TIFF 2019 Interview: María Paz Gonzalez
“I believe that the absence of a feminine eye in art history has created a void in the way in which the human condition has been represented over the centuries. You have to dare to explore complex female characters with contradictions that go beyond the stereotypes built by a macho culture.”
Lina is caught between two worlds, a temporary, working life in Chile and her family life —seen mainly through a small screen or fractured voice messages— back in Peru. When Lina learns her son has a life back home he has kept hidden, her story truly begins.
This is an unexpected story of a migrant worker experiencing a sexual awakening while, simultaneously, searching for herself in a country not her own. Add in the wonderfully timed musical fantasies and LINA FROM LIMA becomes a unique yet relatable tale.
LINA FROM LIMA is a delightful film filled with catchy songs and a strong performance from lead actress Magaly Solier. You can see the World Premiere of LINA FROM LIMA at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, screening as part of Discovery on September 5th at 9:30PM, September 6th at 9:45AM and September 14th at 12:30PM.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves, what you did on the film and how you got involved with filmmaking.
María Paz Gonzalez: As a child, I liked hearing stories and I realized that when I told that stories to someone else I always changed them. I don’t think I was lying, but it never got back to be the same. I had a lot of fun with that. I think I got that from my mom. She would read me the same story every night and always change the endings and the characters.
I always liked films, but I never imagined that I could make them. As a child, I lived in the south of Chile and I never heard from anyone who worked as a filmmaker. Not to mention a woman.
Because I liked telling stories, I studied journalism in Santiago. There I discovered that there were people who make films and I immersed myself in that world, starting with documentary research, where I found a universe with plenty of amazing stories.
Tell us about LINA FROM LIMA, and why you decided to tell this story.
MPG: I come from documentary filmmaking in Chile. I have worked researching, producing, writing and directing non-fiction films. Lina from Lima was born from that world too.
Researching the life of Peruvian immigrants in Chile, I met migrant women, listened to their stories, the way they felt and I realized their experiences could also be told from another place. Someplace where they’re not necessarily victims and where their stories don’t have to be doomed to drama from the beginning.
What I discovered was a universe that was much more luminous, fun and powerful than what I had ever seen. From there, I started to make this film. But non-fiction did not allow me to tell the story as I imagined it. The story mutated and without realizing it I found myself writing a fiction script. But honestly, before making this film I had never been in a fiction set.
Why did you decide to create musical elements for this story?
MPG: Chile receives immigration mostly from neighbouring countries or close countries from the region, and despite being so close, we are very different countries. One thing that interested me during my research about the migrant’s world was the way they relate to their identity.
Peruvians have a very strong identity. They have food, rhythms and very defined landscapes that somehow travel with them. Musicals appear as a way to explore that inner world without a heavy load of drama. They collect different rhythms of Peruvian music coming from different regions of Peru.
There is even a Christmas carol that is played by a group of singing children that is well known, and that all migrants hear at Christmas. It seemed to me that this world could be humorous and allowed me to focus on the character’s conflict in a different way.
Magaly Solier is fantastic, what was the experience working together to bring this character to life?
MPG: Magaly is amazing. I always admired her work, but while I was writing the script I didn’t have her in mind, because I thought that the character could fall into the exotic super beautiful indigenous stereotype. I felt that I didn’t want to represent a migrant woman like that. But I quickly realized that was my prejudice.
She’s a tremendous actress. She has great experience and her strength comes precisely from her life story, from reality at last, and the power of reality is what motivated me to tell this story in the first place.
Magaly has kids, Magaly works far away from home and she supports her family. Everything that Lina lives, was something that Magaly knew much better than me. After she read the script and we met, we knew right away that we would make this film together.
She gave Lina incredible layers. With a look, a gesture, she solved scenes that took up a lot of space in the script. I can’t imagine the film without her.
Viewers watch as Lina goes through a sexual awakening, this is such a unique story of migrant workers we never see. Why did you want to explore this side of the story?
