#DirectedbyWomen had the chance to connect with Marisol Gómez-Mouakad this month following the premiere of her film Angélica, which takes its protagonist home to Puerto Rico… and through a journey of personal discovery.
DBW: Your film Angélica recently received its world premiere at Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam and I believe you were in attendance. Can you share something about the experience?
MG-M: It was incredible. The audience really responded to the film. The first night we had a packed house. The second we had a good-sized audience and the last day was sold out. The audience really connected to the film, which was a surprise. When you make a film you hope to connect but you never know if they will.
DBW: That’s exciting. Did you have opportunity for Q&A after the screenings?
MG-M: Yes. We did in all three. And that was interesting. By the questions they really got and connected to the themes of the film. Actually an audience member wrote a nice review in Angélica‘s Facebook page.
DBW: That’s such a good sign that the film moved them. Can you share a little about the film and its themes?
MG-M: The film deals with racism from the perspective of a woman in the Caribbean.
DBW: And there’s family conflict!
MG-M: Yes. It explores racism within the context of a bi-racial family.
DBW: You pursued work on this project for a long time. What kept you going?
MG-M: I felt that this was a story that needed to be told. The support of the people who actually believed in the project was fundamental. There were many who didn’t, but there were those that did—and their support was essential. It helped me to keep moving forward in spite of the roadblocks. I also felt like I could not let them down.
DBW: Yes. Finding people who resonate with your vision is so important.
MG-M: Yes. I found that having a female lead is still a challenge nowadays unfortunately.
DBW: In terms of having your film accepted into festivals?
MG-M: In many aspects… getting support and finding funding. Often I was told I did not have enough male characters. Another challenge has been that the film is really about the psychological transformation of the lead character, her internal journey of self-discovery.
DBW: Yes. The journey into deeper connection with authentic self is challenging. I’m glad you persisted.
MG-M: Thank you! It was a challenge but I think as women we have to keep telling our stories.
DBW: Can you share a bit about how you worked with your cast—particularly your lead—to help reveal that psychological transformation?
MG-M: I did my own casting, which I think is the first step—finding the cast that will connect and be able to portray the characters. I do a lot of table readings. I let them read the script and come back with questions, suggestions. It is always interesting to have this dialogue with actors and see how they appropriate the character. In terms of Angélica actually with all the characters we did a lot of character development work such as what kind of music Angélica would listen to. Also when you see the film there is a physical transformation in how Angélica dresses and looks that reflects her internal transformation.
DBW: So as her awareness of who she truly is arises, she expresses herself physically in the world in new ways.
MG-M: There is a transformation in the way she dresses and in her hair style for example. The internal transformation is also externalized.
DBW: You worked with Erika Licea as your DP. Did you find having a woman cinematographer on the shoot helped you elicit the kind of depth of character you were going for?
MG-M: I think Erika connected with the story and that is important.
As women how we look is judged so often that we are more aware of our appearance even when we don’t want to be. And in Angélica’s case it is also related to how Afro-descendant women are judged for their appearance. It’s sad that this still happens now days. For example we still hear about the concept of bad hair specially in the Caribbean and Latin America.
DBW: Yes. These perceptions are deeply ingrained.
DBW: Now that you’ve gotten your film out into the world and witnessed the audience response, what’s next?
MG-M: Still have to continue the festival circuit and hope that someone will come on board to help with the distribution. In many ways the journey with Angélica is just starting in terms of distribution.
DBW: Right. This phase is just getting started.
MG-M: At the same time I am starting the process of developing my next project.
DBW: Is there anything you feel free to share about your next project? I’d love to know what you’re working on.
MG-M: I am working on a project dealing with gender identity.
DBW: Will it be set in the Caribbean as well?
DBW: You’ll keep us posted as things develop, I hope. Can you name a few films directed by women that you’d like to see reach a wider audience? Work that has resonated with you?
MG-M: Maria Novaro is a director from Mexico that has faced difficulties in the distribution of her films. That would be one. Also there is Maria Luisa Bemberg from Argentina who is still relevant. And other than Camila many don’t know about her other films. And Euzhan Palcy!
DBW: That’s something I’m very aware of as I do the work of learning and sharing about work by women directors. So often we don’t have access to the films.
MG-M: I really hope to see more women being represented in the festival circuit and not just represented but actually being supported beyond the pat in the back.
DBW: Yes. Valued and supported… and given room to explore their own visions. The global film community will thrive as women filmmakers thrive.
MG-M: Yes. That is a huge problem. I still have not been able to see Sara Gómez‘s only film. She died in the process of making the film. Yes, but so far we are so often only getting a pat in the back and acknowledgement of you are strong and go on your way.
DBW: I hear you.
MG-M: We need support. Also we need the $$$. So often we get so much less in funds next to the men. We end up doing twice the work.
DBW: One of the reasons I launched the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party was to help galvanize global attention on the incredible richness of what women directors have managed to create even in this restrictive environment. I long for the film community to fall madly in love with films by women directors and create opportunities for their work to flourish more fully in the future. I think it requires film lovers to shift their perceptions….
MG-M: At a festival I was once told by another woman glad you are here ( I was the only female director). The person went on to say even though you were not awarded the prize but women always seem to find a way. No, sorry. We should not be having to find the way. We deserve it as much as men do. Yes, and the perception that a film by a woman with a woman protagonist does not resonate with the audience. They do have an audience.
DBW: Yes. As with the themes explored in your film these are deeply ingrained biases. There’s a big leap in consciousness needed.
MG-M: Women want to see themselves reflected on the screen.
DBW: Yes. And men are being deprived as well. They may not realize it, but they are.
MG-M: Yes, everyone loses out when the diversity of the world is not reflected in cinema. There is. Representation does matter. People have to become more conscious of their internal biases, but at the same time popular culture helps to shape these unconscious biases.
DBW: I want to see the world in all its variety expressed through film.
MG-M: Yes, they are. Unfortunately not all realize that they are being deprived as well. I long for the day when a film directed by a woman is not an exception. Also when films with strong female leads are also not an exception.
DBW: Soon. We’re going to dream that new world into being very soon.
MG-M: Hopefully. Meanwhile we need to keep working on making more films by and about women.
DBW: Thanks for making your films. Keep going. I greatly appreciate your taking time to chat with me, Marisol. It’s a gift. Congratulations on the premiere of Angélica. Is there anything else you want to share before we wrap up?
MG-M: I would like to add that sometime it is so very frustrating talking to other female filmmakers and realizing that we share very similar difficulties. I long for the day where this isn’t true. I hope we can make it a bit easier for the next generation.
DBW: Do you have any insights that could help us shift the dynamics?
MG-M: I think first of all people have to realize we are not playing on an equal footing. There are a lot of intrinsic biases that people have to check for example that women can’t be leaders or be talented. We deserve to be at the dinner table as well. We don’t want hand outs but we do want an even playing field.
MG-M: I think many have to become more aware of this.
DBW: I’m holding a vision that the global film community cultivates new ways of seeing, embracing and supporting work by women. I should let you go. You’ve been so generous with your time. Thank you so much.
MG-M: You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity! I just hope one day I don’t have to talk about the state of women in film and I can just talk about my project.
DBW: I know. Mostly I don’t talk about the state of women in film in my conversations, but this time we did.
MG-M: I know. It came up.
DBW: I like to focus on the work itself, but there’s no denying the challenges are there. We must have needed to talk about it. Thanks.