LatinoBuzz got to hang with actress/producer Celinés Toribio at the Guadalajara Film Festival in Mexico and we spoke to her about her first feature
film as a producer, “María Montez,” which is about the life and story of a young precocious girl from Barahona, D.R named María África
Gracia Vidal, who later became known as Maria Montez. “Maria Montez” is the first depiction and tribute to the first Dominican actress to ever
grace Hollywood’s silver screen and whose shine dimmed too soon.
Celines is now shooting “El Rey de la Habana” in the Dominican Republic, her third film in two years under her company Esencia Films.
LatinoBuzz: Why was it important for you to tell the story of María Montez?
Because she is a woman from my country and is a courageous Latina like myself. She was also an immigrant to the United States, I cling to role models like her. María Montez risked it all to dare to dream big. She was very persistent when it came to achieving her dreams, she motivated me a lot. Those are the
type of women I hope to follow.
LatinoBuzz: Do you see you yourself in María?
A lot, she was an actress and was criticized for being a bad actress, like me [Laughs}. But she ignored the criticism and continued with her dreams. There
are times when you don’t like something and you want to improve it. As you try to improve it gets harder to be criticized, and then you decide to
turn a deaf ear. Maria Montez became a good actress, her best film was a French film and it wasn’t from within the Hollywood industry. In Hollywood she was
more used as a sex symbol in all these escapist films during the second world war. So then, what does Celinés Toribio have of Maria Montez? The courage and
the power to ignore criticism.
LatinoBuzz: How difficult was it to obtain financing for a film in the Dominican Republic?
It was very difficult, very difficult, because I come from the world of television and in the film industry who would believe in a TV presenter? As
extremely difficult as it was, I had to then prove to the world and to my own country – who believed I had a good criterion – that my purpose was to make
good films whether they succeeded or failed, that I wanted the best, always seeking perfection. And I will continue trying. It was also really
difficult trying to do it in an industry full of men, especially in my country, which is also a country full of ”machos.” I’m new, I’m from television,
a woman, not rich and without a last name from a wealthy family. Very difficult.
LatinBuzz: But the film was made…
We achieved it! (Sighs) There are so many people to whom I’ll be grateful for my whole life, there were all my sponsors: Orange Cinema, El Ministerio de Cultura, Universal de Seguros, the tourism department, La Sirena – they’re big companies in my country. All these huge
companies that believed in Celinés Toribio. When I went with a Power Point presentation under my arm, by myself, to sit down in an office, and when the movie
was only in my mind – these people believed in me.
LatinoBuzz: Is there any other historical figure from the Dominican Republic you think deserves a biopic?
Yes! All the men and women who built our country, who have created the history of our country. Our Dominican founding fathers Duarte, Sánchez and Mella. Casandra Damirón, a great dancer and singer whom was also very stereotyped in her time. Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, a former president the same as Trujillo. Our beloved Porfirio Rubirosa who was an iconic figure representing what it really means to be a man. Since he was so clever he could put the most important women in the world in his pocket. We have a rich history, good and bad. Stories and
movies are not to pass judgment on a human being or portray only what was positive in history. They are meant to include everyone and everything, good or bad.
LatinoBuzz: How did you choose your cast and crew?
It was not a decision made by myself, it was also made with the director Vicente Peñarrocha and the producer Teresa Fernández Cuesta, who recommended Ginés García Millán – a great actor from Spain who was in the “Isabel” TV series and many other films and plays. Then the director recommended Ben Temple, an
actor who had previously worked with Vicente. I think he is the best actor of the film. (Laughs)
LatinoBuzz: What were the challenges during the actual shoot?
19 days to shoot a film, 18 hours a day – any challenges? One main challenge was that our camera wasn’t a typical film camera. Anyone who sees the film says the photography is
very nice, it was a c300 camera. Today the best cameras are the Red One’s, the Alexa’s, but we didn’t have the budget for that. We did
have a steadicam, which was constantly breaking. We had to fix it constantly. There were even scenes in which the steadicam was supposed to stay smooth but
because it was broken it was shaky, not because of the operator but because of the equipment. We faced many challenges including mosquitoes and heat.
We went to a desert since we have some dunes in the Dominican Republic and everyone was preparing to shoot in the desert. They said “Drink plenty of water!” “Stay hydrated!” “Bring a Nurse!” ”We must have an ambulance on stand by!” So, everyone was preparing for this sandstorm
that was supposed to come, and in the end nothing happened, it was the best day! (Laughs)
LatinoBuzz: What is the current state of the Dominican Republic’s film industry?
It is in a Renaissance, this is the rebirth of Dominican film. Why? Because we have more education in film, we have more companies prepared to
shoot 3 or 4 films simultaneously and tax incentives. With that we already have the new age of Dominican cinema. “María Montez” is part
of that new era.
LatinoBuzz: What projects are coming up next for you?
We just shot a children’s film, today independent films in Latin America do not express much interest in films for children. We finished one called “Los Fabulosos Ma’ Mejores,” about a Dominican kid who is really bad at baseball but when he goes to a Dominican Little League Baseball Tournament wins
the championship. So that’s the next project and then “Maria Montez’s” director Vicente Peñarrocha and I are working on a romantic comedy. In the
Dominican Republic the most successful genre is comedy, but in Esencia Films we are committed to all genres including dramas and romantic comedies. So let’s see how this goes for us. We are also working on the story of Porfirio Rubirosa and I have several projects I’m
developing at the same time.
LatinoBuzz: Celines Toribio in 10 years?
I see myself as a “Dominican Salma Hayek,” who has her production house, who negotiates with ABC, with CBS, who secures good collaborations with TV netowoks and Major North American production houses or from Spain, Colombia. I see myself that way.
You can watch clips, pics and all the cast and crew info here:
Renee Ylizaliturri is an independent film and television producer from Mexico and is member of the Asociacion Mexicana de Cineastas Independientes.
Part of her work is producing political campaigns as a media strategist and consultant. @Renylizaliturri
LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of
presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow[AT]LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook