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Award-winning London-based filmmaker Ian Pons Jewell left for Bolivia to shoot a music video. Six months on, the 28-year-old is still there, captivated by the country that provided him with the inspiration for a second music video which has gone on to be a worldwide hit and dubbed by CNN as “the coolest travel video since Coldplay’s Paradise.”
Pons Jewell is the creator of the video for Naughty Boy’s UK number one smash La-la-la, which he filmed entirely in Bolivia and follows the adventures of a little boy around some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes.
The irresistibly catchy song was the fastest-selling single of 2013, and the video went viral with over 50 million Youtube views, making Pons Jewell a Bolivian celebrity interviewed for TV, newsapapers and magazines. The track was even played in the country’s parliament.
HighLives spoke to Ian from his La Paz base to get his thoughts on the city he now calls home:
HL: What were your first impressions of the city?
IPJ: I was surprised when I first arrived because I had heard about Bolivia being very poor so I imagined it to be quite a grimy city but I was blown away by the whole aesthetic- the whole thing of being surrounded by mountains, the people being so quiet and humble, certainly not the brash Latin stereotype.
HL: Do you find Bolivia to be a country welcoming to visitors?
IPJ: I must admit, arriving here was my first experience of being looked at in a certain way, because I’m different, a gringo, a white European. But after six months here I have realised I feel very much at home here. I miss London and my family, but La Paz has made me feel very welcome. But not in a superficial way- not just people welcoming me into their shop because I might buy something.
HL: Do you think La Paz is a good place for tourists?
IPJ: Tourists are not especially catered to– but I don’t think this is a negative thing. You can walk around and experience the city as it is, without being pandered to- though obviously there are some places that are specifically for tourists. You just feel comfortable.
Bolivians get on with their lives without whoring themselves out to tourism, unlike some other places which get ruined by tourism because they become so focused on it.
HL: And what do you think about the city now?
IPJ: La Paz feels like it’s outside the system- a slightly chaotic, system-less place. It’s one of the last frontiers of freedom, in terms of what people can and cannot do here. I don’t mean that in a political way- its the sort of place where I could decide one day to make donuts then go out and sell them on the street.
HL: How have people responded to the Naughty Boy video?
IPJ: It really got everybody’s attention. People keep saying how the video makes them feel proud of their country, to have it portrayed in that way.
[The video follows young Franco escaping an abusive father-fiure in La Paz to him making friends with a very sweet chau-chau dog and two other unusual characters, their journey to the colonial mining town of Potosi, the Uyuni train cemetery and salt flats and deep inside the colossal silver mine of Cerro Rico, which once bankrolled the Spanish Empire.]
HL: What do you think about the music scene in La Paz?
IPJ: The traditional music here everywhere and its just incredible. I haven’t actually been to the theatre or seen many shows yet but I did see an amazing experimental opera by Sergio Prudencia. It was produced on a shoe-string budget but it was incredible music that has stuck ever since.
HL: What do you think of the food?
IPJ: The best food I’ve had here has been the trout in Copacabana. Just fried and served simply with rice and potatoes, but it was really delicious - I think because it was so fresh. There is an amazing street food culture but I’m unable to partake in it due to my particularly weak English stomach.
HL: What does the future hold for you?
IPJ: People were telling me that I wouldn’t want to leave, I didn’t believe them at first but La Paz is definitely home now- one of my homes anyway. I want to keep it as a base and return to London for projects but pay my rent here. For work, I am now repped by WANDA in the UK, France and Germany which I'm very excited about, and just recently Brink Studios in Canada. I hope to be able to carry on making work in Bolivia through these new avenues, but also travel to Europe and even Canada for work at some point.
It’s more of a long-term thing, but I’m looking to do my first feature film here because the money goes a long way. It’s basically the Naughty Boy video but much darker and weirder.You find out more about Ian PoJewel here: www.ianponsjewell.com