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Spanish Director Fernando Trueba Talks About His New Film: They Shot The Piano Player

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Spanish Director Fernando Trueba
Spanish Director Fernando Trueba

Last September 2023, They Shot The Piano Player, the new animated project by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal was an Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival.

As the movie story goes, Jeff [voiced by actor Jeff Goldblum] is a New York music journalist who embarks on a thrilling investigation into the mysterious disappearance of young Brazilian piano virtuoso Francisco Tenório Júnior in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a concert at the Gran Rex Theatre with guitarist, singer-songwriter Toquinho and legendary, beloved poet and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes. The story about Tenório Jr. is real, and he was 35 when it happened in 1976.

A Sony Pictures Classics release, this is “a celebratory origin story of the musical movement known as Bossa Nova, capturing a fleeting time bursting with creative freedom at a turning point in Latin American history in the 60s and 70s, just before the continent was engulfed by totalitarian regimes.”

I attended the premiere of this animated movie in Toronto, and as I was watching it, I recalled meeting Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal on September 2010 at Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett’s house. They were in town for the premiere of their first animated movie, the Oscar nominated Chico & Rita.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to talk with Fernando Trueba via zoom, in anticipation of the theatrical release of the movie in Los Angeles and New York on February 23, 2024.

They Shot The Piano Player Trailer

Danilo Navas: Hello Fernando, I met you in 2010 at Jane Bunnett’s house, when you came for the premiere of Chico & Rita. I remember vividly that you started telling us the story of Tenório Júnior. We were in the dining room and there’s something that stayed with me. You told us about something like a paranormal experience you had when you were going to do an interview, I’m not sure with whom it was, that person told as you were coming into the house that you looked like Tenório Júnior.

Fernando Trueba: This was a very strange thing, I’m not very esoteric and given to that type of fantasy, but I did about 150 interviews over 3 years, and everything was normal. But then the last two days of the last round of interviews that we did in Rio de Janeiro, which is where I had already done many interviews, in addition to the United States, Argentina and other countries… We did more interviews in Rio and then we went to São Paulo. We finished the last round of interviews… We always did two interviews a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And the last two days, the four interviews we did, the four were with musicians. All those we interviewed these last days, they all told me at one point, each one in their houses, that I looked like Tenório Júnior. The first one who said it on the penultimate day, well, I took it… I didn’t give it any importance, but curiously that same afternoon the artist we were interviewing told me the same thing when I entered his house. It was Tomás Improta, a musician, a pianist who had been a disciple of Tenório Júnior. He said “you know that you have something that reminds me of Tenório Júnior,” and I thought, well, what a coincidence, after so many interviews, the same day this happened twice. On the last day we had two interviews, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I no longer remember the name of the artist we interviewed in the morning, I have it written down in a notebook… but the one in the afternoon was at trumpeter, Marcio Monterroyos, and then, when we arrived to his house, he was fixing something on the roof, there, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. And from the roof he says “I’ll come down to open the door,” and I say yes, yes, okay. And then he shouts from the roof “you look like Tenório Júnior.”

So. I had the four interviewees saying the same thing and then I was like, is it true? I looked in the rear view mirror of the car where I was sitting and I told Felipe, my assistant, “what’s happening? Why suddenly, now I remind all these people of Tenório Júnior, I don’t look anything like him.” He was looking at me in the mirror, to see if there was anything… And then Felipe, like a good Brazilian, asked me, “are you possessed?” Probably from getting so involved in this story, becoming obsessed with Tenório Júnior, looking for all the people who knew him, who loved him, listening to their stories, because I… I don’t know, I was imbued with something that escaped me, and that everyone could notice.

DN: That’s interesting. Well, this movie took you 15 years of research to bring it to the screen…

FT: No, that’s not correct. I did the research almost 20 years ago and I did the interviews in a period of three years, in 2005, 2006 and 2007. I did 150 interviews and that material remained archived. And I didn’t edit it, I didn’t do anything. I made another film, Chico y Rita, and then another film, El Baile de la Victoria in Chile. I needed to distance myself from all that. In fact, I didn’t know that this film was going to be made in animation. When I spoke with you in Toronto, I am sure that this project had not yet taken its final form… At the end, I decided it would be made in animation.

