“It’s not an overstatement to say that Jackson’s work revolutionized the way movies are made in Venezuela,” Lopez said. “He just filmed on the street and told real stories that found a mass-market following without any film or television distribution.”
Caracas is a Mecca for true-crime stories. The city has one of the highest murder rates of any major metropolitan city in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. And kidnappings are rampant. Locals say if you squeeze the newspaper hard enough it drips blood.
While Gutiérrez’s films seem like rollicking violence-fueled capers, he said he hopes his work will open people’s eyes to inner-city crime, and be a warning to the community.
“Many people blame the government [for the violence], but it’s not the government’s fault,” he said. “It’s the fault of our parents who have stopped looking through their kids’ notebooks or asking them who they are spending time with or asking them why they got home late.”
Gutiérrez’s passion for storytelling comes as Venezuela is seeing a boom in national cinema. Unlike other Latin American nations, where Hollywood blockbusters often crowd out the market, Venezuelan theaters are required to reserve some of their screens for national productions —lowering the risk for financiers. A decade ago, Venezuelan productions drew about 5,000 viewers a year, Jose Antonio Varela, the president of the Fundación Villa del Cine, the state-funded film agency, told state-run media. Now, the country is producing about 20 feature length films per year, which draw some 1.6 million national viewers.
Gutiérrez no longer needs to cut hair. He makes enough money from his production job and acting gigs to support his family. But he says he will never give up the barbershop. Asked if he had to choose between being a barber or a director, Gutiérrez doesn’t hesitate.
“I would stay with being a barber — it’s a long-term profession,” he said. “You’re only a director as long as you have a story to tell.”