THE SHORT TAKE: Interview w/ director Edwin Gailitis
Cold Nights/Hot Salsa director Edwin Gailitis

THE SHORT TAKE: Interview w/ director Edwin Gailitis

With his debut film Cold Nights/ Hot Salsa just premiering at this year’s Hollywood Film Festival, Scenester TV film critic Arthur Glover spoke with the film’s director Edwin Gailitis about his project.


So why did you want to make this as your film making debut?


Edwin – I had gone on a trip to Cuba, and I was staying at a place in old-Havana, and there were a number of people there staying from Europe, they had come to Cuba to learn to salsa dance. So over breakfast, everyone was sitting around and talking about what they did the day before, and learned what they were telling me about the classes, the salsa dancing, and then at night they were going out to clubs, and as me why don’t I go, and see what’s happening, and I discovered so much interesting music and styles of dance. Once I discovered that, I started finding it everywhere, and I was just captivated by it. I came back to Canada, and I thought – I want to make this film in Cuba, and then I talked to some people here who said that Cuba is a hard place to make a film, why don’t you look at what’s available in Canada? And I found that in Canada, there was lots of salsa dancers. So it was the beginning for me, I kind of landed very well with the Canadian Championship two or three weeks after I got back from Cuba, it was the Canadian Salsa Championship, and I went to that, and I met my principal character’s in the film. Pretty much everyone in the film for that first week was remarkable, but I guess when you have a main event, all of the key players just turn out.


How did the introduction of your two main dancers, Victor and Katia, go about, and how did you get them to trust you to make this film, with them being mostly featured in it?


Edwin – Well, it’s a long process. I met them right after they had won, and I interviewed them on camera, and the first thing I was struck by was their comfort level with the camera. They were very natural on camera, and I couldn’t say that about a number of other very good dancers. They just sort of spoke like they were making a commercial for themselves when they were on camera. Victor and Katia just spoke up, and told me who they were. They were very natural. So over some time, I kept following them, and I did follow a number of other dancers, but they really stuck with me as the ones who will provide the most engagement on camera, and they’re really terrific people. They sort of pulled back at times, because when you’re making a documentary, they are shocked by how much they reveal, and then they pull back and keep you at a distance. But then they come forward again. So I went through that sort of process with Victor and Katia, and I think the longer it went, the more they trusted me, and they accepted me into their lives.


If you didn’t already know how to salsa dance before the film, did you learn how to by the end of it?


Edwin – Well, what’s interesting is I was not familiar with the salsa music that I had discovered when I started making the film. But I just fell in love with this music. I’m an avid music-collector, and I have a large library of music, and I go to a lot of concerts. But I had kind of missed this music, and when I got into filming, one of the problems I had was staying still when filming the dancers, because I just wanted to move. It’s so infectious. So I really grew to love that music, and I like dancing to it, and I understand  the steps. But in the strictest sense, I would not call myself a salsa dancer, I would say that I like to dance to salsa music, and I know a lot of the steps and things the really good dancers can do. So I really understand it.


On a filmmaking aspect, what would you learned when making this film?


Edwin – I learned quite a few things. One was trying to focus your story more quickly than I did. I tried to tell many stories in my making of the film, and I wanted to bring in other people’s lives into the film, that kind of ended up taking the overall story in many different directions, and I realized later that it was to confusing and unfocused. So I guess one thing I would say is, focus on figuring out what your primary story is. And in the end, I maintained, or I kept many of the elements of other people’s stories, but if I went back, and I wouldn’t have focused as much on the other people’s stories as I did.  The other thing I learned is to test-screen an early cut. I should have test-screened to get that sense, but I spent over a year trying to make the more rambling story work, and if I test-screened it earlier, I think I would have some useful feedback. I did screen it to filmmaker friends, and some dancers, and it became clear in the early stages, that I needed to refocus.


Do you know what you would like your next project to be? Are you going to keep directing films you think?
I would like to. Funding is a challenge, but if this film continues to do well, hopefully that will put me on the stage, so to speak.


For more information about Cold Nights/Hot Salsa, check out the film’s [email protected]


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