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The Tribeca Film Festival’s lineup describes Mateo Gil’s blazing new western, “Blackthorn” as about “…the final years in the life of legendary bandit Butch Cassidy, which are shrouded in mystery, from his rumored death in a Bolivian military standoff, to his escape from South America to die quietly on a Nevada ranch the 1930s. In Mateo Gil’s intimate and adventurous Western, a re-imagined and aged Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) is living under the assumed name James Blackthorn, in a secluded village in Bolivia, 20 years after his disappearance in 1908. Surviving humbly off the land, and finding occasional comforts with a local woman, Yana (Magaly Solier, The Milk of Sorrow), he longs to end his personal exile and return to the US to see his family. Reluctantly joining forces with a Spanish mine robber (Eduardo Noriega) who promises him a cut of the loot, Blackthorn sets out on one final adventure… and discovers he’s not the only one harboring a deep secret.”  Stephen Rea also gives a sensational performance as an ex-Pinkerton cop, who never quite got over having never brought Butch and Sundance to custody.

The film has an incredible depth and quiet beauty, and Sam Shepherd  gives the performance of his career.’s Francesca McCaffery  spoke with the charming and accomplished Mateo Gil, who hails from Spain, and is best known in the States for being the screenwriter of films “Vanilla Sky,” The Sea Inside,” among many others, and has additionally directed seven other movies, television shows and short films.

“Blackthorn” screens at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas on Friday,
April 29th, at 9 pm. Mateo, could you talk first about Sam Shepherd? He is such a true American icon, a real live Renaissance Man. What was it like working with him?

Mateo Gil: Well, when you are going to work with someone like Sam Shepherd, you can tend to be too scared, or shy, I think you have to try and forget all of these things, and try and talk to the person.  Fortunately, he has a very strong personality. He’s a strong person, very straight-forward. He’s always talking about (the condition of the) horses on set, and he didn’t speak very much of all that he has done, his accomplishments, he’s not presumptuous at all. It was very easy, in this sense. I forgot, from the beginning, that he was Sam Shepherd. Maybe there’s a kind of a difference between Americans and Europeans. It’s always usually present. But Sam and I, forgot those differences. It was just a great experience to work with him. It’s almost like an icon playing an icon…He gives such a great performance, he really embodies a time that has gone by us.

MG: Yeah! We were very lucky. In the beginning, when we were thinking about making the movie, and what possible actors we could cast, we were scared that no one that was going to do this script. But he said yes, very quickly. I think the script is  pretty wonderful. I can’t imagine any actor having that fear.

MG: It was (the character of) Butch Cassidy. We needed an actor with a lot of charisma. A lot! And It is, sadly, a scarce thing today. And he has a lot of charisma, to spare, really. Were all the actors riding their own horses during the shoot?

MG: Sam was doing all of his own riding ALL of the time. For a couple of very, very far-away shots, some distant second unit shots, we used a stand-in,  but he was always on the horse! Eduardo (Noriega, Shepherd’s co-star)  was as well. Even the very far-away shots- that’s Eduardo! He’s crossing a river, full speed, he’s on the horse! I said to him (when I saw the second unit footage) “What are you doing! Are you crazy?” (laughs) But he wanted to do it. Sam Shepherd grew up around horses. Did Eduardo?

MG: He had learned to ride many years ago, he learned for a movie. He did a very good job. What was it like, shooting on the amazing salt flats of Potosi, Bolivia?

MG: Bolivia’s an amazing place. You know, I can assure you, that we have used only 000.1 percent of the possibilities, because we had to adapt our shooting to the hotel (and base camps) locations. We really only used a small portion of the (shooting) possibilities. It’s really just amazing there, the high plateau of Bolivia. Where was the base camp when you were shooting?  The plateau and salt flats seemed to really go on forever!

MG: Everything around La Paz , which is a big city, and Potosi, which has a large flat and mine near there, (The ‘Salar de Uyuni,’ the world’s largest salt flat.) and at the  at the edge of the salt flats- there are a small tourist hotels. We were actually in a hotel made of salt! They built the entire hotel and the houses out of salt. It’s amazing! Isn’t there a lot of lithium under those salt flats? That’s soon to be a major global resource, right? (Because of  electric car and cell phone batteries.)

MG: You know the line that Sam says in the movie (looking over the plain) “I like these places, because they have no owners” ?  And Eduardo’s character says, “They’re going to take it soon. It’s the law of life.”  Actually, there is a BIG problem there now in reality, because of the great need for lithium in the future…Many predict that the salt flats will be destroyed. It’s a very delicate situation. How did the script come to you?

MG: The screenwriter is a very good friend of mine.(Miguel Barros)  He was trying to make a documentary in Bolivia, and he made a trip there, to try and research it. And coming back, he told me, “I don’t think I’m going to the documentary, but I have a very good idea for a script!” So, he was telling me about it as he wrote it. When he finished the first draft, I thought, “This could be a pretty good movie!” I was involved in another project, but after that was done, I decided to really take it on. And Stephen Rea? He’s great in the film. How did he get cast in “Blackthorn?”

MG: We were very lucky to have Sam in the movie, not just because of himself, but also-he’s a very good friend of Stephen Rea’s, and the share the same agent here in the US!  So… Sam said yes (to the film) and Stephen said, “Okay! If Sam is going to be in it, I want to do it!” We were just so lucky. These are two of the great, great actors. Was it a particularly grueling shoot?

MG: It was very tiring, yes. We were shooting on a very high altitude. You get tired faster, there’s’ not too much oxygen up there!  Sam is very strong. And he wanted to ride all the time. It was amazing. He never once complained. When he knew he was going to be riding horses that day, you could feel his smile (on set) from when he woke up in the morning. He just wanted to ride his horse, all the time. Thank you so much, Mateo, and good luck with “Blackthorn.”

Director: Mateo Gil


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