Marilyn Solaya Puts on her Moviemaking Cap

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By José Luis Estrada Betancourt
3 July 2013 - 11:12am

Until recently, actress, scriptwriter and producer Marilyn Solaya was up to a project that was keeping her sleepless: to go into the fiction full-length film world with Vestido de Novia, which she wrote “at home, between daughter and son”. But this woman, who was likely to return to the set again and again after the resounding success of Fresa y chocolate, can’t be easily defeated.

She certainly got involved with some shootings, although it wasn’t a frequent as we thought it would: after having worked with Gutierrez Alea and Tabio, she was called by Eliseo Subiela for Despabilate amor. She later joined the cast for Omerta, by Pavel Giroud, and the Canadian movie La ley del silencio, which didn’t stop her from finishing her Direction studies in order to reach her goal: to become a moviemaker and shoot her first fiction short and several documentaries, a training before materializing her first fiction work.

She recently made it, when she stood behind the cameras to direct Vestido de Novia (Wedding Gown), and took it to an end. It all started on March 18 in Havana, just as she wrote on her Facebook wall, where she said that it was a joint production between the Cuban Institute of Art and Filmmaking Industry (ICAIC) and Bitart New Media, S.L Bilbao, Spain, and counted on the support of IBERMEDIA Program.

She also detailed that she worked with such acclaimed actress and actors as Laura de la Uz, Luis Alberto Garcia, Jorge Perugorria, Isabel Santos and Mario Guerra, the stars of her story, who were accompanied by Manuel Porto, Waldo Franco, Omar Franco, Yipsia Torres, Alina Rodriguez, Andros Perugorria and Luis Carreres, among others.

“X Alfonso was in charge of the score, with the special performance of Camerata Vocale Sine Nomine”, she wrote. “I have the privilege to be supported by excellent advisors and a magnificent artistic and technical team: Eliseo Altunaga (my script advisor), Miriam Talavera (the editor), Javier Figueroa (sound track), Julito Simonou (cameraman), El Ruso, Oscarito and his technicians; Marcel and Velia (Direct Sound), Nanette (Art Direction), Juan Carlos and Elio (Hairstyling), Magdalena (Makeup), Margarita, Lourdes and Rafael Solis (Photography Direction)…

With most of professionals I’ve worked since the very beginning of my acting career in the movies, and the production of my fiction shorts and documentaries. Master Raul Perez Ureta, my beloved friend, who has been part of this dream since it was just a page, couldn’t continue working on the project due to health problems, but kept on accompanying me with his positive energy, example and, especially, his trusting me to do it and do it right.”

Likewise, Solaya counted on the support of producer Carlos de la Huerta, who she describes as the father of all his moviemaking children, and Dr. Julio Cesar Gonzalez Pages, coordinator of the Latin American and African Network of Masculinities, adviser on the matter tackled by the movie.

For a long time, Marilyn had expressed her interest in making Vestido de novia, related to “a desire and need of female moviemakers, although it’s not perceived in terms of the national filmography, because of obvious reasons.”

She says that “the script was awarded in 2006 by CINERGIA, Costa Rica, the Central American Fund for Movie Project Development. Afterwards, it was chosen by DREAMAGO, in Switzerland, an international foundation for movie projects that looks for outstanding scripts. I had the opportunity to participate in a rewriting workshop, where I was advised by figures from different countries.

In 2008, Vestido de Novia was the entry of choice for the 1st Workshop of Latin American Scripts, a new space created within the Industry Sector as part of the International Festival of the New Latin American Movies, “but she was looking for budget just like any other producer trying to make a movie these days, but not like the others, in the same way or with the same opportunities.”

“The point is that the ICAIC continued producing films, but I was always told about the word economic crisis and the disasters caused by the three cyclones in 2008. And the truth is that many producers couldn’t make their feature film projects: Ana Rodriguez, Mayra Vilasis, Marisol Trujillo, even Sara Gomez couldn’t produce her movie –everybody knows that after her premature death during the shooting process, which was completed by Titon. Dealing with tons of work –and after many years of projects and aborted attempts -, Rebeca Chavez made her movie and, even though, our male colleagues were betting that she wouldn’t make it.

And I won’t deny that Vestido de novia was the project that kept me awake. I learned a lot while I was building it during all these years. On the one hand, because of the intense research I carried out, and on the other, due to the challenge of trying to make a movie. And it was only about writing a script, but about doing it right, for me and the responsibility with the matter I’m tackling. It’s hard to fulfill the expectations of all the filters and looks I’ve gone through –all of them were male, by the way -; many times by questioning my resources as a screen writer and producer, from the underestimation.”

Vestido de Novia

And what was the main topic behind Vestido de Novia?

