Editor’s Note: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
Co-directors: Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza
Synopsis: In co-directors and writers Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza’s Tribeca Discovery section film, “Entre Nos,” adoring mother Mariana (played by Mendoza) has toted her two children from Colombia to New York to indulge her husband’s whim. But when he abruptly abandons the family, she’ll have to rely on her own imagination and courage–and that of her remarkable kids (breakthroughs Sebastian Villada and Laura Montana)–to survive insurmountable odds during their first summer in the United States. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Please introduce yourself…
GLM: My name is Gloria La Morte. I was born in Colombia and came to the states when I was 7 years old. I was raised in Hackensack, New Jersey which really shaped my outlook on life, and being so close to New York City inspired me to dream big. I come from a large family with five other siblings and two of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, my parents, Oscar and Amparo Herrera, who raised us on a laymen’s salary. Their goal in coming to the states was to give their family the best opportunity possible and their success has been my biggest inspiration in life. I now live in Union City, NJ with my husband Joseph and our three year-old son Emile.
PM: My name is Paola Mendoza but through out my life I have been given MANY nicknames…doza, chango, p, pao, p-murder and p-boogie. I love them all equally.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
GLM: My husband! In 1996, when he was just “a friend”, he put me on a plane to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. I found myself in meeting after meeting but not on stage or a film set. So I decided to write while I waited for that perfect acting role. When I left to LA I had an idea for a short film, Details, about a woman who wanted to kill herself, but before she died, she was determined to take care of all the details in her life. Months later I had a script and with the help of some very talented people, the film was directed by Eric Daniel, produced by Van Hayden and executive produced by “my friend” Joseph. Details was bought by HBO and started Joseph and me on our filmmaking paths.
PM: I never thought I would make films, my love and my passion was always the theater. I started off as an actress in the theater and it was in the theater that I felt at home but it wasn’t until I started making movies that I found my voice as an artist. I started making movies by chance I was very lucky to be one of the creators and lead actresses in a film called On the Outs. While I never went to film school, I learned everything I know about film from On the Outs, I always say On the Outs was my film school.
What prompted the idea for “Entre Nos” and what excited you to undertake it?
GLM: Paola Mendoza and I were at the premiere of her feature documentary Autumn’s Eyes, which I co-edited. She approached me about collaborating on a screenplay inspired by her mother’s story when she first came to the United States. The answer could only be YES! Our collaboration on the doc proved to be a great creative partnership and co-writing a feature film would be a great new challenge. Not to mention the subject matter of a family starting out against great odds thrilled me because it would allow me to be part of a voice that is dear to my heart and I knew I could contribute from personal experience.
PM: “Entre Nos” is inspired by a true story, my mother’s story. I grew up hearing about how we first arrived in this country, the trails and tribulations, the tears, the laughter and I was always fascinated by her story. My mother is the most amazing woman I have ever known, always has been, always will be. One morning I was listening to the radio and Tupac’s song Dear Mama came on, this had always been one of my favorite songs but that morning it clicked for me in a different way. I thought how beautiful it was that Tupac was able to give his mother such a beautiful and timeless gift. And then the idea came to me, make a movie for my mother, that would be my gift to her. That’s how the idea came to me and that is what kept me focused on making the film. The film is still a gift and celebration of my mother but it has also grown to be something bigger, something more universal it is now a story for everyone to be inspired by.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film…
GLM: The opportunity that presented itself to me when I was approached to co-write this film was so big that I knew I would have to be prepared to tread on new territory. This film marked my first experience as a co-director and feature narrative editor. My background was in documentary editing. I had to be open and willing to learn on the job. Going into production I remember looking around me and seeing our amazing cast and crew and knew this would be a success. I could not afford to be afraid. There was a lot of talent and heart behind the making of the film.
PM: “Entre Nos” was a complete collaboration. As co-writers and co-directors Gloria and I encouraged our set to be a place where people’s voices were heard, respected and always taken into account. We worked very closely with our amazing DP Bradford Young, our producers Michael Skolnik and Joseph La Morte were instrumental to the creative process and of course our child actors Sebastian Villada Lopez and Laura Montana Cortez are what made the film a great success. We shot the film in 18 days which under “normal” circumstances would seem unimaginable but having two children as the leads of the film made it almost impossible. Yet we did it and we did it well! We accomplished the impossible because our team was incredible; from the actors to the PA’s we made magic happen everyday.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
GLM: Early in the writing process, we knew we would have to possibly wear several hats in order to see the film to completion. We were not sure what those roles would be, but coming from an independent background we were open to going beyond being the co-writers. The script allowed us to meet a good deal of industry professionals as it participated in the IFP Film Market and Tribeca All Access program. Through awards and access to free equipment provided by the respective film programs, we were able to keep moving forward with the project. Then Indiepix Studios partnered with us going into production, making it possible for the film to be shot and completed.
PM: Finding our child actors was a huge task! First we brought on Orpheus Group Casting (Maria Full of Grace, Girlfight, Real Women have Curves) and then we hit the streets of Jackson Heights to find our kids. We auditioned over 300 boys for the role of Gabriel but it wasn’t until we went to the Colombian day parade where 15,000 Colombian’s come to Queens and celebrate Colombia’s independence that we found our Gabriel sitting in the park listening to Colombian music. As for the role of Andrea we auditioned 200 little girls and fell in love with Laura Montana Cortez as soon as she walked in the door. The movie Gods where truly looking out for us!
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
GLM: For me being a successful filmmaker is being able to share your work with an audience, a public that is moved by what you had to say. To create a dialogue from your subject matter and characters. A personal goal as a filmmaker is to continue to write material that is relevant to people. And an independent filmmaker, to continue to fine tune those area of filmmaking that are new, even if it’s by way of bumps and bruises.
PM: Success as a filmmaker is when I have a dishwasher in my apartment in Brooklyn! My personal goals are simple…tell more stories…make more movies…have people see them!
What are your future projects?
GLM: I am currently writing another feature script “Fathers and Sons”… and those who get caught in the crossfire. I am intrigued by the father and son relationship and how it has the potential to set a path in a man’s life, for better or worse, if he is not aware of it. My approach will be to dig out every bit of humor from this, a most HEAVY subject matter.
PM: My next film will be a love story…that’s all I know at the moment.