Taking a break from severed heads, pea-soup vomit and miniskirts, Jairo Pinilla, the godfather of Colombian low-budget horror films, shared his golden rule for making movies.
“You have to have a good ending first,” he said, taking a deep drag on a cigarette. “Then you start stacking all the other elements behind it like a funnel.”
On Thursday, Pinilla’s long and unlikely film career is getting its own Hollywood ending. He’s receiving Colombia’s top film award, the Macondo prize — the equivalent to an Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award.
The recognition is remarkable for the 72-year-old filmmaker who has spent more than four decades working largely alone, churning out B-movies that have been reviled by critics but embraced by fans.
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Starting in the 1970s, while the country’s nascent film industry was tackling dramas and social issues, Pinilla was making films about bloodthirsty wheelchairs and magical islands.
Consuelo Luzardo, president of the Colombian Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences, which grants the Macondo award, said Pinilla breaks the mold. Usually the prize goes to staid filmmakers “who have had international recognition.”
Instead, Pinilla “has made a very Colombian, very tropical contribution to the industry. He’s someone who loves movies and who has made them without any help,” she said. “We consider him our very own Ed Wood.”
“Many of the people who compare me to Ed Wood say it to make fun of me, but it doesn’t bother me,” Pinilla said. “I don’t care anymore.”
The comparison also obscures the fact that Pinilla is one of the country’s true cinema pioneers.
He’s credited with making the first Colombian movies with special effects, “Sinister Funeral” (1977) and “Cursed Region” (1979), and the first Colombian feature-length film dubbed into English, “Golden Triangle – The Ghost Island” (1983).
Now, at an age when many would be resting on their laurels, he’s trying to make history again — putting the finishing touches on what could be Colombia’s first homegrown three-dimensional movie.
True to his DIY, zero-budget approach, Jairo essentially decided to reinvent 3D film-making rather than rent pricey specialized equipment.
Months of experimenting led him to mount two Panasonic camcorders side-by-side and then stitch the dual footage together in post-production. He also tried to make his own 3-D glasses using cardboard and blue and red cellophane, before giving up.
On a recent weekday, Pinilla was huddled in the modest apartment that’s also the headquarters of his movie-making empire. As he took a break from editing his new project, “The Spirit of Death — Satanic Power,” he described how he fell in love with the horror genre.
It all began in elementary school, he said, when the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.
“The school had no better idea for a class outing than to take us to go see the body of our little friend’s father,” Pinilla said. “Even today I can’t get close to a coffin.”
His first feature was about a girl trapped in a house on a stormy night with the body of her stepmother.
Pinilla’s new project shares many of his well-worn themes: horror, demonic possession, and “some good legs and some powerful mini-skirts.”
“I’m human,” he explains. “I film the things that I like to see.”
Even so, he says those splashy elements are just the bait to lure the audience into a morality tale about the corrupting force of capitalism and the drug trade.
“If I make a movie called the ‘Word of God in the 21st Century,’ nobody is going to see it,” he said. “But if I call it, ‘The Devil and Sex Invade the World,’ and I have a picture of a half-naked woman — that’s what people like.”
Sitting on a shelf along with flowers and pictures of the Virgin Mary is a miniature Oscar statuette. Pinilla says a real Oscar remains one of his dreams. Once he’s finished his current movie, he hopes to dub it into English and find a U.S. distributor.
Whether critics like it, he doesn’t seem to care. He just wants people to see it.
“For me, the voice of the people is the voice of god,” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @jimwyss