On today’s edition of INTERVUE, we conclude our two-part interview with filmmaker Giovanna Sarquis. Sarquis is known for her work in the web series “Before I Got Famous” and the short films “Lately” and “Submerged”. Her 2015 short, “Crayons” was nominated for “Best Short Film” and “Best Director”. Let’s continue with our regularly scheduled interview!
So, tell us about your approach to filmmaking. How do you look at a script and decide ‘this is the way I want to approach the film’?
Well, I would say my approach is very character driven. I love the journeys and the relationships. I always look at that first and I always start from the heart of the characters, “who are these people?”. I love POV [Point of View] and some stories read from one POV to another, and when I’m directing it, I’m always thinking about POV. I’m always thinking about how this specific POV feels, and how these characters are experiencing this—I try to convey those images. That’s when it comes to directing. It’s very human, very genuine and very grounded. That’s the same thing when it comes to writing. We start with—it could be a feeling, it could be an idea, but it’s not a story until you find the right character for it, and then I track their journey, and it’s just funny.
Sometimes you find yourself wishing that this character went to a certain place because that certain place was cool or that certain place is amazing. I don’t know, you want them to go there, you want them to make that choice, but it’s not the right choice for the character so it looks like the characters are telling you their journey instead of the other way around. It’s very interesting when that happens because that’s when you realize you have a very strong and defined character. One of the projects I wrote it’s called “Lipstick”. It’s about a gay woman who’s married and has a kid, and her journey is so frustrating. Sometimes, I wish I could tell her, “It’s ok, it’s going to be ok” You know, you’ve got to write her journey and let her be truthful to that and let her figure it out- if she ever figures it out. And if she doesn’t, you’ve got to be ok with that. You’ve got to be ok with the fact that that’s her journey and that’s the character that’s part of your story.
It’s frustrating sometimes.
Yes, it can be. By being a gay Latina, how does that impact your work on a personal note?
It’s hard to say because I’m very certain it impacts it in many ways. For instance, one of the things that I’m drawn to is identity. It’s like in your voice and finding the courage against a lot. Finding the courage to use your voice and pursue your dreams and be who you are. That’s one of my main things I have had to deal with. It definitely comes from me being gay and my own personal journey.
Luckily, I’ve never had a bad reaction to my sexuality, because I feel like I am a lot more than my own sexuality. But even the fact that you have to say that is pretty annoying. Maybe it’s just me, maybe other people will empathize, but I feel that as a gay woman, you need to prove yourself a little more. You need to be like, “hey!” Sometimes I over-explain some things that straight girls would never have to. It’s a quite misunderstood journey because there’s not enough representation for it, so people are still like, at least in a conservative country, they are like “but I thought it was a phase”, but obviously they don’t think it’s a phase anymore. They did think it was back in the day and it did influence the things I am attracted to, which is identity and encouragement.
I feel that—I don’t know, I want to feel that it’s made me very, very sensitive and empathetic when it comes to letting my characters be who they are and when it comes to approaching emotions. I don’t know, as a filmmaker, I’m extremely passionate about the idea that feelings are the tools we have and that’s the way we manage to coax an audience and hopefully to help them to exercise empathy and open their minds. At the same time its gives me a reason to use my work to exercise their minds and create acceptance. I feel that a lot of people think of gay people as just a group of gay people. They don’t really know anyone who is gay or they’ve had bad experiences with gay people and they assume that everyone is like us. So I think that, with my work, I want to help people spend a couple of hours in the shoes of someone else and realize that “Wow! I like this person. I never knew I was going to like them.” They’re eliminating this idea that just because they’re gay that they are like this or like that and start humanizing them.
You referred to your genre as “magical realism which connects mysticism and sci-fi with humanity”, which, to be straight up, I’m a big sci-fi fan. But I want to talk about magical realism for people who do not know the genre.
Yes, I write two types of genres. I write dramedy and magical realism. Magical Realism is a story that has very grounded given raw reality in it with a hint of magic. The magic can come from different genres. It could come from horror; it could come from Sci-fi; it could come from fantasy or a mix of both. So, it’s very exciting. An example could be…have you watched the movie “Beautiful” by Alejandro G. Iñárritu?
Yes, I have!
