Watching “The Human Surge,” I feel like an intruder. In long handheld takes, the camera tails three young people from a distance as they go about their quotidian routines—walking from home to work, hanging out with friends, or even trying to find some wifi. Watching someone’s back as they walk through the city may not sound like a recipe for an engaging film, but, through dreamlike cinematography and poetic dialogue, these in-between moments acquire beauty and significance in “The Human Surge.” Dir. Eduardo Williams’s first feature is a sharp portrayal of young people on three different continents, rendered with a slightly strange and surprisingly beautiful documentary style. MONROWE spoke with Williams about leaving space for uncertainty, collaboration, and being okay with not being productive.
Madeleine Boudreaux: So where are you now?
Eduardo Williams: I’m in the south of Chile in a city called Valdivia, at a film festival.
MB: You were able to produce “The Human Surge” even with lots of uncertainty about what the final result would be. When you were first starting out, how did you convince people to work with you?
EW: Well I started with my friends in Argentina, so I didn’t have to convince them so much because we knew each other from university. We’d already worked on several shorts together. And the producers and the crew that joined us in the other shootings—I think they like uncertainty as I like it and feel that maybe uncertainty is a part of cinema.
MB: How did you develop your style as a director? Did you have to work at it, as a conscious process? Or is it something that just comes out of you on a subconscious level?
EW: Well on one hand, the style is my way of living and of relating with people and my ideas. But on another hand, it’s something that developed a lot with work. I need to do films; it’s when I learn the most. It’s trying to take the system to different places and to put it at risk in some way. It’s not to relax and say, “Okay, I have a style” but to try to always see how my ideas develop in different situations, different languages, different landscapes; with the uncertainty of not knowing where I am; and with the urgency of shooting in a new place where I’ve never been before. I think that makes the film more interesting.
MB: How do you approach the actor-director relationship?
EW: I try to spend as much time as possible with the people who are part of the film. Because sometimes it’s not so easy or not so clear to explain this film with words. So I try to hang out with them and to take myself away a little bit from the position of the director.
MB: Does working with non-professional actors help you to work in this way?
EW: For what I’ve been doing, I thought it was more useful to work with nonprofessional actors. I was interested in collaborating with people from very different places, not only because they come from different countries, but because of what they do in their lives. I didn’t want to only work with people who dedicated their lives to acting. I think nonprofessional actors are less conscious about some things that are happening during the shoot because they have less experience. For me, that’s better. They are more free. I explain to them that any error they make may be a great thing, so there are no errors.
MB: A big theme in “The Human Surge” is the terrible jobs that young people have to do to make money. Not everyone can stop working at the supermarket and start creating what they love.
EW: So when I finished school, I realized I was supposed to dedicate my life to working in something and it wasn’t important if I liked it or not—just earning money to survive. This depressed me a lot. So I really, really tried hard to be able to work in cinema and to live from what I like doing. And then, when I started traveling, I discovered that all the young people in the world are like this. Some of them accept it, other ones question it more, but almost everyone is very sick of it. You have to be lucky to work at something you like. I think that’s terrible, because most people are in this resigned depression. We believe that if we are not working we are wasting our time. So I try to speak a little about this in the film. And it’s not to think that, “Oh, working in a supermarket is terrible, and working in an office is great,” because the important thing is that you are interested in your job, and that your job lets you grow and be curious. Then what your job is about doesn’t matter—if it is good for you in this way and lets you grow and do what you want to do, that’s the important thing.
MB: What have you learned since you made your first short that you wish you had known when you started?
EW: I think I accept that everything—learning—takes time. So there’s nothing that I wish I would have known when I started. I think it’s okay. I needed to have passed through that to learn. I don’t like to feel I should have known that before. And I hope I will always keep on learning, but I’m not desperate for knowing everything now.