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Behind the Lens of Señoritas: An Interview with Lina Rodriguez

Senoritas 01

By Tom Ue.

Lina Rodriguez studied Film and Video Production at York University (Toronto, Canada). She has written, directed and produced 5 experimental short films, Cycle (16mm), which premiered at the International Festival of Cinema and Technology 2005 in New York, USA; Convergences et rencontres (Digital), which premiered at Optica Festival 2008 in Gijón, Spain; Pont du Carrousel (Super 8mm), which premiered at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Bogotá, Colombia; Einschnitte (35mm), which premiered at Images Festival 2011 in Toronto; and Protocol (35mm), which premiered at Views From the Avant-Garde at the New York Film Festival 2011.

Lina has also created and produced 9 film and video installations and performances including Isolated Voices, Off Focus, Intermittent, HOT SPOT, Cosmetics, Pasando, accessories, N.N and Yellow Blue Red which have been shown in galleries and festivals, such as Lennox Contemporary Gallery; Hot Shot Gallery; FLY Gallery; HYSTERIA: A festival of women 2005; Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2007; 1st International Performance Meeting on the Internet 2008; the 1st Performance Art Festival in Bogotá, and aluCine Toronto Latin Film & Media Arts Festival 2009.

In 2013, Lina directed and co-edited her debut feature film, Señoritas.

Congratulations on Señoritas! Having known and worked with you on many projects over the past seven or eight years, it’s great to see this creative side of you. You studied film at York University. Tell us about your experiences with the Toronto film scene.

Senoritas HeadshotYes, I indeed studied film production at York University. I was born and raised in Bogotá and moved to Canada in 2000 to go to film school. Given that the first film I ever made at university was on Super 8mm and that I learnt how to edit and synch sound on a flatbed, I feel that this very tactile quality of film has been part of my interest in cinema since the beginning. I’m interested in the parts that make the illusion of this whole.

Once I graduated, I didn’t have easy access to equipment, so I started working on performance art and installation with a friend of mine, which was a great experience as it made me put myself and my body in situations where I had to perform live in front of other people. As a result, I became very interested in how our emotional lives occupy a space on the surface of our bodies, the impact that these bodies have in space and time, and the presence and power of an action, its consequences, both inside and outside the frame.

Around this time, my partner Brad Deane gave me a great gift, a Super 8mm camera for one of my birthdays. I started using this camera as a tool to document my trips and I started making experimental short films in a very artisanal and personal manner. I was mainly interested in exploring formal aspects of the image, to use texture, light and shadow to create atmosphere, and editing to create rhythm and tone. Working on Super 8mm on my own over the years has given me a beautiful freedom that has allowed me to keep making films without pressure, at my pace, and with my own hands, and to focus on the elements of cinema and how one can put them together. Señoritas is a continuation of these artistic and philosophical concerns both with form and content, within the context of a feature film with actors and non-actors.

This is your first feature, which you wrote and directed. What inspired Señoritas?

Señoritas stems from my experience of growing up as a woman in Bogotá and Toronto, but also, from my interest in searching for a different way to represent the experience of being and moving as a woman in Bogotá, given that most of the references I grew up with were from soap operas and beauty pageants. I wanted to see how young women today are negotiating the expectations they have of themselves with those that the people around them and the places they inhabit put on them.

I’m interested in observing how our postures (how we move, how we behave, how we inhabit spaces) are shaped by how we are seen and perceived by others. With Señoritas, I was particularly interested in creating a contrast between the tension and relationship that exists in Alejandra’s public life (her life in front of others, with others, for others) and her private life to get a sense of who she is at this moment of her life and how she is moving in the world.

Tell us about your research.

Senoritas 02Since the beginning of the process of making this film, it was very clear to me that I wanted to be open to the stories and experiences that I was going to encounter along the way.

I started working on the film back in 2009. My initial research in Bogotá consisted of interviews with a wide variety of young women including models, single mothers and university students. I wanted to get a sense of what young women from different backgrounds in the city were going through. I then used this material, in combination with my own experiences, during the writing process to develop the story. Then in the Summer of 2011, I did auditions with actors and non-actors in Bogotá and besides finding the cast that was to be part of the film, I also used this opportunity to feel a little of what the temperature is to be young and move in Bogotá today. It was during this process that I also decided to offer the role of the mother to my mother after seeing her on-camera, as she and my father helped me with some of the exercises during the auditions.

I very specifically design the audition process so it serves me as a research tool both for the film and for my relationship with the actors.  I take it as an opportunity to re-frame the film, to look at the possibilities of what people (be it actors or non-actors), who occupy a space in a specific time, can bring to what I have written. It is thanks to this work methodology that the film was able to draw from the energy that the present and presence brings in a very natural and organic way. What moves me to make films is that process of discovery and the hope that the actions and relationships that you write on paper will acquire a new life and a new sense of mystery once they are inhabited by people with flesh and blood.

