| "Irma" filmmaker Charles Fairbanks talks about diving into life through filmmaking, wrestling as art and meeting Irma.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Being a filmmaker is my perpetual excuse to meet and spend time with others, dwell in the rhythms and textures of another life, ask probing questions and hear stories I couldn’t have invented. Once we finish filming it becomes a puzzle of sense-making: how can I immerse spectators in this person’s life, in such a short time, yet retain a multifaceted complexity?
Which filmmakers inspired you to get behind the lens?
First there was Kenneth Anger – an accidental discovery of Kustom Kar Kommandos while writing a research paper on car cultures. Later I stumbled across Jesse Lerner’s American Egypt, which blew my mind. Years passed before I watched Errol Morris’s The Fog of War twice, back to back, in my uncle’s suburban on a hunting trip in South Dakota. That did it. Subsequent ecstasies include films by Ross McElwee, Johan van der Keuken, Pedro Costa, Werner Herzog, Sergei Loznitsa, Claire Denis, Steve McQueen, Naomi Uman, Chick Strand, Charles Burnett, Natalia Almada...
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Johan van der Keuken’s “I (heart) $,” Renzo Martens’ “Enjoy Poverty,” Kevin Wilmott’s “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.”
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your film?
If not a desire to wrestle, then at least an appreciation of how wrestling – like singing & songwriting – can be an art that’s inextricable from life. In Mexico people talk about la lucha de la vida – the struggle (or wrestling match) of life – and perhaps this movie is a prism through which the spectrum of meanings in this phrase is refracted.
Why did you decide to turn your camera on Irma and tell the story of her wrestling career?
I was in Mexico City to make a different movie, Flexing Muscles, an experimental ethnography of lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), which involves wrestling as El Gato Tuerto (The One-Eyed Cat) with a camera built into my mask. When I saw that Irma taught wrestling at the gym I frequented, I just had to meet her. Arriving to her 8 a.m. practice, I introduced myself as a wrestler and filmmaker, she as a wrestler and singer, and – though she then said get in the ring and warm up – we both already knew that we’d make something together.
Was there a moment that you found particularly surprising when you were shooting the film?
It surprised me how quickly we became friends, and how easily the film came together. All the other surprises are in the film.
Were you able to listen to any of the other Bolero-Rancheras that Irma composed and sung over the years?
The second time I came to her practice, she gave me copies of her two vinyl records. They’re long out of print, and fans of the movie bought up all that remained. All the songs are written by Irma – about love, wrestling, the moon in Acapulco, etc. – but “Puro Mandilón” is still my favorite because it’s so personal, acerbic, and funny.