To me, the magical realism is that he can see ghosts. It’s very realistic that he could see things that are magical within that cruel reality. With that being said, the movie that I am writing, it’s got invention. It has drama, it has sci-fi and it has horror. It has a mix of everything. So, it’s a contrast between the sci-fi,the horror, the reality and the drama. That’s what creates the magical realism
Is “Ascensions” your current project today or do you have other projects in the works?
At this moment, I am writing a pilot, another pilot about sci-fi. It has lots of sci-fi and horror and I’m really excited about it.
Since you mentioned sci-fi, what are your favorite sci-fi shows and sci-fi movies?
Well, I love movies like “Contact” that portray aliens. I recently watched it and I couldn’t believe how ahead of its time it was. I mean, we are scared of them, so most of the movies feel like horror movies but when she actually makes contact, it’s completely different to what we thought it was. The things that they had to say about us, it’s like incredible. I don’t know it’s the kind of aliens that I am drawn to. With that being said, I also like “Stranger Things.”
I like “Stranger Things.” From the get go, when I first saw it, it just brought me in. I just cannot wait until the third season comes out, so I definitely agree with you. Who were some of your influences to become a director?
I never wanted to become a director. It’s going to sound like a cliché, but a beautiful cliché. I think Steven Spielberg was one of them.
It’s not a cliché! Steven Spielberg is an all-time favorite. He’s the man, you know? I mean, ever since 1975, and with “E.T.” and producing “Back to The Future”, some of our best films of all time. He’s not a cliché! It’s like, it’s the norm.
The turning point in my life was watching “E.T.” When the bikes fly and the music, I’m like “Oh my God, I want to make a film like that!” It was a realistic story about a lonely boy.
The Mexican filmmakers have really upped the game as far as Hollywood goes, and I have to applaud them because for years, we have seen the white male win the Best Picture and the Best Actor. I’m glad Hollywood is understanding that we’ve got to be more inclusive because it’s not just the white male that’s conquering Hollywood anymore. It’s a black woman, it’s a gay Latina female in our case, it’s a Mexican male that is making such powerful films, that is going to be the new “E.T.” for the upcoming generation.
It can happen but here’s the thing, I’m happy. I’m super happy that Hollywood is starting to be more inclusive and diverse. I think that’s the thing we should all strive for. I’m a proud, gay woman and I want people look at my work for my work. I want my work to speak for itself, without being because I am a woman. It shouldn’t be a difference.
I definitely agree with you, especially with—going back to the super hero films when they said to Patty Jenkins, “a woman cannot make a successful super hero film,” and “Wonder Woman” came out, blew it away. Or, “a black man cannot make a super hero film,” and “Black Panther” came out, blew THAT away, so it’s like, Hollywood cannot say, “You cannot do this. You cannot direct this film because you are THIS.” It’s like, there are no “this” because–
It makes no sense.
Yeah, going back to Cuaron who made “Gravity”, a film that they said was impossible to make, and yet it made $723 million worldwide in the box office.
See, that’s the thing. It takes funds to make this possible. Only a few people dared to go there. Only a few people are able to make it. They have a career, like Cuaron for example. Cuaron has an entire career around him. There are a lot of people who were excited to do something with him. His name is already a guarantee that it’s going to work.
It’s fun! I think audiences are craving different things. I think we should go for it.
If you want to give advice to the person or people who are listening or reading the interview that—you can do it, you could become a director, you could become a writer, you can create your own magical realism. What would you say to that person? What advice would you give them?
I think I would say to them to keep going. I would say it gets frustrating at times, but again, it was something I came up with, but it exists for a reason, and good things take time. It takes time, and it’s terrific. Your only job is to get better at what you do. That’s it. To get better and to try to find your voice, which is a hard one but it’s there. It has a lot to do with acceptance; it has a lot to do with loving yourself and the things you have to say and believe in. The things you have to say might be important and might resonate with someone. We’ve all felt that. When we were talking about “E.T.,” “E.T.” resonated with a lot of people and it was Steven Spielberg saying, “Yeah, this is going to be a great movie.” It’s just deciding you can do it. There’s nothing to stop you but you.
The industry is always looking for new voices, and that might be YOUR voice. You’ve got to work on it. It’s a lot of work, basically. A lot of people dream, and dream big, which is amazing and it’s beautiful, and I encourage you to dream big. But they don’t do the work. You actually have to get on a chair and write something and then re-write until it’s good. Then show it to people. Believe in it and show it to people. Dreaming is the first step of a very long list of steps.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it’s very possible.
Thank you Giovanna for the interview