-It’s about homophobia, the drama lived by transsexual people. It’s a necessary movie, in harmony with the times we’re living, with this new Cuban stage of questioning and looking at the prejudices that have hampered the essential freedoms of many people, the advantages of diversity.

I feel like I’m a different woman after this process, I have grown up as a professional and as a person. It’s true, I probably became a feminist throughout the process, because I won’t never ever be a male chauvinist. People are what they do and the history of my life has driven me to gain gender conscience. I love men and, in fact, I own most of what I’ve done to the presence of some of them in my life, from my father to my love relations.

Look, I remember that when I won the DOC TV II LATINOAMERICA contest with En el cuerpo equivocado (Inside the wrong body), it was a tough fight, there excellent works competing and I swear it was hard to believe. This project represented the starting point for most of the research for my script. This person, 21 years after having undergone a sex reassignment surgery*, questions the woman built out of stereotypes, and that reality asphyxiates her and has stopped her from taking care of herself, her personal fulfillment, because she’s about to become 50 years old and knows that wasted time is unrecoverable time.

En el cuerpo equivocado was a pretext for me to, from the body, from her body, make an analysis of the Cuban nation’s sexual/social “body”, since the white, male and heterosexual still prevails. It’s a good opportunity to congratulate the New Producers Show that promoted a contest with the ethics and seriousness required by this kind of event, where I first felt that I was competing with all things being equal. I walked out convinced that I wouldn’t win. That selection criterion should prevail within the institution.

I don’t want to be given things because I’m a woman, I just want to have the opportunity to make the most of all the advantages provided by the industry, which remain in the same circle and entail an evident lack of equity in that space; something that goes beyond the gender and affects new and not-so-new producers, who can’t get their projects done.

Marilyn, what did you learn at the International Movie and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños?

-I spent a long time in that institution doing everything: I worked as an actress, assistant of direction and production, casting… That was how, step by step, I left the acting behind because I was actually never interested in doing it. I joined that world in a circumstantial way: I was too young and that was the only way I had to be close to the shooting. That was the reason why I modified my image and, curiously, I got those doors opened and I took the opportunity.

Do you regret having put acting aside?

-I strongly respect the acting work, but it requires more than a good image; I’m talking about talent and passion. I suffer from stage fright and I always forced my nature. I confess that I never enjoyed those moments in front of cameras. On the other hand, I demand too much from myself and everything I do, that’s why I wanted to disappear when I saw the results … there is a lot of people that don’t think like that. I used to fantasize of doing something vandalic with the things I had done… As time goes by, I’ve reconciled myself to this stage of my life since I own a lot to it, and I now think of everything it gave as a director and I like from that approach. I was there and nobody can take it from me.

It seems that your work as a scriptwriter has been luckier than the director one …

-I’ve always loved telling stories, I used to write when I was a child, won contests … I even believed that I would became a writer, poet, or something like that… When I was studying stage arts I realized that I as interested in the movies, because I suddenly saw it closer. I visited the cinematheque every afternoon and I always thought the same thing: I’m not dreaming, that’s where movies are made. Everything I’ve done ever since has targeted that goal: to become a moviemaker. The road has been, and is, long and tough, but that’s what fascinates me and my results speak of what I can do, what I can achieve …

I love communicating, questioning the reality, touching a sore spot; I like writing and directing stories related to the life, the conflicts we face. I socialize, get involved, otherwise, I couldn’t be honest to what I do. My documentaries have been handpicked to participate in national and international festivals, and have been awarded and/or “congratulated”, as a critic friend of mine would say. Especially Hasta que la muerte nos separe, shot in my town, Florida, Camagüey, in 2001.

Every year, it’s played on TV two or three times, and it always seems to be fresh. That documentary is a way of clinging on, when I’m in crisis, to the girl I was, to the values of that pure and ingenuous province world, country world that, sometimes, are left behind because the city reality establishes a different style.

I spent a long time without filming, I later shot a couple of documentaries and, almost at the same time, I got the greatest work of my life: my daughter Carolina and son Raul. That reality made everything harder, especially for a woman with such a complex job. Men –my colleagues and others – usually delegate and that’s how they move forward, beyond the responsibilities of having a family. They can fulfill themselves, be brilliant on what they do and show it, but it’s different for women; especially for those who didn’t want to miss the maternity experience and keep on dreaming and thinking on other projects.

In spite of our Revolution achievements, it seems to be a cultural problem. Nowadays, transgressor women are still described as crazy or evil, when they have a different life style, and they are misjudged not only by men, but by other women and the overall society.

*The first sexual reassignment surgery on the island was carried out in 1988 and this procedure was resumed twenty years later, in 2008. For two decades, transsexual people waited for a surgery that turns out to be basic for many of them.

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