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“I Usually Avoid Celebrating Birthdays, But it Felt Important to Embrace This One”: Director Pacho Velez | Searchers


How did events of 2020—any of them—change your film, either in the way you approached it, produced it, post-produced it, or are now thinking about it?

I imagine that many directors are writing about COVID or the BLM protests, and both of those events shaped Searchers, but I also experienced a more personal milestone—my fortieth birthday. I usually avoid celebrating birthdays, but it felt important to embrace this one. Then came the pandemic, and I spent the day like every other lockdown day, reading the news, listening to podcasts, and experimenting in the kitchen.

Besides the symbolic weight of forty, the start of midlife, it is also the age at which I first remember my parents. To celebrate her fortieth birthday, my mother threw herself a party at my grandmother’s house. I recall my dad’s laughter, my mother’s red sweater, and her delight at blowing out the candles on her cake. Happily married, gainfully employed, and surrounded by friends and family, that party marked a high-point in my parents’ lives. Arriving at my own fortieth birthday, single, fearing for my job, and isolated by the lockdown, how could I ignore the difference?

Post-lockdown, I restarted production on Searchers, and my ambivalence about my own circumstances deepened my receptivity to the online dating stories that interviewees were sharing from their own lives. It also encouraged me to put more of myself into the film, including scenes between me and my mother. And though we never talk about her fortieth birthday, I feel its silent presence underpinning my vision for what a happy couple looks like.

(Check back daily during the festival — new answers are uploaded on the day of each film’s premiere. Read all the responses here.)

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