In documentary “LA QueenCiañera,” filmmaker Pedro Peira follows Mexican-American transgender activist Bamby Salcedo as she prepares a 50th birthday celebration in Los Angeles attended by the people who helped her survive. The film premiered at OutFest Los Angeles in August, and plays this week at the Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival. A theatrical release will take place in Spain on Nov. 12.
Salcedo grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico in poverty. Things became chaotic when her father moved to the U.S. Her mother abused her psychologically, and her step-father sexually. She went to look for her father, but he had started a new life.
Turning 50, transgender, HIV positive, a recovering addict, a former sex worker, and an activist for the Latin transgender community, Bamby decides to celebrate her birthday with the 49 women who made her who is she.
The film was written, produced and directed by Peira through his Festimania banner. The executive producers are Rosario Dawson and Maria Roman. The director of photography is Romas Ušakovas.
What was the experience like for you following Bamby Salcedo on the streets of L.A.?
Since I was an L.A. local for two years, during a Fulbright scholarship, I felt like I was shooting in my backyard. We wanted L.A. to be a character of the film. As you can see, the title of the film’s first word is “LA,” which could be seen as a Spanish language feminine pronoun, or as Los Angeles’ initials. Our aim was to play with this double meaning. We can also say that L.A. is Bamby’s ecosystem, as it’s the place where she developed into the person she is today.
How did this team come together, including Rosario Dawson?
The team that started the project in 2017 was really small. Its main members were DP Romas Ušakovas and sound mixer Rocío Casado. We shot all around L.A. for a week and became acquainted with Bamby. What was meant to be a short film soon became a feature film project.
The photography took place in L.A. for several weeks in October 2019, around the time of Bamby’s birthday. And for that shoot, the team became bigger. Romas counted on a camera team he trusted and we also hired some additional boom operators.
Since Rosario Dawson was one of the interviewees, and we knew about her work as an activist, we took the opportunity to ask her for help after the interview and she ended up becoming one of our executive producers.
Regarding the post-production team, and since I’m based in Spain, I hired editor Nacho Ruiz Capillas and Monografo animation studio to complete the film. All post, including color correction and post sound, took place in Spain.
What shocked you making this film in terms of your protagonist’s life experience?
What shocked me the most was to learn about how Bamby is a true survivor. Being an HIV-positive, undocumented immigrant, victim of multiple sexual assaults, in recovery from narcotics addiction and even living through years as a sex worker are not easy issues to overcome. Bamby was also physically and sexually abused by prison officers and inmates while being held in a juvenile detention center. But Bamby, who turned her problems into opportunities, has ended up becoming one of the most respected LGBT activists in the U.S. People deserve a second chance and Bamby has taken advantage of it.
What’s the perceived audience for this film?
I always say that when you start working on a film, there’s no such thing as a general audience. When we prepared our strategy we thought that politically engaged LGBT audiences were going to be our primary ones, but we found out that there are some other cosmopolitan and metropolitan audiences from different age brackets and cultures who are interested in hearing stories about inclusion, equality, justice, and well-being. Time will tell if we become a totally niche product or if we develop into a more mainstream type. Since we have been selected for some festivals, we definitely have a festival audience.
What did you shoot with, for how long, and when?
Since the film was made over the course of four years we shot with different cameras. The main one was a Red Monstro but we also shot with Arri Amira, Alexa Mini, Sony FS7, Canon 1D, 7D, C100, C200 and C300. There’s even some footage of the film which was shot with my own phone.
We shot during one week in 2017, during several weeks in 2019 and another extra week in 2020. In between, we shot single days on special occasions such as when Bamby was getting some public recognition, when she was doing some street activism, during the transgender-only GARRAS fashion show.
Has Bamby seen the film? How did she react?
Bamby saw the film at a fine cut stage and she thought it was a good portrait of her and the people around her. The only comments she made is that we got some wrong dates in some lower-thirds, that one of her sisters got mixed up with some events that happened in the past. Another thing she was surprised about is that it was the first time she saw some photos of her youth which we scanned from her parents’ and sisters’ personal archives. That proves we did a very nice research job. Above all, and I’m going to quote Bamby, she said, “I hope that your film inspires other families to understand the importance of understanding what unconditional love is, and show their support to their sons and daughters who transition, to be who they are destined to be as the beautiful trans people they are.” I find these words very encouraging.
What needs to happen for the trans community to have an easier time?
What needs to happen is for our society to be understanding that trans people are human beings. The world has to be able to see the humanity in transgender people and understand that they deserve to have the same rights as cisgender people and have access to basic services like housing, employment or health care.
A lot of work has to be done, and organizations like The Translatin@Coalition are empowering trans people directly through service provision and also by promoting policy change, so as to change the structures that continue to marginalize and oppress the trans community. Finally there has to be some kind of investment in leadership development of young trans people so that some of them can become the leaders of the future.
Does the U.S. have a specific set of challenges for the trans community?
Many people think that trans people who live in the U.S. have less issues and problems. The reality is that trans people experience the same issues as in many other countries, like violence or discrimination. Trans people are one of the poorest communities of the world. The U.S. needs to develop employment opportunities for the community and invest in organizations that are trans led. In my opinion, the government has to follow the same way with the trans community as with the gay rights movement.
Is there a sales company attached?
For the moment, and since our company Festimania has a background in international sales, we’re handling international distribution by ourselves. However, we will be attending a lot of film markets and festivals this fall, so, if we run into the right company, who we feel is a good home for our film, we’ll be more than happy to let them handle sales for us.