I first met Calvet while travelling in Nicaragua in 2004. I walked into the café-restaurant he owned then and stopped dead in my tracks. “Who the hell painted that?” I wondered gawping at a large canvas on the wall. He took me to his ramshackle studio where I witnessed something remarkable – not only in his work, but in him. There was something mesmerizing about him. I wasn’t sure what, and there was evident paranoia. He pointed out the 24 hour armed guard watching over his property from the far side of the street. He set 50 traps across the hall floor every night before bed, bolted the bedroom door which was guarded by his dog, an enormous Rottweiler, and slept with a gun under his pillow. I left it there.
A year later, the name Calvet was still pestering me. So I took a 10 day research trip back to Nicaragua and learned about this man’s past. This time I left with my mouth open. I’d not heard a story like it, it was truly stranger than fiction. It was a tale full of human contradiction, of human strength and frailty, of the destruction of family and the desperate longing for one. Here was a man who had experienced an extraordinary metamorphosis, yet he was still racked by guilt, the need to make amends and forgive himself. I knew that I had found something very unusual. It had lit the fire inside and I was compelled to make the film.
His inspiring story was always my first consideration and the notion of what can happen to us in our darkest hour – the possibility of transformation in a moment of total crisis. Yet I found his art electrifying as well (and I am no art aficionado). I was fascinated that this was not a man who decided to paint; painting was something that happened to him. And what started as an uncontrollable purging, then became a raging desire that has continued at an astonishing pace. It is both his on-going therapy and his newfound addiction. A day out of his studio and withdrawal sets in. It is about revisiting the insanity of his self-incarceration, exorcising the shadows of his past, and slapping down on canvas the dirty truth of life.
Making the film was a remarkable adventure, not all easy, and it was a wonderful mutual exchange between protagonist and filmmaker. To accompany Calvet on his journey to find his abandoned son was a rare privilege. The time for lies, manipulation and hiding was over for him. He needed to do the right thing, and he needed to confess, much as he does in painting. That brought a fresh and often shocking honesty to the film.
It's a gripping tale of human triumph and from a dark place, it delivers a powerful and inspiring message. Never believe you’ve played your last hand. No matter how lost you are, it’s never too late.