Where music, art and visual communication meet: that’s where you’ll find Costa Rican director Federico Peixoto. His inexplicable love for these distinct artistic disciplines has inspired the artist, and since childhood, he has had the opportunity to get acquainted with different cultures throughout the world. He was born in Germany to an Uruguayan father and Costa Rican mother, and grew up between Costa Rica and Berlin, where he witnessed the demolition of the Berlin Wall as well as cultural impact of both punks and skinheads.
Back in Costa Rica, he launched his most ambitious project: “Todos Hermanos Centroamericanos” (“All Central American Brothers”), a documentary that explores the use of graffiti throughout the region. The film is the result of twenty years of constant documentation with the simple purpose of striving towards a unified Central America through humane artistic expression.
Portraying his artistic friends on film started out as a hobby, but then became Peixoto’s profession with the creation of his own video producing business, Gafeto TV. Peixoto, 38, studied video production at the National Learning Institute (INA) and Centro de Cine, and film and television at the Veritas University. Peixoto also performs as a DJ and organizes festivals.
The Tico Times sat down and spoke with Peixoto at our offices in Barrio Amón on a warm evening. Excerpts follow.
Why did you choose to dedicate your life to audiovisual production?
It began with the need to tell the world that we [artists] exist. That’s the need that someone has when creating graffiti: “I’m here. This is me.” That was the real motivation: expressing my group of people, which I felt didn’t have a voice. We were different and I felt we were not represented in our society. I’ve always liked to tell stories and create music. It’s very natural for me, that need of telling stories.
I was born in Germany, but I’m not German, so I didn’t feel I quite fit in there. I was an immigrant. In Costa Rica I’m Tico, but I also have a part of me that isn’t from here, so I didn’t feel I fit in here, either, and I created my own world in which I can say whatever I want. That world is GafetoTV.
What are your inspirations?
Everything I see, smell, listen to, and eat. I’ve got way too many inspirations. My first inspirations were my parents’ vinyl collection. All of those social musical movements that have been created from the need for change, inspire me. Hip hop, reggae and punk were created to change the things that were not right, to establish a new idea of a society and expose social hypocrisy. All of the people who have been courageous and fought for causes that maybe even led them to their deaths, and have made it through an artistic way, inspire me.
Sometimes people feel frustrated by all of the problems that exist and question what they can do. You can do a lot of things. You can go out there and fix your roads. You can teach kids from neighborhoods to dance or create a musical group. You can do anything you want. People can refuse to accept the reality that’s imposed on them: in the moment you begin affecting others, things begin changing. If everyone did that, everything would be different.
What does your research process look like when you want to portray a particular topic?
I usually deal with topics I experience, so my investigation is my daily life. If I have to work on a topic someone hired me to explore, I search for all the information I can get: I watch all the documentaries and movies that have been done about that particular topic, read all the written information there is, look for the people, get to know them and talk to them. It’s about looking for clues like a detective.
With my graffiti documentary, I’ve tried to watch as many documentaries as possible. Graffiti has been discussed for a long time; it’s nothing new, and I don’t want to say the same things that have already been said only because I’m in Costa Rica. I want to think on a global level and contribute something new. If I don’t have something to contribute and everything has been said, I’d rather not do it. …This is not only about placing images with music. It’s about reaching someone’s mind or heart in the deepest way possible and waking up something within them. It’s rarely achieved, but it’s the place towards which you’re aiming.
As a communicator, why do you feel the need to tell a story?
It’s mainly because I know that the story I’ll tell will be different than everyone else’s story. Each one of us has a different vision. You and I can be [experiencing] the same situation, but if we tell our story of it, it will be different and each one will be true. If I don’t tell my stories, the world will be missing out on that particular vision. If I’m truly sincere with anything that I do, it won’t be like anyone else’s.
I feel everyone should leave some sort of legacy, their personal trademark. When I die, the world won’t have me anymore, whether people value that or not… It’s always about letting people know that there are other ways in which you can see the world. If you find a way to express yourself, you’ll contribute to humanity and you’ll feel better by expressing it. In a certain moment someone will see it and it’ll inspire someone else to do something. We’re all important.
What is the educational purpose behind “Todos Hermanos Centroamericanos“?
Strengthen the concept of Central American union. Letting people know about all of these great artists from all of these countries who deserve acknowledgment. It’s about positioning Central America as a place that can be recognized internationally by people who are interested in art and urban artistic movements.
We have to communicate that there is talent here and that it’s an important movement, and get rid of those stereotypes that exist about the Central American region. There’s way more to us than the problems that we face.
If you want to teach kids from a low-income urban community, you need to show them something that’s attractive for them, something with values behind it, such as discipline. You won’t be a great graffiti artist if you don’t go out every day and paint. To achieve your goals, you’ll need to work hard, and if you want to be great you’ve got to push your limits.
And we’ve got to change this mentality that not everything young people do is bad and a crime. Maybe young people have a real reason to rebel. You can’t expect them to follow orders in a society that’s unjust, a society that’s violent against them. Our education system teaches children to follow all orders and stay quiet: in real life, if you act like that, it won’t work unless want to be someone that’s not taken seriously. The first thing kids should be taught is how to eat healthily, grow their own food, have their own criteria to know if they’re being lied to. Not to memorize dates.
I find it very healthy that new generations question everything that are wrong in society and express them artistically. Would you rather see them hitting people or breaking stuff? Art is a way in which we can focus on the friendly side before confronting things in a different manner. Art is so important.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at [email protected].