A City Within a City (Una Ciudad En Una Ciudad), and an interview with director cylixe

Torre David in Caracas, Venezuela is a place like no other. The massive hi-rise was supposed to be an office building, but the project was suspended in 1994. The building, with only some of its basic structural innards complete, was soon abandoned. Over a short span of time the building became known as a squat, and is now the tallest squat in the world, although its residents are organized into a cooperative where things like building materials, water and electricity are provided in an organized manner. For a place with no walls, however, there is much that goes on behind the scenes.

There's a power to this no-frills film that suggests a political and social imbalance through apartments that look normal until you realize there's no ceiling. Stairways that are steep with no handrails. It's a captivating place where falls and expansive views come in the same, strange package.

I learned more about what it was like to go to Torre David during my chat with cylixe

CR: How did you learn about Torre David initially and develop the project?

CX: When I learn about new things on the internet there are some things that just don't let me go and I find myself getting kind of obsessed with them. So when I started to research it, there wasn't a lot of fresh information about the tower, and a lot of the websites I found had pretty much the same information. So I decided that I wanted to go and see it for myself. I was in the last year of my fine arts degree, so I took the time to go down there. When I came there they were very suspicious of me -- I was obviously not from there, I was female, I had a camera, and I'm pretty pale. So I was sticking out. My proposal was to go for 7 weeks, meet the people that lived in the tower, make a film together with them, let them influence the project and have them have a voice in the film. Though they're pretty media savvy they're also pretty paranoid about media. I ended up getting in by accident on the last day before I had to leave. I had a translator and we went there every day, until one day there was a security guy who let us in. They were only showing us around, very selectively, basically the good stuff. I had about five hours of my own material from inside the tower, then I had interviews I did with people beforehand who lived in the tower but didn't want to talk about it while there, so it was done at another location. There were also some people who didn't have anything to do with the tower but just wanted to give their opinion. There was news footage that I had access to, and through being in touch with the German embassy I got in touch with a guy who had some footage from a previous visit he had made there.

CR: That brings me to a stylistic question, since there's a blend of interviews, news footage and your own footage. Was there a specific reason for why we don't see anyone's face? To me it was symbolic of the circumstances and the conditions people lived in previous to and currently living in the tower, where they're kind of like a faceless or ignored group in society. Or was not showing their faces also done to protect their identities?

CX: It's a precarious position for them. I have no idea what's going to happen now that Chavez has died. His presidency essentially kept them in that place. It's not that he legalized it but he wasn't really doing anything about it either. It got a lot of negative attention after the kidnapping, but everyone is still there. Everyone who I spoke with and filmed there knew I was filming them, but I didn't get permission slips because they just don't do that there. I could've shown their faces in the film but I didn't feel good about it and I wanted to have legal footing. But more importantly I got a lot of different stories; the higher ups I spoke to weren't afraid at all to show their faces. But there were people (residents) that told me that if you say something bad about the tower, and you live there, you disappear. For me it was about balancing things out and giving everyone an equal chance to talk, and not be influenced by how people looked.

CR: What was your experience then, after hearing so many different stories, to be there and witness it in person?

CX: I think it's a place like every other -- there's good people and bad living there -- and there's a hierarchy of power that is not healthy for anybody. It's a symbol for me of any society that's hierarchical. I had heard so much about the building before, and people had told me that "it's so difficult, and it's so crazy, and they'll rob you blind, and you can't go there, and they're going to rob you, you little white girl," etc. So I was very anxious when I went there, and I felt like my agenda was not the same as when I started. But my friend and translator worked for the government, and people were quicker to trust him. So then I felt pretty safe. I didn't have the feeling of being in danger at all. It can be dangerous if you act stupid, but I just kept in mind that I'm going there in a respectful way and don't want anything bad to happen to anyone. When you go it's like a city -- I met kids, old people, young people, and like I said it's like a city. It's not a good neighborhood, obviously, but people are living there and building their existence.

CR: Was there anything that stood out to you during or after your visit?

CX: What stood out to me was I used to be very afraid of heights. Walking up those steps without a handrail on either side is really intense. What was also interesting was that it seems really empty. You walk through there and there wouldn't be very many people there; I was thinking it was because I was there during the day, and people were at work or the kids were at school. But it made it even more weird how empty it felt.

CR: So what is happening for you now with this film and your other projects?

Andre "riding the step" in We Pick It Up
CX: So far, I've been asked to submit to Telluride and to a festival in Milwaukee. In Europe there've been some invites from Italy. I made a film here in New York called We Pick It Up, about two guys who are garbage collectors working for a company that picks up commercial waste. They were really sweet -- I got to ride on the back of the garbage truck on the little step. It was really cool. I've also started to work on my thesis film, which will probably be an essay film which will deal with existentialism. And it involves a unicorn.

Wowser! For more on cylixe's awesome work, check out her website. For more on life inside and out of Torre David, check out this report from Noticiero Schlenker.

Thanks again to cylixe!

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