“Write what you know” is the axiom most first time storytellers follow. But English-born writer/director Lucy Mulloy, who studied at NYU under film studies professor Spike Lee, decided to take on the opposite approach for her feature debut, “Una Noche.” “I wasn’t thinking about it being my feature debut or anything grandiose,” Mulloy said about the Cuban-set movie she started as a thesis short and then expanded into a feature.
Starring Dariel Arrechaga, Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, the magnetic drama tells the story of three teenagers who dream of escaping Havana for a better life in the U.S. and then are forced to do so when one is accused of assault. And the film was certainly well received. It cleaned up at Tribeca Film Festival in 2012 taking home Best Actor, Cinematography, and New Director honors in the Narrative competition, and the notices haven’t been short on praise. “It’s safe to say that Lucy Mulloy was born to make films,” Juan Caceres said writing for IndieWire’s SydneysBuzz. In our A-grade review we called the movie, ” Alive and vibrant…there’s a youthful energy running through ‘Una Noche’ that threatens to overwhelm, from its sun-kissed first image to its final moments on the sands of the beach.”
The genesis for the movie began when Mulloy visited Cuba and then soon became fascinated with the country’s culture. Spending several years there, at first she didn’t fully understand the complexities of the political situation and why people would want to leave such a beautiful place that seemed to function. “I’m terrified of the ocean, so I couldn’t really understand why people would make that trip,” she said. “I was really interested what people’s motivations were to do that and why so many people would make that choice.” In a telling life imitates art moment, the actors Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre disappeared from Cuba during the film’s U.S. debut in Tribeca only to resurface a few days later declaring that they were seeking political asylum from Cuba — a decision that is not unique to the island’s history.
“The more I stayed, the more I began to empathize with the people,” she continued. “The more I realized how complicated Cuban society was and the more confusing it was. I wanted to explore that within a movie.” The seeds of her movie was planted when she met a young boy who told her a story about two boys and a girl who took a raft to the U.S. During the voyage, the young female got her period, sharks arrived and the two boys eventually threw her overboard to save their own skin. Rather than something so tragic and harrowing, Mulloy wanted to tell a more hopeful story, but the boy’s unforgettable tale did give her an impetus to get started.
“It left me with this very intense story that I could really begin what had happened to lead them to this point. What they must have felt like in that situation, how they got there and what made them believe they could succeed.” Mentored by Spike Lee, she won her teacher’s Production Grant Award in 2010 which made “Una Noche” possible. Lee also generously gave her plenty of script and editing notes along the way (he’s also “presenting” the film when it opens in theaters). “He gave me some really beautiful advice. He was very very helpful,” she said.
So what took “Una Noche,” which debuted in Tribeca of the spring of 2012 so long to hit theaters? A confluence of obligations, scheduling and newfound opportunities in her Tribeca award money. Mulloy spent several months hitting various film festivals after Tribeca which kept her busy and gave her time to tinker with a few elements she felt weren’t up to snuff. “As a filmmaker you’re always thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I could fix this or that’ and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so.”
“It’s slightly different from what people saw at Tribeca, but it’s the film I wanted to make,” Mulloy said, noting that enhanced and proper color correction was a prime goal because a lot of the movie was shot on short ends from different film stocks and it completely improved the film’s final harrowing sequence.
With the movie now finished up and ready for the public, Mulloy is working on a new script about a man who travels from Rio De Janeiro to New York in a personal journey of self-discovery drama tentatively titled “Rio Tastes Like Chinatown.” No word on when we’ll see that one, but “Una Noche” finally arrives in limited New York/Miami release and on VOD/iTunes this Friday, August 23rd. Below is an exclusive clip from the film that you should definitely track down when it comes near you.