"Plaza de la Soledad" will premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 24.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
MG: "Plaza de la Soledad" is a documentary about Carmen, Lety, Raquel and Esther, four strong women — middle-aged and older — who want to break a vicious circle that began with abuse and abandonment suffered from an early age. They simply want to have a better life. The film follows their quest to find true love and their capacity to transform themselves.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MG: I have been exploring [Mexico City’s] La Merced, [a public market famous for prostitution,] on and off for the last 23 years. The prostitutes and their world have been the main subjects of my photographs. I have also had the opportunity to meet men and women working in the sex trade in my travels to Mexico’s northern and southern borders.
Of all the subjects I have photographed, the most controversial and the one that has moved me the most has to be the prostitutes who are getting on in years. They are true survivors. Carmen, the prostitute to whom I have dedicated two of my books, turned 68 this year. In January of 2012, I met up with her again and asked her to embark on this documentary project. She agreed, together with her closest friends and companions — two older than her and one younger — [as well as] her then-husband, Carlos, who invited himself into the project because he wanted his version of their love story included.
I was very curious about the particular stage of life that these women were going through. Carmen, Lety, Raquel and Esther were waking up to the fact that they are getting old. I had an urgent need to join them as they came to terms with the loss of their youth and accompany them as they cast off the painful shackles of the past and set out to build new lives for themselves.
Throughout the shoot, all of them came up with a lot of ideas that they wanted to share in the film. They changed my plans continuously and seemed very happy playing themselves. Many of the scenes in the film are the result of this ludic scheme in which we’ve built our relationship.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MG: My biggest challenge was moving from photography to film without losing my way of working — which is very intimate — and learning to collaborate with more people, since photography for me is a very solitary process.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
MG: My intention has been to encourage viewers to face their prejudices about prostitution, sex and aging while reflecting on the complex and varied forms that love and loneliness can take. These women have taught me so much about bravery and hope. We have discussed what it means to feel beautiful, to feel desired and loved, and it turns out my perception of life and love is not that different from theirs. I hope we have achieved in making this film not about them, but with them. I’d like the audience to feel closer to them.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
MG: Find producers and collaborators that understand and respect your vision and work.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
MG: The fact that I respect these women does not mean that I am in any way glorifying or simplifying prostitution. The reality of prostitutes around the world is so complex. I’ve tried to focus on the humanity and common ground that I have discovered in my relationship with them.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MG: My producers [Martha Sosa, Eamon O’Farrill, and Monica Lozano] are very experienced, and they have found different funds and supporters for the film. We were very lucky to have the Tribeca Film Institute Latin America Grant and the JustFilms grant from the Ford Foundation. The project was very ambitious, and it took three years to shoot. They also got the Tax Incentive Fund for Film Production and the commitment of a big company lie TicketMaster Mexico.
This was a long shot for a documentary from a first-time director, and I could not have done it without the vision of my producers. The film was also pitched and supported by the Guanajuato Film Festival, DocsDF [Festival Internacional De Cine Documental De La Ciudad De México], the Los Cabos Film Festival and the Morelia Film Festival, where it won grants and awards before it was finished.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MG: The films of Agnes Varda, because of her sense of humor and the intimate, personal way she tells her stories. She is brave in taking creative risks, and her curiosity in others is so contagious. This brings me closer to the subjects in her films.