DN: I see, the project remained on hold…

FT: Yes, you have to make a script… So, later, between one film and another, I found the time to immerse myself in all those interviews again, listen to them again, take notes and from all those notes, I started writing a script, because I didn’t want to tell the story like a documentary… I wanted to use the tools of fiction, even if the material was real. So, I want to say that the film has been made during a long time, but it doesn’t mean that in that time I have been clear about what I wanted to do. In fact, in that time I made other films.

DN: You wanted to continue your research? Is there new information you have obtained in recent years after saving those interviews?

FT: No, the truth is no. I wanted to do some more interviews, but back in the day, finding people or locating them wasn’t so easy…

Fernando Trueba, Jane Bunnett. Toronto Sep 2010
Fernando Trueba at Jane Bunnett’s House. Toronto Sep 2010. Photo: Danilo Navas.

DN: I think that one of the most important things about the film, is that you have rescued from oblivion the figure of this great pianist, who disappeared under tragic circumstances and the film sort of bring him back to life.

FT: Yes, you don’t know how happy it makes me every time I meet someone who tells me “I’ve seen your movie,” and “I’ve been listening to Brazilian music for 4 days, I heard Tenorio, but I heard João Gilberto again and I discovered the Tamba Trío, and Paulo Moura and João Donato,” you know? That makes me very happy because it means that in some way what I intended has been fulfilled. This is what happens with many viewers. Just now I came from promoting the film in France and the response was incredible, because France, like the United States, are the two countries where Brazilian music had the most impact.

DN: Spotify has the only album that Tenório Júnior recorded, Embalo. It is on my list of the most listened albums this year. And I can’t stop listening…

FT: It has gone from having almost no listens to having thousands of listens.

DN: Sony Pictures got interested in your film and acquired the distribution rights, which is also very important, as it guarantees its wide release in theaters.

FT: Yes, it also makes me very happy that it is released this month (February 2024) in the United States, in New York and Los Angeles and then in the rest of the cities, that’s very important, and I am very happy to be back with my distributors from years ago. They distributed Belle Epoque, and it was a very good experience.

DN: Fernando, thank you, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

FT: Thank you!

Francisco Tenório Júnior
About Tenório Júnior

Francisco Tenório Júnior (born July 4, 1941 in Río de Janeiro – disappeared and presumed dead in March, 1976) was a Brazilian musician and composer. Despite recording only one album as a solo artist, he was considered one of the best pianists of his generation, and his fame as a virtuoso creator has increased over the years.

Tenório Júnior went missing under mysterious circumstances in Argentina during the first year of that country’s last civil-military dictatorship: in March 1976, while on tour at Buenos Aires with Toquinho and Vinícius de Moraes, he went out one night to buy cigarettes, and he was never seen again; it was quickly surmised that he might have been rounded up by the dictatorship’s security forces and kidnapped, being subsequently thrown in jail, tortured and murdered. (Wikipedia)

Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba

L to R: Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba

Director: Fernando Trueba

Fernando Trueba is a Spanish film director and writer, as well as a music producer. Several of his films have screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, including Belle Epoque (1993), The Girl of Your Dreams (1999), and Chico and Rita (2010), which was directed alongside Javier Mariscal and Antonio [Toño] Errando. They Shot the Piano Player (2023), his latest collaboration with Mariscal, is his most recent film.

Director: Javier Mariscal

Javier Mariscal was born in Valencia. He’s known primarily as a visual artist, particularly as a painter, sculptor, and product designer. His directorial debut was an episode of The Cobi Troupe, an animated series based on Cobi, the mascot he created for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He co-directed Chico and Rita, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010, alongside Fernando Trueba and Antonio [Toño] Errando. They Shot the Piano Player (2023), his latest collaboration with Trueba, is his most recent film.

Web Publisher. Founder, Editor & Webmaster for Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report & That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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