Featured as a nominee for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, The Mole Agent tells the story of an 83-year-old man who is hired by a private investigator to disguise himself as a resident in a Chilean retirement home suspected of elder abuse. Surprisingly heartwarming and charming while offering the intrigue of a detective mission, the film shines a light on the realities of growing old and coping with the loneliness that can accompany living in a facility. The Mole Agent received the 2021 Cinema Eye Honors Award for The Unforgettables.
Carolina Siraqyan, the editor of the Best Documentary-nominated film The Mole Agent, worked closely with director Maite Alberdi to shape the heartwarming story of an 83-year-old man who poses as a resident in a Chilean nursing home to see if he can find signs of abuse. She cut the doc with Adobe Premiere Pro.
PH: Hello, Carolina! How are you? How has your work changed the past year?
Carolina Siraqyan: Hello, I´m fine, thank you. I hope you are fine too. This last year has been hard. I never thought I´d have to face situations like we did.
At the beginning of the pandemic when I had to work on set, all the crew including me were literally dressed as astronauts. I had to move my office home and started working online until now. The first 6 months the work slowed down a lot, which was difficult financially.
PH: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how have you been navigating this *crazy* time?
Carolina Siraqyan: The social distancing and working online was a complicated process, especially getting used to connect, to read that part of the communication that is not spoken with the directors. With time I adapted but I feel that it is never the same as working in person.
On the other hand, the state of mind of the confinement and the threatening illness somehow affected me on an emotional level. As an editor you have to work with emotions and all these alterations influenced my way of feeling.
PH: Congrats on the Academy Award nomination for The Mole Agent! How did you get onboard with this project?
Carolina Siraqyan: Thanks for the congrats, I’m really happy about it!
I loved the simplicity and sensitivity of Maite´s work. A few years ago, I did a class about trailers for documentary makers, and we met. She asked me to do the trailer of the film The Grown-ups and the short film I´m not from here. As we started to work together, we sympathized very well. She shared with me her idea of her ongoing project and I was instantly motivated especially for the mixture of film noir and observational documentary. I thought it was a smart and innovative way to make the audience connect with such a difficult and delicate topic. So, I told her that I was very interested in working with her in The Mole Agent.
PH: How do you go about choosing a project (in general)?
Carolina Siraqyan: It is very important for me to have a good relationship with the director and empathize with her/him, I feel that an important part of my work is to feel in the material what they were looking for on an emotional level and to achieve that emotion in the editing.
In long projects like The Mole Agent, it is also very important that the subject matter is interesting to me, because it is essential to maintain interest and keep me excited for the months that the editing lasts.
PH: What was your experience working with director Maite Alberdi?
Carolina Siraqyan: Maite really likes the editing process, especially thinking that in observational documentaries the script is practically done in the editing room, so we were together for several months and it was really fun, I really enjoyed the time we worked together, we have a very good relationship, and a very similar way of feeling.
PH: As an editor, how do you ensure that you keep enough (but not too much) film to still evoke emotion?
Carolina Siraqyan: When I think about the scenes, I have some ideas about how I am going to cut them and the rhythm they should have, but in practice many decisions, especially the moment of cutting, are not rational, I just feel where it has to end and press stop… it’s very intuitive.
PH: Can you describe your editing approach?
Carolina Siraqyan: When I read a script for the first time, I try to take note of what I feel while I read it and analyze what is the conflict and the emotions that are needed to build it. For the same reason it is very important for me the first time I see the material and what it makes me feel, I dedicate time to this moment in order to save this first impression. I like to be alone and in an environment as quiet as possible.
In The Mole Agent, as I started working months after the filming ended and considering that there was no clear script, I decided to visualize and catalog all the material before starting to assemble. This process took me approximately 2 months.
PH: How did Adobe Premiere Pro help you cut this documentary?
Carolina Siraqyan: I think that the program you use when editing a film must be like an extension of yourself. It has to be natural and invisible, in a way that you almost forget that you are using it so the creative process never stops. In this sense Premiere Pro is very comfortable for me, it’s timeline is very versatile and also gives me a lot of freedom to decide everything about how I want to work on my projects.
PH: What are some of the editing challenges you faced?
Carolina Siraqyan: On the one hand there are all the technological challenges. During my career I´ve worked through Moviola, U-matic, Avid, FinalCut and now Premiere Pro.
Nowadays everything is very simple (since it’s only software) and it is portable, before it was quite stressful the dependence on machines and the changes from nonlinear to linear and then fortunately the return to nonlinear.
On the other hand, the most challenging in the edit process itself has been the deadlines. In many cases I don’t have enough time to stop, walk away and come back to see and have that distance which I think is very important.
In the case of The Mole Agent, we didn’t have a deadline which was a real pleasure.
PH: (In your opinion), how will the role of editor change (and continue to change) in the future?
Carolina Siraqyan: When I started working (in the 90’s) the production of independent films in Chile was predominant, gradually a film industry has been developing where nowadays many commercial films are produced. That intimacy that existed in the editing decisions between the director and the editor has been changing. There are many more instances of approval that did not exist before, so you must take them into account as an editor, mainly because you have to save time for all the feedback and comments you will receive. I think this will continue, even more when all the streaming platforms are strongly emerging.
PH: Who are some of your influences?
Carolina Siraqyan: I am self-taught at my job. I started learning as an assistant and by the experience of working. Walter Murch, that besides being a great editor – that I admire profusely – he is very generous when sharing his knowledge. I read his publications and watch all his videos. I´ve learnt a lot from him, all that he teaches make sense to me and I find his clarity exciting.
Also, as a woman I admire Rita Segato. She is an Argentinian writer, anthropologist, and feminist activist. She is a very smart and visionary woman that has helped me to be conscious of several social and female key issues that are deeply rooted and sometimes we don’t see.
View the official trailer: