fi mystery? Is it surreal, is it magic realism? I mean, they call it everything. In today’s capitalistic world, they need to label everything. It’s like you’re this and that in order to understand you. I love the idea that this film doesn’t want to be labeled, doesn’t want to be tagged on to anything specific. You can call it an arthouse film, and it’s what it is. I think that’s more interesting. But right now I’m working on different projects, I have different projects, different ideas. I think, to do the same? I mean, I already did this film, it’s made, it’s actually been waiting two years for it to come out, you know, because of the whole pandemic and festivals. Everything was too crazy. I didn’t want to do it online. So right now it’s a film that has been made, and I’m working on new things that I’m actually interested in. My entire filmography is about relationships. This film is about a vanishing focus about a very deep loving relationship as well. The previous film is also (about) relationships, the next one will be about relationships. Relationships are something that I really connect with. People, human possibilities, still exploring that I think it’s very interesting, but I want to go into something more that reaches wider audiences. Everything has your signature, you know, so it’ll probably be a weird comedy.