Tell us about the casting and shooting on a comparatively modest budget.

The film was made independently and in a very artisanal way. We tried to get funding for a few years, but as my approach and trajectory at that time came mainly from working on experimental films, we (my producer Brad Deane, and I) decided to go ahead and make it on our own terms and with some personal money as I was starting to feel that the ideas were getting a bit bruised during that process of trying to convince funders. Luckily we ended up getting a production grant from the Ontario Arts Council, which is a wonderful platform in Canada that supports artistic vision. It was the perfect fit for Señoritas and it helped us get through production.

As it was a very small project, my family was very close: my father was Production Manager; my mom, helped with the coordination of the food besides playing the role of the mother; my brother, who came from Australia to spend the holidays in Colombia, was sound assistant; my uncle helped with transportation; and several cousins helped as extras and production assistants. Brad, my partner, helped me produce it and we also edited it together. The support and trust of this tightly-knit cast and crew was key for me to be able to create a very intimate energy in front and behind the camera. In a way I was fortunate to have made my first feature this way, as I feel it allowed me to take risks and it multiplied my strength to continue searching in my own way and at my own rhythm.

The script is minimalist at times, and yet the camera and the actors’ behaviors speak volumes. How did you find this balance between silence and speech?

Senoritas 03Yes, there’s an intentional juxtaposition of speech and silence and it comes from my interest to create a contrast between the tension and relationship that exists in Alejandra’s public life (her life in front of others, with others, for others) and her private life. I worked with Roberta Ainstein, who did the Sound Design, to build a dynamic web of rhythms and contrasts that invite the audience to find their way around on their own and force them to think about the relationship between sound and image. I wanted to create an atmosphere that would serve as a bridge so they can access emotions and ideas in a different way and participate more actively in how meaning is revealed, not only through what is said and seen, but also by engaging their attention with those off screen voices and sounds.

In terms of how the dialogue came about, it was my priority through the whole process to create an intimate and comfortable atmosphere so the actors could express themselves in the way that they wanted and needed to in each moment. I decided not to share the treatment with them and instead just shared a very basic synopsis as I wanted their attention to focus on building relationships with each other before they were to be on camera together. I gave them strategic exercises to get to know each other and I used some of the information and common experience they built to nurture the scenes I had written. This way they inhabited each scene with their own words, but always within the framework of action that I had written. I’m not as interested in performance as the result of a fantasy (my fantasy)  or as a state of “what if”. To perform, to be, to occupy a space in a specific time is unavoidably connected to the turbulence of emotions and experiences that happen in the present (even if these are in turn connected to the past and sometimes to the future).

Is there something that we might have missed in an initial viewing?

Each viewing experience is unique and it all depends on the person, where the film is seen and how. Señoritas invites the audience to engage actively and does not provide an easy guideline on “how to feel” or what to think about the characters, I feel that it allows for the audience to build their own relationship with what’s happening on screen.

I love the sequence where we follow Alejandra as she walked at night for eight minutes. The whistling and her speeding up her walk are experiences with which we can relate. Tell us about shooting that sequence.

We shot about 8-9 takes of this scene one evening in Bogota. It’s a park that is very close to my parents place and like in most big cities, it’s not common for a woman to decide to cross it at night alone. The scene’s image and sound design are carefully put together so it becomes an immersive experience for the audience. It’s less about the practicality of walking, in the sense that it is not a scene that is there to illustrate that the protagonist goes from point A to point B, but more about inviting the audience in an atmospheric journey that has a very specific rhythm as it progresses. I also knew when we were shooting that it was important for the crescendo that is created, to be uninterrupted so the energy could build. I used duration as a tool to push the possibility of the construction of meaning beyond what some call the “juice of a scene”, which is the moment when a scene reveals to us it’s practical purpose, so it can die and we move on. I’m interested in the aftermath of that “purpose”, in the time that it takes us to get there, and the time it takes to get passed that point, and for this specific scene I wanted to explore what it feels like to walk alone in a park as a young woman and play with the expectations that this kind of situation creates both in the character and the audience.

What do you hope that viewers will take away from this film?

Hopefully the film will invite them to open up their definition of what cinema is and how it can suggest ideas and emotions in a variety of ways so they can participate in a more active way in the construction of meaning when they decide to face a screen.

What are you working on now?

I’m in pre-production of my second feature film, This Time Tomorrow, which we’ll shoot in January 2015 in Bogotá. We will work within an independent production model similar to the one we used for Señoritas which has allowed me to surround myself with close people who I trust and who are willing to continue taking risks with me.

Tom Ue writes for Film International. His edited collection World Film Locations: Toronto was published by Intellect in April 2014, and he is presently writing a book about the White Messiah in contemporary films and editing the Dictionary of Literary Biography 377: Twenty-First Century British Novelists. Ue is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellow and Canadian Centennial Scholar in the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London.

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