MPG: That’s precisely why I wanted to do it because I hadn’t seen it in cinema either and it was something I did see a lot in reality. In local movies, Peruvians only respond to Chilean employers by looking at the ground. But Peruvians are great dancers, they’re fun, they’re good at talking, they love karaoke and party.
Being a woman, worker, migrant and mother has a series of burdens that we all already see super clear. What was interesting to me was precisely to see what was beyond that.
How is it possible that we have not seen the story of a migrant who wants to have fun or live new experiences? I found it interesting to observe a character that slowly begins to shift the guilt from family departure. However, we are not saying that migrants have an incredible time outside their homeland. The character lives in a world of great social and affective contradictions, where the question ‘who I am far from home?’ is relevant to them.
There is a beautiful section of the film where Lina interacts with a man who doesn’t speak her language. They have a wonderful connection even though they can’t understand each other. Why was this important for the film?
MPG: Yes. For me, it is the reflection of that contradiction as well. Lina’s story is not the story of a woman who seeks love. It is the story of a woman who wants to find herself far from home. She wants to know who she is and in that battle she is alone. No one really understands it.
Many migrants are also alone in their own battles. They meet, they cross, but they don’t have to fall in love to solve that question. I really wanted to make those inner worlds of two lonely characters who cross and accompany each other as they search for something else.
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this film?
MPG: Many women worked at different stages of the process and I learned a great deal from each. Among them Susana Torres, a Peruvian art director who knew Magaly since her debut in the cinema. She was instrumental in building this Peruvian inner world. She filled it with plastic references and gave a lot of depth to history from there.
Also in production, Maite Alberdi and Gema Juárez. Maite is a tremendous documentary director who was key to route this film and Gema, an Argentinean co-producer, whom I also knew from documentaries, was confident and gave everything to make the film come to an end. She was tremendously generous.
Also, Sofia Straface, an Argentine sound director, did very careful and sensitive work with the film taking care of every detail.
A special mention for Anita Ramón, an Argentine editor who put all her talent and dedication into the film. Together we rewrote the film from the editing. It was a slow and beautiful process. A deep journey where we saw who Lina really was, someone who went way beyond what I could have written. She did a millimetric job with each scene. It’s something that surprises me every time I watch the film.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
MPG: I believe that the absence of a feminine eye in art history has created a void in the way in which the human condition has been represented over the centuries. It is important that this changes, but that also implies that we write and direct films from another paradigm.
You have to dare to explore complex female characters with contradictions that go beyond the stereotypes built by a macho culture. And it’s not easy to get out of there even for us because that culture conditions the way we think the world is.
I constantly watch films written or directed by men who try to make nonsexist films and build female characters that seem daring but if you look a little further you realize that their plots depend directly on what a male character do or tell them. They revolve around their desires.
It’s important to start doubting those stories and opening up that whole other world of unexplored stories that are just going to give our culture more layers and enrich the way we look at ourselves as human beings.
What are you working on now/next?
MPG: Now I’m working on To die standing, my second feature film. A story that goes back to something I worked on in a previous documentary (Daughter) and it has to do with the father figure. It is a kind of thriller that has something of absurdity as well and where the protagonist must face the death of her absent father, who died in strange circumstances.
But nobody really cares about that father, so the film looks at the weight of heritage from a place where the heroics of that figure are questioned and we face how the subjectivity of a town that tells stories about him emerges.
I’m in the middle of the writing process, still discovering a lot of things, but it’s been really nice working with Alejandra Moffat, a Chilean writer who lives in Mexico with whom I work very closely. We have a similar sense of humor, so we’ve had a lot of fun making up the story. Plus we both grew up in the South of Chile, so it’s been super inspiring to look back at this territory we know well, from the fictional perspective.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved** film for our blog readers!
MPG: Albertina Carri, an Argentine director who has always worked with women characters in a very interesting way. She is always exploring and looking for something else. Her last film The Daughters of Fire is particularly interesting for the freedom in the way she sees women and cinema.