I had the absolute pleasure getting to know some of the creative team of the very timely film MARISOL , Director Zoé Salicrup Junco & Producer Lauren Sowa. Not only is this film beautifully shot, but the subtle performances in this story of a hardworking young undocumented mother making a life for her and her daughter brings humanity to the real issue of immigration in America.
What was the inspiration for this film?
Zoe: I didn’t write MARISOL. It’s actually the first film I directed, but didn’t write. The writer is Tim Eliot, who also plays Frederick in the film. When I first read the script, the character of Marisol really drew me in. She read vulnerable and valiant at the same time. She was relatable and inspiring. As a Latinx woman myself, Marisol felt like the kind of character I long to see onscreen. I immediately wanted to dive in as a director and explore and learn more about the complexities of her world. This exploration was carried through all the way to the very end of making this film. I felt like the deeper we could get, the more authentic she would feel to our audience. Once I was brought in as a director, we did some rewrites together, but nothing major. I was mainly focused on giving Marisol a lot of backstory in order to fully round her out.
Yes, I noticed that the writer was one of the actors in this piece. How did the collaboration come about and what was the process like working together?
Yes, Tim was the screenwriter and one of the producers, while also attached to play Frederick, the off-duty ICE agent who questions Marisol. I met Lauren Sowa, our producer, and Tim while they were holding interviews to find a Latinx director for this film. I felt like we immediately hit it off and even started to brainstorm during the interview about ways we could elevate the film. It felt like a right fit so I was excited when I got the call from them inviting me to formally join the team. It was quite refreshing to work with someone so collaborative. As a Latinx filmmaker, they fully trusted my vision and remained completely open to all the ideas and suggestions I would bring to the table.
As a filmmaker myself, I know the many challenges we can face bringing a story to life. Were there any that really inspired the making of Marisol? Any surprises along the way?
I feel like from the moment we announced we were making this film, a lot of our colleagues and friends supported us. That was something wonderful to see and definitely super encouraging while we were in the thick of it. My main focus was about making sure the story felt authentic for the cast, the crew, and most importantly our audience. We did a lot of research about situations that have happened similar to Marisol’s. For example, I spoke with close friends who have gone through similar experiences. A friend of mine is an immigration attorney so she was also able to provide insight on how these cases usually work and the complexities of the legal system.
Aside from story, we had a major production challenge, which was the fact that most of the film takes place inside a car. So there was a lot of collaboration between the DP (director of photography) and myself as we figured out creative ways we could get around shooting these scenes. Tim also helped out a lot with that; we basically had to map out a bunch of driving routes in advance. We basically shot an entire day with me directing from the hatchback of the car, Tine DiLucia (our DP) in the passenger seat, Emma Ramos (Marisol) driving, and the rest of the crew trailing us in a separate van. It was quite an unforgettable experience!
We live in a world where diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of hiring practices and in the stories we see. How does this color your approach as a filmmaker and did this inform your hiring practices to make Marisol?
Lauren can speak more to this. But prior to this film, I had focused most of my gender equality efforts in front of the camera (re: cast) and I had not put as much effort behind the camera. I honestly didn’t give it much thought because I was used to working with mostly men since my school days. This project changed my perspective on that front. It helped me realize I had to expand my network and foster more opportunities for women behind the camera.
LS: When I read Tim’s script I immediately felt drawn to producing it. I knew that we needed to find a leader who could infuse the story with authenticity so we sought out a Latina director. The best decision we made was hiring Zoe! She’s amazing. For me, when it comes to staffing I focus on talent, equality, diversity, and energy. All of my sets are majority women cast and crew. Once I know that someone is qualified I’m a big believer in energy/chemistry – when you spend long hours on set with a group of people you have to make sure that they will get along outside of the work. So, I try to get a sense of whether or not someone will stay cool under pressure, if they have a positive attitude, and if they are a team player. I keep a database organized by position so that I can make recommendations to other filmmakers as well – it might take a little bit of extra work to go beyond your friend circle, but it’s so worth it. There are so many talented people out there looking to work. These days there’s no excuse for a lack of inclusion. If you’re having trouble, reach out to groups like Ms. in the Biz, NYC Women Filmmakers, or NYWIFT – the resources are there! Just ask!
Congratulations on your San Diego Latino Film Festival Premiere! How was it? Tell me everything!
LS: The premiere was wonderful! It was so satisfying to finally see the film with an audience. SDLFF was extremely well run, and we had a great time meeting the other filmmakers. The best part of being in a shorts block is getting to see the work of your peers. Special shout out to Eddie Mujica and Bex Marsh who created a wonderfully inventive sci-fi film called Dreamer, and Daniel Garcia whose film Tempestad left an emotional impact long after leaving the theater. Check out their films on the circuit now!
What are some film festival strategies you and your producers are using (if any) for Marisol? What are your goals during this festival run? What would you hope will happen during this run?
Festivals nowadays have grown so much that sometimes it can be quite the challenge to find enough exposure within them. Our main strategy is to find festivals where we know the story will shine and resonate. Latino film festivals are very important to me because they usually foster a big bilingual community that will hopefully relate to the film. We also want to screen it in festivals where perhaps the audience isn’t quite as familiar with the complexities of the immigration system in the USA. After all, the film is meant to start a conversation and hopefully move people’s hearts, so showing it to Latinxs as well as non-Latinxs is equally important. Ironically, prior to us releasing the film in the festival circuit, we were offered an great opportunity for the film that we unfortunately cannot share just yet. But needless to say, we are thrilled for what’s to come.
How did you and Lauren Sowa come to collaborate on this project?
I met Lauren during the director interviews they were holding. As I mentioned, we hit it off right away and started talking about the project as if we were already a team. It felt very organic and welcoming.
To all the young women starting on this filmmaking journey, what are some lessons you have learned that you can pass along? Like if you could talk to your younger self and say something about both the mindset of being a filmmaker and a practical tip?
I would say “no dejes para mañana lo que puedes hacer hoy.” It means don’t leave for tomorrow what you could do today. Things are tough in this industry and in the world in general, but don’t let anybody stop you. Just do it.
To steal from Marie Kondo, what sparks joy for you watching the completed project?
What sparks most joy is witnessing people react to the film, especially after the screening. The goal is to leave the audience with something they can take home with them and give it some thought.
What are your hopes and dreams for your audiences who get to see Marisol?
To me it’s more about sparking up a conversation that can potentially lead to some type of understanding and initiative. This film strives to put a complex, political situation in a relatable setting. Most people can relate to what it feels like when your family is threatened, regardless of whether you are an immigrant or not. When you’re able put yourself in the same scenario as Marisol – a mother who fears she will be taken away from her daughter in a foreign country – all the political layers of her being a threat, her being an illegal alien, all of that strips away. You can connect with her as a human. There’s power in that connection, power to change and to progress.
Anything else you want Ms. In the Biz Readers to know?
Marisol is streaming NOW on HBO GO & HBO NOW.
(Search for MARISOL, watch, and enjoy!)