The multimedia artist Cyprien Gaillard talks to us about his most recent work, Eagles of Africa, a film about nostalgia, modern-day ruins and unexpected heroes. Shot in Mexico in the spring of 2009, at the height of the swine flu panic when people were encouraged to stay at home, Gaillard took advantage of the emptiness of the cities to convey a strong sense of isolation. At the film’s climax, the hero finds himself performing in an overgrown, empty stadium, the crowd long since gone.
Who is the white-suited man with the red cowboy hat?
It's Koudlam, a local hero “don” in Cancun, where he performed more than a 100 times last year. He lived in Mexico for many years and his career started there, playing in resort-style cities such as Acapulco.
The running peacock is beautiful – did you stage this scene or did he catch you by surprise?
We found peacocks living on these weird resorts where we were spending time. American jocks would throw them beer bottles or give them cocktails to drink; they were always scared and ran away from all humans, but couldn’t get out of the resort because they were fenced in. They end up spending a lot of time on this abandoned golf course, where we shot that scene.
What are the important associations for you between the modern pyramid and the ancient monument you show in the film?
All is the same, all is ruin; modern and Mayan ruins, nightclubs in the middle.
Do you think there is any nostalgia in this film? If so, what is the film nostalgic for?
This film is the story of a man fighting nostalgia, finding himself not having the choice to turn his back to the future, understanding the situation he is in, how fucked up it is but overcoming this fatalism drinking tequila and embracing the world in its present state. He is a modern man, a hero, who lives with these things that we find so ugly. This is why he will end up making music for millions and not thousands. He has this big show coming up next autumn in a stadium in Mexico City called Azteca, a modern stadium made of concrete. This defines our position on nostalgia: no nostalgia. This is the new Aztec civilisation and he is making a new form of world music for it.
Can you say a little about the teenage boys in Eagles of Africa? In particular why you film them drinking a bottle of alcohol in one go, as you have done in a previous film.
These boys were the younger brothers of a good friend of mine, who is a kind of drunken local archeologist and who introduced me to the idea of nightclub archeology. Since Americans do shots, young Mexicans do the whole bottle – it's a question of ethnicity, a question of class, of coming out as sophisticated within this big mess that is the Mayan Riviera. This is not a "no future" statement about youth; I think it's actually the opposite: full of hope, like a new situation of equilibrium after global chaos, looking at a ruin and being a ruin yourself.
Interview by Agata Belcen