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LAFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Kaitlin McLaughlin – ‘Pocha (Manifest Destiny)’

LAFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Kaitlin McLaughlin - 'Pocha (Manifest Destiny)'

Kaitlin McLaughlin is an award-winning writer/director. Her debut feature, “Pocha (Manifest Destiny),” will premiere at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival. She wrote and co-directed the indie thriller, which was awarded post-production grants. McLaughlin is currently in pre-production to direct her screenplay “The Murphys,” which received the 2011 Showtime Tony Cox Award for Best Screenplay from the Nantucket Film Festival and was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. She has also participated in the Screenwriters Colony Writers-in-Residence Program and Film Independent’s Screenwriters Lab. (Press materials) 

“Pocha (Manifest
Destiny),” which was co-directed by Michael Dwyer, premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 14. 

W&H: Please give us your description of
the film playing.

KM: When she’s arrested by the FBI for
credit card fraud, Claudia is quickly deported to México. Speaking no Spanish
and lost in her foreign “homeland,” she reluctantly takes refuge at her
estranged father’s cattle ranch. Claudia must choose between
reconciling with her estranged father or partnering with a dangerous smuggler
in the hopes of returning to the US.

“Pocha (Manifest Destiny)” explores the
dangerous and often unseen spaces inhabited by at-risk populations through the
harrowing story of Claudia Samaniega, a young woman suspended between two
cultures. Straddling the line between Western and thriller, the film
balances the themes and structure of two distinct genres. The shift
between storytelling styles creates a narrative friction that throws the
audience off-kilter and mirrors the disorienting experience of Claudia’s
life. Both Claudia and the viewer must constantly adapt to the uncertainty
that comes with being tugged in different directions.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

KM: When I learned my creative partner,
Michael Dwyer, had been developing a project inspired by his experience
speaking with deportees, I immediately envisioned a film from a young woman’s
perspective. I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a strong, adaptable
young woman, one who is determined not to be a victim. Claudia, our main
character, doesn’t easily fit into any categories. When we meet her she is trapped
between two worlds, the United States and Mexico. She exists in-between,
but refuses to be relegated to the periphery.

In a world that offers no place
for her, Claudia carves her own path, sometimes by any means necessary. Selfish and entitled, she’s been raised at a time when American greed and
materialism has reached epic heights. Claudia is not without her flaws,
but she’s forced to interrogate her values and question her motivations. Hers is a journey to discover her own power, to create her own space and to
transcend the boundaries and limitations born unto her.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in
making the film? 

KM: The
demands of the locations, actors’ availability and the story required that we
shoot a high number of reverse splits. Shooting from 10pm to 10am or 2am
to 2pm took a physical and emotional toll on everyone.

W&H: What do you want people to think
about when they are leaving the theatre? 

KM: “Pocha” showcases the
disastrous consequences of making choices motivated by greed. I hope
the audience will question what it means to be American in 2015 and reflect on
the darker side of the American Dream. 

W&H: What advice do you have for other
female directors?

KM: My advice would be to work as much as
you can, in whatever format is available to you. The statistics on women
working in film are demoralizing, but I know so many amazing and talented women
working in this business. I think we are at the start of a seismic
shift. As a writer/director, I believe the best way forward is to stay
motivated and to keep making great content. If you keep busy, you won’t
have time to be bogged down by the chorus of “no’s.” 

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception
about you and your work? 

KM: Prior to working on this film, I was
known mostly as a comedy writer. I think people were surprised to hear I
would be working on a Western/thriller. I have always admired writers and
directors who experiment with other genres, and I hope to continue to do so in
my work. 

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some
insights into how you got the film made.

KM: Our film was self-financed. It was made possible by the tremendous output of
energy from a very small but dedicated group of people. Our cast and crew
worked incredibly hard because they believed in the story. Together, we set out
to make an ambitious, arresting and provocative film. We never set limits on
what we could achieve; instead, we supported and pushed each other to aim higher
and work harder. Our motto on set, coined by our Associate Producer Jose
Garcia, was, “Todo es posible,” which means “everything is possible” in English. We are
incredibly grateful to our phenomenal cast and crew for shooting 56 days, albeit mostly nights. We thank them for hanging in there during all those
reverse splits and for all the long nights on the mesa. Our hope is that
all the grit, sweat and (mostly fake) blood has been worth it.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed
film and why.

KM: It’s so hard to choose just one woman-directed film. We have such a false perception of scarcity when it comes to
female filmmakers. There are so many female filmmakers I admire, both working
now and in the past, [such as] Lynne Ramsay, Nora Ephron, Karyn Kusama, Kimberly Pierce,
Ava Duvernay, Dorothy Arzner, Elaine May, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Penny
Marshall, Susanne Bier, Lone Scherfig, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Lucrecia
Martel, Nicole Holofcener, Agnès Varda, Jane Campion. 

“Monsoon Wedding,” directed by Mira
Nair and written by Sabrina Dhawan, has always been a favorite of mine. Coming
from a large Irish-Catholic family, I’m always drawn to films that explore the
complicated relationships between family members. “Monsoon Wedding” captures family life at its best and worst. I’ve long
been inspired to make a film like it, and in 2016, I will direct “The
Murphys,” a family comedy about an Irish expatriate who reunites with her
hilariously dysfunctional family. 

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