The ultimate expat movie?

Left, Matt Graham and David Labi
Left, Matt Graham and David Labi

What brought you to Buenos Aires? Perhaps it was a failed romance, voluntary redundancy, a need for your dollars to give you more mileage, or the classic (which has now surpassed ‘urban myth’ it’s happened so frequently), you came here for six weeks and stayed for six years. If your flight has been rescheduled so many times you now consider it a bad investment and you’re writing a blog about it in the hope some advertiser will pick up on your expatriate experiences, well bad luck, someone else got there first. Matt Graham, script writer of the short film Last Night in Buenos Aires — which examines a slice of expat life — explains why he came here and how the project came together.

British-born, Matt, who is returning to the US for work reasons at the end of the month, reckons: “I’m going to be having a drink with someone come January, and start telling them, ‘I was having the strangest dream that I was living in South America for two years’.”

He arrived in BA in 2007 as “I wanted some fresh air in life. I’d been to film school in LA and then got an assistant’s job with quite high stress levels right after that, and I was fed up with going to parties on Saturday nights and talking about who you know, ‘can you get me into this meeting’ or ‘I’m doing better than you’. Los Angeles is a very insular world so I was desperate. After doing a post-grad in writing for screen and television at the University of Southern California (USC), I came here basically to concentrate on my writing career and to escape Los Angeles.”

Last Night… is a contender for the title of ultimate expatriate film for several reasons. First, its principle roles are played by foreigners based here permanently — a North American leading man is supported by a Kiwi actor. Second, the driving force is from the UK, thanks to its British director and producer David Labi, and script writer Matt. Some financial backing came from independent sources in the US, and of course the plot revolves around an expatriate who runs into trouble on his final evening in the Argentine capital.

Matt talks about how the project got started and how their ideas matched. “I met David through a mututal USC friend who set us up. We got on well right away and started to spend time together and talking about doing a project. We went to the cinema one rainy afternoon as I was depressed about the language school, and we saw a terrible Keanu Reeves film called Street Kings. That inspired us to do a film too, but about the expat community in BA itself. We were both into that terribly clichéd ‘Paris in the 1920s’ idea and keen on turning that into something on screenand knew we didn’t want to make an art movie of a cityscape with a moody voiceover.”

The suspense film clocks in at seven-and-a-half minutes, and in those 660 seconds Matt says he and David wanted to depict Buenos Aires’ expatriate community, which is very small. “Everyone knows everyone else here, and the environment is very conducive to the arts. But I always feel like an outsider here no matter what I do, so the main charcater is like that. He’s leaving, but he’s sucked in by a mysterious girl. His main conflict is trying to escape from his responsibilities, and if I analysed my own life, I think I came here to do exactly that. I didn’t want another assistant’s job.”

Matt also suggests that the modern world has played its part in creating this need to escape. “We live in an increasingly uncertain time, and the idea of conventional normality is breaking down fast. Depending on nature of your work, you can go anywhere — I could work in Antarctica as long as I had an internet connection,” he says.

BUGGED OUT. David Labi, however, got bitten by the Buenos Aires bug four years ago. Coming to Argentina to learn Spanish, he was so infected that he inadvertently remained on a more permanent basis. “I was travelling around the world, and ended up staying as I made a feature documentary. There was a rumour about a reported Holocaust survivor, an old woman, who lived at the end of the world on an island in Patagonia, so I decided to go and find her. And I found her, I became a filmmaker, and all that took me to the end, and past, my ticket extension.”

In the early days, having an Argentine girlfriend meant having a fairly a low profile on the expat scene, but after editing a bi-monthly magazine aimed at the long-termers living here, he became more involved, and then met Matt.“We both had the same ideas, and although it kept morphing into something different, I think the final product, bizarrely, is very close to the original idea we had. It’s come full circle.”

Although other foreigners have filmed shorts in Buenos Aires, David thinks this is a more encompassing project. “I think this is the first film about the expat experience. Although it’s fiction, it’s very much about an expat’s view of Buenos Aires and it’s not showing it from a porteño point of view. If it’s not too presumptious of me, it’s the ultimate expat film.”

Explaining further, he adds: “It’s like a mysterious fantasy but I tried to show the different elements of life here in it. You’ve got the expat bar, the drunken rich best friend who screws all the time… it’s charicatured but it shows the different worlds, with the main character penetrating the city, which he’s always wanted to do.”

Premièring in San Telmo on December 9, 2009, David is in the process, as director and producer, of trying to get Last Night… onto the international film festival circuit, and has submitted it to BAFICI 2010, the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival.

“At some point I will be putting it online, but I want to get it out to the festivals first. And if anyone is holding a party or cultural event and would like to show it, then we’re interested in that, too.”

What would you, as a foreigner in Buenos Aires, do on your last night? Here are some suggestions:

In the Buenos Aires Herald:

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