GUADALAJARA — Rapidly consolidating its status as the go-to sales agent for usually more open Latin American art films, Madrid-based Latido Films has acquired international sales rights to “Miriam Miente” (“Miriam Lies”), one of the latest additions to the Dominican Republic’s growing cannon of festival-worthy arthouse dramas.
“Miriam Miente” competed over the weekend at the Guadalajara Construye pix-in-post showcase where it took two prizes Sunday night. Produced by the Dominican Republic’s Faula Films and Barcelona’s Mallerich Films, headed by seasoned producer Paco Poch, “Miriam Lies” already received an upbeat reception at Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte films-in-rough-cut showcase in December.
Kicking off with Miriam and her best friend singing to a teen pop song while sucking lollipops, “Miriam Lies” is a classic coming-of-age drama of near neo-realist simplicity as just two events drives the narrative: One is the family of 14-year-old Miriam preparing for her quinceañera birthday party – as much a declaration of social status as a real celebration and which her separated and cash-strapped mother, despite keeping up appearances, can’t really afford.
But events are thrown a curveball when Miriam, herself fruit of mixed marriage, discovers that her internet boyfriend Jean-Louis, the quinceanera’s supposed star attraction, is Dominican, and black, and not the blue-eyed son of the French Cultural Attaché, as her mother fondly imagines. She can’t bring herself to tell her family.
Building into a sweetly acerbic put-down of a racist, classist, hypocritical Dominican petit-bourgeoisie – which can accept its mixed racial heritage in music but not in social relations and where, if Miriam lies, near everybody else dissembles as well – Miriam’s quinceañera indeed marks a watershed for the young girl. But it is a far more bitter-sweet occasion than Miriam would have imagined. Variety spoke to Natalia Cabral, co-director with Catalonia’s Oriol Estrada, of their first fiction feature film.
Can you talk a bit about the growth of arthouse cinema in the Dominican Republic?
I think it’s thanks to the 2011 film tax incentives. That has helped us make our films. Filmmakers in the ’80s would have to sell their houses just to make a film. We had like one Dominican film in like seven years, then another in ten years. Now, every year we have two or three arthouse films. It’s been really good for us.
What are some things that influence you and the way you film class and racial differences in the Dominican Republic?
We (Oriol and Cabral) made two documentaries earlier that talked about class and race. We really like Ulrich Seidl, and the Dominican Republic is a lot like his film “Safari.” The whites are the minority, but have all the power, and the blacks have very little and have to wear uniforms. It’s very visual. For people that visit there it’s alarming, but for us it’s just everyday life.
Miriam is black, but accepted by those around her, while other black characters from lower social classes are looked down on. Can you talk about that dynamic?
I think when you are middle class you are more accepted. If you are mixed like Miriam, in the Dominican Republic it’s all about fixing the race. It’s something people say to one another. People will say to mixed couples, “Congratulations! You are fixing the race.” If they are pregnant people will tell them they hope the baby looks like the white partner. Those are very common things to hear.
Is there part of you in Miriam?
I had a similar situation when I was a kid. I met a boy online and I was expecting him to be white. Then when we were supposed too meet and I saw he was black I ran away. For me, as a kid, it was a big shot because I thought I was the cool, open minded person from my family, and I realized I was just like them, or could be.
Your co-director couldn’t be here, but can you talk a bit about what Oriol brought to the production?
Oriol’s point of view helped the project achieve a wider perspective. He has great sensitivity and curiosity for Dominican Republic. We wrote the script together, maybe my youth was the starting point, but as we were writing and producing, the film became a co-direction in a very natural way.
So the film is not autobiographical, but it is personal. Is it important to you to make personal films?
When I was in Cuba writing an essay for a documentary I wanted to make that looked at the relationship of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I had a teacher who asked me why I wanted to talk about that, what it had to do with me. He told me to write something personal, and I remember that. That’s when I understood if I wanted to talk about Haiti or the Dominican Republic I had to talk about our own problems. If we can’t accept ourselves, we can’t accept the other.